College Football Handicapping: Which Road Favorites Can Avoid Upsets in Week 2?

Five games between Power Five schools in college football’s second week feature a road team favorite of six points or more. Most of these road teams figure to be contenders in the College Football Playoff race, or at least competing for a conference title.

But while these favorites are the better team on paper, you may find value betting on the home underdogs against the spread. For most of the programs, these home games were circled on the calendar the summer before the season began. The crowds will be loud if the games stay close, giving the underdog a huge home-field advantage.

Here are a few things to look for in all five games on Saturday:

 

#18 Mississippi State (-9) at Kansas State

Mississippi State travels to Kansas State in the first year of a home-and-home series with a return game in Starkville scheduled for 2019. Despite losing head coach Dan Mullen to Florida, the Bulldogs had high expectations before the season with a win total at 8.

Former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead took over at head coach and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald returned under center. Mississippi State took care of Stephen F. Austin with a 63-6 win in Week 1 and Fitzgerald missed the game because of a suspension. In Week 2, Fitzgerald is set to return in Moorhead’s first big contest as a SEC coach.

Kansas State had plenty of trouble in Week 1 and needed 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat FCS opponent South Dakota by a field goal. The Wildcats play two quarterbacks, but neither Alex Delton or Skylar Thompson impressed in the opener. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder said both quarterbacks will see time against Mississippi State.

It’s understandable that Mississippi State is over a touchdown favorite after the Week 1 results, but be cautious betting against Bill Snyder in an underdog role. Since his return to Kansas State in 2009, Snyder and the Wildcats are 13-6 against the spread as home underdogs.

 

#3 Georgia (-10) at #24 South Carolina

Defending SEC champions Georgia get an immediate road test as they travel to Columbia to face South Carolina. There is plenty of familiarity between the two programs; head coaches Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp were teammates at Georgia and have coached together. Georgia was a 23.5-point favorite when they hosted South Carolina in 2017 and failed to cover after winning only 24-10.

Back in May, the South Point Sportsbook in Las Vegas opened Georgia as an 11-point favorite in their Games of the Year lines. That number eventually moved to Georgia -13.5 in late July. Now the line has gone back down and the Bulldogs are giving just 10 points to their SEC rival.

Both teams cruised to easy wins in Week 1; not much from those games should be considered while breaking down this matchup. One item of note for Georgia: true freshman quarterback Justin Fields made his debut behind starter Jake Fromm. Keep an eye out for how Fromm plays in front of a raucous crowd, knowing Fields is behind him on the depth chart.

 

#2 Clemson (-12.5) at Texas A&M

Jimbo Fisher gets put to the test at his new job right away as Texas A&M hosts #2 Clemson. Fisher and the Aggies debuted well as they routed Northwestern State 59-7 in Week 1. Their schedule ramps up with Clemson this week and #1 Alabama coming to College Station in Week 4.

Clemson defeated Furman 48-7 in Week 1 and the big story from that game was the debut of true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Kelly Bryant started the game, then Lawrence threw three touchdowns in relief. Bryant is expected to start against Texas A&M, but Lawrence could be featured at some point.

It’s a big number for the Tigers to cover in one of the toughest environments in college football, but this is one of two very difficult games for an inexperienced Aggies group.

 

#13 Penn State (-8.5) at Pittsburgh

These two in-state programs face off for the third straight season. In 2016, Pittsburgh won a shootout 42-39 that put pressure on James Franklin’s job status. Penn State eventually turned their season around behind Joe Moorhead’s play-calling and the emergence of running back Saquon Barkley. The Nittany Lions ended up winning the Big Ten that season. Penn State got their revenge last year with a 33-14 victory at home in a game that landed exactly on the point spread of 19.

Penn State-Pitt was one of South Point’s Games of the Year this year, opening with Penn State giving 14 points in May before going up a tick to -14.5 in July. Now the spread has moved six points and Penn State is just an 8.5-point favorite for their trip to Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh beat Albany 33-7, so that game didn’t impact the line. But Penn State needing overtime to survive against Appalachian State was one of the biggest storylines of Week 1. Penn State gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter and needed a touchdown in the final minute to force overtime. That close result is certainly reflected in the Week 2 line. But was that a one-game slip up, or are the losses of Moorhead to Mississippi State and Barkley to the NFL more significant than Vegas thought?

 

#15 Michigan State (-6) at Arizona State

Michigan State was another Big Ten East contender that survived a scare in Week 1. The Spartans couldn’t put away Utah State in their home opener and needed a go-ahead touchdown with two minutes left to win 38-31. It would’ve been a disastrous loss for Michigan State, who returned almost every starter from the 2017 team and had a win total of 9.

The Spartans know they dodged a bullet and now travel out West for the latest game on Saturday against Arizona State. The Sun Devils silenced critics of the Herm Edwards hire in Week 1 with a 49-7 victory over UTSA. Arizona State’s win total opened at 5 in May and professional bettors jumped on the under, moving it to 4.5.

The hire of Edwards was questionable — especially after both the offensive and defensive coordinators left soon after Edwards was brought to Tempe. The first win for Edwards was a good sign; quarterback Manny Wilkins and wide receiver N’Keal Harry showed just how dynamic the offense could be for the Sun Devils.

Michigan State is in a situation similar to Penn State. Both are road favorites after struggling in Week 1. Did the Spartans overlook Utah State in the home opener, or were they overvalued entering the season?