It’s Week 5, and we’re into the meat of the season: conference play; games that matter. No more cake matchups against FCS opponents. Trying not to think about how the season is almost half over.
Week 5 has a fun raft of games, including great #PAC12AfterDark games on Friday and Saturday and the eternal lunacy that is the Ole Miss/Alabama rivalry. Check out some of these spreads, and then check out the best online sportsbooks.
ATS record (2017): 16-11
Friday, September 29th
USC (-3.5) at Washington State, 10:30 PM ET
This is a tighter line than you’d expect, but I understand. USC got taken to overtime by a team that lost to Maryland, and that Cal game was closer than anyone would like. Washington State has looked good, crushing Nevada, Montana State and Oregon State, and pulling out a tight win (47-44) over the always-dangerous Boise State.
Except USC isn’t Nevada, Montana State or Oregon State. Oregon State is bad, and Nevada is worse. Montana State is an FCS team. USC has struggled at times, sure, but against Malik Jefferson, a true freshman intermittently channelling the ghost of Colt McCoy, and sky-high expectations. Washington State doesn’t have the kind of defense it takes to keep things under control, and if Luke Falk wants to get into a shootout with Sam Darnold, God bless him. He’ll come off second best, but it will be worth tuning in.
My Pick: USC (-3.5) to cover. This line opened at -5 and I thought that was something of a deal, but it keeps tightening.
Saturday, September 30th
Vanderbilt at Florida (-10), Noon ET
If you haven’t already, please go read the box score of the Vanderbilt/Alabama game. It might be the most one-sided statistical drubbing this side of Georgia Tech/Cumberland: 677 yards of offense to 78; 38 first downs to three. Vanderbilt’s longest play was a 10-yard pass that came in the third quarter, down 0-52. Three plays later, Vanderbilt punted. Don’t ever do the “we want Bama” chant. You don’t want Bama. Just because you shut out Alabama A&M and are really feeling yourself doesn’t mean you need to make Nick Saban mad.
I’m not in love with Florida, and ten points is a big spread for a team that’s won its last two games on horribly blown coverages, so I was about to pick Vanderbilt to cover. However I can’t overstate the physically deleterious effects of losing to this Bama team in this manner. There weren’t a lot of huge plays in the blowout; aside from a 61-yard run, the whole game had the appearance of someone getting beaten with a very heavy and unwieldy oar, or being run over by a very large and very slow boat. Vanderbilt’s coach compared the experience to running headlong into a buzz saw. There isn’t enough Toradol in Florida to get Vanderbilt ready for this game.
My Pick: Florida (-10), the team that didn’t get beat half to death with a phone book, to cover.
Baylor at Kansas State (-17), 3:30 PM ET
Baylor hung around wayyy longer than you would have thought (forcing a 49-41 shootout) against Oklahoma, and have been progressing game to game all season. Kansas State lost its only Power 5 game this season (14-7 to, wait for it, Vanderbilt!) and are trading on wins against Central Arkansas and Charlotte. If anything, Kansas State is under performing in 2017, and a 17-point win over Baylor would be a huge step over what we’ve seen to date.
I buy that Kansas State is the favorite here, especially at home, but certainly not by more than two touchdowns.
My pick: Baylor (-17) to cover, as bad as that still makes me feel.
Iowa at Michigan State (-3.5), 4pm ET
Michigan State is bad, y’all. Real bad. Blown-out-by-Notre Dame bad.
Iowa’s good. Iowa hung around with maybe the best offense in the country and forced Trace McSorley to make an absolutely perfect pass off his back foot to win a game in which Saquon Barkley racked up more than 300 yards of offense. After a few early weeks of coasting, Penn State had to give Iowa absolutely everything it had and came a few inches away from losing. The game ended 21-19 and was somehow even closer than the final score.
It was a deeply impressive performance, and one that you have to credit Iowa for, especially this week, when they’re an underdog against a team with no Power 5 wins and a shaky roster. You can call this a rebuilding year for Sparty, if you’d like, but the fact remains that this team has a lot of little flaws and cracks that Iowa can exploit.
My pick: Iowa (-3.5) to cover.
Ole Miss at Alabama (-28), 9pm ET
You should know that I’m sweating profusely as I make this pick. Ole Miss/Alabama is always, always a weirdo game, producing some of the craziest plays in college football history. This year, the Tide host the Rebels, who are staring down NCAA sanctions, a recently fired-ish coach, and a self-imposed bowl ban. Ole Miss has had a tough season, beating up on a directional Alabama and a Tennessee satellite before losing 27-16 to Cal in Week 3. But they’ve taken a week off to get ready. They’ve had this game circled on their calendar all year. If Ole Miss wins this game and the Mississippi State game and does absolutely nothing else this season, it will be a roaring success for the Rebs.
Even with all their troubles, Ole Miss is an extraordinarily talented team. This is certainly one of the three most talented rosters on Alabama’s schedule. Hugh Freeze’s calls to Tampa won’t help Alabama avoid these linebackers, or stop Shea Patterson from doing his thing, or get rid of all the four and five-stars hanging out on the Ole Miss sideline. Alabama will win, certainly, but don’t be surprised if it’s a lot tighter than the 28-point spread would suggest.
My pick: Ole Miss (-28) to cover.
California at Oregon (-14), 1030pm ET
Looking at Oregon first, I love what Willie Taggart has done with the place. Losing to Arizona State is tough, but the Ducks are definitely on their way back to past glory. They’re still obviously limited — 1-11 on third down is the kind of stat that loses football games — and giving up almost nine yards per pass against a team not known for excellent passing (39th in the nation in 2016) is unacceptable, but still. I like where Oregon’s going.
I love where Cal’s going, though. They beat Ole Miss (27-16); they beat UNC (35-30); and they hung around with USC long enough (20-30) for the Sam Darnold Heisman whispers to get a little quieter. They’re efficient on defense, frequently explosive on offense, and are having a fantastic run of games. Even at the beginning of the season, when we thought that Cal had but a slim chance of beating Ole Miss (and a slimmer chance of beating UNC) and that the USC game would be decided by more than two touchdowns, we didn’t project a 14-point spread in this game. This is one of those lines that puzzles you at first, and I haven’t found anything but Oregon homerism and Cal’s spate of bad seasons that would justify this line.
My pick: Cal (-14) to cover.