A disappointing 2-3 record last week puts best bets now at 23-13 (63.9%) on the season. As always, SI Gambling will be using current odds (as of Thursday at 4:00 p.m. EST this week) from New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill, PointsBet) for best bets every week.
For this week, we have two home underdogs that have each gotten crushed in their past two games, but now have favorable spots in Week 9.
No. 6 Penn State at Michigan State: Michigan State +6 (-110) at William Hill
Michigan State has lost its last two games by a combined score of 72-10 at the hands of Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Spartans are now 4-3, a disappointing mark given their preseason expectations. Now Michigan State is coming off a bye and hosts undefeated Penn State in a chance to salvage its season. And it has a bye after facing the Nittany Lions as well, a bizarre schedule quirk.
On the other side, you have a young Penn State team that is exceeding expectations this season and is coming off two close statement wins over Iowa and Michigan over the past couple weeks. It’s tough to expect college kids to be able to get up for every game week after week, especially with three marquee clashes in consecutive weeks. Also, are we overrating Penn State after the Iowa and Michigan victories? The Nittany Lions were outgained in those games in total yardage 773 to 577 and in yards per play 4.99 to 4.40.
While Michigan State did get its butt kicked in its last two games, both came on the road against arguably the two best teams in the conference. Now it gets to return home to East Lansing in a game sandwiched between two byes. There is no excuse given Michigan State’s current standing to not get a focused and max effort game here.
The Spartans were supposed to have one of the best defenses in the country this season, but they rank 28th in yards per carry allowed (3.36) and 26th in yards per passing attempt allowed (6.3). That’s good for 27th overall in yards per play allowed (4.74). So solid, but not the level we were expecting. If you take out the Ohio State game, though, Michigan State is at 4.28 YPP allowed, which would be tied for seventh in the nation. While it’s tough to say “if this game didn’t happen” when it happened, Ohio State’s offense is in a class of its own compared to the other teams on Michigan State’s schedule, including Penn State. The Spartans even held Jonathan Taylor to just 80 yards on 26 carries (3.1 YPC), by far his worst output of the season.
Penn State’s offense ranks 26th in yards per play at 6.45, but that number the last two games against Iowa and Michigan has been 3.8 and 5.2 respectively (or 4.4 if you combine the two games). The Nittany Lions have a total gamebreaker at wideout in KJ Hamler, however the offense as a whole has struggled with inconsistency against good teams. The Spartans are tied for fifth in 30-plus yard passes allowed this season (four), and you can be assured stopping him is the No. 1 priority of Sparty’s defensive gameplan. Hamler was held to 66 yards on five catches last season against Michigan State.
Michigan State’s struggling offense has a tough assignment in this contest going up against a stingy Penn State defense. Sparty quarterback Brian Lewerke may have 11 touchdown throws versus only three interceptions, but he’s tied for 74th in yards per attempt (7.0) and tied for 86th in completion percentage (57.5%). He does have weapons, though, including redshirt freshman tailback Elijah Collins, who is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season. In the end, though, I’m going to trust a senior quarterback at home most of the time over a sophomore in Sean Clifford in a hostile road environment.
So yeah, give me a desperate Michigan State and the points in an ideal spot over a Penn State team that I think is overvalued in the market.
USC at Colorado: Colorado +13.5 (-110) at PointsBet
Admittedly, I don’t love the Pac-12 board this week. But given how banged-up USC is, this is a really tough spot for the Trojans on Friday night.
At first glance, you see USC’s Air Raid offense and dynamic triumvirate at wideout in Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown going up against a Colorado secondary that has allowed 8.7 yards per attempt (tied for 120th). That is usually not the recipe for success for a competitive game.
But the problem for USC is, the Trojans have suffered an obscene rash of injuries recently. On the defensive side of the ball, USC’s leader in sacks (defensive lineman Drake Jackson) and tackles (safety Talanoa Hufanga, arguably the best player on the defense as well) are both out. Starting defensive end Christian Rector and linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV are both dealing with ankle injuries.
USC may also be without its three top running backs—Stephen Carr (hamstring), Vavae Malepeai (knee) and Markese Stepp (foot)—in Boulder. While you may dismiss the importance of tailbacks in Graham Harrell’s Air Raid, the Trojans have run for a combined 584 yards in their past three games against Washington, Notre Dame and Arizona, and have done so on 5.62 yards per carry. That 5.62 YPC mark would rank in the top 10 in the country, and now that much-improved run game is in tatters with all of the injuries at tailback. And that’s even with highly touted true freshman Kenan Christon, who impressed against Arizona last game.
This is also buying Colorado at its lowest point. The Buffaloes are coming off two blowout losses on the road, losing to Oregon and Washington State by a combined score of 86-10. While Colorado is dealing with injuries and a couple players transferring out, this team has to be excited to come back home to Boulder.
The defense has been ugly to say the least, but there are some impact players on it. Defensive end Mustafa Johnson missed losses to Arizona and Oregon, and played just 17 snaps this past game against Washington State. He said he expects to be closer to 100% Friday night, which would be a big boost for Colorado to get its best pass-rusher on the field more often. Linebacker Nate Landman and safety Mikial Onu, an SMU transfer, have also made big plays this season. While USC’s offense is explosive, the Trojans also go through lulls at times and the play at offensive line hasn’t been great, either.
I also think it’s a benefit that Colorado played Washington State the week before. Mike Leach’s Air Raid has different concepts than Graham Harrell’s, but it’s still a similar philosophy. An example of this earlier in the season is when Utah was torched by USC’s aerial attack (11.5 YPA) and then shut down Washington State (5.1 YPA) the following week. Utah obviously has a much better defense than Colorado, but I do think the best way to prepare for this type of offense is having faced it before.
On offense, Steven Montez has had a brutal two-game stretch, but he’s a competent quarterback who has a nice collection of aerial threats in Laviska Shenault Jr., K.D. Nixon and Tony Brown. They get to go up against a depleted bend-don’t break USC defense. The Trojans have allowed 27 opponent red-zone trips (tied for 84th in CFB), yet have allowed a touchdown inside the 20 just 40.7% of the time (seventh). I don’t think that’s sustainable with healthy players, let alone a unit down several impact players.
With USC beat up and traveling to altitude on a short week to play a team that is coming off two straight blowout losses, this is a spot where I’m looking to back a nearly two-touchdown underdog. The Trojans also host Oregon next week in a game with rather big stakes for their season and the Pac-12 overall. Friday night in Boulder screams like a get-in, get-out game, and one where Colorado looks a lot more lively than in recent games.
(In terms of other Pac-12 plays, I’m strongly leaning Washington State +14 at Oregon and I will be on Stanford vs. Arizona if K.J. Costello plays. I just don’t want to put my money down on the Jack West experience. But with the way the line is moving—Stanford +3 to Stanford PK—it seems like Costello will be under center.)
Season record: 23-13