- Winning outright against Clemson and Notre Dame would be big asks for Duke or Syracuse, respectively, but conditions are right for the underdogs to cover.
With the stakes growing every week for teams eyeing College Football Playoff berths, spots in conference title games or just good ol' respectability, here are our experts' favorite plays for Week 12 of college football.
Utah Utes (-7) at Colorado Buffaloes
Sat. 11/17, 1:30 p.m. ET
Pick: Utah -7
Colorado is in free fall, having now dropped five straight games (1-4 against the spread) after a 5-0 start to the season. Buffaloes fans were hoping the team would rediscover its rhythm with star wideout Laviska Shenault back on the field, as he had missed three of those losses with an injury, but his 10 catches for 102 yards ultimately did little to spark the team's offense in a 31-7 home loss to Washington State last Saturday. The week before that, Colorado surrendered 8.2 yards per play to an Arizona offense that has been mediocre this season. The week before that, Colorado choked away a 28-point lead in a loss to Oregon State, one of the weakest teams in FBS.
7-3 on the year (6-4 ATS) and playing for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Utah would be a double-digit favorite in Boulder on Saturday if not for a couple of key injuries—quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss are both out for the season. But in a 32-25 win over Oregon last weekend, the backups looked strong at both positions for the Utes. QB Jason Shelley completed 18 of 31 passes for 262 yards (8.5 YPA) and ran for two touchdowns, while RB Armand Shyne took 26 carries for 174 yards on the ground, instantly proving himself as a reliable back going forward. With the defense already having been the strength of the team—the Utes rank third in the conference in total defense—expect Utah to beat the Buffaloes just as comfortably as it would have with Huntley and Moss on the field. Trends suggest as much: Over the last five seasons, home underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points that have lost four or five of their last six games are 8-34 ATS when playing teams that have won three of their last four. — Sam Chase
Syracuse Orange vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-9.5)
Sat. 11/17, 2:30 p.m. at Yankee Stadium
Pick: Syracuse +9.5
On what is expected to be a chilly day at Yankee Stadium, points could be at a premium even for two of the country’s most talented offenses. That fact alone could sway bettors to Syracuse and its nearly double-digit cushion—but more importantly, the Orange have been one of the most consistent teams in college football this season. You know what you’re getting with dual-threat senior quarterback Eric Dungey, and if not for a few untimely miscues, his team could actually be undefeated. Syracuse has scored 37 or more points in each of its last five conference games; before that, it posed the most legitimate threat to Clemson this year, losing by just four points on the road. As an underdog, Syracuse is 3-0 against the spread this season and 9-3 ATS in its last 12, all under head coach Dino Babers. Syracuse has not lost any game straight up this year by more than seven points.
Notre Dame didn’t skip a beat at home against Florida State with Brandon Wimbush under center last week, but the plan is to try and get Ian Book ready to start against Syracuse. That makes sense, considering how Book transformed the Irish offense for the better, but Brian Kelly will essentially need to prepare two offenses for a matchup against a team that is tasting national success for the first time in a generation—and playing like it. As a favorite of nine points or more, Notre Dame is 1-6-1 ATS, dating back to just over a year ago.
Syracuse likely lacks the defense to win this game outright, but its reliable offense should cover a spread that seems a bit too high for this bout in the Bronx. — Ed McGrogan
Duke Blue Devils at Clemson Tigers (-27.5)
Sat. 11/17, 7:00 p.m.
Pick: Duke +27.5
Clemson is without a doubt the best team in the ACC, but that distinction, in and of itself, is not all that impressive. The conference is weaker than usual this season, which makes it hard to believe that the Tigers should be favored by this many points over any solid football team. It’s understandable for Clemson to be giving 30 or more points in games against teams like Furman, Georgia Southern and Louisville, but an argument can be made that Duke is the third-best team on the Tigers' regular season schedule. The most points that Duke has received from a spread this year was nine against the Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 3rd, and the Blue Devils ended up winning that game outright 20-12 in Coral Gables. Working in Duke’s favor in this game is the fact that the team is an impressive 9-4 against the spread when facing teams that average eight or more passing yards per attempt since the start of 2016, and 9-4 ATS versus teams averaging 34 or more points per game in that span. David Cutcliffe is one of the best coaches the ACC has to offer, and with a good quarterback like Daniel Jones, it’s going to be difficult for Clemson to completely pull away here. The Tigers could blow the Blue Devils out by winning by 21 or 24 points, but winning by four touchdowns against a surefire bowl team is a tough ask. — Zachary Cohen
UTEP at Western Kentucky (-7.5)
Sat. 11/17, 7:30 p.m.
Pick: UTEP +7.5
Western Kentucky shouldn’t be laying this many points to any FBS team, even one with an identical 1-9 straight-up record. This marks the fourth time this season the Hilltoppers have been favored in a game, and each of the previous three instances resulted in straight-up losses—to Charlotte, Old Dominion and FCS Maine—by an average margin of more than 10 points per game. Western Kentucky is now 1-10 against the spread as a favorite since Mike Sanford took over as the team’s head coach prior to last season, and the Hilltoppers are 2-7 straight up and 1-8 against the spread when favored by between 3.5 and 10 points since the start of 2016.
Home field hasn’t provided Western Kentucky any advantage this season, as the team is 0-4 straight up and 1-3 against the spread at home in 2018, with the one ATS home win coming in a three-point loss as a 3.5-point underdog against Marshall. UTEP, meanwhile, is 4-0 against the spread over its past four road games dating back to mid-September. The Miners played the Hilltoppers tough when these teams met in 2017, losing 15-14 as a 16-point home underdog last October. While taking the points is the best play here, a moneyline wager on anything in the neighborhood of +250 also warrants strong consideration. — Scott Gramling