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Weekly Picks

Thor's Against the Spread Picks: Week 4

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: September 26, 2020, 6:04 pm ET

We’re off to a scorching 9-2 ATS start to the season and hope to keep rolling.

In the table below, as always, you'll find the Adjusted Thor Line (ATL), a system 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
9/24 UAB Blazers South Alabama Jaguars 6.5 5.7 N/A N/A
9/25 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders UTSA Roadrunners -6.5 -2.7 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 3.8
9/26 Georgia Southern Eagles Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns -13.5 -15.3 Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns 1.8
9/26 Georgia State Panthers Charlotte 49ers 3 3.1 N/A N/A
9/26 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Syracuse Orange 8 9.5 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 1.5
9/26 Louisville Cardinals Pittsburgh Panthers -3 -0.9 Louisville Cardinals 2.1
9/26 Kansas State Wildcats Oklahoma Sooners -28 -23.7 Kansas State Wildcats 4.3
9/26 Florida Gators Ole Miss Rebels 14 8.9 Ole Miss Rebels 5.1
9/26 Kentucky Wildcats Auburn Tigers -7.5 -14.5 Auburn Tigers 7.0
9/26 UCF Knights East Carolina Pirates 27.5 22.1 East Carolina Pirates 5.4
9/26 Iowa State Cyclones TCU Horned Frogs 2.5 -7.7 TCU Horned Frogs 10.2
9/26 Tulane Green Wave Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 3.5 0.5 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 3.0
9/26 Army Black Knights Cincinnati Bearcats -13.5 -12.7 N/A N/A
9/26 UTEP Miners UL Monroe Warhawks -10 -6.6 UTEP Miners 3.4
9/26 Mississippi State Bulldogs LSU Tigers -16.5 -24.3 LSU Tigers 7.8
9/26 West Virginia Mountaineers Oklahoma State Cowboys -7 -8.5 Oklahoma State Cowboys 1.5
9/26 Texas Longhorns Texas Tech Red Raiders 18.5 18.3 N/A N/A
9/26 Georgia Bulldogs Arkansas Razorbacks 28 23.3 Arkansas Razorbacks 4.7
9/26 Duke Blue Devils Virginia Cavaliers -5 -6.5 Virginia Cavaliers 1.5
9/26 Florida International Panthers Liberty Flames -7.5 -7.0 N/A N/A
9/26 South Florida Bulls Florida Atlantic Owls -3.5 -3.2 N/A N/A
9/26 Texas State Bobcats Boston College Eagles -17.5 -21.3 Boston College Eagles 3.8
9/26 Alabama Crimson Tide Missouri Tigers 27.5 21.6 Missouri Tigers 5.9
9/26 Florida State Seminoles Miami Hurricanes -11 -6.0 Florida State Seminoles 5
9/26 Kansas Jayhawks Baylor Bears -17.5 -26.8 Baylor Bears 9.3
9/26 Tennessee Volunteers South Carolina Gamecocks 3.5 -2.3 South Carolina Gamecocks 5.8
9/26 Vanderbilt Commodores Texas A&M Aggies -30.5 -30.8 N/A N/A
9/26 NC State Wolfpack Virginia Tech Hokies -6.5 -17.4 Virginia Tech Hokies 10.9
9/26 Troy Trojans BYU Cougars -14 -10.1 Troy Trojans 3.9

Liberty Flames (-7.5) vs. Florida International Panthers
ATL: Liberty -7.0

A game between teams that may be heading in different directions this season.

FIU snuck into bowl season last year by upsetting Miami late in the season, ultimately finishing 6-7. The Panthers then lost QB James Morgan to the draft, and their top-two RBs and three-of-their-top-four receivers to graduation. Only four starters return on offense.

The defense gets six starters back, but must replace three of their top-four tacklers and two starters in the secondary. And this is a bit scary for the opener: FIU hasn’t yet played, had zero spring practices, and ranked No. 121 out of 130 in Phil Steele’s returning experience rankings. 

FIU hopes to plug transfers into a few holes created by offseason losses. They’ll look nothing like they did last year, which Liberty HC Hugh Freeze alluded to earlier this week: “I was looking at [FIU] — transfer from Nebraska, transfer from Texas, transfer from Boise State, transfer from Georgia Tech, transfer from Arkansas, transfer from Georgia. New quarterback who’s a dual threat,” Freeze said. “You don’t have any film on these guys that they have that have transferred in, and that’s a significant amount of kids.”

Liberty only returns nine starters. But whereas FIU comes in as a huge question mark, Liberty already has an identity that they emphatically rolled out in the season-opening upset win against WKU.

The Flames have remade themselves quickly from a Buckshot Calvert-jumpball-to-Antonio-Gandy-Golden-offense into a terrifying, up-tempo runfest. New QB Malik Willis, a transfer from Auburn, has been a revelation. An athletic dual-threat, Willis opens space for steady veteran RB Joshua Mack, a transfer from Maine.

The duo shredded WKU. Liberty ranks No. 5 in the country in SP+ rushing success rate and is top-10 in success rate, an offensive efficiency metric. Willis won’t provide as much as a passer, but he can beat single coverage. And you basically have to give it to him to have a chance of slowing the running game.

Defensively, Liberty looked better than expected against the Hilltoppers. That group should be able to slow FIU’s odd new offense, which’ll either start holdover dual-threat Kaylan Wiggins or Maryland transfer Max Bortenschlager at QB. FIU finished No. 81 in scoring offense last year with Morgan, and aren’t likely to be improved.


Auburn Tigers (-7.5) vs. Kentucky Wildcats
ATL: Auburn -14.5

I’m a little surprised by this line -- ATL believes Auburn is being shorted by a full touchdown.

While Kentucky returns 15 starters, it lost face-of-the-franchise OW Lynn Bowden Jr. to the NFL, as well as the team’s most dangerous receiver when Bowden was behind center (TE Ahmed Wagner). Also gone is EDGE Calvin Taylor, who led the team with 8.5 sacks.

Kentucky returns to former starting QB Terry Wilson. It was Wilson’s injury last fall that led Kentucky to go with the highly-unusual experiment of Bowden at quarterback. 

Auburn has a new offensive coordinator, but he’s a good one -- former SMU HC and Clemson OC Chad Morris. Morris has only five returning starters on offense, but the most important ones return: QB Bo Nix and his receiver trio of Eli Stove, Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams.

The backfield doesn’t bring back a ton of experience but returns four RBs who have starting-level talent and can be deployed as-needed while running Morris’ breakneck offense.

To stay within this number, Kentucky is not only going to have to slow Nix and his speedy outside options, they’re going to need some points of their own. Wilson is an extremely limited passer, and he has little experience among his receiving corps. 

Kentucky must move the ball via the ground, and that could be difficult against an Auburn front-seven that lost a ton of talent but returns NFL-caliber seniors in EDGE Big Kat Bryant and LB KJ Britt, who are surrounded by a bunch of highly-touted recruits.


TCU Horned Frogs (+2.5) vs. Iowa State Cyclones
ATL: TCU -7.7

This game features an incredible 10.2-point discrepancy between my line and the PointsBet spread!

You could point to a few factors to help explain that -- Iowa State has already opened its season, while TCU will be making its season debut, and TCU is without QB Max Duggan -- but the betting market appears to be overreacting.

The fact of the matter is that Duggan, while showing promise last year, wasn’t a 2019 difference-maker. In part due to his inaccuracy, as you might recall, WR Jalen Reagor easily had the lowest percentage of on-target balls thrown his way of any receiving prospect in the past draft.

How big of a downgrade could Matthew Downing be? From that? Not big enough, in my estimation, to justify TCU being a home ‘dog in this spot.

Iowa State has a star QB in Brock Purdy and a very intriguing RB in Breece Hall, but its offensive line once again is poor and its receiving corps has stunted in development since the halcyon days of Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler

TCU’s defense lost iDL Ross Blacklock and CB Jeff Gladney, but returns seven of the other nine starters. The secondary will miss Gladney, but it boasts one of the nation’s best safety duos (Ar’Darius Washington and Trevon Moehrig), so don’t cry for it too much.

Even if the TCU pass defense ends up missing Blacklock and Gladney, it isn’t likely to in this matchup. ISU simply doesn’t have the outside playmakers to punish TCU. Where ISU is stacked is at tight end, though NFL prospect Charlie Kolar remains banged up. ISU HC Matt Campbell labeled Kolar “day-to-day” once again this week. 

Fortunately for the Frogs, they return five of six starting LB/S to deal with ISU’s heavy passing sets. And offensively, despite the loss of Duggan, Reagor and the top-two RB, TCU may well be more dangerous, assuming Downing is decent. TCU signed a five-star RB (Zach Evans) and nabbed one of the cycle’s best grad transfers, JD Spielman, to help fill Reagor’s shoes.


LSU Tigers (-16.5) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
ATL: LSU -24.3

LSU has dealt with its fair share of COVID issues, but HC Ed Orgeron said this week that his team’s infections are “very low” right now. 

Orgeron lost a metric ton of talent to the NFL, and also passing game architect Joe Brady and DC Dave Aranda. But the Tigers got some good news when DL Neil Farrell opted back in. And, of course, plenty of talent returns.

Mississippi State hit the reset button by sacking the Joe Moorhead regime and hiring Mike Leach. The easiest way to slow a Leach offense is by getting pressure without blitzing. The Tigers’ active defensive front makes this the opposite of an ideal opening SEC assignment for the mad scientist.

Assuming MSU’s offense takes a while to get going, the Bulldogs are going to have issues keeping pace with LSU’s offense. The Tigers lost numerous starters to the NFL, but should still have a high-flying offense with former highly-touted recruit Myles Brennan taking over for Joe Burrow. Brennan nearly beat out Burrow for the starting QB job two years ago.

Mike Leach famously says his system takes five minutes to install. That may well be, but he went 5-7 ATS in his first year at Wazzu. He then went 9-4 ATS and 4-8 ATS in the two subsequent seasons. We’ll see if he fares better early in the SEC, but I don’t see his debut going well.


Georgia Bulldogs (-28) at Arkansas Razorbacks
ATL: Georgia -22.3

ATL may not see any line value on the Bulldogs here, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where Arkansas keeps this game close. 

ATL doesn’t bake Arkansas’ coaching and personnel changes into its spread. Pro bettors are. And they spiked this line from closer to the -24 key number to -28 by Thursday morning. This line could hit -28.5 any moment now.

Arkansas will be making its debut under former Georgia assistant Sam Pittman. Arkansas may benefit from Pittman’s familiarity with UGA’s roster. But how much will that actually help? 

Georgia’s offense isn’t going to look similar to last year’s, with Dwan Mathis taking over for Jake Fromm, Zamir White and James Cook taking over for D’Andre Swift, and the pass-happy Mike Bobo calling plays. Defensively, Georgia has one of the nation’s top units. 

Arkansas’ best offensive player is RB Rakeem Boyd, and he’s going to struggle to find space to work. Grad transfer QB Feleipe Franks struggles with pressure and could be in for a long day. New Hogs OC Kendal Briles is one of the game’s brightest offensive minds, but it’s going to take a bit for the personnel to acclimate to his system. 

Georgia’s active front-seven is going to be keying on Boyd -- he’s used to this by now -- with LBs Monty Rice and Nakobe Dean responsible for trailing him in coverage. 

Arkansas’ defense, under new DC Barry Odom, needs at least one transition year before it can be counted on hindering an attack with as many weapons as Georgia’s.


Louisville Cardinals (+3) at Pittsburgh Panthers
ATL: Pittsburgh -0.9

In Scott Satterfield’s first year, Louisville never lost consecutive games. I’m guessing they bounce back strong again after losing 47-34 to Miami last time out.

The Cardinals returned 16 starters, including a trip of offensive stars in QB Malik Cunningham, RB Javian Hawkins and WR Tutu Atwell. The defense didn’t acquit itself well against Miami, but should have a much easier time with Pittsburgh’s conservative attack.

Like Louisville, Pitt is ranked in the top-25. But what do we actually know about the Panthers? They beat Austin Peay in the opener and then futzed around with a bad Syracuse team in a 21-10 win. 

This is the kind of matchup where Pitt really could have used star iDL Jaylen Twyman, who opted out. Pittsburgh still has two stud edge rushers in its front-seven, but that group is going to have its hands full against Cunningham and Hawkins. 

I like Louisville to win outright.


West Virginia Mountaineers (+7) at Oklahoma State Cowboys
ATL: OSU -8.5

I’m opposing ATL here, but ATL doesn’t have the capacity to understand that Oklahoma State had a rough offseason (remember Mike Gundy’s OAN shirt and the subsequent days-long threat of a player mutiny?), struggled mightily to put away Tulsa in the opener, and has a starting QB (Spencer Sanders) and OG (Cole Birmingham) questionable with injury.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail said earlier this week that this game “could be [Neal] Brown’s big opportunity so far as WVU’s coach.” The Brown regime emphasized this game during the offseason -- an opportunity for the Mountaineers to re-establish themselves as Big 12 contenders. 

Oklahoma State has a look of a wounded giant right now. Last Saturday, the vaunted offense was held to just 279 yards by a mediocre Tulsa defense in an ugly 16-7 win. HC Mike Gundy conceded that his team’s conditioning was at an estimated 75-percent against Tulsa after the offseason was affected by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, West Virginia rested last Saturday. Two weeks ago, the Mountaineers looked great in a season-opening 56-10 romp over EKU. 

Sanders, OSU’s starting QB, has worn a walking boot this week and is questionable with his ankle injury. If he starts, his athleticism will be hampered. If he doesn’t, we’ll see JUCO transfer Ethan Bullock again.

Between the issues at quarterback and Tylan Wallace returning from a season-ending injury, the passing game isn’t as scary as it appeared it could be over the summer. And West Virginia’s defense, which has a new sparkplug in sideline-to-sideline hitman Tony Fields, a grad transfer from Arizona, should be able to at least prevent a Chuba Hubbard explosion if they don’t also have to worry about the quarterback escaping the pocket. 

Brown’s offense is finally looking like a Brown offense, with veteran Jaret Doege firmly entrenched at quarterback. Brown was a giant killer at Troy. It won’t be a surprise if he bags another upset win.


Boston College Eagles (-17.5) vs. Texas State Bobcats
ATL: BC -21.3

Boston College lost program-face RB AJ Dillon and fired long-time HC Steve Addazio, but if the first game is any indication, they’ve rebounded quickly.

BC spanked Duke 26-6 last week. It appeared clear early-on that the Eagles are better behind center than they’ve been in years with Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec

Jurkovec, a former top-5 quarterback recruit, threw for 300 yards against the Blue Devils on almost 13 yards per attempt. WR Zay Flowers looks like a game-breaker, and TE Hunter Long looks like a future starting NFL tight end. Flowers’ emergence lightened the blow of Kobay White’s absence. White will miss the season after tearing his ACL.

Texas State has shown signs of life early in the season, sticking with SMU in a tight opening-season loss and beating UL-Monroe by three touchdowns last week. In between, TSU gagged away a potential win to UTSA in a 51-48 OT loss.

The Bobcats play fast and aggressive. Against poor defenses, they’re going to put points on the board. Against good defenses, they’re going to put their defense in a lot of poor spots. BC returned nine starters on defense and made life a living hell for Duke last week.

If Jurkovec gets cooking again, which seems likely against a poor TSU defense, this game could get out of hand quickly. Once BC gets up by double-digits, RB David Bailey is going to feast on this poor TSU run defense.


Alabama Crimson Tide (-27.5) at Missouri Tigers
ATL: Alabama -21.6

Forget what ATL says. 

Missouri has a brand-new staff, which doesn’t figure to help them in the opener. More to the point, Alabama is 13-0 straight up and 12-1 ATS in season openers under Nick Saban. They’ve covered by an average of nine ppg with an average score of 41-11. That trend is strong enough to auto-bet until it ends.


Stay-away

Baylor Bears (-17.5) vs. Kansas Jayhawks
ATL: Baylor -26.8

Classic case of a game where there is no good choice to back.

It would be tough to back Kansas after they looked even worse than usual in a 38-23 season-opening loss to Coastal Carolina. Especially getting only 17.5 points against a team it’s on a 10-game losing streak to, coughing up 576.7 ypg during that span.

But the Baylor side looks like a potential trap. This line is almost 10 points off my adjusted spread, a shocking discrepancy. Baylor, one of the Big 12’s least experienced teams, learning new systems under a completely revamped coaching staff, will be making its season debut against a team that’s already played. Teams playing under new head coaches, or with new coordinators, have struggled against-the-spread in 2020.

Baylor had to cancel last week’s game against Houston after an unspecified Bears position group suffered a rash of COVID infections. HC Dave Aranda said earlier this week that the Bears expect five players back at "the position that was affected" – reportedly the offensive line – along with five or six players at other positions. 

It would be enough to invest in an inexperienced team that recently dealt with major COVID issues opening its season with a new coaching staff.

 

Virginia Tech Hokies (-6.5) vs. NC State Wolfpack
ATL: VT -18.4

A 12-point discrepancy between ATL and the spread is almost unheard of. In this case, it can be explained. 

On Monday, Virginia Tech HC Justin Fuente said: “We will not have a full roster. I hope we’re able to play.” When he spoke those words, Virginia Tech was a 10-point favorite. The line plummeted to VT -6.5.

The Hokies, who haven’t yet played a game, have already rescheduled two games due to COVID -- including this very game (originally scheduled for Sept. 12). That time, the complication was NC State’s COVID issues.

Last week, the Hokies canceled practices for four days and postponed last Saturday’s scheduled game against Virginia until Dec. 12. Meanwhile, the Hokies defense has been adjusting to life under a new defensive coordinator under trying circumstances.

NC State opened its season last week by beating Wake Forest 45-42 as small home underdogs. 

In a vacuum, we’d be all over the Hokies -- but numerous off-field factors are working against them.


Postponements

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-16) at Wake Forest Demon Deacons
ATL: ND -21.3

On Tuesday, Notre Dame announced it was postponing this game due to seven players testing positive for coronavirus. In all, 13 Irish players are now in isolation, 10 of them in quarantine.

The game has been rescheduled for Dec. 12.

 

Houston Cougars (-22) vs. North Texas Mean Green
ATL: Houston -19.1

North Texas canceled the game on Wednesday, citing four positive COVID tests. In addition to the school’s contact-tracing policy, the Mean Green were unable to field a team to play the Cougars.

Houston HC Dana Holgorsen is beginning to sound like Job, and it’s hard to blame him. Here’s Houston’s 2020 schedule so far:

9/3 vs. Rice: Postponed by Rice

9/12 vs. Wazzu: Canceled when Pac-12 called season off

9/18 vs. Memphis: Postponed by Memphis

9/19 vs. Baylor: Canceled by Baylor

9/26 vs. UNT: Canceled

Houston’s next chance to open its season is Oct. 8 against Tulane at home.

 

Arkansas State Red Wolves (-2.5) vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane
ATL: Arkansas State -1

This game was canceled Wednesday due to Tulsa being unable to field a two-deep at a position group. 

The schools are currently working to reschedule the game for later this season.

 

Florida Atlantic Owls (-3.5) vs. South Florida Bulls
ATL: -3.2

In response to news out of South Bend, USF, which lost to Notre Dame last week, paused football activities this week while awaiting test results. The program then postponed its game against FAU on Wednesday.

USF said in a statement that it will work with FAU to reschedule the game for later this season.

 

 

Georgia State Panthers (-3) at Charlotte 49ers
ATL: GSU -4.1

Author note: Georgia State -3 was an official column play until the game was postponed on Friday due to positive COVID tests on GSU's side. It was the second straight Charlotte game that's been postponed following last week's cancelation against UNC due to a COVID outbreak along the 49ers' offensive line.

***

2020: 9-2 (81.8%) ATS 
Lifetime (2014-Present): 549-471-16 (53.8%) 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!