Week 9 College Football Futures: How to Bet Michigan State, Wake Forest and Cincinnati
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images. Pictured: Payton Thorne.
Mike Calabrese: Judging by the headlines, college football is more wide open today than it has been in over a decade.
A major power has fallen off a cliff (Clemson), a pair of juggernauts took early-season losses (Ohio State, Alabama) and a slew of upstarts are primed to enter November undefeated.
But feel-good stories rarely move the icy hearts of bookmakers, and the inspiring stories being written in Cincinnati, East Lansing and Winston-Salem have done little to impact those schools’ odds at the betting window.
That’s why I took a good hard look at Cincinnati, Michigan State and Wake Forest to see if there was any value in backing this trio of party crashers to win it all at Lucas Oil Stadium in mid-January.
Odds as of Wednesday evening and via WynnBET
National Championship Picture
Calabrese: I love Dave Clawson, and his famed slo-mo RPO “Clawfence,” but the Demon Deacons have no chance of knocking off a pair of top-four opponents on a neutral field.
Since 2003, WF has exactly five wins over ranked opponents, with two of those five coming in 2006 during its dream run to the Orange Bowl. Dating back to 2017, Wake is 2-6 against ranked opponents, falling by an average margin of three touchdowns.
The Wake offense is fun as hell this year, but defensively, it’s allowing 437 yards (107th) and 26.3 points per game. And this has come against the 79th-ranked schedule, according to the Sagarin Rankings.
Even grabbing them as a “Field” bet at 80-1 isn’t enough to entice me.
Calabrese: Similarly, Cincinnati’s value at 30-1 doesn’t blow my hair back, solely because it doesn’t control its own destiny.
A scenario in which Alabama defeats Georgia in a close game in Atlanta would likely generate a pair of College Football Playoff tickets for those SEC powers.
That would mean an undefeated Cincinnati team could be on the outside looking in, as Ohio State and a potentially undefeated Oklahoma squeeze in ahead of Cincinnati at the CFP lunch table.
Calabrese: This brings me to Michigan State, sitting at 80-1 at WynnBET.
The Spartans entered the season with zero expectations. And thanks to a stout defense and surprise Heisman candidate at running back, they now have a path all the way to the College Football Playoff.
The schedule also sets up perfectly — or at least as well as a Big Ten East schedule can. They draw Michigan at home this week, then get a pair of manageable opponents (Purdue, Maryland) before traveling to play Ohio State at the Shoe. They close the season against a Penn State team that has been leaking oil due to injuries on both sides of the ball.
Can they navigate this minefield and run the table, including a Big Ten Championship matchup likely to feature the Iowa Hawkeyes? At 80-1, I’m willing to find out.
The Spartans are one of six teams in the nation in the top 18 in both points per play on offense and defense.
Their special teams unit has been flipping field position all season long. Bryce Baringer is seventh nationally at 49.2 yards per punt, and Jayden Reed is far and away the nation’s best punt returner (26.2 ypr, 2 TDs).
And this is all before we even get to their running game, which has been dynamic from the first snap of the season. Pro Football Focus ranks the Green and White front as the 15th-best run-blocking unit, and Kenneth Walker IIII has racked up 997 yards on the ground at a clip of 6.6 yards per carry.
This team is not smoke and mirrors, because they’re winning in a fashion that is repeatable: Run the ball, play great special teams, get to the quarterback and break up passes at a high rate.
Those last two were enough to push me into the Spartan camp. Michigan State registers 3.71 sacks per game, the fifth-best average in all of college football. And when the ball is in the air, it closes out on receivers hard, defending 5.71 per game (10th).
It’s going to take more good fortune in close games, but Michigan State is positioned to make anyone holding an 80-1 ticket look like a genius after this weekend’s rivalry game against Michigan.
Grab MSU now.
Alex Hinton: If you forgot about Wisconsin this season, it would be hard to blame you. The Badgers started off 1-3 and averaged 13.3 PPG in those losses.
However, the Badgers have reeled off three straight wins over Illinois, Army, and Purdue. The beauty of their three losses is that they came against Penn State, Notre Dame, and Michigan — a nonconference loss and two non-divisional losses.
Meanwhile, Iowa’s loss to Purdue gives Wisconsin new life in the Big Ten West race. Wisconsin hosts Iowa this week, and a win will give the Badgers the tiebreaker over Iowa and Purdue.
Now, it’s still hard to trust Wisconsin on offense. The Badgers are still averaging only 24.6 PPG during its three-game winning streak and will be going against the Iowa stingy defense.
However, the Hawkeyes will be without standout cornerback Riley Moss again and struggle scoring on offense themselves.
Iowa ranks 109th in Finishing Drives, 109th in Rushing Success Rate, and 116th in Passing Play Success Rate. Conversely, Wisconsin ranks second in total defense, first in Rushing Success Rate Allowed, and fourth in Passing Success Rate Allowed.
This will probably be a game where the first team to 20 points wins. However, if Wisconsin emerges victorious, it will be in control of the Big Ten West.
With games remaining against Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Minnesota, the Badgers will have a good chance to win out and claim a spot in the Big Ten Championship.
Hinton: There are many that would love to see Cincinnati break through and become the first Group of Five team to crash the CFP.
However, it’s possible the Bearcats don’t even win their own conference.
I know that may sound blasphemous, but there are two other undefeated teams in American play — SMU and Houston. The Mustangs and Cougars will meet this week in Houston.
SMU is 7-0 with a win over TCU this season. It’s backed by one of the most explosive offenses in the country, as the Mustangs are sixth in the country in scoring (42.7 PPG), 10th in passing yards per game, fourth in Passing Success Rate, and seventh in passing play explosiveness.
Houston is a second-half collapse against Texas Tech away from being undefeated itself. Still, the Cougars are 6-1 with a margin of victory of 25 PPG. The Cougars defense will be a formidable test for SMU’s offense, as they rank sixth in Havoc, seventh in both Rushing and Passing Success Rate Allowed, and 14th in scoring defense (17.3 PPG).
Assuming that Cincinnati locks down one of the spots in the AAC Championship game, the winner of this week’s game will have the inside track to face the Bearcats.
Houston has the more favorable remaining schedule, as SMU plays at Cincinnati on Nov. 20 in addition to playing at Houston this week.
You could wait until the AAC title game and bet Houston or SMU as a ML underdog. However, you may get a similar price betting on one of them to win the AAC outright, and you could hedge by betting on Cincinnati in the conference championship game.
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