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  • Several of our top bets this week are in games involving top-10 teams, including taking one seven-touchdown underdog (gulp).
By The SI Staff
September 28, 2018

Last week was unfortunately the first losing effort for our CFB staff this season, which wasn't helped at all by a certain Pac-12 team imploding in all-time fashion. We're ready to bounce back in Week 5, though, and here are our eight favorite bets.

SEC

Ole Miss at No. 5 LSU (-10.5)

Two years ago, when current LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger was interim offensive coodinator Steve Ensminger, he called his best game of that interim period against the Ole Miss defense. Though the personnel has changed, LSU’s offense feels basically the same this year. And though the personnel has changed, the Rebels’ defense feels basically the same this year. The Ole Miss offense might be a little more explosive than the one that played against LSU in 2016 or 2017, but this also might be a better LSU defense. Take LSU to cover the 10.5-point spread. — Andy Staples

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Florida (+7.5) at No. 23 Mississippi State

Scott Field will be shaking with emotion and excitement as former coach Dan Mullen—and ex-State AD Scott Stricklin—return to Starkville. While we like the Bulldogs to win, this spread seems large for a game that many expect to be tight. That half-point could mean everything. — Ross Dellenger

ACC

Syracuse at No. 3 Clemson: OVER 65.5 Points

Syracuse is averaging nearly 50 points per game thus far, and Clemson is averaging more than 40. These are two high-powered offenses, irrespective of the caliber of an opponent's defense. Even if it's hard to imagine the Orange pulling up the upset two years in a row—or even keeping up their scoring pace against the Tigers' defense—this looks like a game where touchdowns will pile up. With an over/under in the mid-60s, I'm taking the over, especially as Clemson is out to prove it made the right choice in its move at quarterback. — Joan Niesen

Florida State at Louisville: UNDER 46.5 Points

One of the ACC’s two most disappointing starts of the year has to turn around on Saturday at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium, but neither side seems loaded with shootout potential. Neither Jawon Pass nor Malik Cunningham has inspired much confidence at quarterback for the Cardinals—Pass in particular has struggled after showing some flashes in the season opener against Alabama, with five interceptions in four games—and it’s unclear what head coach Bobby Petrino is willing to change about Louisville’s offense to get the most out of one or both. Meanwhile, Florida State has scored a grand total of 10 points in two ACC games this season. FSU coach Willie Taggart is still working out the kinks in the installation of his Gulf Coast offense; Petrino seems to be stubbornly ignoring the kinks in his own fresh off a 27–3 loss to Virginia. Settle in for a rock fight, and cherish every touchdown. — Eric Single

Big Ten

No. 4 Ohio State (-3.5) at No. 9 Penn State

On the surface, we have your regularly scheduled top-10 matchup with College Football Playoff implications. Take another look and this is also a showdown between the nation’s two most potent scoring offenses—Penn State is No. 1 in scoring 55.5 points per game and Ohio State is right behind at No. 2 by scoring 54.5 PPG. Both defenses are vulnerable when it comes to giving up big plays, so this game comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes, be them turnovers or on special teams.

College Football
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This could be a Heisman moment for Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who leads the Big Ten with 298.5 passing yards per game and has the nation’s third-best quarterback rating of 207.04, trailing only West Virginia’s Will Grier and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. So far this season, he’s passed for 16 touchdowns to one interception.

Despite the looming “whiteout” and rowdy environment in Happy Valley, Ohio State is the more talented team with Haskins and depth at every position—even on defense where it’s learning how to cope while star defensive end Nick Bosa recovers from abdominal surgery. — Laken Litman

Pac-12

Utah (-1.5) at Washington State

We're no longer undefeated here thanks to the unspeakable events that took place in Autzen last Saturday. Does anyone know of any good memory-erasing services?

Anyway, one of the golden rules of betting Pac-12 football is to always take Kyle Whittingham with extra time to prepare. Utah has an 11-2 record under Whittingham in season openers, and an even more impressive 11-1 tally in bowl games. After a bye week in the regular season the Utes are 14-7, and more importantly, 15-6 against the spread. Utah is coming off its only bye week of this season, and its previous game was a 21-7 defeat at the hands of Washington in Salt Lake City.

On the other side, Gardner Minshew II looked really impressive against USC's defense last Friday, but the Utes are a completely different beast. Utah is tied for first in the country with West Virginia in scoring defense (12.3 PPG) and leads the nation in yards allowed per game (204.7) and in yards per play allowed (3.16, the next-lowest mark is Michigan at 3.67). On offense, Utah will look to pound the ball against what looks on paper to be a stingy Washington State rush defense (16th in YPG allowed, 21st in YPC). But the three FBS opponents the Cougars have faced (Wyoming, San Jose State and USC) rank 85th, 107th and 130th in YPC respectively.

The Utes have a physical team that loves employing a bruising ground game led by tailback Zack Moss, who averaged 6.3 YPC over his first three games in 2018 after racking up a 5.5 YPC last season. Utah's offense overall has struggled, but going from facing a team that does not allow big plays to one that has been susceptible to giving them up will help. Washington is tied for third in the country with five plays allowed of 20+ yards, only behind three apiece by Georgia and... Utah. Washington State, meanwhile, is tied for 60th by allowing 16 plays of 20+ yards.

Finally, there's the revenge factor. Washington State won 33-25 in SLC last season, but winning by eight points seemed low considering the Cougars forced seven turnovers and finished with a +5 turnover differential. Additionally, the star of that game—pass rusher Hercules Mata'afa, who finished with five TFLs, three sacks and one forced fumble—is now in the NFL. This isn't the same Cougars defense as last season, and in their first major test, the unit allowed 39 points to USC. This is the same USC that scored 17 combined points against Stanford and Texas.

I think Utah is currently underrated and you won't get a better spot with this team during the season. There's a reason why this spread has swung from opening at Washington State -2 to now Utah -1.5 in Pullman, and it's simply that the Utes are the far superior team. — Max Meyer

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Big 12

Iowa State (+11) at TCU

Saturday’s matchup is pivotal for both Iowa State and TCU, because the game’s loser could see the rest of its season spin into a tailspin.

Last week, the Cyclones struggled to put away Akron while earning their first victory of the season. TCU, after defeats to Ohio State and Texas, is looking to avoid a third straight loss, something that has happened only once during Gary Patterson's tenure.

The calling card for TCU is still its defense, which ranks first in the Big 12 in third-down defense and second in sacks.

But the problem for the Horned Frogs this season is their tendency to turn the ball over. TCU’s nine giveaways lead the conference, and quarterback Shawn Robinson had been the main culprit in the turnover problem, having thrown five interceptions.

There is no telling which Iowa State team will turn up, as it doesn’t have a dedicated person who is called an offensive coordinator. Giving David Montgomery 30 touches or more would mitigate that problem, especially if the Cyclones want to keep the game close or possibly pull off the upset for the second straight season. — Scooby Axson

Bonus: Group of Five

Louisiana-Lafayette (+49) at No. 1 Alabama

Have you ever seen a larger spread between two FBS teams? I can’t recall one. We never feel great about betting against the Crimson Tide and Nick Saban, but he hasn’t been running up the score, removing starting QB Tua Tagovailoa by the fourth quarter in every game this season. And this one comes against his former assistant, Billy Napier. — Ross Dellenger

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