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  • As the first month of college football action comes to a close, our experts like a quartet of underdogs to cover the spread on Saturday.
By The SI Staff
September 24, 2018

After going 2-2 in Week 4, our bettors have zeroed in on four underdogs to cover the spread this week—including Louisiana-Lafayette getting 49 points on the road in Tuscaloosa. Read on to see all of our experts' favorite plays for Week 5.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Alabama (-49)

Sat. 9/29, 12:00 p.m. ET

Pick: Louisiana-Lafayette +49

A spread of this size may seem like an anomaly, but being installed as a favorite of 40 or more points isn’t that uncommon for Alabama. Since 2009, it’s happened 15 times—and the Crimson Tide are just 4-11 against the spread. For this program to be 4-11 against anything is perplexing, and it should be seen as an opportunity for bettors to exploit. This seven-touchdown line feels like an overcompensation from Vegas, who aside from last week’s game against Texas A&M hasn’t been able to set Bama’s lines high enough.

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The quarterback situation also plays a role in this pick. You will see Tua Tagovailoa stake Alabama to an early lead it will never lose. You will see Jalen Hurts come in and contribute a touchdown or two. You will likely see third-stinger Mac Jones, who has taken snaps in three of Alabama’s first four games. Slowly but surely, you will see the potency of the Tide’s offense wane, as a new signal-caller necessitates a shift in approach and an increase in conservative play-calling. That shift might be from fourth gear to third, but the scoreboard will reflect the change: Alabama has scored just 14 points in the fourth quarter this season. Yes, even Nick Saban has a heart, albeit one that surfaces after his team has punctured the heart of its opposition.

Given what Alabama’s opponents have produced on offense this season—a combined 51 points—it’s hard to count on Louisiana-Lafayette for anything more than a single-digit output. But it shouldn’t need much more than that to cover, considering the size of this spread. It’s not as if the Ragin’ Cajuns can’t score: They put up 49 against Grambling State and 28 against Coastal Carolina—and even put up 10 on the road against Mississippi State. In that one, Louisiana-Lafayette put up an early field goal and tied its SEC opponent in scoring in the fourth quarter, 7-7. It should be able replicate that production against an opponent that will have nothing to play for by the second half. — Ed McGrogan

Kent State at Ball State (-8)

Sat. 9/29, 3:00 p.m. ET

Pick: Kent State +8

Coming into this season, no FBS team had scored fewer points over the preceding four-year period than Kent State. That's why when the school fired Paul Haynes last November after his fifth consecutive losing season, its choice to replace him was Sean Lewis, who as Syracuse’s co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach oversaw an up-tempo Orange offense that led FBS with an average of 85.6 plays per game in 2017. The 31-year-old Lewis, the nation’s youngest FBS coach, is familiar with the MAC from the time he spent as an assistant at Bowling Green when current Syracuse coach Dino Babers was the head man there. That’s where he learned an offensive system similar to the one Art Briles ran at Baylor, which he has now implemented at Kent State with quarterback Woody Barrett, a former three-star prospect who last season played at Mississippi’s Copiah-Lincoln Community College after having signed with Auburn but never seeing the field in 2016.

There have been signs over the 2018 season’s first few weeks that Barrett and Lewis have begun to turn the Golden Flashes around. At the very least, Kent State has been tested so far with a pair of road games at Big Ten schools before last week’s road contest at Ole Miss. Kent State led Illinois 17-3 at halftime before falling 31-24 as an 18-point underdog in the season opener. After a 54-14 Week 2 win over FCS Howard—the same Howard team that last season beat UNLV on the road—the Flashes fell to Penn State after having trailed 21-10 with less than a minute to go in the first half. Kent State was again competitive, this time for 50 minutes, at Ole Miss this past Saturday, trailing 24-17 with less than 10 minutes remaining before falling 38-17 as a 28.5-point underdog.

Considering that Ball State ranks 106th in FBS in scoring offense while each of Kent State’s last two opponents rank among the nation’s top 25 teams in scoring—and that’s despite the fact that Ole Miss scored only seven points against top-ranked Alabama—a second-half defensive meltdown this week would seem far less likely. Ball State comes into this one off back-to-back losses at Indiana (the Hoosiers’ 28-point win as a 15-point favorite is their only ATS win of 2018) and at home by eight points to a Western Kentucky squad last Saturday that had come in with an 0-3 record that included a home loss to FCS Maine on September 8. The Cardinals have lost nine consecutive home conference games dating back to the 2015 season finale, and the only one of those nine games that they managed to cover was a 16-point loss as a 17.5-point underdog against Buffalo last November. This appears to be a spot where taking the points and making a moneyline play in the neighborhood of +250 are both warranted. — Scott Gramling

Purdue (-3) at Nebraska

Sat. 9/29, 3:30 p.m. ET

Pick: Nebraska +3

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Nebraska’s performance in Michigan was embarrassing last weekend. The team was dominated in every facet of the game and head coach Scott Frost called it his program’s rock bottom. But even coming off of a 56-10 loss to the Wolverines, the Cornhuskers should be able to get the job done against the Boilermakers. Nebraska might be 0-3 this season, but a case could be made that the team would be 2-1 if QB Adrian Martinez hadn't injured his knee late in a loss to Colorado in the season opener. And Martinez, despite being pulled from the game in Ann Arbor, actually looked healthy enough last week. Considering he’ll have another six days to get himself right, look for the Cornhuskers' passing attack to get back on track against a Purdue defense that is allowing 275.3 yards per game through the air—the 24th-worst mark in the nation.

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Ole Miss at LSU (-12)

Sat. 9/29, 9:15 p.m. ET

Pick: Ole Miss +12

Big-time early-season wins over Miami and Auburn have launched LSU into the realm of college football's most highly regarded teams this year, and the Tigers moved up to No. 5 in the AP Poll this past weekend after a 38-21 home win over Louisiana Tech. But even in those victories over fellow blue bloods, LSU has yet to face much of a passing attack: Miami quarterback Malik Rosier was benched last week for a freshman, and Auburn is 104th in the nation in passing offense. And despite the presence of playmaking cornerback Greedy Williams, LSU is only 89th in the country in passing defense through four games.

Enter Jordan Ta'amu, A.J. Brown and Ole Miss. Ta'amu ranks sixth in FBS in passing yards (1,359) and yards per attempt (10.9). Brown, his favorite target (26 catches, 381 yards, 3 TDs), is one of the country's most feared wideouts. The Rebels are two weeks removed from an admittedly horrendous home loss to Alabama, but a season-opening 20-point win at Texas Tech looks even more impressive now, as the Red Raiders have gone on to grab impressive Ws over Houston and Oklahoma State. Expect Ole Miss to keep things within single digits against a Tigers team that has already expended an inordinate amount of energy getting up for big September games. — Sam Chase

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