College Football Betting Guide: Saturday 11/21/20

Where is the betting value in the de facto Big Ten semifinal game between Wisconsin and Northwestern?

After an anti-climactic slate last week, this Saturday is loaded with three ranked matchups as well as some potential trap games, like Cincinnati vs. Central Florida. There are two games in particular that stand out this week: a matchup that could essentially decide the Big Ten West Division and a game featuring the only Division I team yet to play a game.

numberFire has built comprehensive algorithms to pinpoint the bets with the highest probability of returning money, whether you are betting on the total, the spread, or the moneyline. For those new to numberFire, we use a five-star system to show which bets you should be targeting for any given game. Stars represent how much you should risk on a wager relative to what you would normally bet.

For example, if you would normally bet $110 to win $100 on a -110-spread wager, if we give a 3-star ranking, we suggest risking three times that amount: $330 to win $300. Here are the best bets for this weekend with guidance from our model.

Please note that lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you are seeing the most updated information.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Northwestern Wildcats

Wisconsin -8.5: 2-Star Rating out of 5

The Badgers returned in a major way last week with a historical beatdown of Michigan in the Big House on primetime. Wisconsin is poised to be a Big Ten contender; they’re now 2-0 and first in fewest yards allowed per game this season. Meanwhile, Northwestern has had an impressive start of their own. Unlike Wisconsin, they’ve managed to play and win all of their scheduled games, with victories against solid teams like Iowa, Nebraska, and Purdue.

The Wildcats also have a great defense, ranking 10th in the nation in fewest yards allowed per game. However, they haven’t faced a complete offense with the same caliber of quarterback as Wisconsin with Graham Mertz. Mertz is eighth in QBR this year according to ESPN, and while he completed less than 60% of his passes against Michigan, he’s thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Wisconsin has a great weapon for Mertz to throw to, as well, in tight end Jake Ferguson, who is one of the best NFL prospects at his position. Mertz, Ferguson, and the Badgers’ passing attack will be key to a Wisconsin victory because Northwestern is better suited on defense against the run than the pass.

Wisconsin has a 62.54% likelihood to cover the spread, according to our model. It’s also worth noting that the spread opened at -7.0 or -7.5 at most sportsbooks but has since crept up to -7.5 and -8.5 with the Badgers favored. Wisconsin has 83% of the bets and 78% of the money bet on this game, according to oddsFire, which suggests that the sharps and squares agree that the Badgers should continue to roll on Saturday.

USC Trojans vs. Utah Utes

Utah +2.5: 4-Star Rating out of 5

USC has escaped with a win in each of their first two games this season; the Trojans had a highly improbable win against Arizona State by erasing a 13-point deficit in under four minutes and then scored the winning touchdown at Arizona with about 30 seconds left to go. Utah has yet to play a game due to COVID cancellations, so they’ll have only four games played by the end of the season without any further cancellations.

This projects to be an offensive battle with both teams ranking within the top 20 in offensive SP+, according to ESPN.

USC has a solid quarterback-wide receiver duo with Kedon Slovis (71.4% completion percentage with three touchdowns and one interception) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (15.2 yards per catch on 14 receptions).

The Utes’ offense is more centered around their offensive lineman, three of which were selected to the preseason all-Pac-12 teams along with future NFL tight end Brant Kuithe. Utah’s line is experienced, and last season, they ranked fifth in offensive opportunity rate (per Football Outsiders), which is the percentage of carries that gain at least four yards.

While Utah’s defense is inexperienced, they project to have a better defense than USC (per SP+), and the Utes’ offense is more suited to gain yards against the Trojans’ defense, whose line ranks 88th in defensive opportunity rate.

Utah has a 70.11% probability to cover the number against USC, according to our model. Assuming this game is played, Utah is in a good position to hand USC their first loss if they can slow the pace of the game and take advantage of their offensive line’s mismatch.