College Football Predictions: Searching For Heisman Moments

Predictions and betting guide

This time of year, college football fans are on the lookout for predictions and “Heisman moments.” These are the standout performances and individual plays that resonate with Heisman Trophy voters in the closing weeks of the season.

With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the race for college football’s most prestigious award is still wide open. My picks this week focus on several games that feature players near the top of the Vegas betting odds for the Heisman.

But first …

Virginia Predictions Week 12

  • Record to date: 6-4 on spread, 5-5 on over/unders

Duke -3.5 at Virginia, Over 47

Another week, another close loss for Virginia. For Cavaliers fans, these performances present a Rorschach test of your view of the program. Is it encouraging that the team continues to fight against talented conference competition and is competitive in virtually every game? Or is it discouraging that the team has blown late leads and lacks the composure to close out winnable games? Considering the close spread for the game against Duke this weekend, we might get another data point on how Tony Elliott’s squad performs in a close late-game situation.

The underlying metrics of both teams through 10 games significantly favor the Blue Devils. ESPN’s Bill Connelly projects that Duke should be a 14.5-point favorite with an 80% likelihood of victory. Kelley Ford’s rating system has an identical win probability and a 12-point line. These spreads align with what we have seen from Mike Elko’s team this season. All four losses were against Top 25 competition.

Led by talented running back Jordan Waters, the Duke rushing attack averages more than 5 yards per carry. The secondary has also kept opposing passing games in check, allowing less than 200 yards per game and just 6.23 yards per attempt.

So why is the line only 3.5 and creeping toward the Hoos? Injuries are the primary explanation. With quarterbacks Riley Leonard and Henry Belin IV unavailable last week, Duke was forced to start freshman Grayson Loftis. Though he lacks Leonard’s precision and running ability, he performed admirably in a road game against his team’s most hated rival. The Blue Devils also had to work around injuries to starters at wide receiver, linebacker, and on the offensive line. However, as the close loss at North Carolina demonstrated, Elko’s squad has the depth of talent to work around starters missing time.

I have two major concerns for Virginia entering this contest. First, the Cavaliers front seven has struggled mightily to stop the run. The team ranks 114th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 180.3 yards per game and a total of 23 touchdowns on the ground. Given Loftis’ inexperience, we should expect a heavy dose of Waters carrying the football.

My second worry is with the ability to protect the football. Virginia is -7 in turnover differential. Despite quarterback Anthony Colandrea’s potential, he still struggles with youthful decision-making. Duke is +3 on the season and has done an admirable job in avoiding critical giveaways.

Unfortunately, I think these two elements will be decisive. Hopefully, I am wrong and Virginia can get its first conference home win of the Elliott era. Blue Devils over the Hoos, 31-17.

Important note for this section: As a Virginia alum and regular reader of The Sabre, I love talking about the Cavaliers. However, I never bet for or against Virginia in my personal portfolio.

Week 12 Best Bet Predictions

  • Season record: 27-29-1.

After a winning Week 11, I am focusing my attention on games involving Heisman hopefuls (as well as a couple other matchups with value).

USC -6 vs UCLA: Given that his team has four losses, it is very unlikely that USC quarterback Caleb Williams will repeat as a Heisman winner. However, Williams’ offensive production has been very similar to his numbers in 2022. With 29 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, Williams is the primary driver of the nation’s fifth rated offense. The problem for the Trojans this season has been on the defensive side of the ball; USC has conceded more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground and allows nearly 35 points per game.

This should make for an interesting contrast of styles with UCLA, a team that ranks first in rushing defense but has an ineffective offense. The Bruins have scored only 17 total points in their last two games, which may be the result of Chip Kelly’s refusal to stick with one quarterback for any significant length of time. Four different quarterbacks have played in at least three games this season for UCLA.

Rumors are swirling that this may be Kelly’s last game as head coach, an unnecessary distraction given the challenge of trying to slow down the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. USC’s offense might be held below its season average, but I think they still win comfortably at home.

Oregon State -2.5 vs. Washington: Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. currently has the second best odds in most sportsbooks of winning the Heisman. If he can lead Washington to victory in Corvallis, it will cap off an amazing three-game stretch against several of the nation’s best teams.

However, despite the Huskies’ offensive firepower, the team has looked vulnerable at times this season. After a nationally televised win against Oregon, Washington was held without an offensive touchdown in a 15-7 win over Arizona State. Last week, the Huskies allowed 28 points to Utah and trailed at the half before pitching a shutout in the second half. Kalen Deboer’s squad has struggled in the secondary, allowing 269.6 passing yards per game (123rd in the FBS).

I think this is the week it finally catches up to them. As if playing in Corvallis wasn’t daunting enough, this game will be Oregon State’s last Pac-12 home game before the conference falls apart. The Beavers have a talented and balanced offense as well, averaging nearly 38 points per game and 453.3 yards per game. The defense also has shown the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, ranking in the top 10 in sack rate (9.38% of drop backs).

Georgia -10 at Tennessee: Because Georgia football has been an unstoppable machine the last several years, quarterback Carson Beck probably is not getting the credit he deserves. In his first year as a starter, Beck has more than 3,000 yards passing, completes 72.2% of his passes, and holds the No. 7 QBR in the nation. The Bulldogs average 505 yards of offense each game with an average margin of victory of over 23 points.

Kirby Smart lost an unprecedented amount of talent on defense to the NFL, but his team still ranks in the top 10 in first downs allowed. This is the kind of program you never want to face, but that is especially true following an embarrassing 29-point loss against Missouri. Though the Volunteers have had success running the ball, the passing game with Joe Milton has struggled with consistency all season. The defense ranks near the bottom of the FBS by allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.26% of their passes. Though Neyland Stadium will be rocking at kickoff, their fans might be significantly quieter after Beck has the ball a few possessions.

Michigan -18.5 at Maryland: Coming off an emotional win on the road against Penn State, Michigan could be in a letdown spot. However, given the national stakes and the galvanizing “us against the world” mentality following Jim Harbaugh’s suspension, I expect the Wolverines to show up for this game. Michigan has the best defense in the country, allowing only 134.6 yards per game with a stop rate of 85.7%. J.J. McCarthy is on the fringes of the Heisman discussion, but between this game and a high-profile matchup against Ohio State, he has a chance to play his way into serious consideration. His QBR of 92.7 ranks second among starting quarterbacks, and he has completed 76.2% of his passes.

After some initial promise, Mike Locksley’s team has struggled over the last six weeks of the season. Maryland was finally able to end a four-game losing streak with a 13-10 win at Nebraska. The running game has been anemic, and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has thrown interceptions in three consecutive games. Since joining the Big Ten, the Terrapins have yet to beat a ranked member of the conference. Expect Wolverines fans to overrun SECU stadium and for Michigan to roll.

Coastal Carolina -4 at Army: Neither of these teams will have players featured in the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York, but I still like the value with the Chanticleers. I have bet on them the last two weeks and they have functioned like a broken slot machine spitting out cash. With talented quarterback Grayson McCall out with injuries, Coastal Carolina has relied heavily on its ground game in recent weeks. It’s been consistently successful; Coastal has rushed for at least 150 yards and a touchdown in each of the last six games. The defense has also held three straight opponents to fewer than 350 yards of total offense.

Those statistics don’t bode well for an Army team that has struggled mightily this season to generate offense. The Black Knights rank near the bottom of the FBS in points per game (20.1), yards per game (310.6), and red zone scoring (78.6%). Army enters this contest after being outgained in a three-point win against Holy Cross. I like Coastal to win by at least a touchdown.

Upset Special

  • Record to date: 5-6

UNLV ML at Air Force (+130): After eight straight weeks of dominance, Air Force’s season has cratered with shocking double-digit losses to Army and Hawaii. Quarterback Zac Larrier, the team’s second leading rusher, went down with a leg injury in the first quarter against the Warriors and the Falcons never recovered. Assuming Larrier is unavailable for this game, I give a slight edge to the visiting Rebels.

UNLV ranks fourth in the FBS in third down conversions and scores in the red zone on 92.3% of its possessions. The Rebels also have a stout run defense, a necessity when playing Air Force, holding the opposition to 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. No one in the Mountain West Conference has found an answer to covering wideout Ricky White, one of nine players in the FBS to have more than 1,000 receiving yards already (Virginia’s Malik Washington is in that small club too). Looking at performances over the last couple weeks, I trust the trajectory of the Rebels significantly more.

Random Fact To Impress Your Fellow Tailgaters

The most compelling individual performance so far this season came from LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels last weekend. Against rival Florida, Daniels became the first player in FBS history to throw for at least 350 yards and rush for over 200 yards in a single game. Between his arm and his legs, Daniels accounts for an average of 408.2 yards each game and 38 total touchdowns, which is more offensive production than 80 FBS programs this season. He faces an uphill battle to win the Heisman given LSU’s three losses, but it would help me financially if the voters gave his exceptional season a second look.

SabreBetrics is written by a Virginia graduate and longtime fan of The Sabre. The opinions expressed in this article are not directly associated with The Sabre and are intended for recreational use only. Sports betting should be a fun activity, not a stressful one. Please do not bet more than you can reasonably afford to lose.