College Football Best Bets: Collin Wilson’s Top 4 Picks for Week 11, Including Michigan vs. Penn State
Grant Halverson/Getty Images. Pictured: Luke Masterson (12).
- Michigan faces Penn State while NC State takes on Wake Forest.
- In the SEC, Texas A&M duels Ole Miss and Arkansas matches up with LSU.
- Collin Wilson previews all five games and offers up his best bets.
It’s a big week in college football as teams across the country in closer to conference championships and bowl bids.
However, there are very few games more important than the ACC Atlantic Division battle between in-state rivals NC State and Wake Forest. The defense of NC State will play a big role in determining which team represents the Atlantic against the Coastal Division champion in December, as the winner of this game is in the driver’s seat barring any other slip-ups.
But before we go to Winston-Salem, we have to go to Happy Valley, where Michigan can put itself solely in the College Football Playoff picture if it continues to win after being ranked ahead of Michigan State in the latest rankings. Penn State is the next big hurdle, but its motivation is unclear as head coaching rumors have swirled around James Franklin.
Moving to the evening slate, Ole Miss will look to turn the tempo up against a Texas A&M team that hopes to represent the West Division in the SEC Championship if Alabama slips up one more time.
We also have a big battle between Arkansas and LSU on tap, where the Tigers plan to give freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier plenty of reps before Ed Orgeron leaves Baton Rouge at the end of the season.
Check out my bets for all four of Saturday’s big games, 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 Week 11 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.|
#6 Michigan vs. Penn State
The stakes continue to mount for Michigan after the latest College Football Playoff rankings put it a slot ahead of Michigan State.
The Wolverines lost to the Spartans within the last two weeks, but the committee feels strongly about the Michigan resume that the path is clear: Win out, and Big Blue is in the playoff competing for a National Championship.
The path will not be easy, as it hosts Ohio State to end the regular season, but first a trip to Happy Valley to survive and advance is in order.
What’s the mindset of Penn State football with so many rumors circulating around head coach James Franklin? While the head coach insists the job rumors are not a distraction, Penn State had continued clock management issues in victory over Maryland.
The victory over the Terrapins made the Nittany Lions bowl eligible, but with a three-game deficit in the Big Ten East, there can only be hopes of landing in a Las Vegas or Music City Bowl — possibly without their head coach.
Expect Michigan to Keep It on the Ground
The injury bug has set in for two main pieces of the Wolverines offense. Tight end Erick All had 12 targets in a loss to Michigan State in Week 9 and was a trusted target for Cade McNamara on third downs.
Michigan runs a heavy amount of 12 formations, 39% of snaps with one back and two tight ends, in comparison to one-back and one-tight sets on 53% of offensive plays.
Its backup tight end was targeted on five passing attempts against Indiana, but with no experience on the depth chart, there may be a heavier dose of 11 personnel after All left the Indiana game with an injury this past weekend (and his status this week is questionable).
With the injury to Ronnie Bell earlier this season, the Wolverines’ heavy run attack could not suffer an injury in the backfield.
Blake Corum has been one of the most elusive backs in all of college football, but his status is questionable for Penn State. There was not much resistance from the Indiana defense last week, keeping Michigan in standard downs on an average of 5.6 yards per play thanks to the running of Hassan Haskins.
— Nolan Bianchi (@nolanbianchi) November 7, 2021
Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy were limited to just 15 pass completions on the game. If the Michigan offense is able to continue running at a 62% rate with success on the ground, the Wolverines will stay out of passing downs with ranks of 93rd in explosiveness and 74th in Offensive Finishing Drives.
Big Blue Defense Keeping Teams in Check
The Michigan defense was spectacular against Indiana, marking the fifth time this season an opponent was held to just one touchdown.
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has made the Wolverines multiple, switching between a 3-3-5, 4-3 and 4-2-5 on any down and distance.
Michigan has shown 10 different schemes to defenses this season, with the bulk of the blitz coming from defensive plays with at least four down linemen.
Filthy spin from David Ojabo
He didn't start playing football until his junior year of HS…looks better each week pic.twitter.com/iORFOiAx5W
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) November 8, 2021
The Wolverines have been extra stingy when pinned in scoring positions. Opponents are averaging just three points per trip on drives that reach Michigan’s 40-yard line, good enough to rank eighth defensively in Finishing Drives.
In combination with the second-best special teams unit, per SP+, Michigan has the goods to win here and challenge Ohio State for a trip to the Big Ten Championship.
Penn State’s Rush Defense Needs Help
The loss of PJ Mustipher on the defensive line continues to take a toll on the Nittany Lions.
Covering efforts against Ohio State and Maryland have masked that the rush defense has fallen off from the first half of the season. The Terrapins generated a Success Rate 13% over the national average on running plays in Week 10.
Maryland was limited in explosive drives and had a dreadful Saturday in putting points on the board when in scoring position, but offenses are moving between the tackles against Penn State.
The defense still ranks second in Defensive Finishing Drives and eighth in pass coverage, but with a Michigan team looking to run first, the trench will be the biggest handicap when the Wolverines have the ball.
Nittany Lion Offense Coming Alive?
The offense broke out in a big way against Maryland, just two short weeks after a nine-overtime affair with Illinois. The Nittany Lions doubled the national average in methodical drives and produced 8.2 yards per play in passing downs.
The Michigan defense will have multiple spies on wide receiver Jahan Dotson for containment.
Jahan Dotson just put him in a blender😳#CFB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 6, 2021
The Penn State offense continues to struggle running the ball for an average Success Rate and an even worse number of explosive plays. The Nittany Lions have just six rushing attempts that have gone over 20 yards.
If Michigan is able to stop short-yardage attempts to Dotson, putting pressure on quarterback Sean Clifford is the next mission objective.
The numbers on Clifford fall off dramatically when there’s a crowded pocket, with a 21% dip in adjusted completion percentage and a five-to-one ratio of turnover-worthy plays to big-time throws.
Michigan vs. Penn State Betting Pick
Despite the questionable status of Corum, Michigan will have an advantage on the ground against Penn State’s defensive line. The Nittany Lions are 112th in Defensive Stuff Rate, measuring when a rush is stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.
The Wolverines will move the chains with success and stay in standard downs most of the evening behind a 12 formation that asks two tight ends to block.
Where the Nittany Lions have the advantage is in coverage and Finishing Drives. Penn State has allowed only 10 touchdowns on 34 opponent red-zone attempts, which could keep field-goal kicking in play for Michigan.
One of the few defenses better than Penn State in the red zone is the Wolverines. Jim Harbaugh has kept opponents to just 16 red-zone attempts with a low of nine touchdowns on the season.
Considering both of these offenses rank 74th and 75th in Offensive Finishing Drives, this could be a field-goal fest.
Mother Nature may have say in this noon kick, with “wet snowflakes” in the forecast.
Our Action Network projection on the total is directly at 48.5, where the market resides as of this writing. The keys of 24 and 48 for the first-half and full-game totals are buying points for the under.
As for the side, the Michigan defense will have to contain Dotson, who has lined up 78% of snaps out wide. DJ Turner and Daxton Hill rank among the top-100 cornerbacks in college football. Turner, specifically, has allowed just eight receptions on 22 targets and only 31 yards after the catch on the season.
Between the defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo keeping Clifford in the pocket, finding the explosive play to Dotson will be difficult.
Pick: Under 48 · 1H Under 24 · Michigan ML -120
#11 Texas A&M vs. #15 Ole Miss
There are a number of different scenarios centering on which team can win the SEC West if Alabama were to lose games in the month of November.
Both Texas A&M and Ole Miss fall into the category of contenders, but realistically, this game is about who will play in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Although Ole Miss is near the top in offensive tempo, the scoring has lost bite. The Rebels have failed to score more than 31 points in their past four games, a signal of injury to the skill positions.
Texas A&M has been on a heater since its loss to Mississippi State to start October. The Aggies have won four straight, including games over Alabama and Auburn.
If the Crimson Tide drop a game in November, Texas A&M will represent the SEC West in the conference championship game if the Aggies remain at two losses.
A projected Fiesta Bowl berth may turn into a spot in the College Football Playoff if Texas A&M stays the course and gets some help.
Defense Leading the Way for Texas A&M
The four-game winning streak can be attributed to a number of factors for the Aggies.
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko is stifling opposing offenses through his 4-2-5 scheme that doesn’t make many mistakes in allowing home runs.
The Aggies rank sixth defensively in allowing 20-plus yard plays from scrimmage, and specifically, the standard downs defense is eighth in limiting the explosive play.
The Aggies’ back seven has been excellent at defending the pass, ranking 10th in Success Rate and 19th in coverage.
When opponents get past the 40-yard line, Texas A&M has been a top-five team in the nation in opponent scoring, allowing just 2.5 points per trip against 113 opposing offensive drives.
Havoc was the key ingredient to beating Auburn in Week 10.
TEXAS A&M WITH THE SCOOP N SCORE!
The Aggies (-4.5) lead 17-3 👀
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) November 6, 2021
Aggies Offense Won’t Face Much Resistance
While the defense is excellent at getting offenses behind schedule, it has been the explosive skill positions and improvement from quarterback Zach Calzada on offense that has created points and wins.
After logging five turnover-worthy plays in the first three games of the season, Calzada has logged just five in the past six games. The numbers are still undesirable in pressured dropbacks, but Texas A&M has minimized plays in passing downs.
Ole Miss will have issues containing two of the best skill position players in the nation. Both Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane rank in the top 25 of all running backs in elusiveness, a PFF stat that captures the success and impact of a runner with the ball independent of the blocking.
WOW! Devon Achane breaks a 68 yard run but fumbles and Auburn recovers! pic.twitter.com/6wlPmBvoZN
— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTBVids_YT) November 6, 2021
Spiller and Achane will have no resistance against an Ole Miss defense that is in the bottom 10 in Rushing Success Rate and Line Yards.
More importantly, the Rebels are 121st in standard downs Success Rate. Texas A&M may post the highest methodical and two-plus first down offensive drive rate of any team in Week 11.
The injury bug continues to hamper an Ole Miss team that has put up four straight unders against the total.
Matt Corral did not practice last week in preparation for Liberty. The Heisman Trophy candidate logged just six rushing attempts, a stark contrast from 30 recorded just a few weeks ago against Tennessee.
Head coach Lane Kiffin joked that when the injuries clear up in the wide receiver room, the Rebels will be the most improved team in bowl season.
With outside targets Jonathan Mingo out and Braylon Sanders still not at full health, the offense will continue to rely on running backs Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner.
JERRION EALY: WELCOME TO WEEK 10💨#CFB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 6, 2021
With Ole Miss supporting some of the worst defensive metrics in college football, the game plan will consist of giving Texas A&M the run and waiting for Calzada to make mistakes in scoring position.
Despite ranks outside the top 100, the Rebels defense is a top-40 unit in pass rush and limiting the explosive play in passing downs.
Ole Miss varies between several defensive schemes, calling blitz the most in a 3-4 in early downs and no blitz in a 3-2-6 in passing downs.
The Rebels have allowed teams to gain well over the national average in available yards. That generally works with a stiff red-zone defense, but Ole Miss ranks 82nd in Defensive Finishing Drives, allowing 27 touchdowns in 32 opponent scores.
The best way to beat Texas A&M at home is to outscore a ground-based Aggies offense.
Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss Betting Pick
Kiffin may have tipped his hand during his weekly presser on what the strategy will be against Texas A&M.
The head coach said, “When it goes good, you’re making first downs, you’re going really fast, they’re not getting lined up.”
The Rebels are averaging 21.5 seconds per play on the season, but two of the last three games have been far slower. Ole Miss averaged 22.5 seconds per play against Liberty and a snail’s pace of 25 seconds per play against LSU.
There are plenty of reasons for the down shift in gears from injuries to specific matchups against the opponent’s defense. That changes against Texas A&M, which substitutes a 4-2-5 scheme to a 3-2-6 package on second and third downs with long yardage.
The Ole Miss offense will run tempo under 20 seconds per play to prevent substitutions and create one-on-one matchups in space.
Corral’s ankle injury may be fully healed, especially after a Liberty game with no designed runs in the play log.
Although Ole Miss has hit four straight unders and Texas A&M has not logged an over on the road in 2021, this is a prime spot for the Rebels to go tempo against a defense they cannot beat by lining up and pounding Conner and Ealy.
As for Texas A&M, explosiveness through the skill positions will keep the points rolling on the scoreboard for the Aggies. Calzada will begin to strike with the play-action passing attack once the Rebel defenders bite on runs from Achane and Spiller.
The Action Network projection sets the total at 58.5, just above the current market number.
The biggest key number in totals is 55, a number that was steamed through in early-week betting. Also in the top five of key numbers is 59, making this a buy on the over.
For the side, The Action Network projects this game as a pick’em, giving value to the current juiced +2.5 on the board for Ole Miss.
Pick: Over 58 · Ole Miss +3
#25 Arkansas vs. LSU
The Battle for the Golden Boot between Arkansas and LSU continues on Saturday night.
Although the two teams have been playing one another since 1901, the 1996 season introduced “The Boot” trophy to the series.
The Tigers have dominated since the inception of the 175-pound trophy, taking 15 of the 23 games. LSU has won five straight, as Arkansas has not been ranked in this series since a 2011 game that saw both teams in the top three. The Razorbacks are now in the College Football Playoff Top 25 and look forward to a higher-tier bowl.
What is the state of LSU football after a narrow defeat to Alabama? The Tigers put on one of the best performances of the season from a defensive line standpoint, stuffing 14-of-22 Alabama rushing attempts.
The Crimson Tide’s robust offense was limited to just a single explosive drive and an average of 3.4 yards per play in passing downs. Time will tell if Alabama’s offensive line can hold up through the SEC Championship run, but LSU head coach Ed Orgeron continues to get the most out of his squad before his departure from Baton Rouge.
Pittman Racking Up Wins
Yesssssir, Sam Pittman is a quarter-million dollars heavier in the pocket.
The second-year Razorback head coach had incentives in his contract for reaching six wins and will now make an additional quarter-million for winning a seventh and eighth game on the season.
While Razorback Nation is elated about going to a bowl, the work is incomplete with LSU, Alabama and Missouri on deck.
This no-look pass from KJ Jefferson is 🔥
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) November 6, 2021
Arkansas Offense Becoming Predictable
The comeback victory over Mississippi State did not come without hurdles. The Razorbacks did not have a single explosive drive and managed just a single possession with 10 offensive plays. The Bulldogs had more overall yards per play by a full yard and allowed only two Jefferson passes to exceed 20 yards.
Dominique Johnson ran the ball with authority, going over 100 yards on 17 attempts in place of the injured Trelon Smith.
Arkansas stayed in standard downs most of the afternoon but has become predictable in passing situations. Treylon Burks once again doubled every other player in targets.
Jefferson continues to struggle when footsteps are near, logging more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws when blitzed.
The defense played without Jalen Catalon, the unsung leader in the secondary. Mississippi State cruised in the passing game, logging three times the national average in methodical drives, which measure possessions with 10-plus plays.
Catalon’s absence was felt, as the Bulldogs generated eight yards per passing play with 10 throws over 15-plus yards. Arkansas’ ranks of 81st in coverage and 114th in passing downs explosiveness are the Achilles’ heel of the defense.
What to Expect From LSU’s Defense
Orgeron stated the defensive package used against Arkansas will be similar to the one utilized against Alabama.
The Tigers were a menace to the Crimson Tide offensive line, generating four sacks and eight tackles for loss. LSU has multiple schemes against opposing offenses, but the 4-3 package has been deadly with blitz on 38% of downs.
Orgeron had no issues in telegraphing the game plan against Arkansas, from a zero blitz package to a drop-eight scenario.
The biggest news from Coach O’s weekly press conference is the return of defensive back Cordale Flott. The junior cornerback has allowed just 13 receptions on 28 targets while limiting opposing players to 41 yards after the catch.
Flott will be used to go one-on-one with one of the Razorbacks’ biggest weapons in Burks.
Nussmeier Expected to See More Time at Quarterback
Multiple players are expected to see time under center for the Tigers this weekend. Freshman Garrett Nussmeier is expected to get plenty of snaps after internal conversations about burning a redshirt.
The Texas native has a cannon for an arm and was described by Orgeron as “dynamite,” but consistency in protecting the football and careless mistakes kept the freshman off the field the first half of the season.
Garrett Nussmeier and the Tigers are not ready to end this one yet.
Impressive throw and catch for six. pic.twitter.com/FOOxdT8qCn
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 23, 2021
The Tigers’ ground attack was led once against Tyrion Davis-Price, generating 104 yards on 23 carries.
Orgeron rolled the dice several times against Alabama, converting 5-of-7 first downs. Davis-Price averages over five yards a carry on the season and will challenge a Razorback defense that ranks top-25 in Line Yards.
Arkansas vs. LSU Betting Pick
The first handicap in this game is whether or not the LSU defense can get Arkansas off schedule when a heavy amount of rushing attempts are called. Although the Tigers defense is 78th in Rushing Success Rate, there’s renewed focus, as Alabama was stuffed on 14-of-22 attempts on the ground.
The Razorbacks are 42nd in Offensive Stuff Rate, as the biggest challenge for the LSU defense is getting Arkansas into passing downs. The Hogs will be tested from a chaos and blitz perspective, as the LSU defense is top-25 in pass rush.
Flott’s return is big for the Tigers when it comes to Jefferson scramble attempts that have him looking for Burks downfield. LSU will send a heavy amount of blitz and disguise dropping eight into coverage, forcing different looks for Jefferson.
The bigger issue for the Razorbacks may be a freshman quarterback under center for the LSU offense. Nussmeier will share snaps with Max Johnson for an offense that sits 21st in passing downs Success Rate.
The LSU offensive line spent half of the season getting a solid rotation but now ranks 16th in pass blocking, per PFF. That is of utmost importance against a healthy Tre Williams at the defensive edge position for the Razorbacks.
LSU’s biggest advantage is putting points on the board, as offensive coordinator Jake Peetz has the Tigers at 15th in the nation in Finishing Drives.
The Action Network projection has LSU as a small favorite against a market that favors the Razorbacks with plenty of support from investors early in the week.
Arkansas has earned respect, but to be favored by almost a field goal in Baton Rouge may be more about the perception of Orgeron making his exit and the Hogs being the hot team.
Arkansas continued to have scoring gaps in multiple possessions against Mississippi State, as halftime adjustments generally put the Razorbacks on course.
The Hogs have trailed at halftime over the past four SEC games, indicating Jefferson could have issues picking up a multiple look from LSU’s defense.
On the flip side, Nussmeier will take advantage of a Barry Odom defense that gives up plenty of yards and looks to stiffen in the red zone.
Pick: LSU 1H ML +105
#16 NC State vs. #12 Wake Forest
A two-hour bus ride outside of the Triangle to Winston-Salem awaits NC State visitors at Wake Forest for what might be the biggest game of the ACC season.
A win for the Demon Deacons all but seals the Atlantic Division with two games to play and a two-game lead on Clemson and Boston College. A loss by Wake Forest, and it’s the Wolfpack in the driver’s seat.
NC State only needs to defend its home field against Syracuse and North Carolina if a victory is secured in Week 11.
From a national perspective, the ACC has no love from the College Football Playoff committee, as the lone top-10 team in Wake Forest dropped in the latest rankings, thanks to what was technically a nonconference loss to North Carolina.
The winner of the ACC is projected to play in a New Year’s Six bowl, the Peach Bowl, per our Brett McMurphy. Because of the chaotic selection process among ACC bowl ties, the loser of this game could end up in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl or the newly-branded Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.
That would be quite a fall for a Wake Forest team that was in the playoff discussion just a week ago. A loss here all but seals the division and chance to compete against the Coastal to win the conference.
Painful Losses for NC State’s Offense
All that separates NC State from an undefeated season is a couple of turnovers and a handful of third-down conversions.
In a nonconference loss at Mississippi State earlier in the season, the Wolfpack had three offensive turnovers in the form of fumbles and a forced Devin Leary interception to end the game.
A 30% effort on third downs would come into play again during a one-point loss to Miami in which the Wolfpack went 3-for-14 on money downs.
NC State is now 112th in passing downs Success Rate and must stay ahead of schedule to allow Leary to work with a talented group of receivers.
Emeka Emezie for SIX.
Clemson in a tight one with NC State 👀
— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 25, 2021
Wolfpack Defense Remains Stout
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has created one of the best versions of Wolfpack stoppers in recent history. NC State is third in the nation in Defensive Rushing Success Rate and top-25 in big play prevention.
Opponents are unable to move the ball on the ground and have not had much success through the air.
The Wolfpack rank 11th in Defensive Passing Success Rate and 29th in coverage ranks, per PFF. The 3-3-5 scheme is particularly important against a Wake Forest team that has been deadly through the air.
Gibson has sent blitz at a modest rate of 22% but almost never on first down. NC State is guaranteed to send blitz on third and long, making Wake Forest’s ability to stay on schedule the biggest handicap of the game.
Hartman Leads Wake Forest’s Offense
There were fireworks from both offenses in a loss to North Carolina in Week 10. Both teams gained more than 15% of the national average in available yards and logged an astounding 10 explosive drives in 31 total possessions.
Quarterback Sam Hartman continued to hover outside of the Heisman bubble with nearly 400 yards and five touchdowns.
Sam Hartman is a mesh point magician pic.twitter.com/3SGoqw9CHJ
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) November 6, 2021
The biggest contrast in offenses was a lack of success on passing downs for Wake Forest in comparison to North Carolina. The Demon Deacons averaged just 5.32 yards on passing downs with an average third-down distance of 6.7 yards.
Deacons Defense Continues to Struggle
The Tar Heels scored 24 points in the fourth quarter alone, an issue that has been common for Wake Forest opponents in the second half.
The Demon Deacons have some of the worst defensive splits in the nation, ranking outside the top 100 in Rush and Passing Success Rate and 121st in Line Yards.
Any team that wants to run against Wake will have no interference. The biggest issue with the Deacons defense is a rank of 129th in passing downs Success Rate.
No matter the down and distance, opponents are moving the chains. Wake Forest is 100th in third-down defense and 91st in Finishing Drives.
NC State vs. Wake Forest Betting Pick
The Wake Forest offense has been lighting up the scoreboard against opponents with an average of 52.5 points over the past four games. Not many defenses have been able to put a stop on the Demon Deacons offense, but not many defenses on the schedule are built like NC State.
The last 3-3-5 defense Hartman faced was Syracuse, and the Orange limited Wake Forest to a mark below the national average in available yards, methodical drives and zero runs over 12 yards.
NC State has much better defensive statistics against the rush and pass while creating plenty of chaos.
The real handicap is keeping the Wolfpack offense on schedule. NC State has been able to dominate opponents when getting a low mark to gain on third down. NC State may lean heavily on the rush attack to keep the Wake Forest offense off the field, as a shootout is not the preferred style of play for head coach Dave Doeren.
Linebacker Isaiah Moore was the third-best tackler on the Wolfpack defense, putting even more emphasis on NC State to control time of possession.
This is the best defense Wake has faced on the season, and with the Wolfpack rushing attack ranking 30th in Stuff Rate, there’s the ability to extend drives and burn clock.