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.
(odds as of September 28, 3:54 p.m. PT)
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2023
It doesn’t happen very often anymore, but Utah has been fantastic as a road dog under head coach Kyle Whittingham. In fact, the Utes are 13-2 ATS in this role dating back to 2014. The reason it doesn’t happen a whole lot anymore is because Whittingham has lifted this program from once pesky underdog to elite status. Utah is 4-0 at this point minus QB Cam Rising, and coming off a dominant performance against UCLA. They held the Bruins to nine yards rushing and 243 overall.
While Rising remains questionable for this showdown with Oregon State, you have to like the chances with their bye week looming next. I’m not totally sold on Oregon State as being a legit threat in the Pac-12 at this point. The loss at WaSU revealed some defensive shortcomings, and with Utah playing so well defensively in 2023 (allowing nine PPG), it doesn’t look like a great spot for the Beavers, even at home.
Take Utah at +3.5 (+3/+4 also fine)
Apparently, Penn State changed its practice routine this week to minimize the noise in an attempt to replicate the conditions they expect to encounter at Northwestern on Saturday. It’s one thing to prepare a team for conditions. It’s another to mock an opponent and essentially disregard them.
Does Northwestern have what it takes to compete with the Nittany Lions this week? Well, my Effective Yards Per Play stats, which I highlighted in a separate article earlier in the week, revealed that the equivalent power ratings of those key stats indicate that these teams have played to a level so far that show Penn State as only supposed to be a 17.5-point favorite in this one, not the 27 they are laying.
The Wildcats have plenty of momentum on their side as well, coming off the miraculous come-from-behind win against Minnesota. They’ve now scored 37 points or more in two games this season after failing to do so since the opener in 2020. With a ton of money and bets backing PSU as the huge road favorite, I’ll take the points.
Take Northwestern +27, or anything above the opener of 25.5
Last week, I made a winning play going against UCF in their loss at Kansas State, their first ever foray as a Big 12 team. Admittedly however, the Knights played better than I expected, and although they lost by 13, they were highly competitive for most of the game and gained 407 yards on the Wildcats.
This week’s contest, the first-ever Big 12 home game for UCF, comes against a reeling Baylor team that is 0-3 and giving up an uncustomary amount of yards on defense. These teams are going in opposite directions “effectively,” as my Effective Yards Per Play stats essentially indicate that UCF should be favored by 31 points in this game, based upon how the teams are playing and who they have played.
There figures to be a lot of motivation for head coach Gus Malzahn’s team here as well, playing in front of the home folks and looking for a first conference win. I’m willing to lay the points against a team that is unraveling.
Take UCF -12.5 and anything up to -14
My updated Strength Ratings for the season indicate that South Carolina has played the toughest schedule in the country to date. Even still, QB Spencer Rattler is having a big season, completing 74% of his passes while already throwing for 1,242 yards in four games.
Theoretically, the schedule doesn’t lighten up a lot this week, but Rattler and the Gamecocks should be ready. They have covered the number in their last three games and will be backed by a head-to-head series trend that finds underdogs on a 9-1-1 ATS surge.
In my opinion, the jury is still out on Tennessee and after getting trounced at Florida a couple of weeks ago, I question whether or not they are worthy of the respect they are getting on this line.
Take South Carolina +12, and anything in double-digits
One of the only systems that I was able to find regarding the DK Betting Splits in which the majority bettors won last season was when they put their majority money behind road dogs. One of the three plays that qualify for this in Week 5 (Utah/LTU as well) is Florida, a team that seems to have found some renewed energy after trouncing Tennessee a couple of weeks ago.
The Gators’ defense has been stellar the last few games as they’ve allowed just 10 PPG in that span and a little over 2.5 yards per rush attempt. They are owning the line of scrimmage.
Meanwhile, Kentucky has built up some pretty strong statistical numbers against essentially nobody. Their toughest opponent so far has been Vanderbilt. This is a major step up in competition for the Wildcats, and it might be the first time ever they’ve been favored against Florida. Not sure conditions warrant that yet.
Take Florida +1.5, and anything underdog
Letdowns can come after losses too, and they are called hangovers. Notre Dame is in a dangerous spot here after last week’s crushing loss to Ohio State. Not only are they a road favorite being backed by over 80% of the handle and bet volume in this game at Duke, but they are also facing an opponent who may be at the top of the hunger scale right now and looking for another signature win.
Since whipping Clemson on opening weekend, the Blue Devils have routed three other opponents. The program is on a six-game winning streak right now. They are also an impressive 30-11 ATS in their last 41 nonconference tilts. This could be a massive emotional game for both sides. To me, Duke is clearly on the better side of that argument right now.
Take Duke +5.5 as the home dog, with anything 4.5 or above
I have been disappointed by Michigan a few times this season but was able to get the 23.5-point number last week in their 31-7 win over Rutgers. One thing stood out for me in watching that game, however, and it re-enforced some thoughts I had from earlier. This Wolverines offense is not clicking. They had to rely on trickery to move the ball on Rutgers in many cases.
In my opinion, at this point, they have a #2-ranked level defense but nothing close to that offensively. At the same time, Nebraska has also been pretty good defensively in its 2-2 start, holding opponents to 10.7 points and 1.43 yards per play below their usual averages.
If they hold Michigan to 10.7 points below the average, that would mean head coach Jim Harbaugh’s team scores just 21 points. Hard to cover a 17-point number when only scoring 21. With this game being another where massive money is backing a big road conference favorite, I’ll back the hungry home dog.
Take Nebraska +17, or at anything +/- 1.5 points
Oregon is coming off a massive emotional win last week over Colorado, and to be quite honest, head coach Dan Lanning and the Ducks seem just as focused on rehashing that game than they do on Stanford, this week’s heavily outmatched opponent. It would be quite easy to see Oregon stumble a bit in this one and underperform, especially with the huge tilt at Washington looming after their upcoming bye week.
Even still, the public bettors at DraftKings expect the Ducks to resume their roll, as they have outscored their first four opponents 54-13 on average. The Cardinal are off an impressive effort versus Arizona, albeit a losing one, and head coach Troy Taylor has his young team playing hard. I don’t expect them to roll over here, and the +27 number looks like a trap to bait bettors into taking the road chalk.
Take Stanford +27, or at anything +/- 1 point
Mississippi State was one of my favorite season win total Under plays this season, and I am not disappointed in anything I’ve seen to that regard so far. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t bet the team on a spot-by-spot basis. Here the Bulldogs are a heavy 2 TD+ home dog to Alabama, a team whose offense has not found its way against the quality opponents it has played.
In fact, in the last three games, the Tide have averaged just 22.3 PPG. That’s not to mention that the defense has been anything but Alabama-like. In short, I don’t think this Nick Saban team warrants being an SEC West Division road favorite of 14.5 points right now. MSU is on a 12-5 ATS surge in Starkville, and my Effective Yards Per Play statistics, which are heavily weighted by opponents played so far, indicate that ‘Bama has only performed at a level good enough to be a 4.5-point favorite in this one, 10 points off.
Take Mississippi State +14.5, or anything 14 or more
Texas State has been pretty darn good so far, and being one of the two teams (with Colorado) in the nation that extensively used the transfer portal in the offseason, it’s not a major surprise why they’ve improved so greatly. The Bobcats were able to land several power conference “rejects,” meaning at this point they might just be better and more talented than the Sun Belt foes they are getting set to play the rest of the way.
There is a reason they are favored here. QB TJ Finley, from Auburn, has been really sharp in the early going, throwing for 1100+ yards and accounting for 11 TDs. The offense is outscoring its previous opponent allowances by 16.7 PPG! If they do that this week on Southern Miss, they’ll get 52! TSU is also in a nice revenge spot here: Teams seeking revenge against a team that is currently allowing 35 PPG or more have been very successful, going 201-152 ATS (56.9%) since 2016. Let’s lay the points.
Take Texas State -5.5, or anything +/- 1.5 points
It’s not often you get a team that is scoring just 21.3 PPG and coming off a shutout loss playing as a double-digit conference favorite. I can see where the line is coming from, as Michigan State could be on the verge of implosion after dealing with the situation with head coach Mel Tucker.
But even still, any emotion aside, is Iowa a good enough football team to cover this point spread? The Hawkeyes’ ugly performance at Penn State last week leads us to a unique extreme system match: College football teams that gained 100 yards or fewer in a game have not bounced back well in the next, going just 22-33 ATS (40%) in their last 55 tries. I can’t imagine many of these 55 teams were double-digit favorites.
Take Michigan State +12.5 (or +/- 1) to keep it close
The SEC West Division has a few key games this week, and I have opinions on all of them. Ole Miss, despite the 14-point loss last week at Alabama, played far better than that score indicated. In fact, head coach Lane Kiffin’s teams have been pretty solid all season long, as my Effective Strength Ratings indicate they are the country’s ninth-best team at this point. In that same statistical calculation, LSU is 22nd.
Yet, the Tigers are the road favorite in this one, and getting backed by the heavy public bettor money at DraftKings. This is also one of four games matching ranked opponents this weekend and recently, in games featuring two ranked teams since 2017, home teams are now 148-74 SU and 127-88-7 ATS (59.1%). On top of that, Ole Miss is on a 9-1 ATS run in head-to-head play versus LSU. I expect Ole Miss to make a game of this and potentially win.
Take Ole Miss +2.5, or anything 1.5+, with a moneyline sprinkle too
Texas A&M got some horrible news this week when QB Conner Weigman was declared out for the season. This coming off a complete win over Auburn that seemed to have the Aggies pointing in the right direction. Now they face a tough task in a neutral environment in Dallas against Arkansas.
It is set up as a nice revenge spot for the Razorbacks: Since the start of the 2016 season, neutral field underdogs playing in revenge mode have gone 40-24 ATS (62.5%). Last year’s game was a 2-point decision. HC Sam Pittman’s team is also coming off a pretty good effort of its own, nearly taking down LSU last week (31-34) as 17.5-point dogs. The offense has been clicking behind QB KJ Jefferson, making them a very live dog here.
Take Arkansas +6, or anything within +/- 1-point
For more system matches and key trends, check out the Week 5 College Football Analytics Report.