Unfortunately, I didn't have time to write a college football best bets article last week, but don't sweat, we're back for Week 12 with four best bets! After a 2-2 performance in Week 10's best bets, we're now 26-16 (61.9%) on the season. Let's end this campaign on a strong note, though, starting with this week. As always, SI Gambling will be using current odds from New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill, PointsBet) for best bets every week.
No. 23 Navy at No. 16 Notre Dame: Navy +7.5 (-117) at DraftKings
If you have trouble stopping the run, you’re going to have a difficult time playing Navy.
On the surface, Notre Dame’s run defense doesn’t look that bad, as it is tied for 54th in yards per carry allowed at 3.94. But against top-40 rushing teams in the country in terms of yards per carry allowed, Notre Dame has been vulnerable. It allowed 249 rushing yards to Louisville (on 5.3 YPC), 212 to New Mexico (on 4.6 YPC) and 152 to Georgia (on 4.6 YPC). Even teams with talent tailbacks but inconsistent rushing attacks have gashed the Irish, as USC ran for 171 yards (4.9 YPC) and Michigan racked up 303 (5.3 YPC).
Navy is fifth in the country in yards per carry (6.08), which will be the best ground game Notre Dame has faced thus far. Quarterback Malcolm Perry leads this triple-option attack, as he’s run for 1,042 yards and 16 touchdowns on 6.6 YPC. Now these two teams play each other every year in this rivalry showdown, so Notre Dame does have some familiarity defending the triple option. But it’s still tough to prepare for this type of offense in a week.
While the Midshipmen rank 22nd on offense in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ (higher than Notre Dame at 35), the offense isn’t the only strength of this team. Their pass rush has been excellent, as it ranks 12th in the country in sack rate at 10.3%. We’ve seen teams make Irish QB Ian Book look uncomfortable before, and if Navy can force him to become out of rhythm, the Notre Dame offense as a whole could become stagnant at times. Navy also has the special teams advantage in this one, ranking 18th in S&P+ compared to Notre Dame at 48th.
This game opened with Notre Dame as an 11-point favorite, but it’s already dropped to 7.5. Navy is coming off a bye, and I think the Midshipmen will give the Irish all they can handle in this one.
USC at Cal: Cal +6.5 (-110) at William Hill
USC’s wideouts against Cal’s secondary is one of the more intriguing positional matchups of the weekend. Per Sharp College Football’s advanced statistical model, USC ranks ninth in effective pass offense (which is a combination of several different metrics, including efficiency, explosiveness and strength of opponents) while Cal ranks eighth in effective pass defense. It doesn’t get much better than Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns (though Vaughns is questionable with an ankle injury) going up against Cam Bynum, Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins.
Cal’s defense is vulnerable against the run, but with all the injuries USC has suffered at tailback, the Trojans have rushed for a meager 3.46 yards per carry in the last three games. If USC is going to pass it often, not only will Cal be well-equipped to limit the damage given its talented secondary, but it’s also boosted by the fact that the Golden Bears faced Washington State the week before.
Cal held Washington State to 5.9 yards per play when it pulled off the 33-20 upset last weekend in Berkeley. While Mike Leach and Graham Harrell’s Air Raids aren’t exactly the same, they obviously are similar in philosophy. This will be the fourth time that a Pac-12 team has faced an Air Raid offense in back-to-back games, and the previous three all covered the second time. Oregon went from allowing 8.1 yards per passing attempt to Washington State to 4.6 YPA vs. USC. Utah went from allowing 11.5 YPA to USC to 5.1 against Washington State. It helps these defenses prepare for an Air Raid when facing one the game before, and if you’re curious, Cal allowed 7.0 YPA to Washington State last week.
On the offensive side of the ball, Cal potentially gets a huge boost under center. Starting quarterback Chase Garbers has been cleared to play after missing the past four games with a shoulder injury. Mostly under backup quarterback Devon Modster during Garbers’s absence, the offense really struggled. For comparison’s sake, Garbers is averaging 8.3 YPA, completing 59.1% of his throws and has a 148.1 passer rating this season. Modster is averaging 6.1 YPA to go along with a 51.0% completion rate and 112.7 passer rating. Cal’s offense with Garbers as the signal-caller actually looked like a competent bunch, and while there may be some rust early on if he does end up starting, USC’s defense just allowed 292 yards and four touchdowns to Arizona State true freshman QB Joey Yellen in his first career start.
USC has also struggled away from home this season. The Trojans lost their first three road games outright this season and nearly lost as a double-digit road favorite at Colorado. USC won in Tempe this past Saturday, but nearly blew the 28-7 lead it held at the end of the first quarter. Now USC plays a second straight road game, and is going up against a head coach in Justin Wilcox who has this game circled every year. The second-year Cal head coach was fired by Clay Helton as USC’s defensive coordinator, and I’m sure Wilcox would like to stick it to his former boss by beating him here, like he did last year.
I like the +6.5 here whether Garbers or Modster play, but Cal will be a live underdog if Garbers is in.
No. 11 Florida at Missouri: Missouri +7 (-110) at William Hill
No. 1 LSU at Ole Miss: Ole Miss +21.5 (-110) at PointsBet
Let’s close it out with a pair of SEC home underdogs.
Here are Missouri’s last three games: Last weekend the Tigers lost 27-0 to Georgia, before that a 29-7 loss at Kentucky and the cherry on top was a 21-14 defeat to Vandy. So why are we backing them here?
All three of those losses came on the road, where Missouri has really struggled this season. Remember how it opened the season by losing at Wyoming 37-31? At home has been a different story, where the Tigers haven’t lost since October… of last season.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant is also expected to be back after missing the Georgia game and coming out of the Kentucky game in the third quarter. Bryant said himself that his hamstring is “feeling good. Feeling better than last week. Feeling really great about where I’m at right now with it.”
Missouri has blown out Florida in each of the past two seasons, winning by a combined 50 points in those meetings. One of the big keys to that success has been the run game. Missouri has run for 448 yards in those two games against Florida on 5.1 YPC. Junior tailback Larry Rountree III has had success against the Gators in the past, and is averaging 4.8 YPC on the season, including 5.9 YPC at home.
Florida’s rushing attack has struggled the entire season (4.19 YPC is tied for 80th), and the Gators face a tough matchup against Missouri’s stingy pass defense. The Tigers are tied with Clemson for third in the country by allowing 5.5 yards per passing attempt, and only Ohio State and Wisconsin are better.
This is a really nice buy-low spot for Missouri, who I think has a good chance of pulling off the upset as well. The Tigers still don’t know whether they’re bowl eligible, but having the chance to bury a rival’s season is more than enough motivation.
Saturday night LSU visits The Grove to take on Ole Miss. LSU is now No. 1 in the country after beating Alabama for the first time in eight years, and it’s going to be tough to get up for a 4-6 team after emptying the tank against the Crimson Tide. This is also the second leg of two consecutive road games, always a tricky ask for a college team.
Unfortunately, Ole Miss does not have an elite pass defense that can slow down Heisman favorite Joe Burrow and Co. The Rebels rank 62nd in the country in 7.3 YPA allowed and haven’t done a great job preventing explosive pass plays—Ole Miss is tied for 99th in 20-plus yard pass plays allowed and tied for 85th in 30-plus yard pass plays allowed. LSU is banged up on the offensive line, though, including both starting tackles likely to miss the game.
However, I do think Ole Miss’s offense can keep up against an LSU defense that has been vulnerable at times this season. Freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee has looked much better in Rich Rodriguez’s offensive system than Matt Corral, and the dual-threat quarterback has run for 777 yards on 6.8 YPC. He makes the Rebels’ offense much more explosive, and could give LSU’s defense legitimate problems.
In the end, I just think the spot is too good for Ole Miss. The Rebels are hosting the No. 1 team in the country at night on their turf, while there certainly could be a hangover effect for LSU. Getting 21.5 points is a lot for this situation, and I’ll gladly take my chances with the home dog here.
Season Record: 26-16