College Football Betting Guide: Saturday 12/5/20

Saturday’s slate has some intriguing matchups from a betting perspective, but the coronavirus still lingers with two Big Ten games cancelled, including one featuring a certain numberFire contributor's beloved Wolverines. However, this week has playoff implications with Alabama, Clemson, and Texas A&M all playing away from home against capable teams. In what should be another exciting week of college football, let’s get to the biggest games where our model has found betting value.

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.

Clemson Tigers vs. Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia Tech +22.5: 3-Star Rating out of 5

Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers seem to be firing on all cylinders again after a big win over Pittsburgh, while Virginia Tech has lost three in a row, including a blowout against the Panthers. These are teams on opposite trajectories, but Clemson has to win by more than three touchdowns to cover the spread. Despite having a losing record, Virginia Tech ranks 20th in SP+ and 30th in FPI, according to ESPN.

Three of the Hokies’ five losses have been within one possession, and their offense has gained an average of 450 yards per game this season. Virginia Tech’s rushing offense has been the anchor of their attack; they have gained more yards on the ground per game than any Power 5 team that has played more than one game (Arizona State outgained the Hokies’ average in the one game they’ve played). Running back Khalil Herbert has gained 8.2 yards per carry, and quarterback Hendon Hooker has been effective, too, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. Together, they have combined for more than 1,500 of the 2,258 yards gained on the ground by Tech this year.

Clemson has a great rushing defense, similar to Pittsburgh, whom Virginia Tech struggled against, but the Panthers have allowed fewer line yards per carry than the Tigers, according to Football Outsiders. The Hokies' rushing attack should give Clemson problems on standard downs, where they rank second in the nation in line yards per carry. That should allow Virginia Tech to have shorter distances to gain on third downs, which can help them move the chains consistently. Defensively, the Hokies have been bad against the run, but they are ranked 16th in sack rate and have been especially good on standard downs, which means Clemson could be facing longer third downs on offense.

The Tigers are highly likely to win this game -- a probability of 91.8%, per our model -- but if Virginia Tech can make standard downs difficult, both on offense with a consistent run game and on defense with an effective pass rush, they could make this game closer than expected. Our model gives the Hokies a likelihood of 63.14% to cover, which isn’t too much to ask of a team that is clearly better than their record indicates.

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State -6.5: 2-Star Rating out of 5

Matt Campbell has the Cyclones on the brink of their first conference title since 1912, and it is due to the balance on his roster. Their offense has been solid behind quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall. The offensive line deserves credit for keeping Purdy upright, as well, allowing a sack rate of just 3.4%. The Cyclones have a good defense, particularly against the run, allowing just 108.6 rushing yards per game.

The Mountaineers have their work cut out for them on offense as they rank just 75th per SP+. West Virginia’s biggest strength has been their defense as they have allowed the fewest passing yards per game this season. Iowa State should have no problem containing the Mountaineers’ offense, but Purdy and company will need to be efficient to offset West Virginia’s elite pass defense. Iowa State will likely look to lean on Hall to set up short third-down situations and limit obvious passing downs. If the Cyclones can keep West Virginia guessing on defense, they should have no problem winning and covering.

Our model gives Iowa State a probability of 59.6% to cover the spread, and it’s on the right side of the key number seven for Cyclone bettors. Of bets being placed on the spread, 68% of the bets and 83% of the money has been on Iowa State, according to oddsFire, and the difference between the bet and money percentages is likely a result of sharp money on the Cyclones. Typically, professional bettors place larger amounts than casual bettors, so when there is a discrepancy in bets and money placed on a team, it could be a signal that the pros are on the side where the monetary proportion is higher. Bettors should follow the sharp signal and lay the points on Saturday.