Saturday College Football Odds, Predictions, Picks: Collin Wilson’s Best Bets for Today (Nov. 20)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images. Pictured: Oregon Ducks cornerback Trikweze Bridges (11).
- Week 12 of the college football is upon us, and Collin Wilson came prepared.
- Wilson broke down three of Saturday's biggest games, including Michigan State vs. Ohio State, Arkansas vs. Alabama, and Oregon vs. Utah.
- Check out all three of his betting picks for those games below.
Two weeks remain in what has been a crazy college football season so far.
With conference championship pictures and bowl games becoming more clear with each week, Week 12 represents something of the utmost importance.
That’s particularly true in the Big Ten East, where Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan are in a bracket to appear in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Saturday’s Buckeyes vs. Spartans showdown will go a long way in determining which team will advance.
In the afternoon slot, my Razorbacks travel to Tuscaloosa to take on an Alabama team looking to slide into the College Football Playoff with a single loss.
To close it out, we could be seeing a preview of the Pac-12 Championship between Oregon and Utah. If all goes as expected, those teams will play again after the regular-season finale, as the Ducks hope to stay in the top four.
Check out my bets for the three ranked matchups, and don’t forget to follow me in the Action App to see any other bets I make ahead of Saturday’s kickoffs.
Collin Wilson’s College Football Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college football staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAF Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.|
#7 Michigan State vs. #4 Ohio State
The immediate reaction to the opening point spread on this game was no surprise to gamblers, but national college football writers outside of the investment space seemed shocked that two teams on the cusp of the College Football Playoff are separated by three scores.
The task for Michigan State to make the playoff is straightforward: beat Ohio State on Saturday, beat Penn State in the regular-season finale, and beat Wisconsin as an underdog in the Big Ten Championship.
The true odds of winning three straight is 46-1 for the Spartans.
Ohio State continues to rise in the playoff rankings after entering the top four following Week 10. The Buckeyes are a projected 5-point favorite at Michigan and 9-point favorite over Wisconsin in a hypothetical conference championship.
Despite a loss to Oregon earlier this season, Ohio State has the easiest path to the College Football Playoff outside of Georgia.
The biggest question for the Buckeyes is if the defense has improved or simply masked issues with the explosive play against lesser competition.
Michigan State Perfecting the Big Play
Mel Tucker has returned Michigan State to the national scene with authority.
The Spartans have lost against the spread just twice this season, the most recent in a straight-up loss to Purdue.
A push against Indiana and a non-cover against Nebraska have created a handicap around Michigan State: Stop the explosive play, and the Spartans can be beaten.
— BULLYBALL (@RealBullyBall) November 13, 2021
Michigan State struggled against Indiana and Nebraska, two teams that rank highly in stopping the explosive play. The Cornhuskers are third in defensive big-play rate, while Indiana is top-20 defensively in expected points.
The Spartans are multi-dimensional on offense with a big-play rate in the top 10 nationally.
While Thorne finds Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor for chunk yards through the air, the play of Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III has boosted the Spartans to national title contenders. Walker averages 4.7 yards after contact and is the top-ranked running back in elusiveness, per PFF.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 14, 2021
Nailor’s status must be monitored as a hand injury, as the wide receiver is listed as questionable against a susceptible Ohio State secondary. Nailor is joined by a handful of other questionable players for Michigan State, including two offensive linemen who have logged over 200 snaps this season.
The Spartans’ defensive aggressiveness has paid off in spots for the 4-2-5 scheme. Michigan State calls blitz on more than a quarter of snaps in first-and-10 and second-down passing downs, defined as eight yards or more to go.
Tucker has called for six defenders to rush the pocket on 10% of defensive snaps, leaving open a secondary that ranks 100th in Passing Success Rate.
Opposing quarterbacks who are steady in a crowded pocket have executed against a Michigan State defense that sits 99th in Passing Downs Sack Rate.
Is Ohio State’s Defense Vulnerable?
Quarterback CJ Stroud continues his Heisman campaign by posting the video-game numbers expected out of an Ohio State offense.
Stroud has 18 big-time throws to just nine turnover-worthy plays, but the biggest impact is on opponent blitz downs. Calling stunts on the freshman quarterback has been a losing scenario for defenses, as Stroud has an adjusted completion percentage drop of just 2% while boasting an outstanding 16:1 in touchdown-to-interception ratio when blitzed.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 13, 2021
The return of Garrett Wilson at wide receiver signifies full strength for the Buckeyes offense, which resulted in 59 points while obtaining 89% of available yards against Purdue.
Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson combined for 215 yards on 27 carries, while Stroud targeted Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba on 34 passing attempts.
This is the most high-powered offense in the nation clicking on all cylinders at the right time of the season.
The biggest question for the Buckeyes’ run to the national title is the defense. Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs was replaced as the play caller by Matt Barnes at the end of September.
The change was to stay in a 4-2-5 scheme but simplify with pre-snap activities, from anchoring corners to one side of the field to leaving a second safety in pass coverage. These changes made for solid improvement, as OSU allowed just 44 points in October games leading up to Penn State.
However, the Nittany Lions exposed gaps in the defense in a sweat-free cover. Penn State rang up a methodical drive rate double the national average, as four drives went at least 10-plus plays.
Not only was the Success Rate above the national average, but quarterback Sean Clifford also completed eight passes over 15 yards. Issues defending the pass persisted against Purdue, as Aidan O’Connell had a release time under two seconds en route to an explosive offensive day.
Purdue exposed the pass defense of Ohio State by generating 8.3 yards per play and a Success Rate 20% above the national average in passing downs while posting more explosive passes than Stroud.
The fear of the explosive pass opened up running lanes, as the Boilermakers went 30% above the national average in Success Rate on the ground and were stuffed on just four attempts.
The positive takeaway is Ohio State generating three more yards per play overall than Purdue, but creating no sacks or pressure in the box score has created a template for other explosive offenses.
Michigan State vs. Ohio State Betting Pick
The defensive issues for the Buckeyes remain a factor in the handicap, as Ohio State simply needed to outscore Purdue in Week 11.
Michigan State features one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, ranking eighth in standard downs.
Going deep early on Ohio State has been successful for opposing offenses, as the Buckeyes defense ranks 86th in standard downs explosiveness.
The question remains if Ohio State wants this game to be a boat race and if Michigan State is prepared to find an offensive gear similar to the Buckeyes.
There are plenty of statistical edges in the numbers that dictate Ohio State will roll in this game. The Spartans are 76th in Offensive Finishing Drives, scoring below the national average at 3.6 points per possession that crosses the 40-yard line. On the other side, Ohio State is eighth offensively when crossing the 40, supported by a rank of 10th in red-zone scoring percentage.
Another large discrepancy is Stuff Rate, focusing on Ohio State with Williams and Henderson against Michigan State’s defensive front seven. The Buckeyes are second in Offensive Stuff Rate compared to the Spartans’ rank of 104th on defense, meaning each Ohio State rushing attempt will get second-level yards.
The final statistical gap favoring the Buckeyes is SP+ Special Teams with Ohio State ranking second in the nation compared to Michigan State at 102nd. Any Spartan investors looking for a backdoor may be presented with a punt return touchdown.
The Action Network projection is Ohio State -15 with a total of 67, as the value on the spread is with Michigan State.
Considering there are advantageous numbers for both offenses to exploit the explosive play, the full-game over is suggested even as the market is trending downward. A key number in this range is 65, and any dip to this buy point should be met with resistance.
If the total does not come down to the key, consider taking a first-half over, as Ohio State has scored more in the first half than the second half in every game since Tulsa on Sept. 18.
Whether the Buckeyes go into cruise control or defenses adjust, head coach Ryan Day has been well prepared offensively the past seven games.
Pick: 1H Over 34 or Better | Michigan State +19 or Better
#21 Arkansas vs. #2 Alabama
Alabama head coach Nick Saban challenged the Crimson Tide roster before the New Mexico State game, and his squad responded with a 59-3 victory over the cellar team in the FBS.
The game did come at a cost with an injury to running back Roydell Williams, who will miss the remainder of the season.
Saban cited that mental errors were the cause of penalties and opponent explosive plays. The Crimson Tide were flagged just four times in Week 11 but continue to rank outside the top 100 in penalty yards.
Alabama will look to clean up the inconsistencies against a red-hot Arkansas team entering Tuscaloosa with the program’s highest College Football Playoff ranking in program history.
Saban praised Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman for leading the most improved team in the country — appropriate praise after Chad Morris failed to win a single Power Five game in two years with the Razorbacks.
Despite being much improved, the 2020 Crimson Tide went nuclear on the Hogs, winning with a final score of 52-3.
With a point spread under three touchdowns, Arkansas will look to build respect in its quest to return to bowl season. Pittman knows the circumstances and did everything possible to keep any bulletin board material out of this game.
Sam Pittman was asked if Alabama football is vulnerable this season
— Kyle Henderson (@Rivals_Kyle) November 16, 2021
Pittman questioned the mindset of the Arkansas players after two physical games against Mississippi State and LSU. The head coach had drilled into his team that it can beat Alabama if the roster believes it’s possible.
The campaign through the SEC schedule is beginning to take a toll, as running back Raheim Sanders will not be 100% healthy for this game on top of an already injured Trelon Smith.
Dominique Johnson has carried the load at running back the last two weeks, but the offense begins and ends with the play of KJ Jefferson.
— Collin Wilson (@_Collin1) November 14, 2021
Jefferson has been a fantastic playmaker in scrambles outside of the pocket, forcing defenses to drop extra players in the box and opening up one-on-one coverage. The sophomore averaged 4.8 yards after contact while throwing for 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Pittman mentioned the offensive gameplay will be much different against Alabama, as the Crimson Tide do not blitz near the rate of LSU. The Razorbacks would like to free up tight ends for passing routes instead of chip blocking, but with Crimson Tide edge rusher Will Anderson in the game, the Hogs may elect to stay in max protect.
Jefferson had two fumbles against LSU, an issue that has seen plenty of bounce luck go the Razorbacks way. Arkansas has fumbled 17 times this season on offense and lost just four through 10 games.
While turnover luck is due for regression, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has struggled in scoring position. The Hogs are 104th in Offensive Finishing Drives, generating just 3.7 points per possession that crosses the opponent’s 40-yard line.
Defensive coordinator Barry Odom runs a three-man front scheme to limit explosive plays, but the transfer portal gifts of Tre Williams and John Ridgeway have wreaked Havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
The Razorbacks defense has held up well in light of losing the best player in the secondary in Jalen Catalon. Myles Slusher has filled in nicely and was part of the coverage that allowed just two LSU passing plays to exceed 20 yards.
Out of NOWHERE pic.twitter.com/tioOnfyASk
— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) November 14, 2021
The key to stopping Alabama is containing the explosive play when targets are hit before the line of scrimmage.
The Razorbacks have not played in opponents’ backfields enough to take advantage of a struggling Alabama offensive line. The Hogs are 48th in pass rush and 47th in tackles for loss.
After playing two physical SEC games in a row, the Razorbacks are tasked with outperforming their tackling rank of 62nd in FBS.
The 2020 Crimson Tide may have set the bar in excellence from every aspect of college football.
The follow-up performance has been a struggle, with Bryce Young limited in downfield passing and an offensive line that is outside the top 50 in pass blocking.
The Tide are top-10 in the nation in Passing Success Rate, but 56% of attempts have come within nine yards or behind the line of scrimmage. A rank of fourth in generating the big play illustrates that the work is being done on the ground or after the reception.
We’re Officially Brian Robinson Days Until Alabama Football
— Alabama Rydeouts (@MarvinBama16) November 16, 2021
The biggest question for Alabama heading into the its three-game stretch to potentially win the SEC is the play of the offensive line. LSU’s heavy-blitz package generated four sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Chris Owens has moved back to center from right tackle but continues to post the worst pass and run-blocking grades in the two-deep. Darrian Dalcourt has played most of the season at center but has allowed 13 pressures.
Arkansas’s Ridgeway will have his way at nose tackle in Week 12, but Alabama must get A-gap protection figured out before a showdown with Georgia.
The Crimson Tide defense has put up solid numbers from the line through the secondary. Alabama is top-20 in Defensive Havoc, Line Yards, coverage and tackling.
If there’s an Achilles’ heel for the Crimson Tide defense, it’s opponent scoring opportunities. Defensive coordinator Pete Golding has one of his worst Finishing Drives ranks of his Tuscaloosa tenure with a rank of 92nd. Twenty-three opponent red-zone drives have been converted into points 20 times this season.
Arkansas vs. Alabama Betting Pick
The Razorbacks are coming to Tuscaloosa off two big SEC West victories over Mississippi State and LSU, a game that went to overtime on the road.
Pittman was guaranteed a $250,000 bonus for his seventh and eighth victories of the season.
While playing Alabama is the showcase game of the season, Pittman mentioned in his press conference that this is a short week and plans for the Missouri game on Black Friday are in place. Alabama may not be the focus of the Hogs, as winning eight games for a prime bowl bid is on the table when the Razorbacks host the Tigers in Fayetteville.
The biggest issue for the Hogs and an injured backfield is getting into passing downs. Jefferson continues to be predictable in the passing game, as Treylon Burks has 72 targets on the season. The next three targets — Warren Thompson, Tyson Morris and De’Vion Warren — have combined for 77 targets.
The Alabama defense excels in passing downs, ranking fifth in Sack Rate and 16th in Success Rate when offenses get behind schedule.
The Arkansas defense will do everything it can to prevent the explosive play, but the Crimson Tide rank second in Offensive Finishing Drives. Methodical drives by Alabama result in touchdowns, as 37-of-48 red-zone scores have gone for six points.
The Razorbacks have put together an impressive campaign and will be a major player in bowl season, but their identity is playing physical against opponents. That’s a bad combination coming off an overtime game back on the road against the most physical team in college football that played New Mexico State the week before.
Pick: Alabama -20 or Better | Under 59 at -120 or Better
#3 Oregon vs. #23 Utah
The Pac-12 will feature the showcase game of Saturday evening, as every fan on the West Coast will have their fingers crossed for the conference to stay relevant in the National Championship discussion.
The Oregon Ducks have one loss on the season and would certainly drop out of the top four with a loss to Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium. No two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff, making this the biggest game of the Ducks’ season despite already recording a victory over Ohio State in Columbus.
The path for Oregon does not end here, as a Civil War rivalry with Oregon State looms and a potential rematch with Utah in Las Vegas are the hurdles to stay in the national title picture.
There’s no pressure on Utah to win this game. The Utes have a one-game lead on Arizona State in the Pac-12 South with a tie-breaking win already posted over the Sun Devils.
A loss here requires only a home victory over lowly Colorado next Friday to wrap up the division and make plans for Las Vegas to win the conference title and a spot in the Rose Bowl.
Oregon’s Offensive Line Continues to Dominate
Head coach Mario Cristobal started his weekly press conference talking about the multiplicity of the Utah offense. The Utes line up in three different formations with heavy-to-light tight end sets with plenty of pre-snap motion that changes the personnel grouping.
The Utah running game will be a heavy test to the Ducks defense, as the unit ranks 74th in Rushing Success Rate and 48th in Line Yards.
The great news for the Oregon defense is its rank of 16th in big play prevention, ranking top-35 against both opponent rush and pass expected points.
Both of Kayvon Thibodeaux's sacks last night pic.twitter.com/z0inw2BlIw
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) November 14, 2021
Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has run six different schemes for at least 15 plays this season, primarily out of the 3-3-5 front. Depending on the opponent, there has been an equal distribution in passing downs between the 4-2-5, 2-4-5 and 3-2-6.
The heaviest of blitz packages come out of the nickel secondary on 29% of snaps. This has created a rank of 24th in pass rush but has left the secondary open for opposing quarterbacks to pick off.
DeRutyer has often run defenses that give up the field and firm up in scoring position, but the Ducks have a rank of 95th in defensive red-zone touchdown scoring and a Finishing Drives mark of 60th.
The influence of Joe Moorhead as offensive coordinator cannot be praised enough. This is an offense that went to Columbus and beat Ohio State while being stuffed on just five of its 38 rushing attempts.
Oregon is the top team in the country in Offensive Stuff Rate, a measurement of rushing attempts stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.
On the season, Oregon has been stuffed 12% less than the national average, a sign that this offensive line may be the best run blockers in college football.
"There goes Cardwell!"
— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) November 14, 2021
The Utah defense fields linebacker Devin Lloyd and defensive end Mike Tafua, both of whom rank in the top 43 individually in tackles for loss.
The Oregon offensive line can win this game with blocks, not just in the trench but at the second level with linebackers. The Ducks are fifth in Opportunity Rate, a measuring stick of the offensive line doing its job when four yards are needed.
Oregon is third nationally in Standard Downs Success Rate, consistently moving the chains with 490 plays against just 203 in passing downs. A physical trench dominated Washington and led to the comeback victory over UCLA and remains the key element in defeating Utah.
What Will Utah Present to Oregon?
As mentioned by Cristobal, the Utah offense loves to be multiple in its usage of tight ends. No matter the down and distance, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig shifts between 11, 12 and 13 personnel to disguise the offensive play.
The pre-snap tendencies will also test the Oregon defense, as the Utes call motion on half of their snaps to change personnel with a balance of shotgun versus under center for quarterback Cameron Rising.
Zone read, motion, shovel passes and flea flickers are the biggest challenge for Oregon’s defensive front.
We heard you Ute fans all the way from SLC! 🏔
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) October 15, 2021
Rising simply does not make mistakes, posting 13 big-time throws against three turnover-worthy plays. The Oregon defense is 73rd in Havoc, a statistic mostly supported by edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Utah offense has been excellent at limiting mistakes with rank of 18th in Havoc Allowed.
Similar to Oregon, the Utah offensive line has the advantage in this game, particularly on rushing attempts. The Utes are top-10 in Line Yards and excel in Opportunity Rate with rank of seventh in the nation.
Staying in standard downs is the key for Utah since its top-15 Success Rate falls to 72nd in passing downs.
For Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, the effort is centered around stopping the Oregon rush. A great gauge for this was in the Utes’ efforts against the UCLA and Arizona State offenses. Both the Bruins and Sun Devils have heavy-rush attacks with mobile quarterbacks and plenty of pre-snap motion.
Utah stuffed both teams on running attempts at the national average rate, but both Arizona State and UCLA busted explosive runs once getting past the line of scrimmage.
The Utes will get stops behind the line of scrimmage, but when those attempts fail, the Ducks will be able to create chunk yards on the ground. The evidence supports this in Utah being 12th in Defensive Stuff Rate but 112th in defensive rush expected points.
If Oregon is having success running the ball, expect minimal passing and plenty of methodical, clock-draining drives.
Oregon vs. Utah Betting Pick
This will be the best game of the weekend from a punch-counterpunch perspective between the coordinators of each team.
Both teams are well-prepared for opponents, as Oregon and Utah average more than a +7 point differential in the first half.
The biggest gap in scoring with these two squads comes in the second half. While Oregon has the ninth-highest point differential in the third quarter, Utah has a negative net scoring number after halftime.
Whatever adjustments are made by opponents, Utah has been quick to resolve as the highest-scoring point differential team in the nation when it comes to fourth quarters.
Utah has been one of the best first-half teams in the nation in scoring differential, a stark contrast to Oregon’s 2-7 against-the-spread mark in the first half. The Ducks trailed UCLA, 14-0, through the first quarter before making adjustments on both sides of the ball to dominate the second and third quarters by a score of 27-3.
Against lesser competition, Oregon was tied with Washington State at halftime and led Cal by just one. Pac-12 offenses that run multiple personnel and pre-snap motion have stifled the Ducks through the initial possessions.
Will Rising be able to deal with pressure in passing downs against a ferocious pass rush led by Thibodeaux? In 63 pressured dropbacks this season, Rising has no turnover-worthy plays but a large 28% drop in adjusted completion percentage.
The handicap comes down to offensive tackles Braeden Daniels and Bamidele Olaseni, who have allowed 21 pressures the entire season. Both players rank just within the top 150 of all FBS offensive tackles in pass-blocking grades, but more importantly, Daniels and Olaseni have not allowed a sack the entire season in 652 combined pass-block snaps.
There are other factors in this game that support the Utah side other than the home-field advantage of Rice-Eccles.
The Pac-12 referees have been a consistent issue for Oregon, ranking 112th in penalty yards this season. Utah has been the opposite, getting only 45 flags on the season to rank as one of the 15 least-penalized teams.
There’s a large gap in ranks for kickoff return, punting and placekicking. Oregon ranks 121st in Special Teams SP+ in comparison to Utah’s top-20 mark.
The Action Network projection in this game is Utah -2.5, signifying a bit of value on the Ducks for any spread at +3.5 or better.
The game will have plenty of swings and outstanding trench play, but the first-half records cannot be ignored. Oregon consistently gets behind opponents early in games before adjustments get the Ducks on the scoreboard.
With special teams, penalties, offensive tackle play and home-field advantage, this is a Utah first-half play.
The Utes have consistently been beaten in the third quarter, indicating a Ducks comeback and live play as the game plan after kickoff.
Both teams have advantages in Offensive Finishing Drives, but points come in spurts, and the market total of 58.5 is right in line with projections on this game.
Play on Utah early and look for Moorhead and DeRuyter to change up the plan for a Ducks comeback in a game that will come down to the wire.