- Which SEC underdog is Ross Dellenger backing? Why is Joan Niesen fading an ACC team hosting a Group of Five opponent? Our CFB staff's Week 4 best bets.
SI's college football staff went 3–3 again with our best bets last week, but we'll still take the 11–7 record on the season. But we have six more best bets for Week 4, including a couple juicy underdogs.
South Carolina (+9.5) at Missouri
Boy, this week in the SEC supplied us with a trio of what we believe to be good bets. We picked what we hope is the best of them—the Gamecocks keeping pace with the Tigers in Columbia, Mo. If South Carolina moved the ball against Alabama, it can surely move the ball against a team that gave up 37 points in a loss at Wyoming to open the season. Also, we've got a bonus for you: the other two good bets! Take Vanderbilt and the 24 points against LSU, and take Kentucky and the six points at Mississippi State. — Ross Dellenger
No. 15 UCF (-11) at Pittsburgh
The Panthers are, at best, an unremarkable football team, though their defense has limited opponents to a respectable average of 303.7 yards per game thus far in 2019. Still, that's come against the No. 70 (Virginia), No. 88 (Ohio) and No. 35 (Penn State) offenses, which exist on a different astroplane from UCF's attack, which has put up an average of more than 600 yards per game this year. The Knights will win by a minimum of two touchdowns. — Joan Niesen
No. 11 Michigan at No. 13 Wisconsin (-3)
Michigan has to be feeling pressure here, even if it won’t admit it, because Jim Harbaugh’s team has been underwhelming in its first two games to say the least. After all, the Wolverines couldn’t move the ball against Army and needed double OT to win. If this new spread offense can’t make explosive plays in tune-up games vs. Middle Tennessee State and Army, how can it be expected to make them against Wisconsin and the Big Ten’s No. 1 defense? QB Shea Patterson, who said this week he’s healthy after dealing with an injury two weeks ago, is completing just 62% of his passes and has been careless with the football. If he puts together another subpar performance on Saturday, it’ll cause more angst within the fan base and raise questions about new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’s system.
Meanwhile, the Badgers are showing up to this game with the top-ranked defense in the Big Ten and Jonathan Taylor. The junior is the best running back in college football and in two seasons has rushed for 4,171 yards, which is more than any player in the history of college football (including former Wisconsin running back and 1999 Heisman winner, Ron Dayne). Wisconsin has played only two games so far, but Taylor is averaging 118.5 rushing yards and has scored five touchdowns. QB Jack Coan has also been settling into the offense and is currently completing 76.3% of his passes, the best in the conference right now.
Michigan hasn’t won a game in Madison since 2001. Obviously, these teams do not play every year being in different divisions, but that’s four trips in the past 18 years that have swung Wisconsin’s way. Given UM’s recent blunders and cause for skepticism, it’s hard to predict that record changing this weekend. — Laken Litman
Baylor at Rice: OVER 58 Points
Let's keep riding Baylor's offense until it lets us down. The Bears were an offensive machine in their first two games of 2019, hanging 56 on Stephen F. Austin in Week 1 before a 63–14 drubbing of UTSA on Sept. 7. Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer has tossed six touchdowns and zero interceptions in 2019. Junior running back John Lovett is averaging 10.4 yards per carry. It's hard to envision Rice putting the clamps on the Bears after surrendering 48 points to Texas and 41 points to Wake Forest in back-to-back weeks. The Owls should help the points total with a respectable offensive output, making the over our lock of the week behind Baylor's high-powered offense. — Michael Shapiro
Baylor (-26.5) at Rice
Through three weeks, the nation’s top team in scoring offense isn’t Alabama, Clemson or perennial leader Oklahoma. It’s Baylor, which is averaging 59.5 points a game but those lofty stats have come at the expense of Austin and UTSA. The Bears also lead the NCAA in yards per carry at 8.37. The next opponent on Baylor’s cupcake express is Rice, fresh off a 48–13 drubbing at the hands of Texas. Baylor has won the last eight meetings over its old Southwest Conference foe, and has gained 600 yards or more in each of the last three games against Rice. Nothing that has been shown so far this season suggests anything is going to change. For the all-important betting purposes, Baylor is 4–1 against the spread in its last five road games, while the Owls are 1-4-1 ATS in their last six home games. Put your cash on Baylor to cover big. — Scooby Axson
Stanford (+10.5) at No. 16 Oregon
I have been watching and betting on Pac-12 sports religiously for years now. This is the conference that I follow the most closely. And if there’s one way to sum up betting on this conference, it’s this: Expect the unexpected.
Stanford has been a tire fire the past two weeks, and it didn’t look that sharp against Northwestern to open the season either. Oregon has rolled against fraudulent Nevada and FCS program Montana after a heartbreaking Week 1 loss to Auburn. But if you dive deeper into this game instead of just analyzing on the surface level, this is an intriguing spot to back the home dog.
First and foremost, I think Stanford has been put in an incredibly tough position the past two weeks. The Cardinal didn’t have K.J. Costello against USC and they simply couldn’t match up at all with the Trojans’ elite receiving corps. Then, Stanford had to fly across the country in between two major Pac-12 games to face a hungry Group of Five foe that had been waiting to host a legitimate Power 5 program. It was also hot and humid in Orlando, which surely benefitted a UCF team that utilizes its strong depth with constant subsitutions.
Stanford has gotten shredded through the air by true freshman quarterbacks in consecutive weeks. USC’s Kedon Slovis averaged 11.4 YPA in Week 2 and UCF’s Dillon Gabriel averaged 11.6 YPA in Week 3. So that means Justin Herbert should follow suit right? Well, USC and UCF have superior talent at wideout than Oregon does, as the Ducks have suffered multiple injuries there. Just three Oregon players have had more than seven receptions through three games. One is wideout Jaylon Redd, who is averaging a paltry 6.8 yards per catch on his 14 receptions. Another is tight end Jacob Breeland, but with Stanford having a star tight end of its own in Colby Parkinson, I think this is a position the Cardinal can defend quite well since they have plenty of experience doing so in practice. The leading receiver is Johnny Johnson III with 19 grabs, but this seems like the player that Stanford would want to have shutdown corner Paulson Adebo handle.
Herbert only averaged 6.5 YPA against Auburn in Week 1 because his receivers had trouble getting separation. Stanford’s secondary has been a disappointment so far, but this group will still be a tougher challenge than what Nevada and Montana put forth. I think the Cardinal will have an easier time containing Oregon’s passing game because the Ducks simply don’t have the aerial weapons that USC or UCF do.
Oregon’s offensive line was hyped up as one of the best in the country, but it’s been a letdown early on in the season. Per Football Outsiders, the Ducks rank 71st in line yards (FO’s metric to give the OL credit on rushing plays) and 42nd in sack rate allowed. Oregon also ranks 112th in opportunity rate (percentage of carries that go for at least four yards). There’s also some potential reshuffling there. Center Jake Hanson suffered an unspecified injury against Montana, and right tackle Calvin Throckmorton has been practicing at center this week. This would be Throckmorton’s second career start at center (compared to Hanson’s 40), and that would also mean a new starter at right tackle with Brady Aiello.
Stanford has major injuries along the offensive line as well, including losing All-American left tackle Walker Little for the season after Week 1. Starting right tackle Foster Sarell missed last game against UCF, so that meant Stanford played two freshmen at the tackle spots. Sarell’s status is up in the air for this game. But it is interesting to note that UCF leads the country in tackles for loss (34) and TFLs per game (11.3), but were only able to notch six against that patchwork Stanford offensive line. Oregon’s defense has been impressive to start the season under new offensive coordinator Andy Avalos, and it has 25 TFLs through three games (tied for 15th), but that may be attributed to the level of competition—which includes facing true freshman QB Bo Nix in his debut and an Auburn offensive line that has struggled. And as talented as Oregon’s defensive line is, the Ducks rank 76th in sack rate.
This is also the type of game where it’s hard to trust Oregon’s coaching staff. Who could forget last season, when Oregon crumbled at Autzen to let Stanford snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Those problems reared their ugly head once again vs. Auburn. Mario Cristobal is an outstanding recruiter, but as an in-game coach, he’s been shaky. Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo’s play calls and gameplans have been puzzling in big games in the past as well. The Ducks have also struggled on the road in Pac-12 play recently, as they are 3–7 the past three seasons in that department with Herbert under center. Last season alone, that included trailing Washington State 27–0 at halftime before losing 34–20, getting trucked 44–15 by an Arizona team that finished with a losing record and losing 32–25 to a Utah team playing without starting QB Tyler Huntley or star tailback Zack Moss. And while it’s fun to laugh at Stanford coach David Shaw for punting at the opponent’s 35-yard line, he’s still one of the top coaches in the Pac-12. In fact, Stanford has been a home underdog four times in Shaw’s tenure, and the Cardinal have not only covered all four, they won all four outright.
Don’t get me wrong, this bet isn’t an easy one to make. But I think Stanford looks much improved this game in its return home to Palo Alto and this is a spot I have to back as we navigate another wonky season of Pac-12 football. — Max Meyer
Season record: 11–7