College picks against spread: Early rival clash

I’ve put a few winning weeks together with my picks, but I thought last week was going to be much better. I was 5-2 entering the night games and then had two ugly losses before getting a miraculous push from Washington State in the nightcap. 

I’m having a hard time getting a read on some of Week 12’s marquee matchups, so these picks are for games that are a bit more under the radar. I’m 10-7-1 over the past two weeks, so let’s see if I can keep winning. 

Last week: 5-4-1

Overall: 36-42-2

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

Time: 9 p.m. (Friday) | Line: Houston -8.5 | Total: 60.5

Memphis has been wildly inconsistent this season. The Tigers are 5-5 overall and 2-4 in AAC play with losses to Temple, Tulsa and East Carolina. They’ve dealt with a lot of injuries, especially at receiver, and really struggle running the ball.

The Houston defense ranks in the top 10 nationally and leads the AAC in sacks. UH should be able to get plenty of pressure on Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan. Houston has won nine straight games and should cruise over a Memphis team that is 0-4 against the spread in road games.

Pick: Houston -8.5

Time: Noon | Line: PSU -17.5 | Total: 47.5

Penn State’s offense has been struggling all season long. There’s been very little production from the running game, so QB Sean Clifford has been asked to do so much behind a shaky offensive line. Clifford took a bunch of hits last week in the loss to Michigan. He won’t get hit as many times against Rutgers, but you know a good defensive coach like Greg Schiano is going to find ways to give the struggling PSU offensive line different looks.

At the same time, Penn State’s defense is very solid and should be able to handle a Rutgers offense that averages just 4.2 yards per play. Five of Rutgers’ last six games have gone under and the under is 8-2 in Penn State’s 10 games.

Pick: Under 47.5

Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) runs following a catch against Penn State during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa.on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) runs following a catch against Penn State during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa.on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Time: Noon | Line: Tulane -5.5 | Total: 60

This is one of those point spreads where I feel like I’m missing something. Tulane, currently 1-9, is having a brutal season. The Green Wave have played in some closer games lately, losing 14-10 to UCF and 20-13 in overtime to Tulane, but I’m not sure that this team should be favored by 5.5 points over anybody. Don’t get me wrong, South Florida isn’t a good team either. But the Bulls have been able to move the ball quite well against good competition the past few weeks.

USF has been competitive against Houston and Cincinnati, the AAC’s two best teams. I think this is a winnable game for the Bulls, so I’ll take those 5.5 points.

Pick: South Florida +5.5

Time: 2 p.m. | Line: Iowa -12.5 | Total: 38.5

The way these two teams play games, 12.5 feels like a big number to me — especially when the total is just 38.5. Both of these teams play very slowly and are better defensively than offensively.

Illinois isn’t very talented, but it just finds ways to play close games. The Illini have been a double-digit underdog four times in conference play and covered three times with two outright wins. The only time Iowa covered as a double-digit favorite this year was a 30-7 win over Kent State when it was a 22-point favorite.

The Illini can keep this relatively close.

Pick: Illinois +12.5

Time: 3 p.m. | Line: Washington -6.5 | Total: 43.5

Washington is playing its first game since the firing of head coach Jimmy Lake. This was already a team that was mediocre at best, and now it’s nearly a touchdown favorite on the road against a conference opponent? That doesn’t make much sense to me — even against Colorado and especially after a heartbreaking loss to Arizona State last weekend. 

Colorado has been playing much better lately. The Buffs beat Oregon State 37-34 two weeks ago and jumped out to a 20-7 lead over UCLA last week in an eventual loss. CU’s offense has looked much better in recent weeks and the defense is plenty good enough to limit Washington’s offense, which ranks No. 115 in the country. 

Pick: Colorado +6.5 

Colorado running back Jarek Broussard (23) in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. Colorado won 37-34 in double overtime. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado running back Jarek Broussard (23) in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. Colorado won 37-34 in double overtime. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Time: 4 p.m. | Line: UCLA -3 | Total: 65.5

If there’s one thing I trust in this matchup, it’s UCLA’s ability to run the ball with Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown. Those two make up one of the best running back duos in the country. And when they’re paired with a healthy dual-threat QB like Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the UCLA offense can be very tough to deal with. Chip Kelly is going to make it difficult for an undisciplined USC team playing under an interim head coach.

On top of that, UCLA lost a heartbreaker to USC last year and that should serve as extra motivation. USC will have freshman QB Jaxson Dart making his first career start, but it’s hard to trust the Trojans as they play out this season amid a high-profile coaching search.

Pick: UCLA -3

Time: 7 p.m. | Line: Auburn -7 | Total: 44.5

Auburn lost Bo Nix to an ankle injury last week in the loss to Mississippi State. Nix’s backup is T.J. Finley, an LSU transfer who started multiple games last year. Honestly, I’m not sure he’s much of a step back from Nix. He’s played in SEC road environments before and won’t be intimidated by the crowd at South Carolina. It feels like you’re getting Auburn at a bit of a discount at just -7.

Auburn blew a big lead last week, and I trust Bryan Harsin to get his team to bounce back. Only three teams have turned the ball more than South Carolina this season. South Carolina is playing its third-string quarterback and couldn’t run the ball last week against Missouri, the team with the second-worst run defense in the country.

Pick: Auburn -7