It’s still about a month until the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings. But Week 5 could play a role in that first release and well beyond. Covers checks in on the action and line movement for a handful of Saturday’s games, with insights from Chuck Esposito, sportsbook director at Sunset Station in Las Vegas; Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US; and Will Bernanke, lead analyst for CG Analytics in Las Vegas.
No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes at No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions – Open: +4; Move: +3.5
Ohio State passed one test a couple of weeks ago against Texas Christian, in what effectively was a road game at AT&T Stadium. Then the Buckeyes (4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS) got an easy tuneup for this week’s huge Big Ten game, rolling over Tulane 49-6 as a 37.5-point favorite.
Penn State certainly has motivation heading into a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff, having blown a big lead at Ohio State last year in a 39-38 loss as a 7-point underdog. The Nittany Lions (4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS) thumped Illinois 63-24 as a 25.5-point road chalk in Week 4.
“It’s the game of the day. You can expect a complete whiteout,” Esposito said of fans’ attire at Penn State’s home stadium. “Early action caused the number to drop, but ticket count clearly favors the Buckeyes. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the game go back up by kickoff.”
Esposito noted some competing trends in this game: Penn State at 5-1 SU and ATS as a home ‘dog when entering with a perfect record; and Ohio State at an impressive 14-1-1 ATS as a road fave of a touchdown or less. The last two games between these teams were decided by a total of four points.
At William Hill US, the Buckeyes opened -3.5 on Monday, moved to 4 within a matter of minutes, then back to 3.5 on Wednesday.
“We’re dead even to it. It’s gonna be a huge handle game, the biggest of the day,” Bogdanovich said. “I’d assume we’ll need Penn State by kickoff, but you just never know.”
No. 7 Stanford Cardinal at No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Open: -4.5; Move: -5.5; Move: -5
Stanford beat Notre Dame each of the past three years (2-1 SU) and will try to make it four in a row in another prime-time showdown, at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Cardinal (4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS) are extremely fortunate to have a perfect mark through four weeks, edging Oregon 38-31 in overtime laying 3 points on the road last week.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame found another gear last week that wasn’t apparent in its first three victories. The Fighting Irish (4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS) whomped on Wake Forest 56-27 as a 6-point road fave.
“Right now, we’re a little high on Notre Dame,” Bogdanovich said. “There’s not a lot in the pot yet, but there will be.”
Station Casinos also opened Notre Dame -4.5 and moved to 5.5 by Tuesday, where the number remained the rest of the week.
“The Irish are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games when playing a team that beat them last time out,” Esposito noted. “There’s good two-way ticket count on this game, although early action pushed this line up. I believe this game starts to go back down by kickoff.”
Syracuse Orange at No. 2 Clemson Tigers – Open: -22; Move: -23; Move: -23.5; Move: -24; Move: -24.5; Move: 25
Clemson stands a great chance of being in the CFP conversation all season long, but can’t overlook Syracuse, which sprung a shocking 27-24 upset on Dabo Swinney’s troops last year. The Tigers (4-0 SU) failed to cash in their first three games this season, before coming through for bettors in a 49-21 victory over Georgia Tech laying 16 points on the road.
Syracuse has a perfect mark through the first month of the season, as well, at 4-0 SU and 3-0-1 ATS. The Orange drubbed Connecticut 51-21 last week, landing right on the number as a 30-point home fave.
“Good game, good handle, two-way action,” Bogdanovich said of this noon ET start. “We’re not in a bad spot at all. I think it’s one of the anomalies of sharps on Clemson, and the public on the ‘dog Syracuse.”
CG books, including at The Cosmopolitan and Venetian on the Vegas Strip, opened Clemson -21.5 and were also up to 25.
“Eighty-three percent of all pointspread dollars are on Clemson,” Bernanke said. “You could see some buyback if it hits 26.”
No. 24 Virginia Tech Hokies at No. 23 Duke Blue Devils – Open: -5.5; Move: -5; Move: -4.5
Virginia Tech is coming off a shocking upset loss and also won’t have quarterback Josh Jackson, who is out indefinitely with a broken fibula. The Hokies (2-1 SU and ATS) were 27.5-point favorites last week at Old Dominion, but lost outright 49-35, getting outscored 28-7 in the fourth quarter.
Duke heads into this 7 p.m. ET kickoff with a 4-0 SU mark (3-1 ATS). The Blue Devils warmed up by drubbing North Carolina Central 55-13, falling a couple points short of covering as massive 44.5-point chalk.
“It’s two-way action, and we’re dead even to it,” Bogdanovich said.
Other noteworthy Saturday tilts:
• No. 12 West Virginia at Texas Tech, noon ET: The Mountaineers opened -4 at CG Tech books and went down to 3.5, with pointspread money running 2/1 on the Red Raiders. The Under also saw some early action, with the total dipping from 75 to 72.5, before rebounding a tick to 73.5.
• No. 20 Oregon at California, 10:30 p.m. ET: The Ducks, who gave away a home game against Stanford last week, opened -3 and were down to -2 by Thursday at CG books. Bernanke said through Friday, about 70 percent of pointspread cash was on the Golden Bears.
• Rice at Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m. ET: The Demon Deacons opened hefty 25-point faves and were up to 27.5 by Friday night at William Hill US. “A bunch of money for the favorite, but it’s still just Rice and Wake,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s not a public game, not a lot of handle.”
• Pittsburgh at No. 14 Central Florida, 3:30 p.m. ET: The Knights, who haven’t lost since their bowl game in the 2016-17 season, opened -15 at WillHill, but Panthers cash took the number to 13 by midweek. “We’re high on the ‘dog. Sharps are definitely on Pittsburgh, public on the favorite,” Bogdanovich said.
• No. 15 Michigan at Northwestern, 4:30 p.m. ET: William Hill opened the Wolverines -13 and was up to -14.5 by Thursday. “All the money is on the favorite,” Bogdanovich said. “I think it’s wiseguys and squares on Michigan.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.