The college football season is four weeks old and conference play is underway across the country. Here are three teams to buy and three teams to sell from a betting perspective going forward:
Teams to Buy
It’s going to be hard to find point spread value on the Tigers as they navigate through their ACC schedule, so I’m going to recommend a bet on them at 5/1 to win the College Football Playoff.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney finally pulled the trigger and named true freshman Trevor Lawrence as the starting quarterback. Lawrence has outplayed Kelly Bryant; he threw four touchdowns against Georgia Tech in Week 4.
Bryant led Clemson to the College Football Playoff last season, but limited the upside of the Tigers. Lawrence still has a lot to learn as a true freshman, but he raises the ceiling for Clemson to compete with Alabama and Ohio State. The Tigers’ path to win the ACC is very friendly — especially since North Carolina State, Florida State and Louisville are having down seasons.
Clemson’s defense is one of the best in the country and they showed why in the last two weeks. The Tigers faced two option-style offenses, and held Georgia Southern to 1.9 yards per rush and Georgia Tech to 2.6 yards per rush. I expect Lawrence to dominate early and the 5/1 price is the best number we’ll see the rest of the season. If Clemson makes the Playoff, then you’ll have the option to hedge and earn on your bet before the semifinal.
It wasn’t that long ago that Michigan State was getting significant national attention and was considered a sleeper team to win the Big Ten. This season set up well for the Spartans, with almost every starter from 2017 returning and a favorable schedule compared to their other Big Ten East competition.
The start of the season didn’t go as planned for Mark Dantonio’s squad, as they needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat Utah State and then gave up a 10-point fourth quarter lead in a loss at Arizona State. However, they deserve a pass for that loss because it was 100 degrees in Tempe that night and the game ended close to 2:00 a.m. ET.
An early bye week came at the right time for a veteran group to refocus, as they defeated Indiana 35-21 last week. Now, Michigan State is in their preferred “hunter” role as all the attention in the conference is on Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. It’s a program that thrives on being disrespected and the early loss at Arizona State has made people forget about the Spartans.
Michigan State should handle Central Michigan and Northwestern the next two weeks. After that, look to back the Spartans when they travel to Penn State on October 13 and when they host Michigan on October 20. They get Ohio State later in the season in East Lansing, and they avoid the top teams in the Big Ten West.
If you’re looking for a team to buy immediately, California is the choice. The program is in the right direction under second-year coach Justin Wilcox. The defensive-minded Wilcox knows Pac-12 football: He played at Oregon and served as a defensive coordinator at Washington and USC. He spent a season as the Wisconsin defensive coordinator before taking over for Sonny Dykes in Berkley.
California defeated North Carolina, BYU and Idaho State to begin the season and had a bye last week. This allowed them to have an extra week to prepare for a huge home game against Oregon. With the extra time and Wilcox coaching against his alma mater, this a really strong spot to buy on the Golden Bears.
The situation strengthened as Oregon suffered a demoralizing loss in one of their biggest games of the season against Stanford last week. It’s a perfect storm to take California, as a three-point home underdog against Oregon is the latest starting kickoff on Saturday night.
Teams to Sell
After shocking the college football world with September wins over Miami and Auburn, LSU has moved up to No. 5 in the AP Top 25 — and No. 3 in Brett McMurphy’s top 25. The Tigers’ defense has led the way and Ohio State quarterback transfer Joe Burrow has been good enough, despite having a completion percentage under 50 percent for the season.
Now is the time to sell LSU because of their upcoming schedule. This week, they host Ole Miss and are currently a 12-point favorite. This is a big spread for the Tigers’ offense to cover, and we should expect the Rebels’ best effort after getting embarrassed by Alabama two weeks ago.
After the Ole Miss game, LSU travels to Florida and then comes back to Baton Rouge to face No. 2 Georgia and No. 23 Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks. I think this will be a tricky stretch for Ed Orgeron’s team and they will fall in the rankings by the end of October.
Since needing overtime to beat Appalachian State in Week 1, Penn State has looked like one of the best teams in the country if you just look at the final scores. They beat Pittsburgh 51-6, routed Kent State 63-10 and defeated Illinois 63-24. They lead the country with 55 points per game ahead of their marquee matchup on Saturday against Ohio State, who are second in the country with 54.5 points per game.
If you dig a little deeper into Penn State’s scoring offense, you might not be as impressed. The Nittany Lions were only beating Pittsburgh 14-6 at halftime before pulling away, scoring 21 of their points in the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach. Last Friday against Illinois, they were losing in the third quarter and were nowhere close to covering a 27-point spread. Then Penn State outscored Illinois 35-0 in the fourth quarter to get the lopsided win and cover.
The Penn State schedule gets much tougher going forward. They are 3.5-point home underdogs against Ohio State and then they play Michigan State with a bye week sandwiched between. Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin are also featured on their schedule. Penn State won’t have many chances to inflate their numbers the rest of the season, and I recommend selling them now.
The national perception is that Texas is “back” after home wins against USC and TCU. Those were huge games for Tom Herman, who was feeling pressure after an opening week loss to Maryland. However, those were really good situations for Texas as USC played Stanford the week before and TCU lost a close game to Ohio state before going to Austin.
Texas hits the road for the first time since Week 1 and travels to play at Kansas State. Texas would normally be a good team to bet against, coming off the two big wins and having Oklahoma on deck. The trip to Manhattan is usually a tough one, but it’s hard to trust a Kansas State team, who is getting nothing from the quarterback position. The reason the line on this game opened Texas -7 and got bet to Texas -9 was because of Kansas State’s early-season struggles and lack of talent.
After the Kansas State game, look to bet against Texas in other conference games. They are a public team, so there are certain games where they are overvalued from a point spread perspective.