The PAC-12 held much hope just one week ago. The conference had multiple teams with routes to reaching the College Football Playoff for the first time in six years. It had multiple teams that could still dream of winning the Pac-12’s first national title since 2004.
Now, USC is the conference’s only hope. It is just as the Trojans envisioned roughly 51 weeks ago, when they were 4-7 and lured Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma with a reported $110 million contract.
USC hadn’t contended for a national championship since Pete Carroll skipped along the sidelines, failing with lauded offensive minds Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. But Riley, 39, brought instant credibility to the former power. He attracted double-digit transfers, including star quarterback Caleb Williams, and four assistants to move across the country from Oklahoma in an unorthodox swing at immediate contention after he led the Sooners to three playoff appearances and four Big 12 titles in five years as their head coach.
Unlike most things in college football, it has gone according to plan. With Williams contending for the Heisman Trophy, the Trojans have the third-highest scoring team in the country (42.4 points) and their best record at this point in a season in 14 years.
It is the kind of success UCLA envisioned when bringing Chip Kelly back to college, the kind of momentum that took five years to materialize, then went up in flames last week in a home loss to Arizona as a 20-point favorite, eliminating the Bruins from playoff contention.
The rivals will meet Saturday in a battle at the Rose Bowl, marking their most-anticipated matchup in 17 years. UCLA fumbled its chance for a historic season, but USC (-1.5) will sustain the Pac-12’s CFP hopes for at least one more week. A shootout between the top-10 offenses is certain, and that’s the kind of game Riley has been winning for most of the past six years.
All odds are provided by BetMGM and were accurate at the time of writing.
BAYLOR (+2.5) over Tcu
Horned Frogs shares have never been higher. Bears stock is selling for pennies on the dollar. It’s the right time to buy low and sell high. TCU’s impressive win over Texas last week doesn’t erase the struggles it had scratching out wins the previous five weeks. The defending Big 12-champion Bears have enough fight left in them for this rivalry game.
MICHIGAN (-17.5) over Illinois
Dejection will fully set in by halftime, as a third straight loss gets set to redefine an Illinois season that started with seven wins in the first eight games. A third-ranked Illini defense has allowed a total of 54 points the past two weeks and will be exposed again in its first game this season against a top 60-offense: Michigan’s 41.4 points per game rank fifth nationally.
Boston College (+21) over NOTRE DAME
The Fighting Irish have failed to cover all five games as double-digit favorites this season and the Eagles’ defense is decent enough to limit the damage against an unreliable Notre Dame offense that was held scoreless for a half last week against Navy.
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Georgia (-22.5) over KENTUCKY
The Bulldogs have won 12 straight games in the series, but haven’t won by more than 22 points since 2017. That kind of game is overdue. Georgia’s elite defense will be the latest group to hurt Will Levis’ draft stock. The Kentucky quarterback hasn’t thrown for more than 170 yards in any of the past three games, most recently going 11-for-23 for 109 yards and an interception in an embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt last week.
Ohio State (-27.5) over MARYLAND
The Buckeyes are back on track after a 56-14 win last week over Indiana. A repeat will come in College Park. The Terrapins have lost 11 straight games against ranked opponents — covering once — and struggling quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has been responsible for 14 interceptions in his seven opportunities to pull such upsets.
Miami (+19.5) over CLEMSON
The Hurricanes may be better off if quarterback Tyler Van Dyke misses another game with a shoulder injury. Freshman Jacurri Brown could cause greater headaches in his second career start after throwing for three touchdowns and running for 87 yards in a 21-point win last week over Georgia Tech.
RUTGERS (+19.5) over Penn State
The under (45) is the best bet since Rutgers always holds up its end. In their eight Big Ten meetings with the Nittany Lions (all of which hit the under), the Scarlet Knights have averaged fewer than five points per game and have never topped 10.
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NORTH CAROLINA (-21) over Georgia Tech
The Tar Heels have won their six road games this season by an average of fewer than four points per game. In Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels’ wins have come by an average of 27 points per game. And freshman Drake Maye just keeps getting better. Over the past four games, the quarterback has averaged 377 passing yards and 69 rushing yards, with 15 total touchdowns and no interceptions.
Tennessee (-21.5) over SOUTH CAROLINA
The second-highest scoring offense in the country can now only make its playoff case via blowout, like its 66-24 win over Missouri last week. Some stat padding can’t hurt quarterback Hendon Hooker’s Heisman odds, either.
ARKANSAS (+2.5) over Mississippi
The Razorbacks nearly upset LSU without quarterback KJ Jefferson. His return will revive the offense against the overrated Rebels, who have one win over a Power Five team with a winning record.
Oklahoma State (+7.5) over OKLAHOMA
At 2-5 in Big 12 play, the Sooners have lost to every team in the conference with a winning league record. With quarterback Spencer Sanders back from injury, the Cowboys will claim Bedlam in back-to-back years for the first time in two decades.
UAB (+14.5) over LSU
The Blazers are 0-4 on the road this season. They’ve lost to Liberty, Rice, Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic. They’ve failed to cover each contest. I assume that Brian Kelly will let his walk-ons play most of the snaps.
OREGON (-3) over Utah
Home field will be the difference in a de facto Pac-12 semifinal game. The Utes’ two losses have come on the road — at Florida and UCLA — and this trip represents their toughest test of the season. After four years without a home loss, don’t expect the Ducks to drop back-to-back games in Eugene.
Best bets: Boston College, North Carolina, Tennessee
This season: 79-82-4
2014-21 record: 1,030-970-19