Spread Options: College football Week 5 picks against the spread

We're a month into the season and it's time to dive full-on into conference play where we'll subsequently learn a whole lot more about the quality — or lack thereof — of these teams.

I've had a strong season thus far and am coming off another winning week despite my worst pick of the season — Michigan State +3 versus Minnesota. Let's try to avoid stinkers like that this week with these eight plays.

Last week: 4-3

Overall: 20-10

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM.)

Tulane at Houston

Time: 7 p.m. (Fri) | TV: ESPN | Line: UH -2.5 | Total: 54.5

Tulane upset Kansas State in Manhattan in Week 3 and then lost 27-24 at home last week to Southern Miss. Tulane had an early 14-0 lead and out-gained USM by nearly 200 yards (451 to 253) but still lost. In the loss, Tulane was a combined 7-of-19 on third and fourth down, missed two field goals and threw a costly pick-six in the fourth quarter.

The Green Wave will be much sharper as they open AAC play on Friday night versus Houston. Houston has been one of the most disappointing teams of the first month of the season, particularly on defense. UH has struggled getting off the field on third down and is the most-penalized team in the country.

I expect Tulane to put up a bunch of points in this one, especially with UH dealing with some injuries in the secondary. At the same time, I think Houston will be able to score enough points against a Tulane defense that has not faced a single team with an average passing offense.

These teams have combined to average 70.3 points per game in their last three meetings, so I think this over hits pretty easily.

Pick: Over 54.5

No. 15 Washington at UCLA

Time: 10:30 p.m. (Fri) | TV: ESPN | Line: UW -3 | Total: 65.5

Washington is off to an impressive 4-0 start in its first season under Kalen DeBoer but has its first road test of the season on Friday night against UCLA. The Huskies have been excellent on offense to this point in the season with QB Michael Penix Jr. looking reinvigorated after an injury-plagued run at Indiana.

I think this Washington offense will travel, but I’m not willing to lay the points with the Huskies because I still have some questions about the defense. Stanford, despite missing some key pieces on offense, moved the ball pretty consistently against the Huskies last week but had three costly turnovers.

UCLA will be the best offense Washington has faced this season by a significant margin. During Chip Kelly’s time with the Bruins, the over is 7-4 when UCLA is a home underdog and 9-2-1 vs. ranked opponents.

Pick: Over 65.5

New Mexico at UNLV

Time: 11 p.m. (Fri) | TV: CBSSN | Line: UNLV -14 | Total: 43.5

There aren’t many teams that would make me feel comfortable laying 14 with UNLV. New Mexico is one of them. UNM is averaging 3.36 yards per play in its three games versus FBS opponents this season. The Lobos picked up a win over UTEP a few weeks ago, but UTEP had a whopping seven turnovers in that game so it was a bit of a misleading result.

UNLV has just one turnover this season and is actually coming off a little bit of an uneven offensive performance in a road win over Utah State last week. UNLV is a much-improved team and I think there is blowout potential here with New Mexico playing on a short week coming off a 38-0 road loss to LSU.

Pick: UNLV -14

No. 18 Oklahoma at TCU

Time: Noon | TV: ABC | Line: OU -6.5 | Total: 68.5

Oklahoma had 550 yards of offense, but the Sooners left points on the table in last week’s loss to Kansas State. Dillon Gabriel missed a few open receivers on deep balls, OU had 11 penalties and the Sooners were just 4-of-13 on third down. I think OU will be much sharper this weekend on the road against TCU. TCU’s defense is nowhere near as good as Kansas State’s, so Oklahoma is going to move the ball with ease.

TCU is coming off a win over rival SMU in what was a highly anticipated matchup. Sonny Dykes, the new TCU coach, left SMU to take the job with the Horned Frogs. Even with OU coming to town, it feels like a little bit of a letdown spot for TCU. The Horned Frogs can move the ball, but they’ve faced three terrible defenses to this point in the season. OU is better than it showed last week and it still took a career performance from Adrian Martinez for K-State to pull off the upset in Norman.

Oklahoma is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games versus TCU and is 7-2-1 ATS in its last 10 games as a single-digit road favorite. TCU has been terrible ATS at home in recent seasons, too. Since 2016, the Horned Frogs are an astounding 11-27-1 ATS at home. Sure that came under Gary Patterson, but it shows how much the oddsmakers overvalue the Horned Frogs on the whole.

Pick: Oklahoma -6.5

Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) looks for a receiver against Kansas State in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)
Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) looks for a receiver against Kansas State in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)

Texas Tech at No. 25 Kansas State

Time: Noon | TV: ESPN+ | Line: KSU -7.5 | Total: 57.5

Both Texas Tech and Kansas State are coming off emotional wins. TTU upset Texas at home while Kansas State upset Oklahoma on the road. I would not be shocked at all to see both teams get off to sleepy starts for an 11 a.m. local kickoff in Manhattan, leading to a lower scoring game.

For Kansas State, the splits are pretty clear. K-State likes to run the ball and play a low-scoring, ball control game when it can. That’s been very evident in games KSU is expected to win. Since Chris Klieman became head coach in 2019, the under is 14-5 when K-State is the favorite, including a 10-4 mark when K-State is the home favorite. Conversely, the over is 11-9 during that span when K-State is the underdog.

I think this one stays under, especially against a Texas Tech team whose offense I think is a bit inflated based on a wild double-overtime win over Houston and going an unsustainable 6-of-8 on fourth down versus Texas.

Pick: Under 57.5

Illinois at Wisconsin

Time: Noon | TV: BTN | Line: UW -7 | Total: 43.5

Bret Bielema would love to go into Madison and get a win over his old team. I really think Illinois could win this game, but I’m more comfortable playing the total. Both of these teams play with a pretty slow tempo and are going to lean on the run game — Wisconsin with Braelon Allen and Illinois with Chase Brown.

Allen has hit a few big runs, but he hasn’t been that great on a down-to-down basis. Illinois has one of the most underrated defenses in the country. If the Illini can key in on Allen and make Graham Mertz win the game with his arm, the Badgers won’t have too much success. On the other side, I still trust Jim Leonhard and the Wisconsin defense despite the butt-kicking that occurred at Ohio State last week.

During Bielema’s time at Illinois, the under is 8-1-1 in games where the Illini is an underdog. And over the last three seasons, the under is 8-4-1 when Wisconsin is a home favorite.

Pick: Under 43.5

Illinois head coach Bret Bielema watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Illinois head coach Bret Bielema watches during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, in Bloomington, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Navy at Air Force

Time: Noon | TV: CBS | Line: AFA -14 | Total: 37.5

It’s two service academies. They both run the option, meaning they run the ball almost exclusively. They know how to defend one another. The clock moves. The scores are low. You should know the drill by now.

For this matchup specifically, the under is 14-5-1 in their previous 20 meetings. I don’t care how low the number is. The under is an automatic play.

Pick: Under 37.5

Cal at Washington State

Time: 5:30 p.m. | TV: P12 | Line: WSU -4 | Total: 53.5

On the heels of a heartbreaking loss to Oregon and with a trip to USC on the horizon, I think there’s a very good chance that Washington State will overlook Cal in this spot.

WSU had Oregon on the ropes and led 34-22 with under five minutes to play. But the Cougars blew that lead in a game where they allowed 624 yards to Bo Nix and the Oregon offense. And if it weren’t for some red zone ineptitude early from Oregon, it would have been a much different game script.

The Cougars have been a boom or bust team on defense this year. They lead the nation in tackles for loss (37) and are tied for fifth in sacks (14), but 65% of those TFLs came against Idaho and Colorado State and all 14 of the sacks came in those same two games. Offensively, QB Cam Ward is a dynamic talent but he’s very erratic and mistake-prone. Under Justin Wilcox, Cal has the type of defensive approach that can lead to some mistakes. In fact, Cal is plus-5 in turnover margin this year while WSU is minus-2.

During Wilcox’s tenure, Cal is 21-9-1 ATS as an underdog with a 13-5 ATS mark as a road underdog. And in the Golden Bears’ last six games as a road underdog of a touchdown or less, they are 5-1 ATS with four outright wins.

Pick: Cal +4