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Weekly Picks

Week 5 CFB ATS Predictions

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Texas -6.5 at Iowa State (Thursday)


Straight Up:  
 Iowa St. Cyclones logo

Against the Spread:

Iowa St. Cyclones logo


This line indicates two things: 1.) Folks who want to bet Texas still have to pay a tax despite the team’s recent struggles, and, 2.) The Longhorns are getting a little too-much credit for taking USC to overtime.

If you were to base this spread only on the six games these respective teams have played this year (Texas is 1-2, Iowa State is 2-1), then the Cyclones would be small home favorites.

Remember: Iowa State’s sole loss—like Texas’ setback against USC—was an impressive showing in an overtime loss to a superior team. In ISU’s case, that was a devastating loss to archrival Iowa in a game it easily could have won. In the other two games, ISU blasted Northern Iowa and Akron. Texas, meanwhile, was embarrassed at home in the opener against Maryland before blowing out G5 cellar-dweller San Jose State.

For Texas to beat Iowa State, it needs its defense to play as it did against USC, and not as it did in turning Maryland into Oklahoma. The Cyclones have scored at least 41 points in all three games they’ve played (including the one against an Iowa defense that just made Penn State’s offense look average).

You can pass on Iowa State. If you do it quickly. The Cyclones consistently pressure the quarterback, but the secondary is allowing nearly 300 yards passing a game and over three touchdown passes per game (a particularly ominous sign when UNI and Akron were two-thirds of the sample size).

The Longhorns’ passing attack is going to have to be on-point throughout to win this game and cover the number, and we’re just not ready to trust it amidst the Shane Buechele/Sam Ehlinger quarterback questions and inconsistency in the receiving corps.

Ames is a tough place to play, particularly in night spots like this. We’ve seen the Cyclones pull off myriad upsets at Jack Trice Stadium before. On Thursday, the only difference will be that they shouldn’t have been listed as underdogs in the first place.


USC -3.5 at Washington State (Friday)


Straight Up:  Washington St. Cougars logo

Against the Spread:


Washington St. Cougars logo 


Speaking of betting taxes, the Trojans have proved unworthy of recent steep Vegas price tags. USC is 1-4 ATS over their last five. The one ATS win? That was USC’s one truly impressive showing this year: The Week 2 win over Stanford.

That victory lost a little luster when the Cardinal got beat by San Diego State the next week. Last week, USC was tied 13-13 with a mediocre Cal team in the fourth quarter before the Trojans pulled away late (30-20).

As for the Cougars, late-September is generally when they’ve begun to hit their stride under Mike Leach. Whereas in the past few seasons early-September proved to be a landmine for Wazzu, the Cougs has raced out to a 4-0 start this year. It should be no surprise that Leach’s Cougars are 6-1 ATS in their last seven Week 5 games.

USC bettors won’t have to pay a tax this week. This line opened USC -6 before quickly getting pounded down to -3.5. Sharps and the public alike recognize that USC hasn’t played up to preseason expectations. They could become that team on a cool Friday night in Pullman, Washington, but we’re not going to bet on it.

If the Trojans don’t become that team quick, they’ll lose their first game of the season Friday. This is one of the best teams Leach has coached. Another half-hearted effort won’t do.


BYU -3.5 at Utah State (Friday)

Straight Up:  
Utah St. Aggies logo 

Against the Spread:

 Utah St. Aggies logo


If these teams switched names, Utah State would be favored. And that’s why you can throw out the Aggies’ brutal 1-8 ATS record as an underdog over the last two seasons. Those nine games were played against teams of superior talent, sometimes against teams with vastly superior talent.

BYU isn’t that type of team. The 1-3 Cougars are in a true rebuilding season that will likely conclude without a trip to a bowl game. The offense is terrible both running and passing (they've scored a combined 19 points over the last three games), and while the defense limited Utah to just 19 points earlier this season, the Cougars have lost their other two games against FBS competition (vs. LSU and Wisconsin) by a combined margin of 67-6.

Utah State has its warts, but QB Kent Myers has proven again this season that he can light up bad defenses, throwing for a combined 504 yards with a 4/2 TD/INT ratio in wins over Idaho State and San Jose State. He should have a big game in pulling off an upset that really isn’t an upset at all.

Alabama -28 vs. Mississippi

Straight Up:  
 Alabama Crimson Tide logo

Against the Spread:

Ole Miss Rebels logo


The Crimson Tide have won 18-consecutive SEC games. That streak isn’t in jeopardy, but we expect the Rebels to continue to be pesky enough to the Tide to stay within this inflated number.

Since Nick Saban took over at Alabama, the Crimson Tide have only consistently had trouble against one type of team—those that run spread offenses with dual-threat quarterbacks and have wide receivers that can make plays down the field.

That’s why we wouldn’t have been caught dead with a Vanderbilt ticket last week, despite the fact that the Commodores are probably a better team apples-to-apples than the Rebels are—Alabama decks teams that try to win in the same way they do.

And that’s also why we’re comfortable taking the points here. For all that’s wrong with Ole Miss—the program is in shambles, the team is playing for a new head coach, the defense stinks and the running game is ineffective—the Rebels still have one of the nation’s most-talented dual-threats in QB Shea Patterson (the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2016 class) and five or six receivers that would start on 90-percent of the nation’s FBS teams.

The Rebels have had two weeks to prepare for this game after its dud of a Week 3 loss to Cal (27-16). The spot had as much to do with that loss as anything: It was a 10 pm EST kick for an Ole Miss team playing across the country in California.

It’s exceedingly difficult to go strength-on-strength with Alabama in the run game, but you can throw on the Tide. And in recent years, teams have had success in throwing deep against them.

Alabama gave up 200-plus passing yards in each of its first three games. Patterson is averaging over 400 passing yards per game. This game may not be interesting, but Ole Miss should reach the 21-point threshold they’ll likely need to cover this number.


LSU -20.5 vs. Troy


Straight Up:  LSU Tigers logo

Against the Spread:

Troy Trojans logo


With RB Derrius Guice ruled out early in the week, we expected this line to be closer to -14.

But we’ll take the generous 20-plus points here. Troy didn’t look as impressive as we thought they’d look through four weeks, but that’s a little nit-picky for a team that is 3-1, with the sole loss as double-digit underdogs on the road (against Boise State in the opener).

Troy does a couple of things very well, and our guess is those things will be enough to stay within the big number on Saturday. Firstly, the Trojans can defend the run. They’re allowing only 96 rushing yards per game. LSU’s rushing attack falls off precipitously when Guice isn’t 100-percent.

The Tigers managed only 133 rushing yards in the blowout loss to Mississippi State, and a bad Syracuse defense held LSU to less than 4.0 YPC last week. Not surprisingly, LSU failed to cover both games. And unless the running game gets going quickly on Saturday, they’ll fail to cover another. LSU’s passing offense remains mediocre and mistake prone.

Because Troy also has a strong offense—an Air Raid system with an experienced QB (Brandon Silvers), a good RB (Jordan Chunn) and a deep WR corps—the Trojans also have an outside chance of pulling off the huge upset.



UL-Monroe -11 vs. Coastal Carolina

Straight Up:  La.-Monroe Warhawks logo

Against the Spread:

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers logo


I’m banking on three factors in backing this unsexy underdog:

1.) UL-Monroe will have a letdown showing after last week’s wild 56-50 OT win on the road over rival Louisiana Lafayette.

2.) The Chanticleers will play more like they did in their first two games (38-28 win over UMass and 23-30 loss at UAB) than they did last week (an embarrassing home blowout loss against FCS Western Illinois).

3.) That Coastal Carolina will have big success running the ball here.

To that last point, the Chanticleers are averaging 239 rushing yards per game on 5.5 YPC. Meanwhile, UL-Monroe has gotten ripped for 278 rushing yards per game on 6.2 YPC. Both teams rely heavily on the run, meaning the clock will be running throughout, an added bonus when backing a double-digit underdog.

The Warhawks are 3-13 since the start of last season, 1-8 ATS in Weeks 5-8 the past three seasons and 1-4 ATS in their last five as favorites. They’re a bad favorite in a letdown spot against a team designed to exploit their biggest weakness. You’ll have to hold your nose while pulling the trigger, but take those points.



Oklahoma State -9.5 at Texas Tech

Straight Up:  
Oklahoma St. Cowboys logo 

Against the Spread:

Oklahoma St. Cowboys logo


Last week, we backed TCU catching double-digits against the Cowboys and cashed with the outright win. That OSU loss provides us with some line value here.

And we’re not so sure that it should. The TCU-Oklahoma State game taught us more about the Horned Frogs than it did the Cowboys. TCU introduced itself as a legitimate Playoff contender, while Oklahoma State proved to be the team we had it pegged it for heading into the season: A 10-2 outfit that doesn’t have the defense to beat top-15 teams.

Well, Oklahoma State is in luck, because Texas Tech isn’t that caliber of a team. To their credit, the Red Raiders have raced out to a surprising 3-0 start, knocking off Arizona State and Houston along the way.

Last Saturday’s 27-24 win over Houston was particularly impressive. It wasn’t anything like the 56-53 firefight wins of the Patrick Mahomes era. No. The Red Raiders beat Houston at their own game. Tech rushed for 200 yards(!), while the defense so completely imbedded itself into QB Kyle Allen’s head that Houston was forced to yank Allen in the fourth quarter.

For Tech to make a bowl game this year, the running game and defense were always going to have to improve—downgrading from Mahomes to Nik Shimonek guaranteed that the passing game wasn’t going to get any better. To Tech’s credit, both have. We didn’t see that coming.

But to beat Oklahoma State, Tech has no other choice but to do it in Mahomes fashion; by trading touchdowns. Tech’s defense has greatly benefited from nine takeaways (TTU ranks No. 2 in the nation in turnover differential). Not only is that not sustainable, but Tech’s defensive aggression can be leveraged into huge plays by good offenses.

Oklahoma State has a great one. In last week’s loss to an extremely good TCU defense that is designed to deal with spread offenses, QB Mason Rudolph still threw for 398 yards and two scores. RB Justice Hill still had over 100 rushing yards and a touchdown. WRs James Washington and Marcell Ateman still went off.

All four have much easier assignments on Saturday against a Tech defense that, while improved, was one of the nation’s worst over the past few years. Tech may have to get into the mid-40s to cover this game. We’d be more confident in the proposition if Mahomes was still in Lubbock.



Clemson -7.5 at Virginia Tech


Straight Up:  
Clemson Tigers logo 

Against the Spread:

Virginia Tech Hokies logo


Clemson rides into Blacksburg on an 11-game road winning streak. If there’s one thing we know about night games in Lane Stadium, it’s that no road favorite is safe.

This situation lines up particularly well for Virginia Tech. Not many think they can beat Clemson, but a look at the stats suggests they have a couple of big advantages heading in.

Clemson’s new-look offense has been better than expected early on, but it has struggled with turnovers, understandable considering the large-scale changes at quarterback, running back, receiver and tight end. If that continues, it’ll lead to extra possessions for the Hokies, who are creating nearly two turnovers per game.

Virginia Tech enters with a plus-5 turnover differential. Clemson? The Tigers have a minus-two turnover differential.

The more surprising half of that latter stat is that Clemson’s defense ranks No. 110 with only 0.8 takeaways a game. Instead of creating huge plays, the Tigers are content with creating havoc in the backfield, keeping ball-carries in front of them and not allowing opposing offenses to march down the field.

Clemson is allowing less than 10.0 points per game and 134.5 passing yards per game, extremely impressive considering that it has played two teams that might finish in the top-15 (Auburn and Louisville).

That unit is going to give Virginia Tech trouble, but it’d be highly, highly surprising if the Hokies don’t break double-digit points. Virginia Tech’s offense ranks No. 27 in the FBS with 40.0 ppg.

Clemson struggled to put away Boston College last week (tied 7-7 to begin the fourth quarter before Clemson ripped off 27 points). If the Tigers don’t play all four quarters on Saturday, they may lose this potential ACC title game preview.



Penn State -17 vs. Indiana


Straight Up: Penn St. Nittany Lions logo 

Against the Spread:

Indiana Hoosiers logo


We can’t see Penn State roaring out to blast a solid Indiana team by three touchdowns or more one week after the Nittany Lions pulled out a 21-19 thriller at Iowa. That game—which Penn State won on the game’s final play—was about as emotionally draining and physical as you’ll see.

Indiana led Ohio State in the third quarter in the opener before falling late. The Hoosiers soundly outplayed a good Virginia team in Week 2 (a 34-17 win) before everyone knew that the Cavaliers were good, and then IU beat up Georgia Southern 51-17 last week.

The Hoosiers play strong defense and they can throw on anyone when the passing game is humming, with two jumbo receivers on the outside adept at high-pointing the ball. If PSU isn’t prepared to give its best effort, Indiana will push them.



Florida State -7 at Wake Forest


Straight Up: Florida St. Seminoles logo 

Against the Spread:

 Wake Forest Demon Deacons logo


Florida State’s home loss to North Carolina State was no fluke. Freshman QB James Blackman looked decent in his starting collegiate debut, but Blackman very clearly isn’t yet ready for the position he’s been forced into. It didn’t help that FSU’s offensive line couldn’t keep NC State’s defense out of the backfield.

Wake’s 4-0 start also isn’t a fluke. After a few years of building, Dave Clawson’s systems are in place and his depth chart is stocked with players he recruited specifically to play in them. Even when everything wasn’t locked into place, Clawson’s Demon Deacons went 2-0 ATS against FSU over the past three years.

The much-improved Deacs will give the Noles everything they can handle on Saturday.



Two for the road:


Marshall +4 at Cincinnati

Akron +2 at Bowling Green





2017 Record: Straight-Up: 31-20 (60.8%); Against the Spread: 24-26-1 (48.0%)


2014-2016: Straight-Up: 350-197 (64.0%); Against the Spread: 286-250-11 (53.4%)


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!