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College Football Betting: Early look at CFB Week 12 based on PFF's predictive models

Oct 31, 2020; Auburn, Alabama, USA; LSU Tigers quarterback TJ Finley (11) looks for a receiver against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

We're about to be treated to a jam-packed Week 12 college football slate, with football on every night of the week. A total of 63 games are currently on tap this week, with MACtion providing early-week relief.

Twenty-three of PFF's top 25 teams are scheduled to play, with three games between top-25 teams set to take place. We have a quality showdown between two of the ACC's top teams and several profitable betting opportunities to get excited about, making Week 12 one of the best weeks of the 2020 college football season so far.

First, let's understand the slate-level uncertainty by utilizing a measure called Shannon Entropy (information theory). This theory quantifies information occurring in an event and a variable — entropy — calculated using probability. By taking this approach, we can quantify how predictable a certain game or slate of games is by taking the probability assigned by the betting markets through moneyline probabilities.

Week 12 has the third-highest entropy of the 2020 season, sitting between the median and third quartile. A number of games are projected to be close, with 11 games featuring an implied win probability of 60% or less for the favorite.

Historically, Week 12 has a significant drop-off from previous weeks, which only rises once we get to conference championship week. However, the 2020 season hasn’t tracked with historical numbers, as schedule shifts don’t allow a comparison.

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Last week’s writeup lost one written play due to Covid, while Virginia Tech failed to hang on against Miami, despite leading by two scores in the fourth quarter. My written plays ended at 1-1, with derivative bets going 1-2 to move to 18-11-1 on the season. These plays are discussed on the Saturday morning edition of the PFF Daily Betting Podcast

We now sit at 59-61-1 on written full-game plays over the past two college football seasons. Let’s take a close look at some of my favorite bets to make from a PFF Greenline perspective for Week 12's slate of games.

LSU TIGERS @ ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

To say that LSU has fallen from grace would be quite the understatement. The Tigers currently rank 94th in PFF's opponent-adjusted passing grade, which is as far removed from Joe Burrow’s historically good season as you can get. T.J. Finley has posted the worst PFF passing grade among LSU quarterbacks in 2020 while maintaining the lowest average depth of target (aDot). Entering Week 12, 23% of his throws have received a negative grade, which is the worst rate among starting quarterbacks in the SEC.

The quarterback issues are out in the open for all to see, making them not only obvious to the viewer but also priced into the current line. In fact, LSU's struggles have actually caused the line to become overcorrected, according to our predictive models.

Our Elo rankings have LSU as the fourth-best team in the SEC, with the Razorbacks six spots below. Given this differential, LSU should be over a field-goal favorite against Arkansas. The reason they aren’t, outside of the quarterback position, is Arkansas' 6-1 record against the spread — the Razorbacks are everyone’s favorite under-the-radar betting play.

Arkansas has received 65% of the tickets, despite only 26% of the cash being on their side. This indicates that the majority of big bettors are actually targeting the road favorite in this matchup. Typically this isn’t the general lean of the sharp side of the betting market, which validates why this is the correct side.

This makes for the perfect opportunity to buy low on an underperforming LSU team while simultaneously selling high on a team that is being overvalued by the betting market. This is the year 2020, so this can quickly go sideways, but laying the points with the better team is the correct approach in this matchup.

PICK: LSU  -2.5

Nov 14, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; UCF Knights wide receiver Jaylon Robinson (1) and receiver Marlon Williams (6) celebrate a touchdown during the second half against the Temple Owls at the Bounce House. Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI BEARCATS @ UCF KNIGHTS

The top two ranked teams in the AAC face off in this one, with UCF trying to play spoiler to Cincinnati’s perfect season. Cincinnati is also almost perfect against the spread this season, which helps to explain the early-week line movement. This has been driven by 96% of the cash and tickets on the Bearcats, causing the spread to move from +3 to 5.5.

Our model sees the opening number as the correct spread for this game, which indicates that the latest movement has been an overcorrection. We don’t have enough value to back UCF on the spread, but there are other viable plays in this matchup, according to PFF Greenline.

UCF still has the top-ranked offense in the AAC, even though their 0.347 expected points added (EPA) per pass attempt isn’t quite up to the level they posted in previous seasons. The real surprise for the Knights has been their defense, which currently ranks fourth in our opponent-adjusted grade. This formidable defensive unit is led by a pass-rush that ranks 23rd in the nation in PFF grade.

Most are aware of the defensive capability possessed by the Bearcats, whose coverage and pass rush units have graded in the top-10 among their FBS counterparts. They have not allowed over 20 points in a game in 2020, but the matchup against UCF is by far their most difficult test. This has people excited for a strength-on-strength matchup that could decide this game's outcome, but that isn’t quite what our predictive models project.

The Bearcats' ball-control offense limits the number of opportunities for the opposing team, and that's exactly the approach that Cincinnati is going to try to take in this matchup. The total has already jumped up 1.5 points, but PFF Greenline finds value on the under despite 88% of the cash on the over.

This looks like a perfect spot to fade the market, as the narrative surrounding this game will likely not play out. This creates a buying opportunity for bettors willing to stomach sweating out the under.

PICK: UNDER 63.5

Oct 31, 2020; San Jose, California, USA; San Jose State Spartans wide receiver Bailey Gaither (84) runs with the football during the fourth quarter against the New Mexico Lobos at CEFCU Stadium. Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

SAN JOSE STATE SPARTANS @ FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS

The Mountain West has a fun matchup on tap between two teams that have exceeded betting market expectations to start the season. Combined, both teams have one loss against the spread, but neither has been the popular side on the cash percentages in a matchup this year.  They both appear to be undervalued by the market, so the question becomes, which side is the best side on Saturday night?

The Spartans have the slightly better Elo ranking, posting the 32nd-best opponent-adjusted passing grade to go with the nation's sixth-best receiving grade. Bailey Gaither is making the most of his graduate-year eligibility, earning a 79.0 receiving grade and averaging 3.1 yards per route run. The playmaking ability at the skill positions fits in well to QB Nick Starkel’s strengths, too, as his 76% accuracy rate is presently second among Mountain West quarterbacks.

This spread has reversed since the opening -2.5, completely changing course to make San Jose a road favorite at +2.5. Though 90% of the cash and 86% of the tickets have moved this spread by 5 points, failing to test +3 indicates that there is value still available on the Spartans.

This number could pick up some additional value, which makes San Jose State -2.5 still a viable play for bettors. Occasionally, we fade the market steam, but in situations where it seems warranted, create an opportunity to side with the market before a crucial key number.

PICK: SAN JOSE STATE -2.5

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