College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 7

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AP Photo/John Bazemore

In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall (16) dives into the end zone for a touchdown against North Carolina’s Dominique Ross (3) and K.J. Sails (9) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Atlanta. Four games into his Georgia Tech career, Marshall already looks poised to go down as one of the school’s greatest quarterbacks. Of course, he’ll ultimately be judged on how he perform in games such as Saturday’s contest at No. 11 Miami.

Fri, Oct 13, 2017 (2 a.m.)

Things change even faster in sports books than they do in the notoriously volatile college football polls.

Just ask Oklahoma. Three weeks ago, the Sooners were probably the most celebrated team in Las Vegas.

Not only were they among the top four in odds to win the national championship and fielded the second Heisman Trophy favorite in quarterback Baker Mayfield, but they held the nation’s longest covering streak at six games.

Oklahoma has failed to beat the number in both of its games since, narrowly escaping one massive upset, at Baylor, and succumbing to another, against Iowa State.

Or, for the optimist, ask the team that took over Oklahoma’s national-best covering streak how quickly betting value can change. Georgia Tech has cashed for its backers in all four games this season, bringing the Yellow Jackets’ total to seven consecutive covers dating back to last season.

Many wrote off Georgia Tech after it dismissed last year’s leading rusher, Dedrick Mills, before the season. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall and running back KirVonte Benson have shown the Yellow Jackets are fine without him, as both are rushing for a higher average than Mills last season.

It’s a stark turnaround for a team that was the least profitable in the nation less than two years. The Yellow Jackets dropped nine of their last 10 games against the spread in 2015.

Will Oklahoma and Georgia Tech continue in their respective directions with key matchups in Week 7?

Read below for Talking Points’ picks in college football by the odds, which previews the 10 biggest games weekly along with extra selections at the end. Bad beats buried the blog to a 6-9 record last week, making the season total 43-49-1. Lines are the best available locally at the time of writing, and picks are labeled in three confidence categories.

    • TCU safety Nick Orr (18) intercepts a pass in front of West Virginia wide receiver Marcus Simms (8) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU won 31-24.

      TCU minus-6 at Kansas State, over/under: 53; 9 a.m. on Fox Sports 1

      It would be hard to blame anyone who bet TCU or Kansas State last Saturday for being hesitant to take either one again this week.

      Both teams let down their backers with finishes that sacrificed seemingly locked-up covers. TCU looked every bit as dominant as the minus-12 line over West Virginia made it look into through middle of the third quarter by building a 17-3 lead.

      It faded from there, having to fight off a West Virginia rally just to escape with a 31-24 outright win.

      Kansas State’s Big 12 game later that night was even crueler, as it was covering plus-5 at Texas for all but six minutes of regulation. Then two overtimes came, the second of which saw Kansas State miss a field goal after getting the ball first.

      Instead of settling for their own field goal to win, the Longhorns pushed in a touchdown to beat the Wildcats 40-34.

      Bettors appear more forgiving of TCU. The Horned Frogs leapt from a 4.5- to a 6-point favorite at Kansas State.

      It could also have to do with Kansas State’s quarterback situation, as two-year starter Jesse Ertz is reportedly doubtful to play. The duty would then go to sophomore Alex Delton, a run-first option who rushed for two touchdowns and 79 yards on 12 carries in relief against the Longhorns.

      Lean: Over 53 points

    • Texas Tech running back Desmond Nisby (32) runs for a 47-yard touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

      Texas Tech plus-3 at West Virginia, over/under: 76; 9 a.m. on ESPNU

      Texas Tech is nipping at the heels of Georgia Tech’s covering streak.

      In a pivotal year for coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Red Raiders have responded by beating the point spread in all five of their games — the only straight-up loss was when Oklahoma State scored late to win 41-34 as 10-point favorites — to bring their streak to six dating back to last year. To keep it going, they’ll have to conquer a foe they’ve regularly caged in sports books but caved to on the scoreboard.

      Texas Tech has covered in five of six meetings against West Virginia since the latter joined the Big 12, but only beaten the Mountaineers once under Kingsbury. The coach is not concealing how much West Virginia’s three-year winning streak in the series has bothered him, which boiled to new heights when Texas Tech fell 48-17 as 3-point underdogs last year.

      That was one of the losses that served as the impetus for Kingsbury insisting on an improved running game and defense. So far, he's achieved both.

      The Red Raiders’ top four running backs — Justin Stockton, Desmond Nisby, Tre King and Demarcus Felton — are all rushing for a higher average than anyone did last year. Defensively, Texas Tech is giving up 5.7 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents as opposed to a national-worst 7.3 yards per play in 2016.

      The Mountaineers will put both upgrades to the test.

      Lean: West Virginia minus-3

    • Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

      Purdue plus-16.5 at Wisconsin, over/under: 51; 12:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network

      Someone could have ranked Wisconsin’s most important games before the season, and not ended up putting this afternoon’s affair with Purdue in the top 10.

      Suddenly it’s all jumbled, as the Boilermakers are the only team standing in the way of what would amount to a 2-game lead in the Big Ten West division for the Badgers. And there’s a case to be made that Purdue is the second-best team in the division, hence how the spread in this series went from the Badgers laying 28 on the road last year to 16.5 at home this year.

      Although it's just 3-2 straight-up, Purdue’s first season under coach Jeff Brohm is so far a resounding success. The three wins tie the best season of previous coach Darrell Hazell, who also only had one winning record against the spread in four years.

      Having started 4-1 versus the number, the Boilermakers should be well on the way to their first profitable year at the sports book since 2014. To get to 5-1, they might need an inspired effort from a rush defense giving up a mediocre 4.1 yards per carry despite missing some key players to injury.

      Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor has emerged to continue the string of standout Wisconsin running backs, as he has already totaled 767 yards and nine touchdowns on 97 carries.

      Play: Wisconsin minus-16.5

    • Auburn linebacker Tre' Williams celebrates after a tackle against Georgia Southern in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Auburn, Ala.

      Auburn minus-7.5 at LSU, over/under: 44.5; 12:30 p.m. on CBS

      Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has now accomplished something at Auburn that Cam Newton never managed.

      Stidham, who’s in the nation’s top 10 in passer rating, has Auburn laying a touchdown to LSU on the betting line for the first time in 21 years. Auburn hasn’t been favored in a game at Death Valley since 1995.

      Of course, the uncharacteristic big betting line has just as much to do with LSU. Most sports bettors don’t want to touch the Tigers from Louisiana considering they haven’t covered a closing point spread since a 27-0 win over BYU as 15-point favorites in Week 1.

      Sharp bettors bought low on LSU last week, but might not have known when to stop. The Tigers went off betting boards as a 1.5-point favorite after posting as 3.5-point underdog, meaning they beat the number for anyone who bet early but lost for latecomers in a 17-16 win at Florida.

      LSU believes it can move past bad losses to Troy and Mississippi State as big-play running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams get healthier. Auburn’s confidence is also improving with its top running back, Kerryon Johnson, getting back to 100 percent.

      Johnson went for 204 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries in a 44-23 win over Ole Miss as 21-point favorites last week.

      Lean: LSU plus-7.5

    • Miami head coach Mark Richt, center, talks with officials during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Bethune Cookman, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

      Georgia Tech plus-5.5 at Miami, over/under: 53.5; 12:30 p.m. on ABC

      The run won’t stop here, neither figuratively nor literally according to the betting market.

      Gamblers were banking on Georgia Tech to extend their tear early in the week, as the line on this game has dropped from opening at minus-7. To do so, Marshall and Burton will have ensure the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option continues clicking at a high level.

      Georgia Tech runs the ball on 88 percent of its plays, trailing only Army for the national lead, and has picked up a sixth-best 6.3 yards per rush attempt. Miami has given up a mediocre 4 yards per rush defensively, but has proven run stuffers at linebacker in Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney.

      Perhaps a bigger concern for Miami is its own rush game after junior running back Mark Walton was lost for the season to a broke ankle suffered in a 25-20 win over Florida State as 2.5-point favorites last week. Sophomore replacement Travis Homer has looked just as explosive at times this season, though it’s always an adjustment to begin shouldering a starter’s workload.

      The Hurricanes struggled to throw the ball against the Seminoles until they found themselves trailing with 1:24 to go, and then junior Malik Rosier led a game-winning drive. He found Darrell Langham for a 23-yard touchdown pass with six seconds remaining for the win.

      Georgia Tech, meanwhile, was resting on a bye following three straight blowout victoires.

      Guess: Miami minus-5.5

    • Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews (81) carries during an NCAA college football game between UTEP and Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.

      Oklahoma minus-7.5 vs. Texas in Dallas, over/under: 65.5; 12:30 p.m. on ESPN

      For the first time in 60 years, two first-year coaches face off in the Red River Rivalry.

      Both Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Texas’ Tom Herman could use the goodwill that comes with beating an archrival from their notoriously impatient fan bases after early stumbles. Situationally, Herman may feel more comfortable.

      The former Houston coach improved to 6-0 against the spread for his career as an underdog, and 5-1 straight-up, when Texas took USC to overtime in a 40-34 loss while catching 17 points earlier this year. Riley is coming off the first loss of his career, and it may double as the upset of the year.

      Oklahoma allowed a third-string quarterback to down it as Iowa State pulled out a 38-31 victory as 31-point underdogs last week. That shocker, and Herman’s undeniable success in this role, appears to be informing the decision here for most bettors.

      They lean Texas, which was getting as much as 10.5 points on the betting line in this spot before last week’s results. Longhorns freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who’s in for the injured Shane Buechele, has improved in each of his three starts this season and secured the cover in each of them.

      Oklahoma’s pass defense is the cause of most of its concerns, as it ranks 86th in the nation in giving up 7.7 yards per pass attempt, so the game may likely hinge on its matchup with Ehlinger.

      Guess: Oklahoma minus-7.5

    • Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, right, passes as Southern California defensive tackle Rasheem Green defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Los Angeles.

      Utah plus-13.5 at USC, over/under: 53; 5 p.m. on ABC

      Sports books may have to name a wing of their space, or at least a row of seats, after the Trojans at this rate.

      USC has emerged as the biggest donor to casino’s bottom lines this season. It gets bet every week, and yet has only covered in one of six games to start the season.

      Adding to the Trojans’ contribution to sports books is an unforeseen change in identity that has now seen their totals go under in four straight games. Instead of being led by preseason Heisman favorite Sam Darnold, the quarterback who’s dropped from 7-to-2 preseason to win the award to 15-to-1 currently, USC is riding edge rushers Rasheem Green and Christian Rector.

      The Trojans’ defense is ahead of their offense, much like the Utes. Countering USC’s defensive line as the team strength is Utah’s play-making secondary featuring Sunia Tauteoli and Justin Blackmon, who will look to raise Darnold’s total of nine interceptions.

      The Trojans weren’t only a popular week-to-week bet, as they also drew more tickets to win the national championship than any other team before the season. A loss to Utah, which would be USC’s second defeat in three games after falling 30-27 to Washington State as 4.5-point favorites, would virtually kill off all of those wagers.

      Guess: Utah plus-13.5

    • Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie shakes off water as he warms up before an NCAA college football game against Western Michigan, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in East Lansing, Mich.

      Michigan State minus-5 at Minnesota, over/under: 40.5; 5 p.m. on Big Ten Network

      Saturday’s Minneapolis forecast calls for rain, which would be nothing new for these teams to battle through.

      Weather played a big role in both teams’ games last week. A torrential downpour late in Michigan State’s 14-10 win at Michigan as 13-point underdogs severely limited the offenses and allowed the Spartans to ride the early lead they built relatively easily.

      The elements weren’t as kind to Minnesota, who led most of the way at Purdue until it was stunted by a 90-minute fourth quarter weather delay. The Boilermakers outscored the Golden Gophers 15-3 upon the restart in rolling to a 31-17 win as 4-point favorites.

      Sharp bettors’ first inclination at the hint of bad weather is to look towards the under, but this game already has the lowest total on the Week 7 board. That’s because these are two teams with defenses better than their offenses.

      Michigan State sits eighth in the nation in giving up 4 yards per play, with do-everything linebacker Joe Bachie emerging as an All-American candidate. Minnesota is not far behind, ranking 27th at 4.8 yards per play, with Jonathan Celestin its equivalent to Bachie.

      Between the rain and the defenses, it’s not going to be easy on either offense. Points will be at a premium.

      Guess: Minnesota plus-5

    • San Diego State safety Tariq Thompson, above, celebrates with teammates after grabbing an interception during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Northern Illinois Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in San Diego. (

      Boise State plus-7 at San Diego State, over/under: 45.5; 4:30 on CBS Sports Network

      San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny likened this matchup to a championship game, which is exactly what it should have been the last two years.

      The Aztecs have won back-to-back Mountain West championships without having ever had to face the other best team in the conference, the Broncos. Boise State has missed the conference championship game the last two years by virtue of upset losses and tiebreakers.

      This should help make up for lost battles considering oddsmakers still rate these two teams as far and away the Mountain West’s elite. And for the first time in sports books, San Diego State is at the top.

      The Broncos have come in as the favorite in all four previous meetings against the Aztecs — by a point-spread average of minus-14 — since they joined the Mountain West six years ago. San Diego State covered in all four meetings, and has continued to be a strong bet this season.

      The Aztecs are 4-2 against the spread, including covers in each of their first two Mountain West games. The Broncos broke a two-game against the spread losing streak in a 24-7 win at BYU as 7-point favorites last week.

      Boise State has gotten healthier after dealing with a slew of injuries, including to three-year starting quarterback Brett Rypien, early in the year.

      Play: Boise State plus-7

    • Arizona wide receiver Nate Phillips tries to make the catch in front of Stanford safety Zach Hoffpauir (10) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. The pass was incomplete.

      Oregon plus-10.5 at Stanford, over/under: 57.5; 8 p.m. on Fox Sports 1

      It’s a good thing oddsmakers aren’t as vigilant on not posting betting lines until they get clarity on quarterback situations in college football as they are in the NFL.

      Otherwise, Saturday’s last big game might have gone off without any betting opportunities. Neither the Cardinal nor the Ducks are set at the most important position.

      Oregon hasn’t announced whether it will start freshman Braxton Burmeister, who filled in for injured starter Justin Herbert last week, or senior Taylor Alie, who’s expected back from an injury. Stanford says it’s going with junior Keller Chryst to start but haven’t committed to him fully over freshman K.J. Costello, who split the snaps last week.

      The uncertainty would seem to be more problematic for Oregon, which is probably part of the reason why reports have Stanford drawing three out of every tickets on the game at betting windows. The Ducks were near the top of a number of offensive categories with Herbert before looking lost without him last week.

      Burmeister went 15-for-27 for 145 yards with two interceptions to one touchdown in a 33-10 loss to Washington State with the Ducks a 2-point underdog. No quarterback is the focal point of Stanford’s offense anyway.

      That would instead be running back Bryce Love, who leads the nation with 1,240 rushing yards on 118 carries. The Ducks have the best run defense he’s encountered all year, however, at sixth in the nation by giving up 2.8 yards per rush.

      Lean: Oregon plus-10.5

    • Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga (92) and linebacker Vosean Joseph (11) set up for a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against North Texas in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Florida won 32-0.

      Extra points

      Florida minus-2.5 vs. Texas A&M Mind-boggling to see 90 percent of the action come in on the Aggies a few weeks after they were completely written off. The sudden Texas A&M love has shaved three points on this line and made Florida, which is coming around on offense, a value play.

      Navy plus-3.5 at Memphis Wrong team might be favored as overreaction to last week’s results. Navy struggled to hold on and beat Air Force 48-45 as 7.5-point favorites, but a rivalry like that tends to invite craziness, while Memphis stomped Connecticut 70-31 as 16.5-point favorites, but the Huskies are among the worst teams in the nation.

      Ole Miss minus-3.5 vs. Vanderbilt Coaching concerns are valid, but the Rebels have so much more talent than the Commodores that it shouldn’t matter. Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson will be by far the best player on the field.

      Arizona plus-2 at UCLA Going to keep riding vastly-improved Arizona, which has arguably outplayed every opponent this year despite close losses to Houston and Utah. Wildcats’ weak pass defense will struggle against Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen, but UCLA’s run defense might be even more outmanned against Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate, who rushed for 327 yards and four touchdowns last week.

      Northwestern minus-3 at Maryland There’s a real possibility the Terrapins are forced to start their fourth-string quarterback here. All hope’s not lost for the Wildcats, which played better against Penn State than last week’s 31-7 final score indicated.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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