College Football’s Rivalry Week Gambling Locks

It’s rivalry week in college football and the schedule is stacked with marquee matchups such as The Game, the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, and the annual USC-Notre Dame showdown.

No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (11-0) at No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0)

The Game headlines rivalry week. Michigan tries to break a nine-game losing streak at The Horseshoe when it visits Ohio State for a noon ET kickoff Saturday.

The winner will represent the Big Ten East in the conference championship and will most likely appear in the College Football Playoff.

Michigan beat Ohio State 42-27 at The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan last season en route to its first College Football Playoff appearance under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

I’m not seeing how Ohio State is more than a TD-favorite over Michigan. If I cannot explain a spread, the next thing to do is look at the betting splits. And …

Michigan appears to be the ‘sharper’ side in ‘The Game’

OSU opened as 9-point favorites and has been lowered down to the current number (Ohio State -8) even though a majority of the action is on the Buckeyes.

Per Pregame.com, roughly 60% of the action is on Ohio State in the consensus market at the time of writing. It’s a red flag whenever the sportsbooks make the more popular team cheaper.

Also, Pinnacle Sportsbook (Pinny) has the Buckeyes as a 7.5-point favorite currently, a half-point off the market price. Pinny is considered one of the sharpest oddsmakers since it books the largest sports bets in the world.

Furthermore, when you dig into the underlying stats of both teams this appears to be a …

Coin-flip matchup

There’s not a lot separating these two teams. The Buckeyes are second in the nation in net expected points added per play (EPA/play) differential. The Wolverines are third. Michigan is second in net success rate while Ohio State is third.

Both teams have probable Heisman Trophy finalists in Michigan RB Blake Corum and Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud. Granted, Corum exited Michigan’s previous game vs. Illinois with a knee injury but he insisted he’d be ready to play Saturday.

Michigan Wolverines RB Blake Corum carries the ball in the third quarter of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Michigan Wolverines RB Blake Corum carries the ball in the third quarter of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. (David Berding/Getty Images)

The further OSU gets from the Urban Meyer era, the less confident I am in the Buckeyes. Ohio State coach Ryan Day has been awesome since taking over the program full-time in 2019. However, Meyer is one of the greatest college football coaches ever.

I’d go as far as to say that Harbaugh is now the Big Ten’s best coach. The Wolverines beating the Buckeyes last year wasn’t a fluke but a sign of things to come in my opinion. In this toss-up game, gimme the better coach and the better defense plus the points.

Rivalry Week Best Bet #1: Michigan +8 (-110) at DraftKings Sportsbook, down to +7

The Michigan Wolverines' odds at the Ohio State Buckeyes from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, November 25th at 8:30 p.m. ET.
The Michigan Wolverines’ odds at the Ohio State Buckeyes from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, November 25th at 8:30 p.m. ET.

No. 13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-3) at No. 5 USC Trojans (10-1)

Two first-year head coaches square off Saturday when Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans host Marcus Freeman’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday.

My Notre Dame-USC handicap boils down to Riley being one of the best coaches in the country while Freeman is unproven.

Riley led Oklahoma to four Big XII conference championships in his five seasons coaching the Sooners. Whereas the Fighting Irish is Freeman’s first head coaching gig.

More importantly, the Trojans are the much more efficient squad. Southern California has a higher net yards per play and net EPA/play. USC has higher net third-down conversion red zone scoring rates than Notre Dame.

Trojans QB Caleb Williams followed Riley from Norman, Oklahoma to southern California and should be a Heisman Trophy finalist as well.

USC Trojans QB Caleb Williams during the first half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona.
USC Trojans QB Caleb Williams during the first half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona. (Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Williams has a 33/3 TD/INT ratio, ranks ninth nationally in best passer efficiency rating (167.6), and sixth in adjusted air yards per attempt (10.4).

Also, this is a profitable spot historically for Riley. Oklahoma was 4-1 ATS as favorites of -5 or less in Riley’s tenure (2017-21).

USC covered in its only game as a favorite of -5 or less last week by beating the UCLA Bruins 48-45 as 2-point road favorites.

Finally, the sports betting expressions public ‘dogs get slaughtered applies in Notre Dame-USC. Per VSIN, DraftKings Sportsbooks says more than 70% of the money is on the Fighting Irish at the time of writing. Let’s get on the same side as the “House” since the public generally loses in this racket.

Rivalry Week Best Bet #2: USC -4.5 (-110) at DraftKings Sportsbook, up to -5

The USC Trojans' odds vs. the Notre Dame Fighting Irish from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, November 25th at 9:10 p.m. ET.
The USC Trojans’ odds vs. the Notre Dame Fighting Irish from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, November 25th at 9:10 p.m. ET.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4) at Wisconsin Badgers (6-5)

Wisconsin hosts Minnesota at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff in their annual meeting for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The Badgers lead college football’s longest-running rivalry over the Golden Gophers 62-61-8.

If Minnesota fifth-year senior QB Tanner Morgan can return from his three-game injury-related absence then I love the Golden Gophers plus the points here.

However, I’m betting on Morgan coming back for his final Minnesota-Wisconsin game because the Golden Gophers are taking sharp action.

For instance, DraftKings is reporting via VSIN that the total bets are split nearly 50/50 but almost two-thirds of the cash is on Minnesota as of Friday night.

Minnesota Golden Gophers QB Tanner Morgan throws a pass in the 1st quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin.
Minnesota Golden Gophers QB Tanner Morgan throws a pass in the 1st quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The reason why the professionals are backing the Golden Gophers is that Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck is profitable in these spots. The Golden Gophers have the Big Ten’s best cover rate since Fleck took over the football program in 2017 at 38-28-3 ATS.

Not only that but Minnesota is the far more efficient team. The Golden Gophers rank 12th in net drive efficiency (per Football Outsiders) and fifth in net success rate. The Badgers are 43rd in net drive efficiency and 34th in net success rate.

Also, Minnesota has covered three of five meetings with Wisconsin since 2017 and 26-23-2 ATS in conference play whereas the Badgers are 24-28 ATS vs. Big Ten teams over that span.

Lastly, the underdog is 10-4-1 ATS in the last 15 Minnesota-Wisconsin games and the road team is 6-1-1 ATS in their last eight meetings.

Rivalry Week Best Bet #3: Minnesota +3 (+100) at DraftKings Sportsbook

The Minnesota Golden Gophers' odds at the Wisconsin Badgers from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, November 25th at 9:30 p.m. ET.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers’ odds at the Wisconsin Badgers from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, November 25th at 9:30 p.m. ET.

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Written by Geoff Clark

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