Incentive key component

We are down to the final few weeks of the college football regular season and this is that time of the year when finding out which teams are still playing hard and which teams aren’t.

Finding teams with added motivation and teams that might be mailing it in down the stretch are key handicapping philosophies for me. Teams like Texas A&M and Cincinnati are right on the fringe of the playoff but need to win out impressively and get some help in order to get into the top four.

On the flip side, the concept “dead team walking” is also one to pay attention to this late in the season. There are teams that are struggling mightily and not showing a whole lot of fight to keep playing hard.

UNLV is a perfect example as they are 0-5 SU, 0-4-1 ATS this season and they have been blown out in multiple games. That is not a team I have any inclination to bet on at this late stage of the season.

California might be another team inching closer to that “dead team walking” category as they’ve started the Pac-12 season 0-3 SU, 0-2-1 ATS and are coming off a brutal and painful loss to Stanford as a missed extra point following what could have been a game tying TD cost them a chance at the victory.

Vanderbilt in the SEC is another team that showed real signs of quit in their disturbing 41-0 loss to Missouri which resulted in the dismissal of head coach Derek Mason after seven seasons with the Commodores. Southern Miss and Florida State are two programs that have seen several players opt out of the season recently which is another product of a team having a terrible season in the middle of a global pandemic.

Teams that have tangible goals to achieve late in the season are likely to keep playing hard and give their best effort on a weekly basis. Teams trying to keep themselves in the playoff race and teams trying to win a division title are worth noting and backing at the windows.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, teams that appear to be tapping out and not offering much resistance specifically are teams to play against, even though you may pay an additional price from the oddsmakers.

Saturday

Georgia Tech at NC State, Total 60: Georgia Tech played its first game in a month against Duke and the offense had their most explosive performance of the season, racking up 56 points and 523 total yards. NC State’s offense, led by QB Bailey Hockman in the absence of injured QB Devin Leary has been pretty good and the common thread is NC State being able to have success on offense against weak defenses throughout the season.

The Wolfpack have scored 30+ points in six of their last eight games. I expect this game to go over this reasonably priced total. OVER

Nebraska at Purdue, Total 61.5: Purdue’s offense has not seen any drop-off despite the injury to QB Aidan O’Connell with Jack Plummer taking over and has done a good job steering the offense for the Boilermakers. The defense though continues to struggle, allowing 34 and 37 points in their last two games.

Nebraska’s offense has been inconsistent but this is a step down in class for their offense after facing a slew of better teams and defenses to this point. Each of the last two meetings between these teams since Scott Frost and Jeff Brohm arrived on the scene went over the total and I expect more of the same here. OVER

Penn State at Rutgers +11: Penn State got its first win and cover of the season last week against Michigan on the road but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to trust them as double-digit road favorites here against an improving Rutgers team that has played hard every single week this season.

The Scarlet Knights have been a competitive bunch all season. Toss out the Ohio State loss and their other losses have been by margins of six points or less against Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. Noah Vedral has been solid at QB and the offense has been very good in back-to-back weeks, scoring 79 points combined. Too many points for the Nittany Lions to be laying in this spot. RUTGERS

UCLA at Arizona State -3.5: Arizona State hasn’t played in a month since its season opener which was a tough loss to USC and that might be influencing this line a bit. But to me, this is a cheap price to back the better team and especially the better defense.

Arizona State’s defense is rock solid and QB Jayden Daniels is leading an improved Sun Devils offense. UCLA’s defense is still suspect and against better teams, they gave up 38 to Oregon and 48 to Colorado. Chase Griffin has done a solid job at QB replacing an injured Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but this is a much stronger defense that he will be up against in this game and it’s worth noting he was still only 12-for-20 throwing the football last week against Arizona. I’ll lay it with the home team. ARIZONA STATE

Last week: 0-3

Season: 15-25-1