College Football Best Bets: Nebraska, Syracuse Headline Saturday’s Top Picks

There isn’t much excitement for Week 12 of the college football season, but there are several betting opportunities to take advantage of. There are plenty of motivational angles with “rivalry week” coming up and teams with five wins looking to clinch a bowl berth. Here are seven sides to look at this weekend:

 

Best Bet of the Week

Nebraska (+1) over Michigan State

It’s been a very compelling season for Nebraska in Scott Frost’s first year. The “true son” of the university was brought in to resurrect a powerhouse program.

The results have been mixed.

Nebraska will be disappointed with a 3-7 record, but the deep numbers indicate that they’re on the right track.

The Cornhuskers outgained their opponents on a yards per play basis in eight of their 10 games this season. True freshman Adrian Martinez sustained an injury early in the season. Since then? 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in seven games.

Nebraska has been on the wrong side of every close game – four of their losses have been by five points or less. Now Nebraska hosts Michigan State in the final home game of their season.

Michigan State has had a disappointing season. They were expected to compete for a Big Ten title. The Spartans failed in home underdog roles against Michigan and Ohio State, which could’ve been defining wins for the program.

Coming off an all-in effort against Ohio State, you have to question Michigan State’s motivation going into this game on the road.

The Michigan State offense hasn’t been the same since Felton Davis III suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon. He was the Spartans best outside receiver and his absence makes Michigan State’s offense one-dimensional. The Nebraska defense hasn’t played well this season, but they should matchup well against Michigan State.

Nebraska won’t make a bowl game, but they will treat this game very seriously since it’s the last game in front of their loyal fans. Getting a win here will be huge for the program going into the offseason, and it would make the Cornhuskers a popular pick to win the Big Ten West in 2019.

 

Other plays

Middle Tennessee (+16) over Kentucky

Two weeks ago, Kentucky was playing their biggest home game in program history, ranked No. 9 in the College Football Playoff poll.

Now? They’re a three-loss team with nothing to play for other than getting into a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Georgia handled Kentucky in a game that decided the SEC East. Last week, the Wildcats fell to Tennessee in an expected letdown off the “dream-crushing” Georgia loss.

An argument could be made that Kentucky will now refocus with the disappointment behind them. I’m not sure playing a Conference USA opponent at 11:00 a.m. local time will get the team excited. If Kentucky played an SEC team this week, then that I would expect a focused effort from the Wildcats.

Not many people know about Middle Tennessee, but they are having a strong season in Conference USA with a 6-1 record. This is a game they should be fired up for – many of their players were overlooked by SEC schools in recruiting. The other two losses on the Blue Raiders’ schedule were against Vanderbilt and Georgia, so they are familiar with playing SEC foes.

Kentucky should win this game but I don’t trust their offense to cover a big number against an above average Group of Five team. With a matchup against in-state rival Louisville next week, Kentucky will look to run up the score. The Wildcats have no sympathy for the state of the Cardinals football program just a week removed from the firing of Head Coach Bobby Petrino.

But for this week, I expect the score to stay within two touchdowns.

 

Maryland (+14.5) over Ohio State

Ohio State hasn’t been kind to their backers this season. Before they won and covered as three-point favorites against Michigan State last week, the Buckeyes failed to cover in five straight games. They won 26-6 on the scoreboard in East Lansing, but it was 9-6 going into the fourth quarter. As mentioned earlier, the Michigan State offense has had their fair share of struggles.

After an unlucky loss at Indiana last week, Maryland enters this game with a 5-5 record. Why unlucky? The Terrapins outgained the Hoosiers 542 yards to 374. It was the turnover battle that cost them; Maryland turned the ball over four times, Indiana just once. Maryland will still be a motivated team in the final two games because they’re a win away from reaching a bowl. There’s extra motivation for this group to make a postseason game: DJ Durkin, a coach that players didn’t like playing for, was fired on Oct. 31. Unfortunately for Maryland, they get Ohio State and Penn State to end the season. A loss against Indiana was a missed opportunity.

The biggest factor in this game is Ohio State looking ahead their highly-anticipated game against Michigan next week. The scheduling situation and motivation to make a bowl game favors Maryland in this game. I don’t think the Terrapins will pull out the upset, but I see them keeping this game close.

 

Syracuse (+10) over Notre Dame

The most important game of the weekend will be played at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Syracuse will look to crash the College Football Playoff rankings, which have been very straightforward this season. There’s usually chaos at some point in November, and this could be the best chance of a top-four team losing outside of the Michigan-Ohio State game next week.

This game is on a neutral field, and there should be a good amount of Syracuse fans in the Bronx. Usually Notre Dame fans have a large edge in the neutral site games, but Syracuse alumni will show up for an 8-2 team that is ranked No. 12 in the country.

Ian Book is set to return at quarterback for Notre Dame after missing the Florida State game with a rib injury. I could see Notre Dame being cautious with Book in this game. The Fighting Irish are undefeated, so they don’t need to run up the score to impress the committee. They just need to win and stay healthy for the regular season finale at USC.

Syracuse brings in a high-powered offense led by quarterback Eric Dungey. Head Coach Dino Babers has totally turned the program around; he’s an emotional coach that will have his team motivated for this spot.

I’m predicting Syracuse to keep this a one-possession game with a chance to win at the end.

 

Bonus plays

Here are a few more bets worth making based on teams that are hungry for a bowl berth that I wrote about earlier this week:

Minnesota (-1) over Northwestern

Minnesota opened as a three-point underdog in this game and the line moved to Minnesota +2.5 by Monday. On Wednesday morning, there was an aggressive line move and Minnesota was installed as high as a 1.5-point favorite. Minnesota would’ve been my best bet of the week if they were still underdogs, but I still like them as a short favorite for a smaller play. Head coach P.J. Fleck would love to get this team to a bowl game, and Northwestern has nothing to play for because they clinched the Big Ten West last week.

 

Baylor (-2) over TCU

Just like P.J. Fleck, Matt Rhule is another coach that would love to clinch a sixth win and go bowling. The Bears went 1-11 in his first season, so it would be a huge step for Rhule to get his program in a bowl game. I would take Baylor at 2.5 points or less.

 

Wake Forest (+6.5) over Pittsburgh

The line for this game dropped to Pittsburgh -4 and then a wave of money drove this up to closer to a touchdown. The pressure is on Pittsburgh because they would win the ACC Coastal with a victory in Winston-Salem. Wake Forest is coming off a stunning win over North Carolina State, and they are a live underdog to pull off another upset.