College football Week 8 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.

 

Since calling myself out a few weeks ago after one of the worst betting Saturdays I’ve ever endured, I’ve turned things around with a 4-3 Week 6 and a 7-1-1 Week 7 performance, making for an 11-4-1 mark over the last two weeks. Let’s try to keep things going in the right direction this week with nine more plays.

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

(odds as of October 19, 11:54 a.m. PT)

SMU at Temple

There is a ton of negative momentum with the Temple football program right now. Not only have the Owls lost four straight games outright and ATS, but they are dealing with a concussion-protocol situation with their starting quarterback EJ Warren. He is listed as questionable for Friday night’s contest against SMU.

The game seems to be priced as if he is playing because he is crucial to their hopes. That said, at -20.5, SMU is still underpriced, in my opinion. The Mustangs are a -24.1-point favorite on my power rating line, and that is with Warren in the lineup. He is worth at least four points if you ask me.

Last week, Temple went from throwing for 89% of its yardage over three games to 70% run production. The change didn’t help, as the Owls were labeled by North Texas, 45-14. It was the fourth straight game that head coach Stan Drayton’s team allowed 40+ points and 495+ yards. If my Effective Stats numbers play out, SMU is bound for about 43 points while allowing just 14. The Mustangs’ defense has been quite improved this year. Despite the travel and public action, I’m willing to lay the points here. Temple is in that bad of shape right now.

Take SMU -20.5 and anything +/- 1 point

Clemson at Miami (FL)

One thing has stood out to me in watching Miami lose in back-to-back weeks: This is the same ol’ Hurricanes of recent lore, laden with mistakes and overmatched in big games. They fooled us into believing they were better in 2023, and I regret falling for it, as they were one of my preseason win total bets to go Over.

This week, they take on a Clemson team that is also not what it was in its heyday but is still better than Miami. In fact, Clemson’s defense is still one of the best in the country, ranking #4 in yards per play allowed according to my Effective Stats, which take into account schedule strength.

The Tigers are rightfully the favorites here, as they have a massive defensive edge, with Miami ranking #48 in the same category. Head coach Dabo Swinney’s team has won back-to-back games, is 18-6 (75%) ATS in Road/Neutral games since 2020, and posted its best outing of the season as a single-digit road favorite two weeks ago at Syracuse. It is a similar situation here, and Miami is getting the lion’s share of the betting action at DraftKings.

Let’s go with Clemson -3 (+/- 0.5 points OK)

Virginia at North Carolina

We have what could be a perfect letdown scenario for UNC this week as it prepares to host Virginia on Saturday. Coming off four consecutive single-digit point spread games and their fifth in six games in 2023, it would be quite easy for the Tar Heels to overlook this contest versus a downtrodden Virginia team.

This will, in fact, be the largest line to which head coach Mack Brown’s team has played to since the 2022 opener over FCS Florida A&M, a game they failed to cover by 14 points. The betting public is all behind the heavy chalk here, assuming the Tar Heels will continue to roll after the big win versus Miami last Saturday, with over 80% support on both money and bet volume at DK.

However, the Cavaliers have shown some life recently, winning last week for the first time, beating William & Mary 27-13, their third straight game eclipsing the 20-point mark, and their third straight point spread victory as well. UNC hasn’t scored over 42 points in a game since Week 2 last season. It’s a bit tough to cover such a big number when the offense isn’t prolific.

Let’s go with Virginia +23.5, with +/- 1.5 points OK

Baylor at Cincinnati

On the surface, it looks as if Baylor and Cincinnati are both struggling at similar levels. The Bears are 1-4, and the Bearcats are 2-4. However, digging below the surface, you’ll see some differences indicating why the wrong team may be favored in this game. And quite honestly, the fact that Cincy is favored raises some eyebrows for me since they have lost back-to-back games as chalk and are fulfilling the season destiny I had for them back in August.

Baylor has played a very tough schedule to date, with the weakest opponent being an underrated Texas State team in the opener. With QB Blake Shapen in the lineup, head coach Dave Aranda’s team is scoring 27 PPG. Without him for two games, they put up just 19 total points. If you look at my Effective Strength stats, you’ll see that Baylor is actually about 2 points better, meaning Cincy should be at most a 1-point favorite at home. I see some value here, and I believe the betting public (74% money on Cincy) is overstating Baylor’s demise.

Let’s take Baylor +3.5 plus a little moneyline sprinkle as well

Duke at Florida State

With QB Riley Leonard potentially returning on Saturday for the big showdown with Florida State, Duke fans probably expect a decent offensive effort in hopes of keeping up with Florida State. However, in the last game Leonard played before exiting late against another strong defensive team, the Blue Devils had their worst offensive showing of the year, just 14 points. They have also struggled to score on FSU in recent head-to-head history.

The outright history is well-documented, with the Seminoles having never lost, but before last year’s 56-35 decision, Duke had scored just 9.2 PPG in the prior five meetings. FSU currently holds opponents 18 points below their season averages. That would put Duke at only about 13 points here. At the same time, head coach Mike Elko’s defense has been one of the best in the country this season, allowing just 9.8 PPG and holding teams 20 points below their averages. That would put the Seminoles at 22 points. Doing the math, 22-13 is only 35 total points, 14 below the posted total.

Nearly 80% of money and bet volume at DraftKings is on the Over. I don’t see it, especially with this nice system in play: In college football games featuring two ranked teams with the home team being a double-digit favorite, Under the total boasts an impressive 34-13 (72.3%) record since the beginning of the 2017 season.

Let’s go UNDER 49.5 in Duke-FSU, with +/- 1 point being fine too

Toledo at Miami (OH)

Besides recent history in the MAC, why is Toledo considered better than Miami (OH) right now? You have to figure that is the assumption with the Rockets playing as 2-point road favorites in the huge matchup on Saturday. However, bettors aren’t falling for it, as the majority at DraftKings are backing the Redhawks here. That is notable, as it doesn’t happen very often. This actually gives the majority a chance to win!

Let’s compare the numbers of these teams to this point. Both are 6-1. Toledo is just 2-5 ATS, though, as compared to 6-1 ATS for Miami (OH). The Redhawks have played the slightly tougher schedule by about 2.5 power rating points per game. My Effective Strength numbers show Toledo is 2.1 points better. In Effective Yards Per Play, the hosts are +1.22. The visitors are +1.2. In other words, these teams’ performance levels are incredibly similar to date. There’s no reason there should be a road favorite in this game. I’ll take the points here with the team riding the momentum and better energy at home.

Take Miami (OH) +2, with some moneyline action as well

Tennessee at Alabama

There are four ranked vs. ranked games this weekend in college football, and anyone who has been reading the analytics reports or my recent best bets knows that I typically prefer the home teams in such situations, particularly when the home team is a strong defensive team. I believe even the most prolific offenses can be overwhelmed by good defenses in tough environments.

This Alabama team is a bit underrated at this point, as it has played one of the toughest schedules in the country to date, #5 by my numbers, in fact. The Tide have shown some weak spots but also signs of greatness. I would say the season-long jury is still out. This is a big game in that regard for head coach Nick Saban’s team. Going back to those ranked games, I have leaned on this system several times this season: When better-ranked home teams have been single-digit favorites or underdogs, they have gone 47-14 SU & 42-16-3 ATS (72.4%) since 2017. ‘Bama and Ohio State both qualify for this on Saturday,

I can’t get myself to pull the trigger with the Buckeyes yet. However, I believe the Tide are measurably better than the Vols this season. At this point, Saban’s defense holds teams 21.7 points below their season scoring averages. This is not the 2022 prolific Vols. This offense scores only 33.5 PPG. Take 21.7 off of that, and we’re only looking at 11.8 points projected for the visitors. I would say closer to 17 in reality, but still, a very good chance for ‘Bama to cover.

Take Alabama (-9) at home as the single-digit favorite, a rarity

Ole Miss at Auburn

Last Monday night, I called the Cowboys over the Chargers an “analytics dream come true.” We may be getting close to that with this Ole Miss-Auburn game, as the Rebels come in 6.5-point road favorites. Besides the obvious question as to whether or not the actual strength different between these two teams warrants such a significant point spread, the first point of analytics I want to call out is that over 90% of the money at DraftKings is falling for the Rebels. Last year, when backing road favorites, bettors only won 40.6% of the time ATS.

Second key analytical point: This is a revenge game for the Tigers, and better defensive teams are more successful in exacting revenge than prolific offenses. Since the start of the 2016 season, teams allowing 24 PPG or less have gone 591-528 ATS (52.8%) as compared to those scoring 35 PPG or more, 354-383 ATS (48%).

Third, Ole Miss has struggled in SEC play recently, which is an understated fact, but head coach Lane Kiffin’s team is just 4-14 ATS in its last 18 conference outings. Finally, in head-to-head play, Auburn is on an 11-3 SU and 10-2-2 ATS run vs. Ole Miss. This is a tough line to cover in a difficult nighttime road conference environment.

Let’s go with Auburn +6.5, +7 would be great, but OK with +6 

South Carolina at Missouri

How much should schedule strength play into the equation when analyzing two teams from the same conference in a matchup? Well, it should be considered when the average opponent power rating is a 9.7 average difference. There is a reason South Carolina is 2-4. The Gamecocks have played the #1 toughest schedule in the country to this point.

Even still, QB Spencer Rattler has put up some very good numbers, throwing for 1,724 yards and an 11-4 TD-Int ratio. If you go by raw numbers, SC is a -2.0 in PPG, while Mizzou is a +9. However, South Carolina is “effectively” a +20.2 in my Effective Stats while the Tigers are +22.5. In other words, these teams have less than a 2.5-point difference. Head coach Shane Beamer’s team is an ideal underdog, too, in a game with a total of 60, as “effectively,” they put up 39.7 PPG. If this gets to be a shootout, as it should, South Carolina is in a good spot and will be competitive till the end.

Take South Carolina +7, and anything +/- 1 point

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Steve Makinen
As one of the original founders of StatFox, Steve Makinen has been in the business of sports betting and data analysis for almost 25 years now. In his time in the industry, Steve has worked in a variety of capacities on both sides of the betting counter, from his early days of developing the StatFox business, to almost a decade of oddsmaking consulting for one of the world's leading sportsbooks, to his last seven years as Point Spread Weekly and Analytics Director with VSiN. Steve has always believed that number crunching and handicapping through foundational trends and systems is the secret to success and he shares this data with VSiN readers on a daily basis for all of the major sports.