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Odds and Ends

Against the Spread Picks: Week 9

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: October 30, 2020, 4:44 pm ET

In the table below, you'll find the Adjusted Thor Line (ATL). ATL is a system based on power ratings, computer models and real-time betting data that I devised for determining line value.

All lines courtesy of PointsBet Sportsbook. My picks are in bold.

Day Away Home PB Line ATL ATL side Line value
10/29 South Alabama Jaguars Georgia Southern Eagles -3.5 -4.2 N/A N/A
10/29 Colorado State Rams Fresno State Bulldogs 2.5 3.3 N/A N/A
10/30 Minnesota Golden Gophers Maryland Terrapins 19.5 11.5 Maryland Terrapins 8.0
10/30 East Carolina Pirates Tulsa Golden Hurricane -17 -12.0 East Carolina Pirates 5
10/30 Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors Wyoming Cowboys -1 -1.0 N/A N/A
10/31 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers Georgia State Panthers 2.5 6.6 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers 4.1
10/31 Memphis Tigers Cincinnati Bearcats -6.5 -5.0 Memphis Tigers 1.5
10/31 Temple Owls Tulane Green Wave -4 -0.7 Temple Owls 3.3
10/31 UTSA Roadrunners Florida Atlantic Owls -5 -4.9 N/A N/A
10/31 Boston College Eagles Clemson Tigers -31 -30.4 N/A N/A
10/31 Wake Forest Demon Deacons Syracuse Orange 12 5.9 Syracuse Orange 6.1
10/31 Iowa State Cyclones Kansas Jayhawks 28 26.8 Kansas Jayhawks 1.2
10/31 Kansas State Wildcats West Virginia Mountaineers -3.5 -1.7 Kansas State Wildcats 1.8
10/31 Georgia Bulldogs Kentucky Wildcats 17 14.8 Kentucky Wildcats 2.2
10/31 Michigan State Spartans Michigan Wolverines -24.5 -19.1 Michigan State Spartans 5.4
10/31 Purdue Boilermakers Illinois Fighting Illini 7 7.1 N/A N/A
10/31 UCF Knights Houston Cougars 2.5 4.0 UCF Knights 1.5
10/31 Troy Trojans Arkansas State Red Wolves -2.5 0.8 Troy Trojans 3.3
10/31 Rice Owls Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles -1.5 -7.4 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 5.9
10/31 Indiana Hoosiers Rutgers Scarlet Knights N/A 14.2 N/A N/A
10/31 LSU Tigers Auburn Tigers 2.5 -0.8 Auburn Tigers 3.3
10/31 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 20 18.9 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 1.1
10/31 TCU Horned Frogs Baylor Bears 2.5 -3.2 Baylor Bears 5.7
10/31 UAB Blazers Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 12 10.9 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 1.1
10/31 Northwestern Wildcats Iowa Hawkeyes -2.5 2.5 Northwestern Wildcats 5
10/31 Appalachian State Mountaineers UL Monroe Warhawks 32 26.1 UL Monroe Warhawks 5.9
10/31 Virginia Tech Hokies Louisville Cardinals 3.5 3.3 N/A N/A
10/31 Texas Longhorns Oklahoma State Cowboys -3 -2.1 N/A N/A
10/31 Ole Miss Rebels Vanderbilt Commodores 16.5 16.4 N/A N/A
10/31 Boise State Broncos Air Force Falcons 14 10.1 Air Force Falcons 3.9
10/31 Charlotte 49ers Duke Blue Devils -9.5 -7.1 Charlotte 49ers 2.4
10/31 Mississippi State Bulldogs Alabama Crimson Tide -31 -27.8 Mississippi State Bulldogs 3.2
10/31 San José State Spartans New Mexico Lobos 13.5 6.9 New Mexico Lobos 6.6
10/31 Missouri Tigers Florida Gators -12.5 -15.6 Florida Gators 3.1
10/31 Ohio State Buckeyes Penn State Nittany Lions 12 6.6 Penn State Nittany Lions 5.4
10/31 Navy Midshipmen SMU Mustangs -12.5 -12.5 N/A N/A
10/31 Arkansas Razorbacks Texas A&M Aggies -12.5 -12.4 N/A N/A
10/31 Oklahoma Sooners Texas Tech Red Raiders 14.5 15.3 N/A N/A
10/31 North Carolina Tar Heels Virginia Cavaliers 7 11.9 North Carolina Tar Heels 4.9
10/31 Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Texas State Bobcats 16.5 17.2 N/A N/A
10/31 San Diego State Aztecs Utah State Aggies 7.5 10.6 San Diego State Aztecs 3.1
10/31 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers BYU Cougars -28.5 -24.9 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 3.6
10/31 Nevada Wolf Pack UNLV Rebels 14 11.2 UNLV Rebels 2.8

Colorado State Rams (-2.5) at Fresno State Bulldogs (Thursday)

ATL: CSU -3.3

Colorado State opens its season against Fresno State. The Bulldogs had a successful run under Jeff Tedford but looked out of sorts in the first game of the Kalen DeBoer era, a loss to Hawai'i last week.

This game fits one of the most profitable systems we’ve seen so far during the COVID season. In 2020, teams opening their season against teams that have already played are 22-9-2 ATS (70.9%).

Fresno State’s front-seven looked atrocious against Hawai’i, giving up 323 rushing yards. I’m excited about the Rainbow Warriors’ new staff and bullish about the program long-term. But man. You aren’t supposed to give up over 300 rushing yards at home in the opener to a team that used to treat handing the ball off like it was pulling its own teeth.

Fresno’s run defense has the misfortune of turning around to play a Steve Addazio offense. Addazio came over from Boston College. You remember AJ Dillon running the ball out of 12 personnel over and over again? That’s sort of Addazio’s thing. On paper this looks like a unit-on-unit mismatch.

Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors (-1) at Wyoming Cowboys (Friday)

ATL: Wyoming -1.0

Hawai’i is a much different team than we’ve seen in recent years. They may be better. The Rainbow Warriors opened eyes across the country when they whipped Fresno State last week.

It wasn’t just that they whipped the Bulldogs in Fresno. It was the way they did it. Hawai’i, formerly one of the country’s most finesse, most-happy teams, ran roughshod for 323 rushing yards. Hawai’i schoolboy legend QB Chevan Cordeiro even had got in on the action with over 100 rushing yards.

What’s really cool about that is that we had little idea what to expect from Hawai’i’s offense this offseason, except to believe that it was probably going to be interesting. Hawaii hired former Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State HC Todd Graham, known for his uber-aggressive defenses and up-tempo offenses, to replace Nick Rolovich, who took Mike Leach's old post at Wazzu.

Graham hired as his offensive coordinator G.J. Kinne. Kinne was Graham's former quarterback at Tulsa who was a relative unknown in the coaching ranks. Kinne had, however, apprenticed under offensive innovators Doug Pederson, Mike Norvell, Chad Morris, Ryan Day and Chip Kelly over the three previous seasons.

Graham’s WR coach hire actually had a bigger name. Brennan Marion, a former high school HC and OC at Howard and William & Mary OC, had lit up FCS scoreboards and written a book on his “Go-Go Offense” -- which features two running backs lining up side-by-side in a breakneck offense that keeps the defense off-balance by forcing it to defend horizontally and vertically concepts as disparate as the triple-option and the West Coast offense at tempo.

Marion also played for Graham at Tulsa. I swapped a few messages with Marion this week. He wrote: "The gang is back together got to keep rolling."

You know that old, cliche adage that the two things that travel in football are the running game and defense? In conjunction with the long flights, it’s one reason why Hawaii has been a situational fade in road spots the past few years.

Hawaii hasn’t had a running game or a defense for years, but with Graham, Kinne and Marion, it now might have both. Hawai’i arguably has two starting-caliber backs in Calvin Turner and Miles Reed, and Cordeiro may have more wheels than we gave him credit for. Which is going to make it a pain for middle-tier MWC teams like Wyoming.

Hawaii is in a back-to-back conference travel spot, in a short-week to boot, and this game is basically a pick 'em. Interesting, right? Well, it’s sort of a travel spot. The Rainbow Warriors actually spent this week in Denver. Not a bad idea to prepare for altitude, was it?

Cordeiro is 5-0 as starting quarterback at Hawai’i. I expect him to stay perfect on Friday against Wyoming, which must break in a new quarterback on a short week. Wyoming QB Sean Chambers fractured his left fibula last Saturday against Nevada. Sophomore QB Levi Williams is now QB1.

A tougher assignment than replacing Chambers is preparing on six days' notice for this revamped Rainbow Warrior squad that looks nothing like it did the last time Wyoming played them.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (-12) at Syracuse Orange

ATL: WF -5.9

I know my adjusted number is a quite a bit lower than the PointsBet line. But my number is based heavily on mathematical models. And mathematical models are based on results, numbers accrued in contests that have already been played. They don’t have an ability to quantify the devastation of injuries.

Syracuse’s roster is cratered-out. It’s not all Dino Babers’ fault. Eight players are out for the season, whether by injury or choice, including three starters on offense (QB Tommy DeVito, RB Abdul Adams, OG Patrick Davis) and the star of the defense (S Andre Cisco).

Incredibly, Syracuse lists nine additional players on its injury report. And this doesn’t have anything to do with possible weekly COVID disruptions! In addition to Adams’ opt-out, one other running back is out for the year, another is out indefinitely, and another is questionable for Saturday. 

I mean, I could go on.

But here’s the short story: The roof caved in on Syracuse’s 3-3-5 defense the moment Cisco’s season ended. He was an utterly invaluable playmaker in that scheme against both the run and the pass. Syracuse gave up 31 or fewer points in each of its first three games, including 21 of fewer in two. They've allowed 38 or more in three straight. Two of those games were against Liberty and Duke.

And the offense, which is starting a veteran career backup at quarterback and is struggling to identify healthy scholarship bodies to play running back, is punchless. I'm talking No. 111 SP+ punchless. Stunning for a Babers offense, yeah?

One of its few big-play guys, WR Taj Harris, didn’t play against Clemson after making an obscene gesture in the Liberty game. It’s unclear if he’ll be allowed to return on Saturday. QB Rex Culpepper, DeVito's fill-in, has a 4/4 TD/INT ratio, and Syracuse is averaging a feeble 182 passing YPG.

Wake Forest plays at extreme tempo, the ninth-fastest-playing offense in the nation per SP+. This is a recipe for disaster for Syracuse’s decimated roster that is perilously short on depth. Wake's Achilles' heel is its run defense. Syracuse, with the No. 95 rushing success rate in the FBS, simply isn't equipped to give it problems.

Georgia Bulldogs (-17) at Kentucky Wildcats

ATL: UGA -14.8

Kentucky’s ugly-magic ran out last week in a 20-10 loss to Missouri. The Wildcats posted a putrid 145 yards of total offense, with eight first downs. Terry Wilson completed only three passes. Wilson’s inability to throw with accuracy is going to continue to strangle the life out of this offense against decent defenses. 

Georgia definitely has one of those. Erase the Alabama-Georgia game from your memory. It’s irrelevant for the purposes of this game. I want to take you back to the first three games of the season, when the Bulldogs held Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee to 37 combined points. Please don't forget: Georgia still has SP+'s No. 1 defense!

The Bulldogs are particularly awesome against the run, allowing only 65.5 YPG. That’s most unfortunate for Kentucky, which can move the ball no other way. And have I mentioned that Wilson is dealing with a minor undisclosed injury? And that he’s been splitting practice reps with Auburn transfer QB Joey Gatewood? And that it’s difficult to tell if that’s due to injury or performance?  

Gatewood was recently cleared by the NCAA to compete this season. He’s the far superior passer. But do you want to toss Gatewood to the wolves against arguably the best defense in the nation?

In the last three games between these teams, Georgia has won by an average score of 32.3-10.0. Expect a similar theme on Saturday: It’s difficult to envision Kentucky denting the end zone more than once, twice if they're lucky.

With Kentucky’s offense neutered, Georgia’s can revert to the pace it prefers after it was stretched trying to go haymaker-for-haymaker with Alabama’s explosive attack. 

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (+20) at Notre Dame Fighting Irish

ATL: ND -18.9


Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (+28.5) at BYU Cougars

ATL: BYU -24.9

At this point in the season, it’s imperative in your handicapping to become more diligent in identifying strong situational spots. We have a pair of prime lookahead spots here.

The Fighting Irish’s season is on the line next week against Clemson. They’ll go vanilla and get out of Atlanta as quickly as they can. 

As for BYU, the Cougars have an enormous Friday night game at Boise State on deck for next week. BYU has absolutely no incentive to try to pulverize Western Kentucky. The goal is going to be to beat an inferior opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible while avoiding injuries.

And for whatever it’s worth, star BYU WR Gunner Romney, who missed last week’s win over Texas State with a lingering hamstring injury, is considered questionable.

In addition to the prime situational opportunities we’re in with the underdogs, ATL tells us that we’re also getting a little line value in each game. It would be a surprise if one of these ‘dogs didn’t bark with a cover, and we’re live for both tickets to cash.

TCU Horned Frogs-Baylor Bears: UNDER 48

I rarely write up over-unders in this column, and I rarely bet on them. Handicapping totals is just not a strength of mine. Know your strengths if you're going to put your hard-earned money at risk.

I’m going to make an exception, here.

I watch a lot of Baylor football. My brother is an alumnus. 

I’m going to tell you the dirty little secret about this Baylor team: QB Charlie Brewer can no longer throw the ball with zip beyond 20 yards. 

No, seriously!

Compare that to this example from two years ago.

Brewer never had a strong arm. But during his collegiate career, his arm strength has had a Benjamin Button like reverse trajectory, to the point where in this winter's bowl game, when he cocks back, the ball may just land at his feet.

Brewer has played benchable football for long stretches this season. HC Dave Aranda and OC Larry Fedora continue to show confidence in the veteran despite having the “Arkansas Flamethrower” Gerry Bohanon waiting in the wings.

Can Aranda and Fedora figure out a way to build an effective offense around Brewer, a heady quarterback physically unable to throw with zip beyond 20 yards? Or is it time for a change? I think the jury is going to come back with a verdict one way or the other after this game.

Not only that, but both of Baylor’s top-two backs flirted with opting-out last weekend before Aranda talked them out of it. Baylor’s offense, you could say, is a bit out of sorts at the moment. Of Baylor’s 16 points last week against Texas, 13 came in the fourth quarter. The first three quarters were ugly.

That's the bad news. The good news is that Baylor’s defense is coming along in the transition from the defense-oriented Matt Rhule to the defense-oriented Aranda. The Bears rank No. 28 in defensive havoc rate and own the SP+ No. 31 defense.

You know who else ranks in the top-30 of defensive havoc rate? That’s right, TCU, which checks in at 30. TCU sits one spot behind Baylor in the SP+ defensive rankings at No. 32. 

But TCU’s offense has also had its share of issues. To put it mildly. The Horned Frogs managed only 14 points in last week’s loss to Oklahoma. QB Max Duggan, who didn’t even start this season due to a heart condition, has played strong football for spurts but has already been sacked nine times. 

No running backs have stepped up with Jet Anderson and Sewo Olonilua now in the NFL (though to be fair the leaky offensive line hasn’t helped). Duggan leads the team in rushing. SP+ ranks the offense No. 81. Baylor's ranks No. 53, for those scoring at home.

And in contrast to the idea of the Big 12 as a no-huddle heaven, TCU and Baylor rank No. 45 and No. 55 in adjusted pace, respectively, always an important rate to look at when betting totals.

The under is 4-0-1 in Baylor’s last five games. And for whatever it’s worth, the under is 6-0 in Baylor’s last six games as a home ‘dog and 10-3 in TCU’s last 13 as a road favorite.

East Carolina Pirates (+17) at Tulsa Golden Hurricane

ATL: Tulsa -12.0

Earlier this week, when ECU was an 18-point 'dog, I wrote that "this line is off -- it appears to be treating ECU as if it isn’t getting a boatload of talent back this week. But the Pirates are." Someone wised up. The line dropped to Tulsa -17 the next day.

East Carolina junior QB Holton Ahlers returned to East Carolina for last Saturday's practice after he missed the October 17 game against Navy due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. He's got a full practice week under his belt and is good to go for Saturday.

Not only will ECU get him back, but it looks like it’ll also get back RBs Demetrius Mauney and Darius Pinnix, LB Damir Faison and S Tank Robinson, all four of whom were also held out against Navy due to contact tracing protocols. 

ECU’s biggest issue this season has been turnovers -- they’ve committed nine in four games. Getting some offensive horses back is going to really help in that regard.

Tulsa’s defense has opened eyes, allowing only 18.3 PPG. It’s a strong unit. The offense, maybe not so much. At 27.7 PPG, it ranks No. 58 in the country. Tulsa is tough, absolutely, but they aren’t good enough on offense to boat-race game opponents, and I think ECU will provide them that on Saturday.

Virginia Tech Hokies (-3.5) at Louisville Cardinals                      

ATL: VT -3.3

We misfired on Virginia Tech against Wake Forest last week. But the Hokies outgained the Demon Deacons by over 100 yards, gained more yards per play, held a 45-35% success rate advantage, and simply outplayed WF – outside of three QB Hendon Hooker interceptions and getting held scoreless in four red zone trips (VT only scored 16 points in eight total trips past Wake’s 40).

Hooker was withheld earlier this season with an undisclosed medical ailment discovered during COVID screening. Once he and the passing game get right, Virginia Tech is going to be really tough to beat.

The Hokies’ have a vaunted rushing attack that averages nearly 300 yards per game. It ranks No. 8 in rushing success rate and No. 2 with 6.5 yards per carry (the offensive as a whole ranks No. 9 with 6.7 yards per play). 

This is where Louisville could get be in hot water: The Cardinals rank No. 83 in rushing marginal efficiency against, No. 98 in rushing explosion against and No. 75 in run D opportunity rate.

Virginia Tech’s own run defense isn’t good, so I expect Louisville RB Javian Hawkins to have a good game, but the mismatch of the VT offensive line and the Louisville front-seven is so pronounced I believe it’ll allow the Hokies to control the pace of play and essentially dictate terms all afternoon.

Sounds like a pretty cushy scenario for Hooker to get right, doesn’t it? He should at least be able to hit a few deep shots when Louisville starts cheating up: The Cards rank No. 93 in passing explosion against. 

Cincinnati Bearcats (-6.5) vs. Memphis Tigers 

ATL: Cincy -5.0

In general, we have the buy sign on Cincy, and the sell sign on Memphis. So getting a chance to back the Bearcats in an enormous revenge spot (Cincy lost in the regular season and finale and AAC title to Memphis last year) at a reasonable price is good fun.

I’m not sure how many people know it, but this is Luke Fickell’s best team at Cincinnati -- and his last two each won 11 games. The 2020 defense is absurd, the No. 4 SP+ in the nation. 

That defense prevents efficiency, it prevents explosion, it’s No. 12 in the country in defensive success rate against the run and No. 10 in offensive success rate against the pass.

For every down and situation, Cincy has an answer for you. The one disappointing aspect of this team is the running back duo of Gerrid Doaks and Jerome Ford have started slowly. But QB Desmond Ridder leads a passing attack ranked No. 16 in success rate and No. 30 in marginal efficiency.

Memphis still has a really good offense (despite losing Kenneth Gainwell and Damonte Coxie to opt-outs). But it has a crummy defense. Specifically its pass defense, which ranks No. 78 in success rate and No. 85 in marginal efficiency. 

Simply put: Cincy can shut down what Memphis wants to do. But Memphis will not be able to stop Ridder.

2020: 28-21-1 (57.1%) ATS 

Lifetime (2014-Present): 568-490-17 (53.7%) ATS

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Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is Rotoworld’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!