Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) throws during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Murray State Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

NCAAF Best Bets, Sept. 18

Patrick Werkmeister

With the college football season heating up, playoff contenders have made their mark and distinguished themselves among the pretenders, which makes it easier to pick these games apart. Although conference matchups aren’t quite rolling yet, there are plenty of high-profile contests that are sure to be electric. The picks for this slate feature three highly skilled teams who have yet to be exposed this season. Their opponent’s skill ranges from awful to evenly matched, so we should have no problem coming out of the day with at least a positive record. After missing the 3-0 mark in last week’s Best Bets for NCAAF by a single point in devastating fashion, here’s what I’m riding with this Saturday.

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Cincinnati (-3.5) vs Indiana
From Memorial Stadium in Indiana, QB Michael Penix Jr. and the Hoosiers take on quarterback and early Heisman Candidate Desmond Ridder and the Cincinnati Bearcats. This line currently sits where it was opened up with Cincy as three and a half-point road favorite. This margin is surprisingly slim given the Bearcats have won 12 of their last 13 games SU with one loss being to the Georgia Bulldogs.  Although Indiana comes into this one still nursing their shocking blowout loss against Iowa in Week 1, they were able to adjust enough to win by a large margin over Idaho. However, currently Idaho is notoriously known as the worst college football program of all the Power Five and Group of Five schools, so there were not many quality-looks for the Hoosiers when they played last Saturday. A big contributing factor to Indiana’s success last year was their mobile quarterback Michael Penix Jr., but near the end of the season he suffered a torn ACL and based on his performance versus Iowa he will continue to be limited against this stout Cincy defense. Since former Buckeye coach Luke Fickell took the ropes as head coach for the Bearcats, he has completely turned around their program into a powerhouse where last year they narrowly lost to Georgia in a NY6 bowl game. They will be looking to take the next step this year with the assets they have on both sides of the ball. Take Cincy minus the points in a statement win over a Power Five team to jumpstart their postseason resume. 

Nebraska vs Oklahoma (-22.5)
Also from Memorial Stadium, in Norman, Oklahoma, the Sooners are at home against the former rival Nebraska Cornhuskers. Oklahoma was initially favored by just 21.5 points, but early support for the Sooners has since moved the spread where they are now favored at 22.5. In their last 10 overall games, dating back to tough late season matchups in 2020, Oklahoma is 8-2 ATS. So far this year, Oklahoma has been favored by an average of 40 points and now that they’re playing a P5 school, despite how bad they are, they are expected to win by a much smaller margin. Although Nebraska has very little to brag about, their defense has been one of the few bright spots for their squad. However, a defense that lets up 30+ points to Illinois will not have any sort of success against Spencer Rattler and this high-powered Sooner offense. Lincoln Riley will be exploiting this defense in all quarters of the game where Oklahoma should overwhelm the Huskers. Take the Sooners to win in a blowout.

Auburn (+5.5) vs Penn State
In the evening primetime slot for this Saturday, the Auburn Tigers travel to Happy Valley to play the Penn State Nittany Lions. The line for this contest opened up with Penn State as six and a half-point home favorite, but the current spread has them favored by five and a half. In Week 1, Penn State defeated the formerly ranked Wisconsin Badgers in Madison where they gained a lot of notoriety as a Big Ten conference contender. However, after watching the game in its entirety, I concluded that neither team should have been ranked based on how atrocious both offenses looked. Penn State won a low scoring 16-10 snooze fest with less than 300 total yards on offense while they let up nearly 400 yards on defense. Even with three forced turnovers, the Nittany Lions still only barely scraped by a Big Ten opponent in a season where the conference is having an off year. On the other hand, in the tough SEC conference, Auburn and QB Bo Nix hope to connect all the dots this year and win the toughest division in football by beating Alabama.  Although they might not have what it takes against Bama, the Tigers have been virtually preparing for this game for two weeks given their first two opponents against FCS and Group of Five programs. Expect this experienced Auburn team that plays in a far superior conference and to give them a proper introduction to SEC football. Take the Tigers plus the points in a close game. 

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