While I'm never going to look at a winning and profitable start to the season as a negative, I come into Week 5 of the college football season annoyed with my performance over the last two weeks. Yes, I might be 14-10 on the season, but I'm only 6-6 over the last two weeks, and I'm not here to donate juice to your book.
The mediocrity ends this week. After a somewhat dull slate in Week 4 in regards to marquee matchups, this week brings two top-10 battles and four games between ranked teams overall. There's plenty of value on the board, and some of it happens to be found in the biggest games, so let's get to the winners.
Lock Pod: The Cover 3 crew break down the Week 5 slate and give picks for Ole Miss-Alabama, Arkansas-Georgia, Cincinnati-Notre Dame and other marquee games. And be sure to subscribe to the Cover 3 Podcast for top-notch insight and analysis.
As always, lines and odds are via Caesars Sportsbook.
Games of the Week
No. 8 Arkansas at No. 2 Georgia: Arkansas has been a godsend to bettors so far, not only going 4-0 on the field but 4-0 ATS. Unfortunately for me, I've been on the losing end of two of those four covers in this column. That changes this week because I'm not betting the spread. Truth be told, I'd lean Georgia's way if I were to take a side of the spread here. The Bulldogs have been the most complete team in the country. Still, I see far more value available on the total.
This game could play out one of two ways: either Georgia cruises to an easy win and suffocates the Arkansas offense like it has everybody else, or the Hogs keep it close with their defense and limit what Georgia can do offensively. Regardless, it should be a low-scoring affair since both teams have outstanding defenses. Georgia enters the game ranked first nationally in defensive success rate, while Arkansas isn't too far behind in 16th. Georgia 31, Arkansas 14 | Under 48.5
No. 12 Ole Miss at No. 1 Alabama: If we think back to last year's meeting, it seems like what most people remember is Ole Miss putting up 48 points on Alabama in Oxford. And it did! Unfortunately, the part that seems to be forgotten is the Rebels still lost by 15 because Alabama put up 63 points.
Alabama actually got off to a slow start in that game. It scored on its first possession to tie the game at 7-7, but then fumbled deep in Ole Miss territory on its next possession and punted on its third. But then the Tide scored touchdowns on each of their final eight possessions.
My concern isn't the Ole Miss offense -- it's the defense that I'm not buying yet. The Rebels are improved in that area, but they still rank 60th nationally in defensive success rate against a schedule that hasn't been filled with incredible offenses. Plus, the Rebels didn't turn the ball over in this game last year and still lost by double digits. I think it'll be a different story in Tuscaloosa. Alabama 49, Ole Miss 31 | Alabama -14.5
Lock of the Week
No. 3 Oregon at Stanford: I made the mistake of trusting Stanford at home against UCLA last week and looked foolish for it. I'm not going to make that mistake again. First of all, Oregon should be favored by 12.5 points in this matchup according to my power ratings, so there's no way I can pass it up. But you're not here just for my numbers, so I'll explain further.
Stanford is soft as Charmin defensively. The Cardinal rank 118th nationally in defensive success rate and allow 2.39 points per possession, which ranks 109th. If we remove the game against Vanderbilt -- one of the worst offenses in the country -- that 2.39 points per possession jumps to 2.56, which ranks 114th.
Oregon is not only the more talented team, but it's been better on both sides of the ball. The Ducks remind me of Ohio State in the Big Ten over the last few years in that they're just head and shoulders above the rest of their conference right now. Oregon 34, Stanford 21 | Oregon -8
Under of the Week
No. 7 Cincinnati at No. 9 Notre Dame: More than anything, I trust these defenses more than the offenses. Plus, while I'm not betting the spread, there's something about Cincinnati being favored in South Bend that strikes me as disrespectful to the Irish. Don't get me wrong, the Bearcats are really good. However, this will be the most formidable defense they've seen in 2021 and the most challenging environment in which they'll have played. Because of that, Cincinnati will want to keep things a bit more conservative.
As for the Irish, they rank 19th in defensive success rate -- Cincinnati is 10th -- but offensively they've been inconsistent because they cannot run the ball. Notre Dame ranks 128th nationally at 2.29 yards per carry and 108th in total rush EPA. I don't see this group figuring things out against a Cincinnati defense that ranks 15th nationally in success rate against the run. I don't know who wins, but it won't be high-scoring. Notre Dame 24, Cincinnati 21 | Under 50.5
Over of the Week
Minnesota at Purdue: We can take advantage of public perception here. First of all, Minnesota is coming off of a shocking upset vs. Bowling Green at home. Public opinion of the Gophers isn't going to be any lower than it is right now. Then there's Purdue, which has played musical chairs at QB with Jack Plummer and Aidan O'Connell. And neither offense has been good on a points per drive basis. Minnesota ranks 71st nationally at 2.13, while Purdue is 77th at 2.06. However, what skews this total is that Purdue ranks 8th nationally in defensive success rate while Minnesota ranks 22nd.
But even those numbers lack context by themselves. Purdue's numbers are helped tremendously by games against UConn and Illinois. The Boilermakers defense wasn't nearly as effective against Oregon State and Notre Dame. Then there's Minnesota's win over Colorado, which hasn't moved the ball against anyone. In their first two games against Ohio State and Miami (OH), the Gophers defense wasn't nearly as clean.
Put it all together, and you get a game with a total that's a little lower than it should be. This game will be higher-scoring than the line suggests and I'd take it at anything below 52. Purdue 28, Minnesota 24 | Over 47.5
Underdog of the Week
Southern Miss at Rice: I've been burned by Southern Miss already. I took them to cover against South Alabama to open the season and looked like a moron for it. Well, I'm back again, and I don't think I'll look as stupid this time. This isn't the kind of game any of you will be dying to watch, but it is one we can exploit.
These are two bad teams, but the difference is that Southern Miss has at least shown some competence in one area. The Golden Eagles rank 81st nationally in offensive success rate, but 18th in defensive success rate. That's significant because Rice ranks 108th and 113th, respectively, in those same categories.
Now, it needs to be pointed out that Rice has played the more difficult schedule to this point, but that's still a drastic difference defensively between these two. And that difference is why I'm not trusting Rice to cover as a favorite. Honestly, how can you back a team that's played so poorly to win, let alone cover? Southern Miss 24, Rice 20 | Southern Miss +2.5
SportsLine Pick of the Week
No. 14 Michigan at Wisconsin: Whoops! I ran out of room in The Six Pack, and there's another bet this weekend I love. If you want to know what it is, you can find it on my SportsLine page.
Games of the Week
Lock of the Week
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