Digging into the college football contenders’ remaining key games

Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams carries the ball aast Auburn defensive back Tray Matthews pursues during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Auburn, Ala.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

College football’s early primaries have concluded. Eight weeks into the regular season, the true College Football Playoff candidates have emerged and taken center stage, while a gallery of fallen hopefuls has faded into the background.

It’s the time of year when college football fans struggle to dive into the minutiae of full weekly schedules, and instead fixate on the big-picture games that will help determine the eventual national champion. And sports books are all-too-willing to serve those short attention spans.

Games are no longer only available on betting boards for the week leading up to kickoffs. Several casinos offer Game of the Year lines updated weekly to give bettors a chance to wager early, perhaps at a value price.

Four major conference champions are most likely to make the third-annual playoff field, so here are the biggest game remaining in each Power Five conference, along with their current lines at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook and a pick.

Clemson minus-4 at Florida State (October 29) This matchup lost some luster with Florida State already dropping two ACC games, but it remains the biggest risk for undefeated Clemson in its quest to return to the playoff. The Seminoles have beaten the Tigers in three of the past four seasons, but their defense has never struggled as much as it has this year. Florida State is giving up 6 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, which ranks 99th in the nation. Pick: Clemson minus-4.

Alabama minus-10 at LSU (November 5) Alabama has won four national championships in the past seven years, but Tennessee coach Butch Jones swears this is the best Crimson Tide team of the era. It’s hard to argue, considering ’bama has covered three straight spreads of more than two touchdowns against top-25 opposition and won five SEC games by an average of 22 points. The only chance of Alabama having a single-digit point spread the rest of the way is in its trip to Baton Rouge, Lousiana, where the Tigers are re-energized under interim coach Ed Orgeron. LSU has gone 3-0 straight-up and against the spread since the coaching change. Pick: LSU plus-10.

Washington minus-7 at Washington State (November 25) The Huskies’ combined score against Pac-12 teams the past three weeks is 155-44. With the in-state rival Cougars also undefeated in league play, everything’s building toward an Apple Cup for the ages. Washington looks like the Pac-12’s only hope for a Playoff participant, and Washington State looks like the only hope to prevent it. Pick: Washington minus-7.

Michigan plus-5 at Ohio State (November 26) Despite the Buckeyes’ upset loss to Penn State last week, this still projects as the single-biggest regular season game of the year. Barring any major upsets over the next month, it’s a play-in game to the Big Ten Championship, and ultimately, the College Football Playoff. Ohio State has slowed down since a historically dominant start to the season, with three straight losses against the spread. Michigan, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed a single conference opponent to score more than 10 points or gain more than 200 yards. Pick: Michigan plus-5.

Baylor plus-6 at West Virginia (December 3) Oklahoma will also have something to say about the Big 12 race, but since it already has two losses out of conference, these are the only two teams with realistic playoff hopes. It’s convenient, therefore, that the Mountaineers and Bears play in the season finale. But their undefeated records weren’t created equally, as Baylor is outscoring opponents by an average of 10 points more per game than West Virginia. Pick: Baylor plus-6.

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