College football Week 4 betting primer: What's the best play in Tennessee vs. South Carolina?

Sam Cooper

We’ve got ACC, Big 12 and SEC conference games on the board at BetMGM this weekend, friends. 

While that is a very exciting development on the heels of an offseason where we weren’t sure whether college football would be played at all, it’s still a bit strange trying to size up these teams — SEC teams, especially — with no non-conference games to factor into the decision-making process. 

At the same time, I’m hoping my offseason research can provide an advantage before the oddsmakers catch up. It has worked pretty well so far. After last week’s 2-2 mark, my record is 8-5 in this space through three weeks. 

Here’s what I like this week. 

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

UAB at South Alabama

Time: 7:30 p.m. (Thursday) | TV: ESPN | Line: UAB -7.5 | Total: 47.5

There was no Thursday night game last week, so we might as well get things started early this week. I’ve mentioned it twice already this season, so why not a third time? South Alabama has been a covering machine, so I’m going to keep picking the Jaguars until it backfires. 

USA has covered in eight of its last 10 games and is 9-4 ATS as an underdog since the beginning of the 2019 season. That includes a 5-1 mark as a home underdog during that span. USA won outright as a double-digit underdog in its opener against Southern Miss. Two weeks ago, USA closed as a 10.5-point underdog at home against Tulane. It blew a 21-6 lead and lost 27-24, but still comfortably covered the spread. It marked the fifth straight time the Jaguars covered as a double-digit underdog. 

Are you sensing a pattern here? This week, the Jaguars are getting 7.5 points against a UAB team that just lost its starting quarterback to a serious shoulder injury. I like it at over a touchdown now, but watch to see if this line grows in the lead-up to kickoff. You could get even more value. 

Pick: South Alabama +7.5

Georgia Tech at Syracuse

Time: Noon | TV: ESPN3 | Line: Georgia Tech -8.5 | Total: 52.5

Georgia Tech’s 49-21 loss to UCF last week was a much closer game than the final score may indicate. The Knights scored twice in the final 5:30 of regulation to turn a competitive game into a blowout. The Yellow Jackets won’t face anywhere near that kind of offensive firepower against Syracuse, a team that has given up almost as many sacks as points it has scored through two games. 

The Syracuse offense has just been horrible, but the defense has shown some fight. Pitt mustered only 2.9 yards per rush against Syracuse last week, a 21-10 win for the Panthers. I don’t expect Syracuse to beat Georgia Tech on Saturday, and I also don’t expect a blowout, so the under is the play I like most here. 

I’ve got several trends to support my line of thinking here. Since Dino Babers was hired in 2016, the under is 8-4 in games where Syracuse is a home underdog, 22-11-1 in games where Syracuse is an underdog, 21-12-1 in Syracuse’s ACC games, 15-9-1 at the Carrier Dome and 32-18-1 in Syracuse games overall. 

Pick: Under 52.5

Iowa State at TCU

Time: 1:30 p.m. | TV: FS1 | Line: Iowa State -2.5 | Total: 47.5

I like Iowa State to bounce back from a season-opening home loss to Louisiana. ISU quarterback Brock Purdy played one of the worst games of his career and the Cyclones are 15-7 against the spread after a loss during the Matt Campbell era, dating to 2016. Iowa State has also been really strong against the spread in Big 12 play under Campbell with a record of 22-13-1. 

During that same span (since 2016), TCU is 12-25 against the spread in Big 12 play and 5-20 against the spread at home. Additionally, the Horned Frogs are starting Matt Downing, a former walk-on at Georgia, at quarterback in place of Max Duggan. Duggan recently returned to practice, but missed almost all of preseason practice after a heart condition was detected during the program’s COVID-19 testing. 

TCU was supposed to open its season against SMU on Sept. 11, but COVID-19 cases on the TCU team caused the game to be postponed. That’s just another factor against the Horned Frogs. 

Pick: Iowa State -2.5

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy (15) struggled in the Cyclones' loss to Louisiana. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy (15) struggled in the Cyclones' loss to Louisiana. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

No. 22 Army at No. 14 Cincinnati

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Cincinnati -14 | Total: 47

Army has been dominant so far this season, outscoring Middle Tennessee and UL Monroe by a combined margin of 79-7 en route to a 2-0 start. A trip to Cincinnati to face one of the AAC’s top teams will be a much tougher test, but the two-touchdown spread here surprised me. 

Army has been strong as an underdog under Jeff Monken, especially in the last five years. During that span, the Black Knights are 4-1 ATS vs. ranked opponents, 12-8 ATS as an underdog and 8-5 ATS as a road underdog. 

The trends are even stronger for the under in Army games during Monken’s tenure: 8-0 vs. ranked opponents, 24-11 as an underdog, 13-6 as a road underdog and 9-4 after a bye week. Forty-seven is a fairly low number, but that’s my play for this one, though the +14 is tempting, too. 

Pick: Under 47

No. 16 Tennessee at South Carolina

Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: SECN | Line: Tennessee -3.5 | Total: 46

I’m a little leery about playing a game between two teams that have not played yet this season, but I think I have a good feel for this SEC East matchup. 

South Carolina, coming off a 4-8 season in which it was 104th in scoring offense, has a new offensive coordinator and quarterback in place without much returning production at skill positions. Tennessee has a really good offensive line, but has its own questions to answer at the skill positions. Simply put, both teams are stronger on defense.

Tennessee is a road favorite for the first time in the Jeremy Pruitt era. The Vols have been strong against the spread under Pruitt (9-7 in SEC play, 6-2 on the road), except when favored. They are just 3-6 as favorites. I think the Vols are the better team, but I feel more comfortable with, you guessed it, the under. During the Pruitt era, the under is 7-1 in Tennessee road games, 6-3 in games where UT is the favorite and 10-6 in UT’s SEC games overall. 

The under has also been a common theme of Will Muschamp’s time at South Carolina: 21-11 in SEC games, 16-13 when USC is the underdog and 9-7 when USC is facing a ranked opponent. 

Pick: Under 46

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