- Oklahoma and Penn State are both looking to rebound from disheartening upset losses, while the hangover of a thrilling upset win over Washington last week could leave Oregon vulnerable at Wazzu on Saturday night.
Penn State saw its CFP hopes fade away with a loss to Michigan State last week, while Oklahoma will need to regroup quickly after a loss in the Red River Shootout put a large dent into its playoff chances. How will the Nittany Lions and Sooners respond to their defeats? Plus, Syracuse looks to get back on track and Washington State tries to shut down Oregon's momentum.
Oklahoma (-7.5) at TCU
Sat. 10/20, 12:00 p.m. ET
Pick: Oklahoma -7.5
Since the start of the 2014 season, Oklahoma is 4-1 both straight up and against the spread when coming off a bye week. One of those wins was a 52-46 victory as a 3.5-point road underdog against TCU—and the Sooners’ dominance over the Horned Frogs doesn’t end there. Oklahoma is 7-1 straight up against TCU since the start of the 2008 season, and the Sooners are 5-3 against the spread in those games.
One might see this matchup and immediately think that head coach Gary Patterson is going to have his team ready to go at home—which is reasonable considering Patterson is one of the best coaches in the country—but this is not the same TCU team we’re used to seeing in recent years. It’s starting to look more and more like TCU played its best game of the season in a 40-28 Week 3 loss to Ohio State, as this group has now lost to both Texas and Texas Tech since then. The Horned Frogs also barely beat Iowa State late in September. It’s also worth noting that TCU is a miserable 2-13 against the spread when playing at home since the start of the 2016 season. That’s not a great sign considering it is facing an Oklahoma team that will be hungry for a win after a highly publicized loss to Texas two weeks ago. For good measure, there’s also the fact that quarterback Kyler Murray and this Sooners offense have the 22nd-best passing offense in the nation. The Horned Frogs have struggled mightily against teams with talent at the quarterback position all season. — Zachary Cohen
North Carolina at Syracuse (-11.5)
Sat. 10/20, 12:20 p.m. ET
Pick: Syracuse -11.5
North Carolina has been searching for a quarterback ever since Mitch Trubisky left for the NFL, and that search appears as unresolved as ever. Before giving way to Nathan Elliott due to injury, Cade Fortin made his first career start last week against Virginia Tech—a game former Clemson QB Kelly Bryant watched from the sidelines. Bryant, perhaps a Tar Heel of the future, saw four current Tar Heels throw passes against the Hokies, a sign that coach Larry Fedora is willing to experiment with his offense in the short term to see what he’s got for the long term. As for Syracuse, its quarterback has been a steadying presence for an explosive offense. With a dual-threat signal caller in Eric Dungey, Syracuse has covered four of its last six games—and nearly covered a -30.5 spread at home against UConn, winning by 30.
Coming off of a bye, the Orange will be rested and ready to put an overtime loss at Pitt behind them. Coming off a gut-punch loss to Virginia Tech—its fifth defeat of the season—North Carolina, which has scored more than 20 points just once in 2018, will make the trek up north for a difficult midseason contest. Syracuse’s lowest offensive output of the season was 23 points, at Clemson. Even if this game stays close through three quarters, look for Dino Babers’s relentless offense to pull away late to complete the victory and the cover. — Ed McGrogan
Penn State (-14) at Indiana
Sat. 10/20, 3:30 p.m. ET
Pick: Penn State -14
Penn State suffered a second consecutive heartbreaking loss last Saturday, losing 21-17 to Michigan State two weeks after falling 27-26 against Ohio State. The defeat to the Spartans was a game the Nittany Lions should have won. They outgained MSU by 1.5 yards per play, and saw a number of literal bad bounces go against them—Michigan State recovered all four of its own fumbles. There were positives to be taken away from the game for Penn State, however, mainly on the ground. Sparty entered the game allowing a nation-best 33.8 rushing yards per game on 1.32 yards per carry, but PSU racked up 205 rushing yards (6.4 YPC), 162 of which came from stud RB Miles Sanders. With two oh-so-close losses over Big Ten opponents and a win over an Appalachian State team that looks better every week, Penn State could be the No. 2 team in the country if a couple of breaks had gone its way.
In need of a punching bag on which they can take out their frustrations, the Nittany Lions conveniently travel to Indiana this week. The Hoosiers are fresh off a 42-16 home loss to Iowa in which they were outgained 7.37 yards per play to 4.93, and allowed 320 yards through the air and six passing touchdowns to Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley. Indiana has two other double-digit losses to Big Ten opponents this season, but its lone conference win—a 24-17 victory over Rutgers—might be more damning: The Scarlet Knights' five other losses this season have come by an average of 35.4 points.
The Nittany Lions would be significantly larger favorites in this game if they had won either of their last two, but the reality of the situation means they'll be especially motivated to work their way to a blowout victory. Their early-game defensive prowess—paired with IU's game-long defensive ineptitude—sets them up for success: Over the last 10 seasons, teams that have allowed at least 42 points in each of their last two games are 12-33 against the spread when playing an opponent that has allowed seven or fewer first-half points in two consecutive games. — Sam Chase
Oregon (-1.5) at Washington State
Sat. 10/20, 7:30 p.m. ET
Pick: Washington State +1.5
As one of only three FBS teams along with Appalachian State and Utah State that has yet to lose against the spread in 2018, Washington State enters this one with a 10-0 straight-up record in home games since the start of last season. That includes eight consecutive ATS victories and a 3-0 record as a home underdog during that span. Going back to the start of the 2015 season, the Cougars are 12-2 both straight up and against the spread at home against Pac-12 opponents.
Washington State has won each of the meetings between these teams over the last three seasons, sandwiching a 51-33 home victory over Oregon in 2016 between road wins in Eugene by scores of 45-38 in 2015 and 33-10 last season, which marked the Cougars’ eighth consecutive ATS victory over the Ducks since the start of 2010. While Washington State enters this one coming off a bye week, Oregon is coming off an emotionally charged upset home win in overtime against Washington. That improved the Ducks’ record in home games against Pac-12 opponents to 6-3 both straight up and against the spread over the past two calendar years, but Oregon is only 2-8 (both straight up and against the spread) when facing Pac-12 foes on the road since the start of the 2016 season. Washington State, which is one of 15 FBS teams averaging at least 42 points per game, is the kind of squad against which Oregon has struggled in recent seasons, as the Ducks’ 2-9 record (both straight up and against the spread) against opponents that score an average of at least 34 points per game since the start of the 2016 season includes an 0-6 mark when facing such offensively potent teams on the road. — Scott Gramling