Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The odds made the perception clear coming into the college football season: Only five teams had a realistic chance to win the title — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma.
Now a quarter of the way through the regular season, there’s a case to be made that all five have fallen short of expectations so far. They certainly all fell short of expectations last week.
Although they all won outright, none of the de facto big five covered and they fell short of the spread by an average of 13.5 points per game. With Clemson and Ohio State having already lost outright, perhaps the College Football Playoff could be more wide-open than anticipated.
No other teams have cracked the quintet at the top of future betting boards, though. Oregon, following its upset win at Ohio State, has come the closest as the Ducks are now 16-to-1 at Station Casinos with Penn State (20-to-1), Texas A&M (25-to-1), Notre Dame (30-to-1) and Cincinnati (30-to-1) also vouching for a spot.
I’m quite happy with my current position on Georgia 10-to-1 — and even, to a lesser extent, Oklahoma at 8-to-1 — but if forced to take a team outside of the top group, my preference would be Michigan at 66-to-1 at BetMGM. The Wolverines don’t seem to be getting the same amount of love as fellow Big Ten undefeated teams like Penn State and Iowa, but they’ve been every bit as impressive.
That’s something to monitor going forward, but for now, let’s stick with the picks for every game of Week 4. I’m off to a 75-66-2 overall record (14-18 on plays, 29-20 on leans and 32-28-1 on guesses) picking every game after going 27-25 (5-7 on plays, 12-6 on leans, 10-12 on guesses) last week. It feels like an annual tradition where the leans start off better than the plays, and fixing that split will once again be a focus going forward.
Read below for picks on every Week 4 game, with write-ups on the biggest contests and some of the strongest positions. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side. Picks are labeled in three separate confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses.
Notre Dame +5.5 vs. Wisconsin in Chicago, over/under: 46.5. Prepare for the Jack Coan revenge game. The Notre Dame quarterback hasn’t been bad but protection is still an issue. The Irish aren’t imposing upfront, which is where the Badgers continue to be at their best. Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, though inconsistent, is also an upgrade from Coan — hence the latter’s transfer away from the program. Play: Wisconsin -5.5.
Rutgers +18.5 at Michigan, over/under: 51.5. Despite a slightly above-average schedule strength so far, the Wolverines have put up 7.8 yards per play on offense and overwhelmed with their running back duo of Blake Corum and Hassan Hankins. If this was any team other than Michigan, known for perennial disappointment under Jim Harbaugh, it would be getting a lot more praise and attention. Rutgers is tough to bet against because its so well-coached with Greg Schiano, but this is talent and production mismatch. Lean: Michigan -18.5.
Texas A&M -5 at Arkansas, over/under: 48. The Razorbacks have steamrolled all expectations with three straight blowout wins to start the season, but now the challenge is figuring out if it’s sustainable. On the one hand, Sam Pittman has looked like one of the best coaches in the nation in going 10-3 against the spread since taking over at Arkansas a year ago. On the other, it seems unlikely he’s going to be able to use his system bully the most talented SEC teams, a group in which Texas A&M belongs. Play: Texas A&M -5.
Clemson -10 at North Carolina State, over/under: 47. Clemson’s offense is a train wreck, but given the amount of talent still on the roster, it’s probably going to turn around at some point. I would like to see some positive strides before banking on that happen though. In the meantime, laying double digits on the road feels out of the question. Guess: NC State +10.
Nebraska +5 at Michigan State, over/under: 51.5. This might be the most evenly matched game of the week, with Nebraska currently No. 39 in the SP+ ratings and Michigan State No. 40. They also came into the season with virtually the same amount of returning production — the Spartans were 83rd and the Cornhuskers were 84th per SP+. Nothing more than a field goal, therefore, is warranted on this point spread. Lean: Nebraska +5.
Kansas State +5.5 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 46. Despite managing to upset UNR last week, Kansas State’s offense was far from business as usual without quarterback Skylar Thompson. The Wildcats ran almost exclusively, which may have worked against a smaller program that they can manhandle but shouldn’t yield the same results against a Cowboys side that can match them physically. Lean: Oklahoma State -5.5.
West Virginia +16 at Oklahoma, over/under: 59. The Mountaineers are extremely disciplined and well-coached, but they’re neither very experienced nor athletic, at least in comparison to other Power Five conference teams. They haven’t encountered an opponent to take advantage of their shortcomings yet – even Maryland only eked out a 30-24 victory — but the Sooners appear tailor-made to do so and set up as a strong buy-low team. Play: Oklahoma -16.
Marshall +7.5 at Appalachian State, over/under: 58. Everyone wants some Thursday night college football action, right? This isn’t a case of just forcing something to have action midweek, though. This spread is a significant overreaction to Marshall’s 42-38 loss to East Carolina last week, a game in which the Herd had a 2.1 net yard per play advantage but were undone by the Pirates luckily recovering three of the game’s four fumbles. Marshall upset Appalachian State 17-7 as 6-point underdogs last year, and might do so again. Play: Marshall +7.5.
Georgia State +27.5 at Auburn, over/under: 57. The Tigers better not be anticipating a breeze coming off of an emotionally-draining, physically-taxing loss at Penn State. Even if they are adequately focused, the Panthers could provide problems. Georgia State is one of the most experienced teams in the nation and much better than it showed in a 59-17 loss to North Carolina earlier in the season — especially now sparked by a quarterback change. Play: Georgia State +27.5.
UCLA -5 at Stanford, over/under: 58.5. This spread is an indictment of the perception of Fresno State. Was UCLA’s 40-37 setback to Fresno State a bad loss? Maybe, but it certainly wasn’t a horrible loss. The Bulldogs look like one of the best Group of Five conference teams, and the Bruins outgained them by 1.1 yards per play but struggled to finish a couple drives and fell to an arguably undeserved loss. This spread would have been almost 10 points higher two weeks ago, and while new Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee has shown promise, this is too big of a shift. Play: UCLA -5.
Kentucky -5 at South Carolina, over/under: 51.5. It scares me to be backing so many road teams this week — and even more concerning, laying so much road chalk — but this is one I can’t get away from. The market continues to underestimate how bereft of talent the Gamecocks’ roster currently stands. Kentucky played poorly in a 28-23 victory over Chattanooga last week but has dominated every aspect of its two Football Bowl Subdivision games. There’s no way statistically to get this number to less than a touchdown. Play: Kentucky -5.
California +7.5 at Washington, over/under: 46. The Huskies’ loss to Montana to start the season might be the gift that keeps giving because it’s thrown everyone off the true value of the former. This is still a good team, and one that appeared to find some offense in a 52-3 win over Arkansas State last week. If Washington’s offense can just be average, it remains a Pac-12 Championship contender. Play: Washington -7.5.
Play: UAB +4.5 at Tulane
Play: SMU +10 at TCU
Play: Boise State -9 at Utah State
Play: Iowa -23 vs. Colorado State
Lean: Arizona State -14 vs. Colorado
Lean: Western Kentucky +9.5 vs. Indiana
Lean: North Texas +12 at Louisiana Tech
Lean: Georgia -33.5 at Vanderbilt
Lean: Toledo -4 at Ball State
Lean: Texas Tech +9 at Texas
Lean: Hawaii -17 at New Mexico State
Lean: Middle Tennessee State +2.5 at Charlotte
Lean: Baylor +7.5 vs. Iowa State
Lean: Tennessee +20.5 at Florida
Lean: Arkansas State +13.5 at Tulsa
Lean: Louisiana -13.5 at Georgia Southern
Lean: Oregon State +12.5 at USC
Lean: Ohio +15 at Northwestern
Guess: Arizona +28.5 at Oregon
Guess: Maryland -13.5 vs. Kent State
Guess: New Mexico +2 at UTEP
Guess: Troy -23.5 at Louisiana-Monroe
Guess: Florida State +2.5 vs. Louisville
Guess: Purdue -11 vs. Illinois
Guess: Utah -14 vs. Washington State
Guess: Army -8 vs. Miami (Ohio)
Guess: UTSA +3.5 at Memphis
Guess: Southern Miss +45 at Alabama
Guess: North Carolina -12 at Georgia Tech
Guess: Navy +20.5 at Houston
Guess: UNLV +31.5 at Fresno State
Guess: Ohio State -49 vs. Akron
Guess: Wyoming -29 at UConn
Guess: Virginia -4 vs. Wake Forest
Guess: Mississippi State +2.5 vs. LSU
Guess: Florida Atlantic +5 at Air Force
Guess: Liberty -6.5 at Syracuse
Guess: Missouri -2 at Boston College
Guess: San Jose State +3 at Western Michigan
Guess: Florida International +10 at Central Michigan
Guess: South Florida +23.5 at BYU
Guess: Kansas +16.5 at Duke
Guess: Old Dominion +13.5 vs. Buffalo
Guess: Minnesota -30.5 vs. Bowling Green
Guess: Texas State +6.5 at Eastern Michigan