An early look at Week 11 college football point spreads on six major games, including blockbuster Big 12 winnowing, a potential Death Valley disaster and the Big Ten's return to relevance.
Week 10 featured a pair of top 25 Pac-12 games and a top 10 SEC West showdown. Remarkably, Week 11 should one up it with a loaded slate that features six top 20 matchups.
Here's a wagering autopsy on Week 10 and a primer on Week 11's opening Las Vegas lines:
Week 10 recap
Road heavyweights cover
The College Football Playoff race is tightening up and, unsurprisingly, more and more people are tuning in to watch it. ESPN's two most-watched college football games of the season were two of the games featured in this space last week: Florida State-Louisville and Auburn-Ole Miss.
The Seminoles continued their run of stellar second-half performances Thursday, casually rattling off 42 points in the final two quarters and change against the nation's best defense after trailing 21-0. Florida State won by 11 and covered the entire range of the week's lines, which wavered between three and seven.
The story was much more tragic in Oxford, Miss., where Laquon Treadwell caught what would have been the go-ahead, covering touchdown pass but fumbled just short of the goal line on an awkward tackle that fractured his leg. The traumatic ending made a monetary stake in the game feel a little slimy. Whether Gus Malzahn's team, 24-10 ATS in his head coaching tenure, continues to pay out is due to some dark magic, or raw talent, remains to be seen, but it feels as if almost nothing can stop them from rewarding bettors.
The first shall be last and the last shall be first
The nation's best team ATS failed to cover Saturday while the nation's worst team ATS paid out. TCU won a sloppy game against West Virginia in Morgantown on a last-second field goal but fell short of -3.5. The ATS loss marked TCU's first failure to cover all season. The Horned Frogs were the only remaining team with a perfect ATS record.
On the flip side, a FBS-worst 1-7 ATS UCLA squad made the Arizona Wildcats look clueless in Pasadena. Despite a late-fourth quarter Brett Hundley fumble, an Arizona team that had the majority of the handle somehow couldn't get within six and a half points and lost 17-7. Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats teams dropped to 9-14 ATS in Pac-12 contests.
- In a week which the seemingly surest play was the TCU-WVU Over, the game total of 61 fell well within the Under thanks to wet weather and seven turnovers.
- With TCU's ATS loss, college football's best kept betting secret, 8-1 ATS Georgia Southern, now co-owns the distinction of the best spread record in the FBS along with Western Michigan.
- Oklahoma under Bob Stoops is 23-9 ATS after a straight up loss. Sure enough, coming off a Week 8 defeat to Kansas State, the Sooners covered in a big way on the road against Iowa State (+16.5).
- Oregon dispatched its "Stanford problem" by easily clearing 7.5 points against the Cardinal, the Ducks' main Pac-12 roadblock in 2012 and 2013. Saturday's victory all but seals up the Pac-12 North for Oregon.
- The last remaining FBS team with a goose egg in either its ATS or O/U record is San Diego State, which has hit the under in all eight games this year. The Aztecs face an Idaho Vandals team this weekend that has only hit the under twice all season.
- In a game which hardly anyone gave Florida a chance of covering, let alone winning outright, the two-touchdown dogs might have cooled Will Muschamp's hot seat a bit with a 38-20 win over Georgia.
Week 11 primer
Opening lines, in parenthesis, are from CG Technology
No. 13 Ohio State at No. 7 Michigan State (-3, moved to -3.5 Monday afternoon)
Popular narrative warning: The game to determine the best team in the Big Ten will be an old school, low-scoring, between-the-tackles slugfest that Michigan State will win at home by a touchdown.
Propelling this narrative are both a lazy, traditionalist school of thought and a weirdly almost perfectly even matchup. Both teams give up about 20 points per game. Both teams give up around 180 passing yards and one passing touchdown per game. Michigan State has the slight edge in run defense but not by much. Oh, and each offense averages roughly 45 points and 255 rushing yards per game.
Speaking of scoring, the two teams are a combined 13-3 O/U this year. This isn't your older brother's Michigan State team. Connor Cook can pass and the Spartans can score. Similarly, J.T. Barrett of Week 11 is not J.T. Barrett of Week 2. The Buckeyes are putting up points, albeit against competition inferior to Michigan State.
Two other Ohio State nuggets to consider: There is one coach with a better career ATS winning percentage than Kansas State's Godfather of Covering Bill Snyder (more on that below). That coach is Urban Meyer. He's a whopping 94-67 all time ATS. Moreover, Meyer is 15-5 ATS as an underdog, according to the always insightful David Purdum of Sporting News.
This game is the first time Ohio State has been an underdog all year. If this jumps up even half a point, there could be value at +3.5. (Update: The line is there at +3.5 now and Spartan money could even drive it to +4).
No. 4 Alabama at No. 14 LSU (+6.5)
Alabama has lost only five times in the past four seasons. Three of those five losses (Ole Miss this season, Oklahoma in last year's Sugar Bowl and LSU in 2011) have come when Saban has had more than one week to prepare for an opponent.
Les Miles' squad is a difficult team to figure out. Auburn obliterated the Tigers in Week 6, and LSU required all it had to vanquish a pitiful Florida team in Week 7. But the Tigers stifled Ole Miss in Death Valley two weeks ago and are a sneaky 6-2 ATS on the season. That said, with more than a week to prepare, Les Miles is 6-4, and three of those four losses are to Alabama.
As the Crimson Tide coach, Saban is 5-3 straight up against Miles. Whether he improves that record to 6-3 largely depends on which LSU defense shows up Saturday night. The easy play here is to assume a balanced and brawling Alabama attack wins and to lay the points. That might not be smartest play, however.
Like last week's words of warning for road favorites Florida State and TCU, be very careful here before just automatically picking the Crimson Tide to cover. Home dogs in the SEC are always a compelling choice. But more so, -6.5 is a lot to ask of anyone in Tiger Stadium. If you're in for LSU, get on the Tigers now. Alabama bettors can afford to wait to see where this line goes.
No. 8 Notre Dame at No. 11 Arizona State (-2.5, moved to -1 Monday afternoon)
Notre Dame's season took an irreversible turn in Week 9 when Will Fuller was called for offensive pass interference on what would've been a Florida State-beating touchdown pass to Corey Robinson. The loss didn't excise the Fighting Irish from the College Football Playoff discussion, but they'll need to win out the rest of the way against strong competition.
The easiest of Notre Dame's remaining games after its loss to the Seminoles was against Navy, and the Irish got the Midshipmen with two weeks to prepare. Looking for a convincing victory, the two-touchdown favorites somehow trailed Navy in the fourth quarter before pulling away for a 49-39 win. More importantly, the Irish lost defensive leader Joe Schmidt for the season to an ankle injury.
While the assumed narrative for Saturday's matchup is that a physical Notre Dame defense is going to come into Tempe and challenge a balanced, albeit recently slowed, Arizona State offense that has put up around 480 yards per game, consider the reverse narrative: A physical Notre Dame offense that's recently put up 50 (against North Carolina) and 49 points (against Navy) could come into Tempe and challenge an Arizona State defense that's in middle of the FBS pack in terms of points and yardage allowed.
Arizona State has found sneaky ways to score all season long, including putting up 24 points against Stanford, which was more than enough to finish off a team many compare to Notre Dame. Arizona State has a good chance to cover if Taylor Kelly can consistently find Jaelen Strong. That said, it took an overtime field goal (and an opponent's field goal miss) for the Sun Devils to beat Utah this past Saturday.
Neither team has performed remarkably against the spread or even against totals, although Notre Dame has cleared the Over in two of its last three contests. Consider the Irish here, especially if this line gets above three. (Update: Bettors did consider the Irish, paying Notre Dame up to +1)
No. 5 Oregon at No. 20 Utah (+10)
Oregon and Utah have faced each other only twice in the post-Mike Bellotti era, and both times in Eugene, so there isn't much matchup history to go off of here. But consider this: In its last 13 games, when Oregon is 5-0 ATS when favored by fewer than three touchdowns, 0-6 ATS when favored by more than three touchdowns, and 1-1 ATS as exactly 21-point favorites.
There are several reasons why Utah could theoretically keep this game under 10 points, and maybe even to a touchdown. Anything goes in #Pac12AfterDark -- including multiple Hail Mary victories this season. Heck, the Arizona squad that beat a top 10 Oregon team this season came out against a laggard UCLA squad late Saturday night and barely managed seven points. The conference is cruel, Kafkaesque and wickedly exciting.
Utah allows yards through the air, and Oregon gets yards -- and points -- through the air. The Ducks' 28 touchdown passes this season are the third most of any FBS team. Utah is great at intimidating teams on rushes from the corners and flustering opponents but not great at winning high-scoring shoot outs. One major point in Utah's favor, however: At 7-1, the Utes has the second-best ATS record in the FBS and are tied with TCU for the ATS record lead among Power Five teams.
If the line gets pushed higher than 10, it's worth considering Utah. But until Oregon loses a sub-21-point favorite spread, it's hard to bet against the Ducks as favorites in that one-to-two-touchdown range.
No. 9 Kansas State at No. 6 TCU (-6, moved to -5 Monday afternoon)
As with any game involving TCU in 2014, you have to consider a strong offensive attack and its ability -- at least until last week -- to cover. West Virginia vanquished the 2014 cover king by 2.5 points in a game that made both teams look somewhat less than top 10-ish. The 82-point sensation of Week 9 was all but gone.
As with any game involving Kansas State and Bill Snyder, one would do wise to consider the Wildcats to cover. Snyder is the career king of spread coverers, with total ATS wins far besting the likes of the aforementioned Meyer and Malzahn.
Expect this game to be won through the air. Both teams are strong at defending the run. The Horned Frogs and Wildcats' only two meetings post-1987 came in the past two seasons, after TCU moved to the Big 12. Kansas State won both of them outright. But it didn't win against this year's Trevone Boykin, who bears little resemblance to his past self.
It's hard to bet against Boykin airing it out at home, but it's also hard to bet against a top 10, incredibly coached Kansas State team that is given six points. This is the Big 12 clash of the year, a game that points more to either team winning by field goal than a double-digit romp.
Sharp money will flow in on Kansas State if the line reaches seven points. It might already be flowing in (Update: It is). Horned Frogs backers would do well to wait on this line.
No. 10 Baylor at No. 16 Oklahoma (-3, moved to -4.5 Monday afternoon)
If Baylor wants to be considered seriously for the College Football Playoff, it needs to not only win out, but it needs to win this game convincingly. This means the Bears -- them of the FBS-leading 50-plus points per game for the last two seasons -- may attempt to run up the score. Baylor is a quiet 5-2-1 ATS this year, while Oklahoma is a fairly inconclusive 4-4. So, naturally, laying the Bears a field goal seems the only prudent decision.
Not so fast, my degenerate friend! Not only has Baylor beaten Oklahoma just twice ever (in 2013 and 2011), but the Bears have also never beaten the Sooners in Norman. Oklahoma isn't too shabby at scoring, either, averaging 42 points per game this season. The Over in this game should be insane, and frankly an O/U bet is probably the play to make here.
The ugly truth is that neither of these teams have great passing defenses. Oklahoma, by yardage, is a surprising 108th best in FBS, although it allows fewer than two passing touchdowns per game. That should change Saturday. Both teams have strong rushing attacks, but each boasts top 20 rushing defenses.
This won't be a Baylor-TCU redux, but it could be explosive. If you're playing the Bears, wait on this as Sooners money most likely comes in first (Update: It did). Baylor also has a lot of advocates in Vegas, too. Depending on which Oklahoma defense shows up, one team likely wins this game by nine or 10. But which one?
ATS records are provided by either SportingNews.com or VegasInsider.com. Wagering percentages are provided by OddsShark.com