College football Week 12 best underdog bets, picks and predictions: Gamecocks "sandstorm" their way to victory
The Florida Gators spoiled what would have been yet another winning week for us when they yielded a late 4th-quarter touchdown to LSU, missing the cover by less than a field goal. After last week’s 1-2 result we are still 20-12-1 with our underdog picks through 11 weeks of the college football regular season. With just 2 weeks remaining, there is little time to waste – so let’s get right to the picks!
Army Black Knights +4.5 (-110) over Coastal Carolina
If you’ve been following every week, you know we picked Army plus the points 2 weeks ago against Air Force. Needless to say, that was a fairly successful pick – as the Black Knights didn’t even need the 18 points they were spotted by oddsmakers. Army benefited from 6 total Air Force turnovers, including 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. The Black Knights took advantage of their short-field situations, led 23-3 at half and neither team scored for the rest of the game. Following that win, Army secured a 17-14 victory over Holy Cross and will now host Coastal Carolina with a chance to earn bowl eligibility if it wins its final 2 games. Coastal Carolina is already bowl-eligible at 7-3. The Chanticleers have won 5 straight despite Grayson McCall being in and out of the lineup due to injury, but this figures to be a tough spot for them – on the road against a non-conference opponent with Sun Belt powerhouse James Madison on deck. At the moment, James Madison is still ineligible to play in the Sun Belt title game, so Coastal Carolina controls its own destiny in getting to the championship game with a win over the Dukes next week.
McCall will not play in this game and there’s a chance that backup quarterback Jarrett Quest won’t either, so that means third-string quarterback Ethan Vasko could get the call. Whether it’s Quest or Vasko, production at the quarterback position will not be as reliable without the veteran McCall, which figures to lead to some miscues on the road. Coastal’s run defense is the biggest concern in this matchup, though. Army is extremely run-heavy with its option offense, and the ‘Chants have been anemic stopping opposing rushers. For reference, Coastal is 71st in PFF’s run defense grade, 103rd in PPA per rush allowed and 95th in rush success allowed. Furthermore, the Chanticleers are 85th in standard-down PPA defensively, which means Army should be able to put itself in very manageable situations on third and fourth down. This is a tricky spot for Coastal in a non-conference game that does not particularly matter for its post-season aspirations. Give me Army down to +3.
Houston Cougars +7 (-110) over Oklahoma State Cowboys
Houston’s offense has been hit or miss, but I still like the Cougars catching a full touchdown at home. Oklahoma State’s defense hasn’t been particularly good in recent weeks. The Cowboys are 101st in defensive PPA since Week 6 and have bottom-25 marks in total opportunities and explosives allowed in that time. For reference, Houston’s offense is top 40 in explosiveness and points per opportunity since the beginning of October, so I expect quarterback Donovan Smith to be able to find wide receivers Sam Brown and Joe Manjack IV for big plays against Oklahoma State’s secondary – which is outside the top 65 in success rate and outside the top 80 in PPA per pass in the last 6 weeks.
It is always tough to quantify motivation in collegiate sports, but I am not sure how motivated Oklahoma State is to finish the season against 3 Big 12 newcomers in UCF, Houston and BYU after what was a very emotional win over Oklahoma in the final instalment of the Bedlam series – especially given the Cowboys are bowl-eligible despite a questionable start to the season. In fact, questionable motivation was already evident last week against UCF when the Cowboys scored just 3 points in a 42-point loss in Orlando. The Knights outgained the Cowboys 592-277 while averaging 5.7 yards per rush and 15.7 yards per pass. I expect a better showing from Oklahoma State this week, but give me the Cougars – who are still fighting for bowl eligibility.
South Carolina Gamecocks +2 (-112) over Kentucky Wildcats
I will preface this by saying I am an alum of South Carolina, but that doesn’t mean I auto-bet the Gamecocks every week. In fact, that’s hardly the truth. However, I do know the magic of Williams-Brice Stadium, specifically at night, and the magnitude of this game for not only the players but the fans. The Gamecocks dominated this series for a decade in the early 2000s, but the dynamic of this (dare I say) rivalry took a dramatic shift when the Wildcats upset the Gamecocks in 2010 following South Carolina’s infamous home upset over Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson’s Alabama. Ever since that win, Kentucky holds a 7-5 edge over South Carolina. In fact, Mark Stoops is 6-3 against Cocky during his tenure in Lexington.
None of that info is necessarily actionable for this game on Saturday night, but it provides intangible information that sets the stage for what will absolutely be an intense, loud and passionate environment in Columbia, South Carolina – an atmosphere in which the Gamecocks thrive. The Gamecocks seem to have a decent quarterback advantage with Spencer Rattler, who completes about 13% more of his passes than Devin Leary, and has 5 fewer turnover-worth plays according to PFF. Furthermore, Rattler has faced far more pressure than Leary, yet completes 18.5% more of his passes and has 4 fewer turnover-worthy plays in these scenarios with a PFF passer grade nearly 17 points higher. For what it’s worth, Leary leads the SEC in interceptions and turnover-worthy plays overall, while Kentucky’s top 3 pass-catchers make up half of the 6 wide receivers with the highest drop rates in the SEC.
Defensively, Kentucky is 122nd in havoc created since Week 6, which is good news for a South Carolina offense that can be clumsy at times. The Wildcats are 119th in PPA per pass and 133rd in pass success rate allowed in recent weeks, in addition to being 119th in points per opportunity allowed in non-garbage time since the beginning of October. Meanwhile, South Carolina is 24th in points per opportunity with top 35 marks in both PPA per pass and pass success rate in that time. Admittedly, Kentucky’s schedule has been a bit more difficult than South Carolina’s of late, but the Wildcats are already bowl-eligible coming off a disappointing loss against Alabama in their final home game of the season before a meeting with their in-state rival Louisville next week. South Carolina needs 2 wins to earn bowl eligibility, and I certainly expect them to utilize the passion of the fans, the elusiveness of running back Mario Anderson, and the sure hands of Xavier Legette to lead them to victory over Kentucky. Take whatever points you can get for insurance, but I expect the Gamecocks to come out on top on Saturday night in Columbia.
Check out all the college football odds and lines for this week’s games