The playoff picture didn’t get much clearer after last week; Oregon was the only major contender to lose. That leaves USC as the only Pac-12 team with one loss and the conference’s best hope as a qualifier for the playoff. The Trojans have the matchup that matters most to the playoff race this week; they’ll play rival UCLA in the Rose Bowl where they’re a short favorite. TCU is a short road favorite to rival Baylor, and the Horned Frogs will likely need to stay undefeated to grab a playoff spot.
All the other major playoff contenders are multi-touchdown favorites. Tennessee can’t afford to lose again, but this week, they’re on the road against South Carolina before wrapping up their season against Vanderbilt. The Game looms for Michigan and Ohio State, which, if both teams win this week, will be the second year in a row that both teams are ranked in the top five at the time of their matchup.
We’ll start this week with the two teams that share Los Angeles -- even though it’s not our model’s favorite choice.
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Note: All college football odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook. Lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. All ratings are out of five stars. Please check numberFire's model to make sure you're seeing the most updated information.
UCLA +2.5 (-110): 2 Stars
The Trojans have been near perfect under first-year head coach Lincoln Riley. They’ve only lost to Utah, and they’re currently seventh in yards gained per game nationally.
Quarterback Caleb Williams has the fifth-best Heisman odds on FanDuel Sportsbook and is sixth in ESPN’s QBR metric this season. Along with wide receiver Jordan Addison, who is likely to be the first receiver off the board in the upcoming NFL Draft, the Trojans have one of the most dynamic offenses in the country.
UCLA is the only team in the Pac-12 that gains more yards per game than USC. While the Trojans’ strength is primarily through the air with the Williams-Addison connection, the Bruins have made opponents pay on the ground with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet. DTR has been an excellent dual threat all season; he’s completed 71% of his throws while averaging 5.5 yards per rush. Charbonnet has been even better on the ground; he’s racked up over 1,000 yards on 7.5 yards per carry.
This game obviously projects to be high-scoring, but it may come down to which defense can get that one stop to give their offense a chance. Neither defense is particularly great, but the Bruins have the edge in yards allowed per game this season. The slight edge UCLA has on both sides of the ball gives them the slight edge in this game according to our model.
The Bruins have a 58.7% likelihood to cover the 2.5-point spread, which is lower than we’d typically like but worth a bet given the matchup.
Tennessee -21.5 (-114): 3 Stars
All the Volunteers need to do to essentially assure themselves a playoff spot (unless chaos ensues, of course) is to neatly wrap up their season against South Carolina this week and Vanderbilt next. Given that they’re on the outside of the top four in the College Football Playoff Rankings, they’ll want to make these next two wins convincing.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker has led Tennessee to have the best offense in the country on a yards-per-game basis. He’s second to only Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud in Heisman odds and QBR. South Carolina has been surprisingly decent in their passing defense, but they obviously have not faced an opponent of Tennessee’s caliber.
Tennessee’s offense with Hooker under center is remarkably efficient. According to Football Outsiders, the Volunteers are seventh in offensive drive efficiency, fifth in touchdown rate, and sixth in first down rate. South Carolina is 82nd, 82nd, and 98th, respectively, in those same metrics on defense.
Our model projects that Tennessee will cover with a probability of 64.3%. It’s likely to be a blowout, but because of the Volunteers’ interesting position in the playoff race, this is one of the most important games of the week.
Over 41.5 (-105): 5 Stars
This game features the top two teams in fewest yards allowed per game. That's not only in the Big Ten but nationally as well.
Both teams have been phenomenal without the ball this year, but Illinois has shown some cracks with two straight losses against Michigan State and Purdue. Michigan, on the other hand, has allowed a whopping three points total in the second halves of their last five games.
We’ve seen Michigan dominate teams on the ground this year -- most notably in the Penn State game where they racked up over 400 yards. In the last two weeks, the Wolverines have rushed for 282 yards against Rutgers and 264 yards against Nebraska. At this point in the season, it’s clear why Blake Corum is the running back with the lowest Heisman odds in the country.
The Wolverines don’t get enough credit for their dominant offensive line that paves the way for Corum and Donovan Edwards. That unit is fourth in opportunity rate and first in average line yards on passing downs (according to Football Outsiders), meaning that even if you corner Michigan into a situation where you think they’ll need to pass to get a first down, they’ll show you that it doesn’t matter because they can get it on the ground, too. Illinois might give Michigan a challenge, but the Illini just don’t have the same amount of talent to compete over four quarters.
According to our model, this matchup has a staggering 89.4% likelihood of surpassing the total. That is a testament to Michigan’s dominant run game. Look for Corum and the Wolverines to win with their physical run game to keep the undefeated record going into next week against Ohio State, but, more importantly for bettors, to also score enough points so that the over hits.