College football Week 4 picks from Steve Makinen

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Steve Makinen is our main numbers guy here at VSiN, and his weekly best bets are a “greatest hits” compilation of system matches, betting trends analysis, and his proprietary power ratings, which can only be found right here at VSiN.com. Follow up with Steve’s weekly content, which is linked in the explanations for his picks.

 

College Football Odds | College Football Betting Splits | College Football Power Ratings

(odds as of September 21, 2:54 p.m. PT)

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2023

NC State at Virginia

Matchup Analysis

The most heavily backed team on the DK Betting Splits for Friday night in college football is NC State, who plays as a 9.5-point road favorite at Virginia. The Wolfpack are obviously the better team here and deserve to be a near 10-point favorite. That said, I look at road favorites differently since discovering the systems I uncovered for the DK Betting Splits. These bettors don’t win.

NC State has played fairly well against Virginia of late as well. However, they haven’t been a road favorite in Charlottesville, since 2002, a game they lost 14-9 as 6.5-point chalk. This is not an easy spot considering 0-3 Virginia has nothing to lose, everything to gain. The Cavaliers have thrown the ball well the last two weeks as well and could be a live and motivated dog here.

Take Virginia +9.5, or anything over +8

Boston College at Louisville

Matchup Analysis

I don’t think anyone is all that surprised that Louisville has started 3-0 under new head coach Jeff Brohm, despite all the transition the program underwent this spring. The schedule was set up for the Cardinals to come out of the gate in decent shape. It starts to get tougher from here though as ACC play kicks off. The next four weeks before the bye will be a real test to see how far Brohm can take this team in 2023.

It was disappointing for Cardinals fans to blow a 21-0 lead and allow Indiana to back door cover last week. The new offense was stymied after the hot start. BC is just as capable of holding this offense down, as the Golden Eagles held powerful Florida State to 340 yards a week ago. They have played three games so far and all have been decided by 3-points or less despite wildly varying levels of competition in each. BC is on a 20-6 ATS run in ACC play. I expect them to stay in this one.

Take Boston College +14, with anything above 14 being gravy

Duke at Connecticut

Matchup Analysis

Last week, I talked about the danger of looking ahead for Notre Dame as it hosted Central Michigan. On cue, the Irish got nowhere close to covering the big number. In this game, we get another big favorite that must avoid the look-ahead scenario as Duke welcomes that same Notre Dame team for homecoming next Saturday.

The Blue Devils are in truly unfamiliar territory here in terms of the point spread, as they haven’t been a road favorite this large since a 1994 contest as Navy. On top of that, UConn has been a gritty team the last year and a half and will be motivated by this heavy underdog line at home.

Take UConn at anything +20 or more

Rutgers at Michigan

Matchup Analysis

Michigan has gotten to 3-0 and #2 in the country by literally doing next to nothing. The Wolverines have coasted over three lifeless opponents and have aided the books in the process, never even coming close to covering their first three-point spreads. They have outscored opponents 32-5.3 so far on average.

This week figures to be different, as conference play opens against Rutgers. Michigan has had a penchant for turning it up offensively against the Knights, having averaged 47 PPG in the last eight head-to-head meetings. They’ve only failed to score 35 points once in that span. Considering the defense is stout and allowing just 5.3 PPG so far, anywhere close to the normal point production will easily get it done this week. With UM 0-3 ATS and Rutgers 3-0 ATS, let’s look for the scales to even this week.

Take Michigan at -24 and anywhere up to -25.5

Oklahoma at Cincinnati

Matchup Analysis

After two strong outings to open the season, the rebuilding Cincinnati team I was expecting to show up this season finally did last week in losing to Miami (OH) at home. It certainly wasn’t a good way to get ready for a first-ever Big 12 game this week against an Oklahoma team that seems to be firing on all cylinders.

VSiN readers know that I loved the Sooners’ chances of having a big season in 2023, as I figured a much more veteran squad in the second year of head coach Brent Venables’ systems would be much improved. So far all they’ve done is go 3-0 SU and ATS while outscoring opponents 55.7-9.3. They are dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball as well.

This could be a gift of a line as well, as it seems to be assuming that this is the same Bearcats team that has played up to the competition in the last two years. It’s not.

Take OU -14 at anything up to -17

Western Michigan at Toledo

Matchup Analysis

Revenge is a term that can often be overused in the scheme of sports handicapping, as in a lot of cases, the team seeking the revenge has no real strength edge to be leaning on otherwise. In other words, there’s a valid reason they lost and they might do so again. In the case of Toledo and Western Michigan,

I think the Rockets have a real motivator in looking at last year’s 20-14 loss in Kalamazoo. That game nearly kept Toledo from the MAC title game, when they were clearly the better team then and are even more so now. There is a nice revenge system in play for this game: Teams seeking revenge against a team that is currently allowing 35 PPG or more have been very successful, going 201-150 ATS (57.3%) since 2016. On top of all that, nearly 75 of the DK handle at press time was backing pathetic WMU.

Let’s lay the -21 with the Rockets, and anything within +/- 1

California at Washington

Matchup Analysis

California has long been known as one of the top teams in college football to back in the underdog role. The Golden Bears have often been catching double-digits against the powers of the Pac-12. They are on a 22-9 ATS run as dogs. They are rightfully the dogs in this one, as Washington is off to a fast start and has one of the best offenses in the country behind QB Michael Penix. The Huskies are scoring 46.7 PPG in the early going.

However, unlike recent Cal teams that had to scratch and claw their way to underdog covers, this one can actually light up the scoreboard. The Cal offense is averaging 33 PPG and is rushing for 242 YPG. None of the last four games between these teams have been decided by more than 7 points. Perception of Washington is the only reason this number is so high.

Take Cal as the 3-TD dog, and anything +20 or more

Kentucky at Vanderbilt

Matchup Analysis

Vanderbilt has already played four games and at 2-2 SU and 0-4 ATS, one thing has become painfully clear…this ’23 version is no better than any of the recent teams, despite the returning of QB AJ Swann and 14 other starters. The Commodores have lost back-to-back games and have allowed 29.3 PPG and 389 YPG of offense to four far-from-explosive teams.

There is in fact a huge defensive edge in this contest for Kentucky, who has given up just 11.3 PPG and 2.3 yards per rush in three season-opening wins. The Wildcats will also have payback on their minds for last year’s 24-21 loss to Vandy. Not only is UK on an 18-9 ATS run in revenge mode, but they will also be backed by this system: Double-digit road favorites have been solid producers in the revenge role, going 44-32 ATS (57.9%) since 2016.

Let’s lay the 13.5 with Kentucky, and anything at 14 or less

SMU at TCU

Matchup Analysis

In looking back at SMU’s 2-1 start so far, the 28-11 loss to Oklahoma is seeming better and better, as OU has obliterated the other opponents it has faced. The Mustangs scored 107 points in the two wins, so it appears that this team could be pretty good on both sides of the ball.

The most recent victory was a 69-0 decision against Prairie View, surely a confidence booster for this big in-state rivalry game. It also sets up a solid system: Over the course of the last decade, CFB teams that scored 58 or more points in a game while allowing fewer than 10 have carried on the momentum well in the next outing, going 132-87 ATS (60.3%).

Beyond that, road teams in this underrated rivalry have won the last eight ATS. IMO, TCU is overrated and still riding the coattails of last year’s lightning-in-a-bottle season. Let’s take advantage while the numbers last.

Take SMU as the 6.5-point dog, or anything +/-0.5

UCF at Kansas State

Matchup Analysis

UCF’s offense has looked amazing to start the season as the Knights are averaging just under 300 YPG rushing and 318 YPG passing. Talk about balance. However, in the game against Boise State, head coach Gus Malzahn’s team only musted 18 points. That was the only respectable opponent they’ve played.

This week’s game will be an entirely different animal as they embark on their first-ever Big 12 contest, on the road at one of the tougher environments in Manhattan. The team awaiting UCF, the defending conference champion Wildcats, who will have a chip on their shoulder after blowing the game last week versus Missouri.

First game in a better conference, on the road against the defending champs who are coming off a loss, and only catching 4-points? Oh, and did I mention UCF is still without its starting QB John Rhys Plumlee? My numbers say this line is off by at least three points.

Take Kansas State -4 to get the Big 12 W, at anything up to -6.5

Auburn at Texas A&M

Matchup Analysis

For all the preseason hype, some of which I fell for personally, Texas A&M’s 48-33 loss at Miami revealed more of what has plagued the program in the years under head coach Jimbo Fisher. The other two wins pale in comparison to defining this team as they came against ULM & New Mexico.

I’m not sure it’s realistic at this point to ever think the Aggies will reach the on-the-field potential that the talent level suggests they should. At this same time, Auburn seems to be flying a bit under the radar at this point. With a 3-0 record to date, this will be the biggest early test for head coach Huge Freeze’s team.

Fortunately, the “stability mismatch” period is over for 2023, or A&M would definitely have qualified. Auburn has played well in College Station since A&M joined the SEC, going 4-1 SU & 3-1-1 ATS. I don’t see any reason why this game won’t be really competitive.

Take Auburn +8, and anything +7 or more

New Mexico State at Hawaii

Matchup Analysis

There are just certain types of teams that you should never lay points with. Hawaii is one of those teams. Not only are the Warriors on a 9-23 ATS skid as favorites, but their inability to run the football this season figures to stand in the way of ever putting a team away when they might have the lead.

In fact, in their three games against FBS competition this season, Hawaii has rushed for just 31.3 yards per game and about 1.5 yards per carry. New Mexico State has been a very balanced team offensively and is riding the momentum of a 10-point win at rival New Mexico. Head coach Jerry Kill’s team is also a returning bowl team with nine offensive starters back. I question whether or not the right team is favored.

Take New Mexico State (+3) in any underdog scenario

Ohio State at Notre Dame

Matchup Analysis

Ohio State took over the top spot in my power ratings this week after an overwhelming performance against Western Kentucky, a game the Buckeyes won 63-10 while piling up 562 yards of offense. It was the first Ohio State-esque exhibition of the young season, just in time for their biggest showdown so far, at Notre Dame.

The dominant performance qualified OSU for this system: Over the course of the last decade, CFB teams that scored 58 or more points in a game while allowing fewer than 10 have carried on the momentum well in the next outing, going 132-87 ATS (60.3%). Head coach Ryan Day’s team is also on an 11-3-1 ATS run against dominant teams outscoring opponents by 15 PPG. In other words, the Buckeyes are a big-game team.

With that in mind, how often does Notre Dame ever come up big for its games against elite opponents? I know things can change, and theoretically, the Irish seem better with QB Sam Hartman running the show, but I have to see it happen before I believe it. My number says this line should be OSU -5.5.

Take Ohio State -3 up to -4, not more

For more system matches and key trends, check out the Week 4 College Football Analytics Report.