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January 21, 2021

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of every game

Tulane Amare Jones


Tulane running back Amare Jones, left, congratulates wide receiver Darnell Mooney after he caught a touchdown pass against Navy during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Annapolis.

This is probably a bad idea.

With uncertainty on preparedness, stakes and even players’ availability, college football has never been more difficult to handicap than amid the current global pandemic. And yet, people are going to bet it anyway so I might as well handicap it.

After much deliberation, for the third straight year, Talking Points’ series picking every Football Bowl Subdivision game is back. The first two seasons were profitable and the final tally on last season was 412-340-19 — 68-62-4 on plays, 112-71-3 on leans and 232-207-12 on guesses.

It’s going to be difficult to keep up this season — and yes, I already missed a small set of games last week — but here’s to taking on the challenge.

Read below for betting picks and analysis on every college football game this week, labeled with one of three confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

Syracuse +23.5 at North Carolina, over/under: 65.5. North Carolina is the most popular bet on the board — who saw that coming to open the Power Five college football season? — and it’s partially justified given all it returns including sophomore quarterback Sam Howell. The Tar Heels would have been the lean at the opening price of -19, but a 4.5-point swing is a little much for a team that overachieved a season ago. Guess: Syracuse +23.5.

Louisiana +11.5 at Iowa State, over/under: 57.5. This is a big game for Talking Points considering it’s between two teams that were recently honored in our annual College Football Betting Awards. And that should be telling: It’s not wise to fade either side given how well-coached they both are and how often they eclipse market expectations. Guess: Iowa State -11.5.

Charlotte +17 at Appalachian State, over/under: 59. Charlotte’s Will Healy is a rising star in the coaching ranks and was able to replenish what the 49ers lost last season with a bunch of transfers including productive Northern Illinois running back Tre Harbison. Appalachian State is a perennial Group of Five power at this point but adjusting to its third coach in three years in Shawn Clark, who’s never previously served as more than an offensive line coach. Play: Charlotte +17.

Arkansas State +10 at Kansas State, over/under: 54.5. Kansas State coach Chris Klieman did a remarkable job to get the Wildcats to 8-4 straight-up, 9-3 against the spread upon taking over a barren roster last season. Now he’s got an experienced core including quarterback Skylar Thompson, who should make for a big edge against an Arkansas State team still juggling two passers. Play: Kansas State -10.

Louisiana-Monroe +21 at Army, over/under: 54.5. I’ll come clean: I bet against Army as a small favorite last week and they proceeded to beat Middle Tennessee 42-0. That’s still only one game, though, and without it, this spread would likely be significantly lower. Guess: Louisiana-Monroe +21.

Duke +20 at Notre Dame, over/under: 54. Notre Dame returns a bundle of production on offense including quarterback Ian Book and most of a talented offensive line that should neutralize Duke’s best unit (its defensive line). It’s hard to see the Blue Devils keeping up in a potential shootout. Lean: Notre Dame -20.

Georgia Tech +12.5 at Florida State, over/under: 52. Consider the under as both teams have more impact players on the defensive side of the ball. Assuming a low-scoring game, the points become more valuable. Guess: Georgia Tech +12.5.

UTSA +9.5 at Texas State, over/under: 58.5. UTSA ranks in the top half in the nation in returning production, per S&P+. Texas State ranks in the bottom 12 and looked every bit that sloppy in a 31-24 loss to SMU last week. Lean: UTSA +9.5.

Clemson -32.5 at Wake Forest, over/under: 60. This almost certainly closes higher because no one is going to want to bet against Clemson, and why should they? The Tigers beat the Demon Deacons by a combined 115-6 the last two seasons. Lean: Clemson -32.5.

Tulane -9 at South Alabama, over/under: 52.5. Tulane’s tricky option offense and shutdown pass defense makes it a nightmare matchup for South Alabama. Look for sophomore running back Tyjae Spears to run wild. Play: Tulane -9.

UTEP +43 at Texas, over/under: 58.5. Ah, another season, another bout of “Texas is back!” optimism. There will be places to act on such cynicism later, but not here against one of the consistently worst programs in FBS. Guess: Texas -43.

Western Kentucky +11.5 at Louisville, over/under: 58. The Cardinals torched the Hilltoppers by 17 points last year as 10-point favorites and return virtually all of their key pieces on offense. Western Kentucky, meanwhile, loses most of its skill players and faces regression after going 4-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Lean: Louisville -11.5.

Coastal Carolina +7 at Kansas, over/under: 56.5. Coastal Carolina won in Lawrence, Kansas last year, and there’s once again not much separating these teams’ statistical profiles. The Chanticleers also got in a full spring-practice schedule while the Jayhawks only recently started preparing for the season. Play: Coastal Carolina +7.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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