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College Football Week 8 Best Bets: Plenty of Value Lies in Pac-12, Big 12

Oregon State football

Going 5-0 on last week's best bets was awesome. But it's an even better feeling when all of your picks beat the spread or total by at least seven points, with four of them beating the number by at least 14 points. Our record here is now 21-10 (67.7%) on the season. As always, SI Gambling will be using current odds (as of Thursday at 3:15 p.m. EST this week) from New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill, PointsBet) for best bets every week.

Oregon State at California: Oregon State +11 (-110) at PointsBet

I think this line is such an overreaction. Utah -13 at Oregon State was a best bet for us last weekend, but it was a great spot for the Utes. Utah under Kyle Whittingham has traditionally been excellent with extra days to prep, whether it’s off a bye or before a bowl game. Star tailback Zack Moss returned from injury, and while he only had five carries, they resulted in 121 yards and two touchdowns. Also, Utah’s defensive line was by far the best one Oregon State has faced thus far, and the Utes did an incredible job slowing down the Beavers’ rushing attack. That’s important since Oregon State came into the game sixth in the country in third-down conversion rate. But the offense only got first downs on two of 13 third-down attempts vs. Utah, as it faced more third-and-longs than usual.

Cal, meanwhile, is coming off a bye and its last game played was a 17-7 loss to Oregon. That game was not as close as the score indicated, though. Oregon outgained Cal in terms of yards per play 5.5 to 4.0. The problem was this: Not including end of game kneels, Oregon reached the Cal 30-yard line seven times. The Ducks only scored on three of those occasions, thanks to miscues that included an interception, lost fumble, missed field goal and failed fourth-and-2 conversion.

The Golden Bears still have a very good defense, as it ranks 36th at 5.01 yards per play allowed. Despite returning all four starters from the best secondary in the country and one of the nation’s best linebackers in Evan Weaver, the unit has regressed as a whole compared to last season. In 2018, Cal finished ninth in yards per play allowed (4.59).

Cal’s pass defense has remained on a similarly elite level, allowing an opponent quarterback rating of 109.86 (13th) and 6.0 yards per attempt (15th) this season compared to 107.25 (11th) and 5.9 (12th) respectively in 2018. The drop-off has occurred stopping the run, going from 3.61 yards per carry allowed (24th) last season to 4.07 (65th) this campaign. Cal has allowed at least 4.0 yards per carry in all three of its Pac-12 games thus far—and that came against teams that rank 41st (Oregon), 47th (Washington) and 102nd (Arizona State) nationally in yards per carry. Oregon State is 23rd in that category, which only trails Utah (16th) and Arizona (20th) among Pac-12 teams. What’s even more impressive is Utah and Arizona have mobile quarterbacks in Tyler Huntley and Khalil Tate that boost those YPC numbers, while Oregon State has the immobile Jake Luton under center.

The Beavers’ dynamic run game is led by tailback Artavis Pierce. Among running backs with at least 50 carries this season, Pierce ranks 12th with a sterling 6.8 yards per carry. While Pierce and Oregon State’s solid offensive line had trouble running through Utah’s elite defensive line (fourth in line yards allowed and sixth in stuff rate, both per Football Outsiders), Cal’s is much more penetrable (91st in line yards allowed and 82nd in stuff rate). Oregon State is actually a balanced attack thanks to the formidable connection between Luton and star wideout Isaiah Hodgins, but I think you’ll see a stronger output from Pierce in this one.

For Cal on the offensive side of the ball, the Golden Bears have been hampered by injuries. They may get starting center Mike Saffell back after he was carted off last game against Oregon. Left tackle Valentino Daltoso, who replaced Week 1 starter Will Craig after a season-ending injury, also suffered an injury against Oregon, but was able to return in that one. Starting quarterback Chase Garbers is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. UCLA transfer Devon Modster has filled in, and has put up a miserable 46.9% completion rate and 4.7 YPA thus far. Granted, he did face an outstanding defense in Oregon and had to come in the middle of the game against Arizona State after Garbers was hurt, but those numbers are still well off from Garbers’s.

Oregon State still has an abysmal defense, but it’s not as dreadful as last year’s historically awful unit. The Beavers allow 6.32 yards per play (107th) and have surrendered 36 plays of at least 20 yards (tied for 114th). But the big difference this season is Oregon State has actually excelled at generating tackles for loss. Oregon State averages 7.67 tackles for loss per game, which ranks 18th in the nation and is only behind Oregon among Pac-12 teams. If the Beavers can force an already-struggling Cal offense into second- and third-and-longs with early-down stops behind the line of scrimmage, they will be able to get off the field in Berkeley. The Golden Bears allow 6.5 tackles for loss per game, which is tied for 87th in CFB and the third-worst mark in the Pac-12 (only ahead of UCLA and Arizona). The injuries to the offensive line have definitely played a big role in that department.

So as I said earlier, I think the fact that is a double-digit line is crazy, and I am more than happy to jump back on to the Beavs bandwagon this weekend.

No. 18 Baylor at Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State -4 (-110) at PointsBet

Baylor is 6-0 to start the season, but it’s not exactly a gaudy resume. The Bears had one of the softest non-conference schedules in the country (Stephen F. Austin, UTSA and at Rice). Two of their three Big 12 wins have come by three points or fewer—a two-point home win vs. Iowa State and a three-point home win over Texas Tech in double overtime. 

But that win came with a price: Senior linebacker Clay Johnston suffered a knee injury after notching an interception in the fourth quarter and will be out the rest of the season. A key component of Baylor’s undefeated record has been the massive improvement of the defense, which currently ranks 23rd in Bill Connelly’s S&P+. Johnston was easily one of the most important players on that unit (along with defensive lineman James Lynch), as the linebacker led Baylor in tackles this season and is third overall in the conference in tackles per game.

Missing a linebacker of Johnston’s caliber is rather important when going up against Oklahoma State’s electric rushing attack. Tailback Chuba Hubbard leads the country in rushing yards by an astounding 268, and he’s doing so at 6.75 YPC. Redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders is also a threat on the ground, rushing for at least 46 yards in every game this season. Baylor can’t just focus on shutting down the run, though, as the Pokes are far from one-dimensional on offense. After all, they have one of the best wideouts in the country Tylan Wallace.

Not surprisingly, Oklahoma State is one of the most explosive teams in the country, as it is tied tied for 10th in the nation with 12 plays of at least 40 yards or more. Baylor was actually the worst team in the Big 12 last season in giving up big plays—as its 26 plays allowed of 40-plus yards was seven more than any other Big 12 defense. This year, it’s been a total 180 thus far, as Baylor has allowed just two plays of at least 40 yards (tied for eighth) and 18 plays of at least 20 yards (tied for 16th). On the other hand, it’s come against teams that are simply not explosive. If you measure those opponents by 20-yard gains, they rank 43rd (Iowa State), 55th (Texas Tech) 122 (Kansas State), 123rd (UTSA), 128th (Rice) and an FCS team (Stephen F. Austin). Oklahoma State is tied for ninth in 20-plus yard gains this season, so this is a much bigger challenge than Baylor has faced thus far in 2019.

Then, if you look at the spot, it’s an advantageous one for Oklahoma State. The Pokes are coming off a bye and their last game was a 45-35 loss to Texas Tech. They are hosting a vulnerable undefeated and ranked team, so the atmosphere should be crazy. I don’t think Baylor is as good as its 6-0 record, while Oklahoma State’s two losses were a 36-30 defeat at Texas and a game in which it had a negative-six (-6!) turnover differential at Texas Tech. Baylor actually had a plus-one turnover differential the following week against Texas Tech, and still needed double overtime to barely edge the Red Raiders.

Oklahoma State appears to be the better team and it’s in the much better spot. So I have to roll with the favorite here.

No. 12 Oregon at No. 25 Washington: Washington +3 (-110) at DraftKings

If you’re betting the Pac-12, you have to accept the premise that anything can happen and that you will be betting sides that make no sense on paper. Oregon has one of the best defenses in the country this season, as the Ducks are No. 1 in S&P+ and fourth in yards per play allowed at 3.94—only behind Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State. Washington, meanwhile, has been inconsistent all season, already dropping conference games to Cal and Stanford, and was losing to Arizona at the half this past weekend.

So why in the world am I taking the Huskies?

Let’s start with Oregon’s defense. Andy Avalos is no doubt in the conversation for one of the best offseason hires, as the former Boise State defensive coordinator has gotten the Ducks to play at a completely different level. Oregon has not allowed more than seven points in five straight games.

But let’s look at the offenses the Ducks have played. They’ve faced a true freshman that made his CFB debut in Bo Nix, and allowed 27 points to Auburn in that loss. That was followed by a Nevada team coming off a ridiculous comeback win over Purdue, and the Wolf Pack have mustered 4.92 yards per play this season (112th, one spot behind Georgia Tech). After suffocating FCS Montana, Oregon shut down Stanford’s offense with an injured K.J. Costello under center for the Cardinal. Costello had an unfathomable 4.0 yards per attempt through the air, and had the second-worst quarterback rating of his career, only besting a game against Washington State his freshman year when he completed 9 of his 20 throws for 105 yards and an interception. Next, Oregon hosted a Cal offense that has certainly struggled in the Justin Wilcox era, and had to employ backup QB Devon Modster as its signal-caller after Chase Garbers suffered a shoulder injury the week before. Modster, as stated above, has been a sizeable downgrade from Garbers thus far. And this past Friday, Oregon stomped a banged-up Colorado team traveling to Autzen on a short week.

So while I do think Oregon’s defense is good, I think the Ducks have certainly benefitted from who they’ve faced and when. Even with its ups and downs, Washington is at 6.34 yards per play this season, which is tied for 31st in the nation. The best offense in terms of yards per play that Oregon has faced in 2019 is Auburn at 5.92, which ranks 64th. Jacob Eason has been inconsistent, but the weapons he has in running back Salvon Ahmed, wideout Aaron Fuller and tight end Hunter Bryant are dangerous. Additionally, true freshman wideout Puka Nacua, who was behind more experienced wideouts in the depth chart to start this campaign, emerged as a legitimate downfield threat against Arizona. Expect his role to increase, which should be another boost for the Huskies offense.

On the offensive side of the ball for Oregon, the Ducks received brutal news this week that tight end Jacob Breeland is out for the season with a leg injury. Breeland led the Ducks in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, and was Justin Herbert’s favorite and most reliable target. He was also the Ducks’ biggest physical mismatch. Getting wideouts Mycah Pittman and Juwan Johnson back from injury helps, but replacing Breeland is a tall task for this Oregon passing attack. This is a team, however, that wants to overpower you with its run game, despite having a potential first-round draft pick at QB in Herbert. The problem is, Oregon isn’t that efficient at running the ball, ranking 41st in yards per carry (4.91). The Ducks also have problems with their vanilla play-calling at times, which falls on the shoulders of their offensive coaching staff.

There’s also the Mario Cristobal factor. This is a head coach that I can’t trust in big games. Headlined by Oregon meltdowns against Auburn to start this season and Stanford in 2018, a major coaching discrepancy is one that a team can ill-afford in showdowns like this. Chris Petersen hasn’t been a smashing success in Seattle, but he is still a much better coach than Cristobal. Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo also has come under fire in big games, and it’s strange to see the Ducks’ offense look this clunky at times with all the talent on that side of the ball. Additionally, Justin Herbert has performed much worse in conference games on the road in his collegiate career compared to his home confines in Eugene.

So sure, Oregon does look like the much better team on paper. But this is betting the Pac-12, and sometimes you have to go in the opposite direction of what you see on the surface. Give me the points with home underdog Washington, who I also think wins this game outright.

No. 17 Arizona State at No. 13 Utah: Arizona State +14 (-110) at William Hill

This side is a tough pill to swallow because Arizona State is clearly a public underdog here. Usually when there’s a battle between ranked teams and one of them is a sizeable underdog, the inclination is to think “How is this ranked team an underdog by so many points? They must be a great bet.” And I do think that Arizona State has overachieved this season, but at two touchdowns, I have to take the Sun Devils here.

Arizona State won outright as a two-point home underdog to Washington State this past weekend, even though Wazzu QB Anthony Gordon carved up the passing defense for 466 yards on 64 throws (7.3 YPA). ASU’s offense, though, was able to take advantage of a mightily struggling Washington State defense, as the Sun Devils outgained Washington State 7.8 to 6.6 in terms of yards per play. And there weren’t any turnovers in this game either, ASU just simply was the better team. In fact, the Sun Devils had a higher YPP against Wazzu than Utah did (7.4) the previous week in its 38-13 drubbing of the Cougars.

True freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels has been terrific in Tempe thus far. I would be more nervous about him facing a ferocious Utah defensive front on the road, but he did just that against Michigan State already this season. While that game was a fluky ASU win, the Sun Devils were able to move the ball by opting for quick throws since they had no chance running the ball past Sparty’s defensive line. Utah’s run defense is even better than Michigan State’s (2.44 YPC allowed vs. 3.36), but the Utes haven’t been able to rush the passer nearly as well as in previous years, ranking 87th in sack rate.

ASU’s offensive line has been much better than earlier in the season when senior center Cohl Cabral was out with injuries, but this is still a big edge for Utah. But even if the Utes stop Eno Benjamin and the ground game, Daniels has some nice weapons he can throw to in Brandon Aiyuk (the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week) and Kyle Williams.

The matchups on the other side of the ball are extremely interesting, too. Tyler Huntley has quietly been one of the best quarterbacks in the country this season, as he is sixth in yards per attempt (10.6) and third in completion rate (75.6%). The only quarterback who tops him in both metrics? That would be Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow.

Utah has really been rolling of late, as the Utes have scored 90 points in their past two games. But that has come against Washington State and Oregon State, not just two of the worst defenses in the Pac-12, but two of the worst defenses in the country (Oregon State ranks 108th in yards per play allowed, Washington State ranks 120th). Arizona State has its flaws on defense, but it ranks 39th in yards per play allowed.

The big weakness has been allowing intermediate completions, as ASU has allowed 61 passes of at least 10 yards (tied for 101st) and 24 passes of at least 20 yards (tied for 104th). On defending more explosive passes, ASU has been much better, ranking 40th in 30-yard plus throws and 33rd in 40-yard plus throws. That’s important because a staple of an Andy Ludwig-coached offense (Utah’s offensive coordinator) is explosive plays. And ASU has been exceptional at limiting big plays on the ground, as it is tied with Wisconsin for the best in the country with 10 rushes allowed of at least 10 yards and tied for fifth in runs allowed of at least 20 yards.

The excellent run defense is key not just because Utah likes to run the ball with star tailback Zack Moss—who racked up 121 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries in his return from injury against Oregon State—but also because of the weather forecast. This total has dropped all the way down from 50.5 to currently 45 as of Thursday afternoon. These are two physical teams, but the reason behind the total move is the expected conditions in Salt Lake City on Saturday. Winds of around 14 MPH and a strong chance of precipitation when the game kicks off at 3 p.m. local time has bettors thinking points will be tough to come by.

If it’s difficult to throw the ball in these conditions, you’ll have a battle of teams trying to run the ball against two of the best run defenses in the country. In a game like this, special teams could also play a big part. Utah’s special teams, which had been among the best in the country in recent seasons under Kyle Whittingham, has suffered a major drop-off. In fact, Arizona State’s special teams (21st) is rated higher in S&P+ than Utah’s (50th).

Under Herm Edwards, Arizona State has been extremely competitive and well-coached. This is a team that does not get blown out: ASU hasn’t lost a game in the regular season by more than seven points. So while I don’t think the Sun Devils are as good as their No. 17 ranking, two touchdowns in a game like this is simply too much.

Kansas at No. 15 Texas: Kansas +21.5 (-110) at William Hill

Texas may have only lost by seven to Oklahoma, but boy was that score misleading. Oklahoma absolutely dominated Texas in terms of yards per play, averaging 7.7 YPP to the Longhorns’ 4.2. Simply put, that is the statistical profile of a game that is normally decided by multiple touchdowns instead of just one. Texas, however, greatly benefitted from a Jalen Hurts fumble at the Longhorns’ 7-yard line and a Hurts red-zone interception. Instead of Oklahoma taking control early, Texas was kept in the game by turnovers.

Kansas is coming off a bye after losing 45-20 to Oklahoma, and switched offensive coordinators in the process. Now led by Brent Dearmon, that extra time off should help with the transition. Facing a Texas defense that has allowed 6.38 yards per play (112th in CFB, worst in the Big 12) will also help. The Longhorns are really banged-up all over on defense, especially in the secondary. Defensive end Malcolm Roach will also miss the first half of this one after he was calling for targeting vs. the Sooners. The Kansas offense actually had a much higher YPP against Oklahoma the week before (6.0) compared to Texas this past weekend (4.2).

Facing Sam Ehlinger and the Texas offense is a challenge, but I think the Longhorns are still overvalued in the market with all the injuries hampering this team. Texas may get caught off-guard if Dearmon makes major changes to Kansas’s system in his first game as OC, and this is obviously an important game for Les Miles as he gets a chance to face off against one of the conference’s most prestigious teams. You also have Texas coming off a close, and misleading, loss to its biggest rival, while Kansas is coming off a bye. I like the spot and I don’t mind fading an overrated team, so hold your nose and take the 21.5 with the Jayhawks. 

Season record: 21-10