College Football Week 15 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread
The typical robust slate of Top 25 games has more or less been cut in half. The season has progressed far too quickly, and we’ve reached the end of the road.
It’s championship week, while a few other conferences will finish out their regular-season games with no title game to speak of. Rivalries will be decided, BCS spots will be won (and lost) and much of a still-hazy picture will become clear by Sunday night.
Yes, there are point spreads, just like always. The majority of the Top 25 games feature small numbers; the glaring exception being the four touchdowns handed out in the ACC Championship. There will be bowl games to be picked, of course, but the final official Top 25 picks of the year is upon us.
And it’s time to pick winners and go out in style.
Picks Against the Spread Entering Week 15: 134-114-2
All lines courtesy: VegasInsider.com
No. 23 Fresno State (-3.5) vs. Utah State
Its role as BCS-buster went bust against San Jose State, but Fresno State isn’t done yet. Given the dramatic reshape in expectations, however, will Fresno be motivated here? It’s the Mountain West Championship, and that should help the quick turnaround. But still, the season looks quite different a week later.
The Bulldogs' opponent has quietly put together a terrific season without its star player. Playing without quarterback Chuckie Keeton, Utah State won its last five games and covered the spread in four of those games. The Aggies defense allowed more than 10 points just once in this stretch, although that figure is destined to topple here.
Fresno State will have home-field advantage, although that might not be an enormous help. The Bulldogs have covered the spread at home just once in the past seven games.
It’s a tale of two motivations, and I’ll take the team hitting its stride.
The Pick: Utah State (+3.5)
No. 19 Louisville (-3.5) at Cincinnati
Cincinnati can still make the BCS, which is your weekly reminder that the BCS is hilarious. It will take a lot for it to happen, though, and it will certainly take a win against Louisville.
Although the Cardinals enter with only one loss, they have not been good to Vegas backers. Louisville has a 4-7 mark against the spread, and it has covered only once since September 14. Despite Teddy Bridgewater’s solid season, the offense has been generally underwhelming throughout much of the year.
Cincinnati has somewhat quietly won eight of nine games and covered in four of the past five. It hasn’t been complete and total domination, although last week’s win at Houston as a short underdog was impressive enough.
The line is right where it needs to be, and I could see this game coming down to the wire. Because I’m getting the hook in this instance, I’ll gladly take the points and hope for a game-winning or game-losing field goal.
The Pick: Cincinnati (+3.5)
No. 16 Central Florida (???) at SMU
With the status of SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert up in the air, Vegas has yet to post a spread. Although that makes it rather difficult to pick a side, the game is still worth assessing.
Central Florida is likely BCS-bound, although the Knights looked disinterested last week against an inferior USF team. As a 27-point favorite, UCF needed a late comeback to stay in control of the American Athletic Conference.
SMU enters 5-6 on the season and also against the spread. The oddsmakers are concerned enough with Gilbert’s health to keep this game off the board. This spread will depend greatly on if he plays or not.
Regardless of the number, expect to see a much better UCF team as it gears up for a trip to the BCS.
No. 14 Northern Illinois (-3) vs. Bowling Green
For the third time in the past four games, Northern Illinois has been handed a point spread under 10 points. The Huskies covered those previous two and are a solid 8-4 against the spread on the season.
This week’s opponent presents are rather intriguing challenge, however, and the small number represents that. Bowling Green has covered the last four games and given up just 17 combined points in that stretch. That’s Alabama-esuqe, albeit against rather different competition. Still, the Falcons are an impressive 9-3 against the spread on the season and two of their losses this year came by a combined four points.
Now they’ll have the task of slowing down quarterback Jordan Lynch, who will likely lock up a trip to New York City for the Heisman if—and that’s a substantial if—the Huskies win. Although I hate going against a player who can take over a game at seemingly any moment, I’m going to here.
Don’t sleep on the dog.
The Pick: Bowling Green (+3)
No. 9 Baylor (-15) vs. No. 25 Texas
The Bears come limping home with plenty to play for. There’s still the possibility of a Big 12 championship, although that will require a little bedlam in Bedlam. Regardless, Baylor could also earn an at-large BCS bid, although that feels like a long shot.
At home, the Bears have been beastly. They haven’t lost (obviously), and they’re a perfect 7-0 against the spread. Taking this dominance one step further, they’ve outscored teams 457-118 in their own building.
Texas can also win the Big 12 with a little Bedlam help and a victory here. The Longhorns enter 6-5 against the spread, and they’re coming off a pretty convincing win against Texas Tech.
Although Baylor has looked human, this is simply a different team at home. And although 15 seems like a lot to lay given its recent performance, I actually believe there’s value still.
Lay the points and watch the machine work.
The Pick: Baylor (-15)
No. 7 Stanford (+3) at No. 11 Arizona State
With a victory last week, Arizona State secured the Pac-12 Championship Game at home. This is enormous for a team that has thrived in its own building under Todd Graham.
The Sun Devils are 5-2 against the spread at home (7-5 overall), although they will likely be operating without running back Marion Grice this week. His absence is meaningful, but this offense should still run.
Stanford took care of Notre Dame last weekend, although the Cardinal did not cover the robust 16-point spread. David Shaw’s team is 6-6 against the spread this season but just 1-3 on the road. What Stanford does have, however, is a win over Arizona State this year. Keep in mind that this was a) much earlier in the year and b) played in Palo Alto.
Even without Grice, Arizona State just feels like a more polished team at the moment, especially on home turf.
The Pick: Arizona State (-3)
No. 6 Oklahoma State (-10) vs. No. 17 Oklahoma
Welcome to Bedlam, without question the best-named rivalry in college football. This year’s version comes equipped with a double-digit point spread, and it shouldn’t be all that surprising given recent results.
Oklahoma State has not lost against the spread since October 5, and the Pokes are 8-3 against the number on the season. Last time out, OK State dismantled Baylor as more than a touchdown underdog at home, and both teams will head into this game off the bye.
The Sooners delivered a convincing win at Kansas State as a five-point underdog in Week 13. Quarterback Trevor Knight played well and the offense has looked better with him under center. As for the defense, well, that’s another story. At least it was against Kansas State.
The last Bedlam in Stillwater went 44-10 in Oklahoma State’s favor. This one won’t be nearly as bad, but it won’t be great, either.
The Pick: Oklahoma State (-10)
No. 3 Auburn (-2) vs. No. 5 Missouri
The SEC Championship Game is also the Point Spread Super Bowl. Missouri and Auburn are a combined 20-3-1 against the spread this year, which explains why both played their way into this game.
Auburn is coming off one of the wildest finishes of our lifetime and—as strange as it sounds—there’s a possibility of a letdown. No, this team did not let down in 2010 and is tremendously well-coached, but getting over that emotional win is an obstacle that warrants consideration.
It’s less of an obstacle when you realize that Auburn has not lost against the spread since September 14. Goodness, that’s remarkable.
Missouri is no slouch in this department, however, and the Tigers just made the great Johnny Manziel look human. Gary Pinkel’s team has lost just once against the spread all season, and that came courtesy of a brutal eight-minute stretch against South Carolina.
This is a difficult game to forecast with two outstanding teams, but give me the Tigers. The Missouri Tigers.
I look for the Mizzou front to come up big on both sides and the wide receivers to be the difference in this game.
The Pick: Missouri (+2)
No. 2 Ohio State (-5.5) vs. No. 10 Michigan State
For the Buckeyes, the scenario is pretty clear: Win this game and you’re in the BCS National Championship barring some bizarre late happenings. For those ready to back Ohio State from a Vegas standpoint, the scenario isn’t as easy.
The point spread here feels about right. It likely would have been around a touchdown, but then the Ohio State defense ran into Michigan. Urban’s bunch was bet up to a 17-point favorite last weekend, and at no point did it seem like it would cover. With that, Ohio State has now lost against the spread the last three games.
For Michigan State, 2013 was phenomenal. Sparty lost just one game and finished 7-3-1 against the spread. Against Ohio State in recent years, however, things have not gone nearly as well. The Spartans are 1-8 against the Buckeyes in the past nine and have covered the spread in just two of those games.
As good as Michigan State’s defense is—and it might be one of the nation’s best—I still have enough questions about the offense to lay the points. Sorry, Jay Jacobs. I hate to be un-American, but here we are.
The Pick: Ohio State (-5.5)
No. 1 Florida State (-29) vs. No. 20 Duke
Before we get into this enormous point spread, kudos to you, Duke. Let me rephrase that: Kudos to you, 10-win Duke. That doesn't roll of the tongue yet, but it has been earned.
With that out of the way, this is not the ideal matchup for the Blue Devils. At this point, however, playing Florida State isn’t ideal for anyone.
For the ninth time this year, the Seminoles have been handed a spread of 21 points or larger. They’ve covered in seven of those games, making it look easy at times. On the season, they’re 10-2 against the number.
Duke isn’t far behind in terms of Vegas production, checking in at 9-2-1 against the spread. In fact, the Blue Devils haven’t lost against the spread since September 28 and have won four of six games outright when they were an underdog.
Something’s got to give, and I’m simply not ready to pick against FSU despite the gaudy number. Expect the Seminoles to dominate the line if scrimmage and cover the number. It's what they do.
The Pick: Florida State (-29)