There are some sneaky good games with major upset potential this weekend. At the top of that list is LSU's trip to Arkansas.
After last week's thrilling upset over Alabama, this has all of the makings of a letdown spot for the Tigers. LSU is just a three-point favorite and I debated heavily taking Arkansas +3, but the health of Razorbacks quarterback K.J. Jefferson ultimately kept me away. We'll see if I end up regretting my own cautiousness.
These picks have been a struggle in recent weeks, but I'm going to continue plugging away. We're only one good weekend away from that record looking a heck of a lot better.
Last week: 3-5
Virginia Tech at Duke
Time: Noon | TV: ESPN3 | Line: Duke -9.5 | Total: 49.5
Duke clinched bowl eligibility last week by beating Boston College on the road. It was a 38-31 win as BC played hard to the end with a freshman quarterback making his first career start. Blue Devils coach Mike Elko admitted this week that he thought his team played a little tight knowing it had a bowl berth on the line. He also wasn’t pleased with the way his team finished the game.
With bowl eligibility out of the way, I think Duke comes out strong this week against a reeling Virginia Tech team. The Hokies are coming off two heartbreaking losses, especially last week’s one-point home loss to Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech got touchdowns via special teams and its defense last week and still found a way to lose thanks to a fumble in the final minute.
Now going on the road with a bowl game officially off the table, I have a hard time seeing the Hokies keeping this one close. Virginia Tech could lean on its defense early in the year to keep games close, but that unit has regressed. Duke has a really strong running game that should demoralize the Hokies over 60 minutes.
It’s Duke’s first home game in nearly a month. Duke hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech in Durham since 1981. There’s also plenty of motivation for Duke, which is still alive in the ACC Coastal and has the chance to play itself into one of the ACC’s better bowl slots. I think this could be a blowout.
Pick: Duke -9.5
Wisconsin at Iowa
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: FS1 | Line: Wisconsin -1.5 | Total: 35.5
With a total in the mid-30s, this is going to be an ugly game.
Both teams have been playing better lately, winning two straight as they aim to stay alive in a wide open Big Ten West race. Wisconsin posted home wins over Purdue and Maryland while Iowa cruised past Northwestern at home and blew out Purdue on the road.
Iowa actually opened as a slight favorite, but now the Badgers are the favorites in Iowa City. I think the opening line was the right one. Wisconsin dominated Maryland last week, but it was a game played in howling wind and driving rain. Maryland is a pass-first team, so the weather greatly benefited a physical, run-first team like Wisconsin.
Wisconsin won’t have that same type of edge this week. The best unit in this game is Iowa’s defense. I’d be very surprised if the Hawkeyes were unable to bait Graham Mertz into a few turnovers, giving the offense a short field to put some points on the board. I’ll take the home dog.
Pick: Iowa +1.5
North Texas at UAB
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: Stadium | Line: UAB -6 | Total: 57.5
North Texas has won four of its last five and has covered the spread in six straight games, yet is a six-point underdog to a UAB team that is not as good as we’ve seen in recent years.
I know Dylan Hopkins, UAB’s starting quarterback, is coming back from injury this week, but this is a UAB team that is 4-5 overall and coming off three straight brutal one-score losses. Even if the Blazers can bounce back from that, asking them to cover six points seems like a tough task. This is still a team that lost to Rice and trailed Charlotte in the fourth quarter earlier this season. And that was with Hopkins, not backup Jacob Zeno.
North Texas has covered four straight games as an underdog with two outright wins. The Mean Green are 5-1 in Conference USA play and trying to get to the league championship game. UNT has a really good offense that has been able to win in a variety of ways. It’s a team that’s hard to prepare for, and UAB’s defense is just not as good as it’s perceived to be.
Pick: North Texas +6
Kansas at Texas Tech
Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN+ | Line: TTU -3.5 | Total: 64.5
Kansas has the feel of a very public underdog this week and I’m jumping on the other side.
Kansas is bowl eligible for the first time since 2008 after a 37-16 win over No. 18 Oklahoma State. After a win like that, Kansas is a 3.5-point underdog on the road against a Texas Tech team that has lost four of five. To me, that point spread says a lot. The oddsmakers want you to bet on the Jayhawks.
I think there’s a good chance for a letdown for Kansas while Texas Tech needs to win two of its last three games to get to a bowl game. This is a home night game in Lubbock, an underrated tough place to play. And even though there’s a chance QB Jalon Daniels comes back for Kansas, I think the Red Raiders are the right side and can put up a big number against a porous KU defense.
Pick: Texas Tech -3.5
No. 15 North Carolina at Wake Forest
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN2 | Line: Wake -3.5 | Total: 77
Wake Forest was ranked No. 10 in the AP poll a few weeks ago but is coming off back-to-back road losses. In those two defeats, the Demon Deacons combined for 11 turnovers.
A good recipe for this Wake Forest offense to get back on track is going up against the North Carolina defense. With just one loss on the year, UNC is up to No. 15 in the CFP rankings and has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Drake Maye. But the Tar Heels have been in some close games against mediocre or flat-out bad teams. UNC beat Miami, Duke and Virginia all by just three points.
I think Wake Forest is significantly better than all three of those teams. Sam Hartman’s recent interceptions scare me, but I’m going to roll with the Demon Deacons as the home favorites.
Pick: Wake Forest -3.5
Texas A&M at Auburn
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: SECN | Line: Auburn -1.5 | Total: 48.5
After a slow start last week, Auburn nearly came back from a 24-6 halftime deficit to beat Mississippi State in Starkville. The Tigers actually went ahead 33-30 with 1:05 to play, but MSU forced overtime with a field goal and then won the game in extra time.
It was a spirited effort from Auburn, which was playing its first game since the firing of head coach Bryan Harsin. Given the interim tag to replace Harsin was legendary Auburn running back Cadillac Williams, who has been an assistant on staff since 2019.
Williams gets to lead Auburn as the head coach at Jordan Hare Stadium on Saturday night. The crowd is going to be fired up. Auburn can feed off last week’s comeback and the energy of the home crowd against a reeling Texas A&M team. A&M has been terrible at defending the run, particularly containing running quarterbacks. And that’s the No. 1 strength for Auburn’s Robby Ashford, who went for 108 yards and two touchdowns last week.
Pick: Auburn -1.5
Cal at Oregon State
Time: 9 p.m. | TV: P12 | Line: OSU -14 | Total: 49
It’s been another underwhelming season for Cal, which has lost five consecutive games after a 3-1 start that included a near upset of Notre Dame. Over the last three weeks, Cal has dealt with the three of the four best offenses in the Pac-12 — Washington, Oregon and USC. The Golden Bears covered the spread vs. Washington and USC, losing those games by seven and six points, respectively. Cal lost 42-24 to Oregon and were a missed field goal away from covering the spread in that game.
This week, Cal is an underdog again. But Cal matches up with Oregon State much better than it does with the aforementioned teams. The Beavers lean on the running game, and Cal is better at defending the run than it is the pass. Even in a primetime atmosphere in Corvallis, this spread is too big. Cal beat Oregon State by 14 last year and the previous two meetings were four-point games.
Justin Wilcox’s teams always play hard even if they tend to come up short. Evidence of that is Cal’s against the spread record as an underdog during Wilcox’s time as head coach. Cal is 23-11-1 ATS as an underdog, 14-6 ATS as a road underdog, 11-4 ATS as a double-digit underdog and 8-3 ATS as a double-digit road underdog. Got all that? I'll back the Bears.
Pick: Cal +14