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Weekly Picks

Against the Spread Picks: Week 7

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: October 15, 2020, 8:38 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 Time CST TV
10/16 SMU Mustangs Tulane Green Wave 6.5 5.9 N/A N/A 5:00 ESPN
10/16 BYU Cougars Houston Cougars 5 2.2 Houston Cougars 2.8 8:30 ESPN
10/17 Texas State Bobcats South Alabama Jaguars -2.5 -2.1 N/A N/A 11:00 ESPNU
10/17 Auburn Tigers South Carolina Gamecocks 3.5 6.1 Auburn Tigers 2.6 11:00 ESPN
10/17 Liberty Flames Syracuse Orange 3.5 -4.2 Syracuse Orange 7.7 11:00 ACC Net
10/17 South Florida Bulls Temple Owls -11 -7.9 South Florida Bulls 3.1 11:00 ESPN+
10/17 Kentucky Wildcats Tennessee Volunteers -6 -0.6 Kentucky Wildcats 5.4 11:00 SEC Net
10/17 Navy Midshipmen East Carolina Pirates 2.5 3.0 N/A N/A 11:00 ESPN+
10/17 Clemson Tigers Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 27 24.0 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 3.0 11:00 ABC
10/17 Pittsburgh Panthers Miami Hurricanes -13.5 -9.7 Pittsburgh Panthers 3.8 11:00 ACC Net
10/17 Kansas Jayhawks West Virginia Mountaineers -22.5 -22.5 N/A N/A 11:00 ---
10/17 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers UAB Blazers -14 -7.0 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 7 12:30 ---
10/17 Army Black Knights UTSA Roadrunners 7.5 11.0 Army Black Knights 3.5 12:30 ---
10/17 Louisville Cardinals Notre Dame Fighting Irish -17 -19.5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2.5 1:30 NBC
10/17 Duke Blue Devils NC State Wolfpack -4.5 -3.5 Duke Blue Devils 1 2:30 ACC Net
10/17 UCF Knights Memphis Tigers 3 6.3 UCF Knights 3.3 2:30 ABC
10/17 Ole Miss Rebels Arkansas Razorbacks 3 2.3 N/A N/A 2:30 ESPN2
10/17 Virginia Cavaliers Wake Forest Demon Deacons 2.5 1.5 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 1.0 3:00 ACC Net
10/17 Texas A&M Aggies Mississippi State Bulldogs 4.5 4.0 N/A N/A 3:00 SEC Net
10/17 UMass Minutemen Georgia Southern Eagles -30 -31.1 Georgia Southern Eagles 1.1 3:00 ESPNU
10/17 North Texas Mean Green Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders -6.5 -2.6 North Texas Mean Green 3.9 4:00 CBSS Net
10/17 Marshall Thundering Herd Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 13.5 7.4 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 6.1 5:00 CBSS Net
10/17 North Carolina Tar Heels Florida State Seminoles 13.5 10.5 Florida State Seminoles 3.0 6:00 ESPN
10/17 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles UTEP Miners 6 11.9 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 5.9 6:30 ESPN2
10/17 Georgia Bulldogs Alabama Crimson Tide -4.5 -4.5 N/A N/A 7:00 CBS
10/17 Boston College Eagles Virginia Tech Hokies -12.5 -10.5 Boston College Eagles 2 7:00 ACC Net
10/17 Florida International Panthers Charlotte 49ers -7 -7.2 N/A N/A 7:00 ESPNU

Texas A&M Aggies (-4.5) at Mississippi State Bulldogs
ATL: A&M -4.0

How could you possibly like Mississippi State in this spot after what we’ve seen the past few weeks? The Bulldogs’ offense is a mess right now, and Mike Leach is so irate with his roster right now that he told reporters after the Kentucky game that he needs a roster purge to get rid of malcontents.

In only three weeks in the SEC, Leach has: Beat defending champ LSU 44-34 in Baton Rouge (QB KJ Costello set the SEC-record with 623 pass yards); lost 21-14 to Arkansas (the Hogs’ only SEC win in their last 22 games); lost 24-2 to Kentucky (MSU’s offense failed to score). 

Mississippi State has thrown nine interceptions and scored 14 offensive points in its last two games combined. It benched Costello against the Wildcats. His backup fared no better. MSU’s offense was so bad, so mistake-riddled -- 70 passes, zero points! -- that Kentucky won by 22 despite gaining a putrid 157 yards. 

The lack of offensive punch is stunning, but maybe it shouldn’t be: Leach’s first Washington State team was held to single-digits four times (though the offense was never held off the board entirely).

You could argue that A&M is in line for a letdown spot after upsetting Florida last week. But this a team that got whipped by Alabama two weeks ago -- overconfidence and lethargy don’t seem likely to set in this quickly. 

To stay close against the Aggies, Mississippi State’s offense is going to have to improve significantly over what we’ve seen the past weeks. That just doesn’t seem very likely. 

The good news for MSU is that RB Kylin Hill is back healthy. The bad news is that MSU’s run game stinks even when Hill is active, and Hill’s 15-79-0 receiving line against Kentucky gives you a great idea how little MSU’s quarterbacks trust the receiving corps and offensive line.

The Aggies lost WR Caleb Chapman for the season against Florida after he suffered a knee injury during a fourth-quarter touchdown catch. That loss stings, but won’t be a factor here. It’s surprising but true: MSU just doesn’t have the firepower to keep pace with a team like A&M.

Georgia Southern Eagles (-30) vs. UMass Minutemen
ATL: GSU -30.1

UMass is finally kicking off its 2020 season. If you’re a regular reader, that should ring bells in your head: The system of teams opening their season against teams that have already played is now 22-8-2 ATS (73.3%) this season.

But the Minutemen are a different case than many other teams that have qualified for that system.

On August 11 -- two months ago -- UMass announced it was canceling its season. On September 24, UMass announced it was opting back in. Part of the reasoning there was with so many conferences opting back into the fall -- the Big 10, Pac-12, MWC and MAC -- UMass feared no opponents would be available for a spring season.

So the Minutemen hastily threw together a return-to-fall plan, with a plan to play “around four games.” This game wasn’t even scheduled until October 8, last Thursday! And that was because Georgia Southern suddenly had a hole on its schedule when Appalachian State’s COVID issues forced a postponent of that game. This remains the only game on UMass’ schedule! 

The above system is probably successful for two reasons: 1) The team that’s already played has given its opponent game film but not received any in return, 2) The team that’s already played probably gets slightly over-priced just because the public has already seen them (or vice-versa: undervaluing the team opening its season because it hasn’t).

In this case, however, UMass didn’t even know it was going to be playing Georgia Southern until last Thursday (and didn’t even know it would be playing at all until three weeks ago). On the day that game was announced, UMass HC Walt Bell didn’t even have a depth chart to provide to the media. He intends to start redshirt senior Mike Fallon at QB. Fallon has 40 passing years in four years of eligibility. 

Bell and his squad, arguably the league talented in the FBS, has had precious little time to prepare for a triple-option offense. Last year, the Minutemen got clocked 63-7 by Army, the only triple-option team it faced.

Georgia Southern was already prepared to play on Saturday. They thought they’d be facing a far-stronger Appy State roster. I expect the Eagles to blow UMass’ doors off.

Virginia Tech Hokies (-12.5) vs. Boston College Eagles    
ATL: VT  -10.5

I was on the Hokies +5 against UNC last week, and got burned. I didn’t realize the extent of COVID issues remaining in the locker room. In total, 15 Hokies missed that game. The secondary was particularly ravished, with several backups and two starters out.

The Hokies are closing in on having a full roster again. A full strength Virginia Tech will outclass Boston College. We're getting a discount here in part because Virginia Tech hasn't played quite as well as expected this year while its roster has fought off COVID issues. Hopefully we don't have any surprise inactives on Saturday.

Kentucky Wildcats (+6) at Tennessee Volunteers

ATL: Tennessee  -0.6

I’m not impressed with Tennessee. The offensive line has been worse than expected and Jarrett Guarantano never progressed. The Vols seems like a team that will be able to take care of business against bad teams and get smoked by awesome teams. 

Kentucky is somewhere in the middle. But they match up well for a team getting 6-points on the line.

Kentucky’s offense is limited by Terry Wilson’s wavering accuracy and pop-gun arm, but the Wildcats actually have the same offensive success rate as Tennessee does this season (41.5%). Tennessee’s offense is more explosive (No. 21 vs. No. 57 EPA/play), in large part because UK ranks No. 70 in EPA/passing play.

Tennessee is a run-first team, an offense that bogs down when it has difficulty moving the ball on the ground (No. 14 rushing/EPA vs. No. 41 passing/EPA). Kentucky’s strength is its run defense, which ranks No. 8 EPA/run. Kentucky is particularly good at limiting rushing explosion (No. 5 SP+) and in power success rate (No. 2).

A huge Kentucky front could give Tennessee’s beleaguered offensive line issues. If the Vols can’t run, I’m pretty confident that Guarantano won’t put on the hero’s cape to save Tennessee's bacon. Kentucky’s pass defense picked off Mississippi State six times in last week’s 24-2 win.

The Wildcats need to play better on offense after averaging  only 2.9 YPP with a 28% offensive success rate against the Bulldogs. Tennessee’s run defense ranks No. 30 in success rate. The Vols’ biggest defensive weakness is giving up explosive passing plays. 

Kentucky will spring the upset if Wilson can hit a couple deep shots interspersed between the smash-mouth stuff. Tennessee has been awful recently in exactly this spot. The Vols are 3-11 ATS in their past 14 as favorites against FBS teams.

Syracuse Orange (+3.5) vs. Liberty Flames   

ATL: Syracuse  -4.2

This line has trap written all over it: How on earth is Liberty seen as 3.5-points better than Syracuse -- on the road?! I don’t care. If Liberty beats Syracuse by four or more, take my money. Some bargains are too good to pass up.

Syracuse is down QB Tommy DeVito and star S Andre Cisco. Both are likely done for the season. Cisco’s loss hurts bad -- but he’s already missed two games. Syracuse will start QB Rex Culpepper with DeVito out. There isn’t a big qualitative difference between the two.

The resurgent Liberty Flames are 4-0. QB Malik Willis, an Auburn transfer, is a star -- a dual-threat who’s thrown for 595 yards and run for 340. The Flames blew out UL-Monroe 40-7 last week as 18-point favorites. Outside of that, Liberty snuck by FIU by two, WKU by six and beat an FCS team. I don't need to tell you that that's the opposite of a murderer's row.

According to ESPN, non-Power 5 teams favored on the road against P5 teams are 10-5-2 ATS since 2015. But just last year, Liberty lost by 10 to Rutgers as a 7.5-road favorite. That Rutgers team was worse than this Syracuse squad. 

Syracuse (1-3) has at least beaten a decent team -- Georgia Tech -- and they did it without Cisco, on zero notice. Liberty, which hasn't, is making a big step up in competition, and they’re doing it on the road. 

DeVito or no DeVito, I think Syracuse’s offense finally gets going on Saturday.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (-6) at UTEP Miners    
ATL: USM 11.9

Pure line value play. ATL believes the Golden Eagles should be favored by 12. We’re getting nearly a free touchdown on the line.

One other interesting note: Per Brad Powers, lines that move five or more points off Circa World Openers are 26-12-1 against the opening line. Southern Miss opened at -1 before quickly getting juiced to -6.5 at that book.

The line still isn’t accurately reflecting reality. There's a significant talent discrepancy between these two rosters.

Arkansas Razorbacks (+3) vs. Ole Miss
ATL: Ole Miss -1.3

You guys know I love this Ole Miss team. But it’s come time to fade them.

The Rebels are dealing with COVID issues right now -- the extent to which we currently don’t know. But Ole Miss isn’t going to be at full strength on Saturday. They’re also coming off a deflating loss, putting up 48 points and 647 yards but losing by 15 to the Alabama Crimson Tide last week.

Ole Miss has played the hardest SP+ schedule in the nation, Florida, Kentucky and Alabama. Between the gauntlet and the virus, I think this sets up to a down week for them. Especially in lieu of the matchup.

The Rebels are averaging 41.6 PPG and rank No. 5 in EPA/play, No. 3 in pass/EPA, No. 2 in passing success rate and No. 10 in passing explosion despite the rough schedule. But the Rebels’ defense is rancid -- No. 76 in rushing success rate against and No. 75 in passing success rate against.

Arkansas’ defense has been a lot better than expected. Most importantly, its strength is pass defense. The Hogs rank No. 10 in the country in pass/EPA against and No. 3 in SP+ marginal explosiveness against. Ole Miss’ passing offense moves the ball on everyone -- but Arkansas is going to force them to methodically move the ball down the field with quick-hitters. 

Arkansas’ play-calling, directed by OC Kendal Briles, has been almost as impressive as Ole Miss’. Arkansas should be 2-1 right now but lost to Auburn when SEC officials incorrectly ruled that a backwards Bo Nix attempted-spike wasn’t a fumble last week. The spike was granted, and Auburn ended up kicking a game-winning field goal to win 30-28.

Arkansas was without top sources of offense RB Rakeem Boyd and WR Treylon Burks in that game. Both are questionable for this weekend -- but each has a shot to return. Ole Miss’ defense is about as bad as its offense. Creative play-calling alone will allow Feleipe Franks to move the ball on that unit. If Franks has Boyd or Burks back, all the better.

UCF Knights (-3.5) at Memphis Tigers 
ATL: UCF -6.3

Why is Memphis still getting this much respect?

Two weeks ago, Memphis was in UCF’s spot right now, favored by 3.5 on the road against SMU. The Mustangs controlled that game and won by three despite losing star WR Reggie Roberson and RB TJ McDaniel.

The Knights are 4-9 ATS in their last 13 games despite its run of dominance. Why? Because you always have to pay a tax to bet on UCF.

Not anymore. Not after UCF was upset by Tulsa. This time, for the first time in I don’t know how long, you can buy UCF at a discount. By the estimation of ATL, you’re getting a free field goal on what the sticker price should be.

Take it. This Memphis squad is not as strong as in recent years, in part because of talent lost over the offseason, in part because of coaching staff upheaval, and in part because of opt-outs. But the Tigers are still being priced like an elite G5 team.

I think UCF will show Memphis what an elite G5 team looks like on Saturday in a must-win spot off the disappointing loss to Tulsa.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (+14) at UAB Blazers    
ATL: UAB -7.0

Western Kentucky is only 1-3. Their only win was a three-point squeaker over lowly Middle Tennessee. But I still think they’re a decent team, and an undervalued team.

WKU had a 14-point loss to Louisville (Louisville benefited from a series of explosive scoring plays) and a six-point setback against undefeated Liberty earlier this season before losing to Marshall 38-14 last week. WKU went 2-for-12 on third downs, lost the turnover battle by three (WKU lost three fumbles!) and got outplayed on special teams. 

But just in terms of offense vs. defense game mechanics, WKU hung -- finishing just below Marshall in both success rate and YPP. That’s just another datapoint that the Hilltoppers can hang with strong teams. Expect WKU to similarly hang with UAB.

West Virginia Mountaineers (-22.5) vs. Kansas Jayhawks    
ATL: WVU  -22.5

This University of Kansas alum will be betting against the Jayhawks (0-3 SU, 0-3 ATS) until they cover a game.

I'd rather not talk about it further, if it's all the same to you.

Alabama Crimson Tide (-4.5) vs. Georgia Bulldogs        
ATL: Bama -4.5

I’m more concerned for Nick Saban the person than I am for Alabama having to play without him on the sideline due to his COVID diagnosis.

Saban is a program builder. The in-game stuff, Steve Sarkisian, the architect of this ludicrous offense, will be a fine fill-in. Sark is the former coach of Washington and USC.

Alabama’s issue is its defense. Georgia’s issue is its game-manager quarterback. 

The question you have to ask yourself: Can Georgia’s defense hold Alabama to 28 points or below? If it can’t, do you really expect Stetson Bennett to be ready to engage in a firefight with Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and company?

Bennett ranks behind only Jones and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral in QBR this year. But there’s an enormous difference between playing with a lead against decent teams and playing from behind against elite ones. Alabama ranks No. 1 in the country with 51 PPG,No. 2 with 385 passing YPG, No. 3 with 560 offensive YPG and No. 1 (by far) with 8.6 YPP.

This game may well come down to how effectively Alabama can keep Georgia out of its own backfield. The Bulldogs rank No. 1 in the country with 72 quarterback pressures through three games (10 sacks and 17 TFL). Keep in mind that Georgia hasn't exactly faced an offensive gauntlet: Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee, with two of those games at home.

These squads average similar ground yards per game, but Alabama’s Harris-led ground attack is better. Georgia’s Zamir White hasn’t gotten going yet this year. The Bulldogs are counting on James Cook returning this week.

Georgia ranks No. 5 in the country with 12.3 PPG allowed and No. 1 in rushing defense. The pass defense ranks No. 21, not quite as good. And it’s the pass defense that needs to be flawless to slow Alabama’s fleet receivers. I don't see that happening.

2020: 21-18-1 (53.8%) ATS 
Lifetime (2014-Present): 561-487-17 (53.5%) 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!