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How one Maple Leafs goal provides an outline for a dangerous power play

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I’m sure Sheldon Keefe has felt like Reg Dunlop over the past nine months or so, with every fan he encounters telling him to get the power play together. And, yeah yeah, have they ever been working on it. They’ve juggled positions and coaches and at times personnel to no avail. Their power play struggles contributed to their post-season exit, and have been well documented.

On Tuesday night the Leafs went a whopping 1-for-1 on the power play, which is nothing to devote a column to in itself. But the ideas and execution that went into its success are, because “working on the power play” — and tangibly improving it — could be the difference between success and failure for a top-heavy Leafs team that needs the PP to be an asset.

Without delving too deep into the fancy stats on their PP success/failures to date, the Leafs have still generated plenty of opportunities on the power play this season, finding themselves third in “expected goals” there in the league, but I need to emphasize this point by saying it with my whole chest here: nobody cares. There is a shelf life on “the process is good and the results will come” and the Leafs have been only average on the power play long enough despite having some of the league’s top-end talent that the “yay process” refrain has expired. It’s results time.

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So how did they get results in their 10th game of the season, and what can they take from that going forward?


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The Leafs’ power play is not what everyone (sometimes their coaches included) want it to be: Tampa Bay. They cannot stay stationary and have opponents’ PKs run around trying to cover off the Stamkos one-timer and the Hedman zinger and the quick-touch shot of Point and the Kucherov little back-heel cutter of a one-timer. Toronto doesn’t even have Killorn gumming up the works in the crease. They do not have those players, and you have to coach your personnel not your preferred system.

Toronto’s power play needs three things: movement, players coming downhill, and the puck in the hands of the forwards, not the D. Everyone so badly wants there to be a “QB” on the power play because it makes sense in our brains, but what makes sense for the Leafs is that there isn’t one, and the forwards have to be the guys calling the plays for this group. Morgan Rielly can and should distribute the puck, and same goes for Rasmus Sandin, but this power play has to run off the flanks.

Watch what I mean about coming downhill and movement.

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The first proper in-zone set-up came off this face off win by John Tavares, when Auston Matthews touches the puck back to the point, and everyone is where they’re supposed to be on paper. What Matthews does so well when he’s on that flank is not just stop and be a pass option, he wants to get up and out of the zone, so the next time he gets a touch, he’s a pass option moving towards the Vegas goal with a little pace (which is what we mean by “downhill”).

Look how high Matthews gets at the top of the next frame here, where his skates are actually up out of the zone. It’s a 1-3-1 like everyone else around the league, but the Leafs flanks should be moving up and down like a bird flapping its wings.

So Matthews gets it back in the frame below, but it just kinda smells…unthreatening. He’s pretty far out, and the PK and goalie are pretty well set to defend him.

Tavares can help him out a bit more here. JT’s a scorer by nature, and you can see he’s offering himself just off the back post as more of a pass-tip option, but I’d rather just see him take away Robin Lehner’s eyes and trust Matthews to find a spot to put his elite shot. (This was a Zach Hyman staple that’s made him as effective in Edmonton as it did in Toronto.)

Matthews decides there’s nothing there and wants to curl back, and now we get into what I was talking about with player movement. Below you can see Nylander has come out of the slot to provide an option, and Tavares has come across and below the goal line to do the same. Matthews relieves pressure by passing up to the point, but that’s good puck support and the type that keeps a team on offence even when things go wrong.

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Morgan Rielly gets the puck up top and takes a shot from distance which is … OK at best. It encapsulates what I mean about the Leafs not needing Rielly (or Sandin) to be a part of the creative process. They should never force things. There’s no screen in front, his forwards need to reset a bit, and for the love of god, if you just give this to Marner he’s got an ocean of room to skate — wait for it — downhill at the net to create. Rielly should mostly be a hinge who only pulls the trigger when he finds himself wide open (as he did earlier in this odd-man advantage off a broken play).

I mean, look at this picture below. Just swing it to the other side! Leafs PP1 defencemen should be playing checkers not chess. It sounds harsher than I mean it but: it’s the forwards’ power play, you just get to be on it.

The shot takes a bounce to Marner’s side, and all the forwards stay in good motion. If you look at the frame above again you can see Nylander at the top of the circles, and now he gets over to this sweet spot for Marner, who’s moved down all the way to the goal line to find an opening. This can happen because the PP and PK are in motion, and one of Marner’s gifts is seeing seams amidst movement that average NHLers can’t. There’s more good support (and a little pick) from Tavares below, too.

The puck ends up coming out of the zone shortly after.

Following their next entry, Marner found himself on the opposite flank, and I love that the Leafs don’t race to get back to their “spots.” This is “replaceable parts,” meaning if the play takes you somewhere new, you stay there, and other people can just fill in the empty spots accordingly.

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The puck ends up on Nylander’s stick up at the blue line, and he gets it down to Matthews, who’s now on the other side of the rink, too. They’ve all played all over the power play, so everyone should be comfortable everywhere.

If Vegas sees a lot of threats on the Leafs’ unit, they seem to be inviting them to use what they view as less of a threat — the pass in to Tavares around the crease. Sometimes you just have to take what the PK gives you, and Matthews gets it to Tavares in a primo spot.

The only criticism here is with Marner at the top of the next picture below. The second it looks like the puck may go in to the net-front guy, Marner needs to be immediately heading down to the net to provide a pass option for Tavares and a rebound threat from the flank. Movement, movement, movement. He’s just a little too far out of the picture to be a threat.

What makes me think about movement as a priority with this Leafs team is just how dangerous they become off broken plays because of the creativity and offensive ability of their top-four forwards. When the opposing D get scrambling, they’re in big trouble against the Leafs.

That Tavares net jam led to a puck battle, which led to Matthews and Marner on the same side of the rink, with Marner winning the puck and going for a little skate to gain some separation from his defender.

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Here’s where I go back to “downhill,” and I don’t care if I’m making you crazy with that phrase, because you can’t imagine how much the actual players have to hear the same things from the coaching staff as constant reminders. Marner’s route takes everyone high up in the zone…

And will you look at that, things start to seem a lot more dangerous. Again, look at Matthews make a conscious effort to move and get up in the zone, so he can feast when he’s heading down into it. In fact, after Nylander makes room for Marner and gets the puck at the top of the zone, all five Leafs are in a position to start crashing down on the net while the Vegas PK has lost its shape (assuming their defensive plan wasn’t an I formation).

The Vegas penalty killer in the middle (Jake Leschyshyn, also the guy Marner victimized for the game’s first goal) believes everyone is still above him — as it appears in the picture above — but the Leafs’ movement has him lose track of ol’ 34, which historically has not ended well for defences.

Nylander is gonna … shoot this? He sits the puck in his shooting slot for an extra second to hold Lehner…

…But he does not “shoot this.”

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It’s underneath Leschyshyn, and Lehner might be grateful Matthews hit his spot and didn’t hit him in the neck or something. It’s an absolute laser. The catch — and the ability to have the puck in his exact shooting spot in a heartbeat from said catch — to the release are breathtaking.

Here it is in GIF form.

The Leafs don’t have the Lightning’s PP1 personnel, nor do they have the Oilers’. But they have very good PP1 personnel, and unique talents who need less structure and more swirl to find the type of seams they’re built to capitalize on. It takes effort and energy, which can be tough to conjure up night in and night out over an 82-game season. But when they bring it, they can turn what’s been a weakness into a strength.



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SEC college football picks, odds in Week 5: Arkansas stays tight with Alabama, Georgia takes out frustration

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The calendar will flip from September to October as the Week 5 college football action takes center stage on Saturday, which means that SEC division title races are starting take shape. No. 2 Alabama will head to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on No. 20 Arkansas in a battle between SEC foes. It was anticipated this could be a battle of undefeated title contenders, but the Razorbacks’ loss to Texas A&M last week erased that possibility. No. 7 Kentucky will travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on No. 14 Ole Miss in a clash of cross-division, undefeated teams that are looking to break through on the national stage. 

There are intriguing games for other reasons, too. Auburn will take on LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that could determine the future of Tigers coach Bryan Harsin. The second-year coach was rumored to be on the brink of receiving a pink slip had the Tigers lost to Missouri last week, but they escaped in overtime in one of the sloppiest games of the year. 

What else is going on around the conference in Week 5? Let’s take a spin around the league and make some picks in this week’s edition of SEC Smothered and Covered.

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Hurricane Ian hitting the East Coast has forced changes to SEC games in Week 5. Keep up to date with all of the movement at this link here

Appetizer: Drew Sanders, the double agent?

Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders has established himself as one of the best players in the conference regardless of position. The former five-star prospect out of Denton, Texas, has 31 tackles on the season and is tied for third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (1.63). He’s also a former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Could he be a secret agent? Well, not officially, but Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman knows that his star transfer isn’t going to be surprised by anything he sees.

“I would assume, for him, there would be some familiarity with what Bama is doing,” Pittman said. “We’ll try to downplay that as much as possible, because it is about shedding blocks and tackling and doing his assignment.”

This was shaping up to be a battle of undefeated teams prior to last weekend, but a reeling Texas A&M squad and a Hogs’ field goal attempt off the top of the goal post put an end to that plan. It didn’t erase the interest level in this game, though. Pittman’s squad absolutely has to win Saturday’s game vs. the Crimson Tide, otherwise its hopes of winning the West will disappear like a rack of ribs at a tailgate party. 

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Main course: Chris Rodriguez’s impact

Kentucky is typically a juggernaut at developing stud offensive linemen who are effective as run and pass blockers. This year … not so much. The Wildcats have given up more sacks than any other team in the SEC (16) and allowed Northern Illinois to sack quarterback Will Levis five times last weekend. Nothing against the Huskies, but that shouldn’t happen. 

They will get running back Chris Rodriguez back from his early-season suspension this week, though, and he should at least provide more of a threat in the running game to help Levis work off play-action. The preseason All-SEC selection rushed for 1,379 yards and nine touchdowns last season while adding three touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday that Rodriguez has prepared to make an impact over the last couple of weeks.

“For Chris, it was just a matter of managing him while he was out. Just getting him the reps that we needed to. The last week or two, as I mentioned last week, he was getting reps with the first and second team — mainly the second team or different quarterbacks just to make sure he wasn’t totally removed from practicing our plays, along with staying in shape, being on the scout team, doing whatever was necessary for staying in good shape.” 

Dessert: Do or die for Bryan Harsin

Reports surfaced last week that Harsin could be fired as early as the day after the Missouri game if his team lost to the visiting Tigers. That didn’t happen; Auburn used a Missouri missed field goal at the end of regulation and a walk-off touchback in overtime to escape with a win. Or a “non-loss,” considering how sloppy the game was. 

In essence, it was the worst possible scenario for all parties. Harsin’s incredibly ugly win against Missouri the week after getting blown out by Penn State made it impossible for the powers-that-be to get rid of him last Sunday, which also gave him another week to “coach back into” his job if he can figure things out. Could that start this week against LSU? Harsin’s Tigers are nearly double-digit underdogs, which suggests that there isn’t much faith in him surviving beyond this weekend. Even if he does, Georgia looms next weekend prior to the bye week. 

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Simply put, Harsin needs to dominate LSU and upset Georgia to stay employed. Otherwise, those who staged the attempted coup in February will likely get their way and move into a new era of Auburn football.

Picks

Straight up: 38-8 | Against the spread: 19-21-1
*Previous picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3

No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Ole Miss

Featured Game | Ole Miss Rebels vs. Kentucky Wildcats

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The Rebels have settled on Jaxson Dart as their No. 1 quarterback, and he will provide a nice complement through the air and on the ground to a rushing attack that is second-to-none in the conference (280.75 YPG). That will wear down a Kentucky defense that isn’t as deep or consistent as it has been in previous years. The Rebels defense, which is third in the SEC in tackles for loss per game (7.0), will keep Levis in third-and-long situations — leading to an Ole Miss cover. Pick: Ole Miss (-6.5)

No. 2 Alabama at No. 20 Arkansas

Featured Game | Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

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The 17.5-point spread is interesting, due in large part to the hook. If a 17-point Bama win cashes an Arkansas ticket, I’m all in for the Hogs. Alabama has played one-score games in four of its last five true road tilts, and the combination of Hogs quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders will bust enough big plays to at least keep this game close into the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide will win it by two touchdowns when all is said and done but won’t get the cover. Pick: Arkansas (+17.5)

Featured Game | Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Texas A&M Aggies

The Bulldogs are home favorites over a ranked Aggies team for good reason. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 44.4% of their passes on third downs (17th nationally), which sets up well against an Aggies team that will be without star wide receiver Ainias Smith. Texas A&M topped Arkansas essentially because of a fumbled punt return and a freak fumble recovery/scoop-and-score, but even those won’t save them in the land of the cowbells. Pick: Mississippi State (-3.5)

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LSU at Auburn

Featured Game | Auburn Tigers vs. LSU Tigers

Auburn’s offensive line has been a disaster this year, and now its quarterback position is an unmitigated disaster. Meanwhile, LSU’s defense has given up just 39 plays of 10 or more yards this season (tied with Georgia for third in the SEC). It’s going to make Auburn put together multiple sustained drives, and that’s unlikely considering Harsin forgot that running back Tank Bigsby exists during the majority of the Missouri game. The visiting Tigers will win by double-digits. Pick: LSU (-9)

No. 1 Georgia at Missouri

Featured Game | Missouri Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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The Bulldogs have to be embarrassed after Kent State stayed within 10 points into the fourth quarter last week, and they’ll take it out on Missouri on Saturday night in Columbia. The Tigers average a league-worst 5.62 yards per play, and the way to hang with the Bulldogs is to capitalize on shot plays. Coach Kirby Smart’s crew will take out its frustration on Missouri and win by at least 30 points. Pick: Georgia (-28)

SEC teams vs. FCS opponents

*No lines have been published

Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 5, and which top-10 favorite will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread — all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons — and find out.

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Canada crushes Puerto Rico in FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup quarterfinal – Sportsnet.ca

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Canada has advanced to the semifinals at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup for the first time since 1986.

After going 4-1 in first-round play, Canada hammered Puerto Rico 79-60 in quarterfinal action on Thursday in Australia.

The Canadians will be heavy underdogs in the semis on Friday against the top-ranked United States. The Americans defeated Serbia 88-55 in the first quarterfinal.

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The Americans have won 28 consecutive games in World Cup play since losing to the Russians in the 2006 semis — the tournament is held quadrennially.

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Canada will try to win its first medal since capturing bronze in 1986. That result matched its previous best of third in 1979.

Kia Nurse led Canada with 17 points, one of five players to score in double figures for her team. Bridget Carleton had 15, while Laeticia Amihere and Natalie Achonwa had 12 apiece. Kayla Alexander had 13 rebounds for Canada.

Canada jumped out to a 26-11 lead after the first quarter and never was threatened.

China faces France and Belgium meets Australia in the other quarterfinals.

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College football odds, picks, predictions, best bets for Week 5, 2022: Proven model backing Oklahoma, Oregon

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Kentucky and Kansas are often known for their basketball prowess, but the Wildcats and Jayhawks both enter the Week 5 college football schedule undefeated. The Wildcats survived an upset bid from Northern Illinois last week and will now go on the road to face the Ole Miss Rebels in an SEC showdown. Kansas, meanwhile, notched its fourth win of the season after beating Duke 35-27 and will battle Iowa State at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Before this season, the Jayhawks recorded three wins or fewer in each of the past 12 years. 

The Week 5 college football odds from Caesars Sportsbook list the Jayhawks as 3.5-point underdogs against the Cyclones. The Wildcats are 6.5-point underdogs against the Rebels in an 12 p.m. ET kickoff in Oxford. Should your Week 5 college football picks include backing Kansas or Kentucky as underdogs, or should you look elsewhere on the CFB odds board for value? Before locking in any Week 5 college football picks on those games or others, be sure to see the latest college football predictions from SportsLine’s advanced computer model.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every FBS college football game 10,000 times. Over the past six-plus years, the proprietary computer model has generated a stunning profit of more than $3,100 for $100 players on its top-rated college football picks against the spread. Anyone who has followed it has seen huge returns.

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Now, it has turned its attention to the latest Week 5 college football odds from Caesars and locked in picks for every FBS matchup. Head here to see every pick.

Top college football predictions for Week 5

One of the college picks the model is high on in Week 5: No. 18 Oklahoma (-5) goes on the road and covers against TCU at noon ET on Saturday. The Sooners were upset by Kansas State, a team that has been very tough on the Sooners recently, in Week 4. But the Sooners have a much better track record against the Horned Frogs. Oklahoma has won eight straight against TCU, and all but two of those wins have come by more than five points. The last two wins in the series have come by an average of 20 points.

The model sees this as a great bounce-back spot for Oklahoma as it is favored by less than a touchdown against a relatively unproven TCU squad. Dillon Gabriel throws for 300 yards in the simulations, with Marvin Mims leading the way with more than 60 receiving yards for OU. The Sooners win more than 60% of the time, making them one of the teams to include in your Week 5 college football best bets. 

Another one of the model’s top college football picks: No. 13 Oregon (-16) has no trouble with the double-digit spread against Stanford in Saturday’s 11 p.m. ET kickoff in Eugene. The Ducks are coming off a thrilling 44-41 come-from-behind victory over Washington State last week. Quarterback Bo Nix was the star of the show, throwing for 428 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Nix has now accounted for at least three touchdowns in each of his last three games. For the season, Nix has thrown for 1,100 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, while also averaging 4.6 yards per carry. 

Oregon is averaging 198.2 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 29th in the nation. Stanford, meanwhile, is giving up 30.33 points per game this season. The Cardinal have also allowed 40 or more points in back-to-back Pac-12 games. SportsLine’s model is projecting the Ducks to rush for over 200 yards against Stanford on Saturday. That helps Oregon control possession and post 41 points in this one as they cover in almost 60% of simulations. See which other teams the model likes here.

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How to make college football picks for Week 5

The model has also made the call on who wins and covers in every other FBS matchup in Week 5, and it says a top-10 favorite will go down hard in one of the week’s biggest games. You can only get every pick for every game at SportsLine.

So what college football picks can you make with confidence? And which top-10 favorite goes down hard? Check out the latest college football odds below, then visit SportsLine to see which teams win and cover the spread, all from a proven computer model that has returned more than $3,100 in profit over the past six-plus seasons, and find out.

College football odds for Week 5 (via Caesars)

See full Week 5 college football picks, odds, predictions here

Thursday, Sept. 29

Utah State at BYU (-24, 60.5)

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Featured Game | BYU Cougars vs. Utah State Aggies

Friday, Sept. 30

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Tulane at Houston (-2.5, 55)

Featured Game | Houston Cougars vs. Tulane Green Wave

UTSA at MTSU (+5, 63)

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Featured Game | Middle Tenn. Blue Raiders vs. UTSA Roadrunners

San Diego State at Boise State (-5.5, 40)

Featured Game | Boise State Broncos vs. San Diego State Aztecs

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Washington at UCLA (+2.5, 65)

Featured Game | UCLA Bruins vs. Washington Huskies

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New Mexico at UNLV (-16, 45.5)

Featured Game | UNLV Rebels vs. New Mexico Lobos

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Saturday, Oct. 1

Michigan at Iowa (+10.5, 43)

Featured Game | Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines

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Kentucky at Ole Miss (-6.5, 55.5)

Featured Game | Ole Miss Rebels vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Oklahoma at TCU (+5, 67.5)

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Featured Game | TCU Horned Frogs vs. Oklahoma Sooners

Oregon State at Utah (-11, 56)

Featured Game | Utah Utes vs. Oregon State Beavers

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Wake Forest at Florida State (-6, 66)

Featured Game | Florida State Seminoles vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Rutgers at Ohio State (-41, 60)

Northwestern at Penn State (-25.5, 52.5)

Featured Game | Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Northwestern Wildcats

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Alabama at Arkansas (+15.5, 61.5)

Featured Game | Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

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Oklahoma State at Baylor (-2.5, 55)

Featured Game | Baylor Bears vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Texas A&M at Mississippi State (-3, 46)

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Featured Game | Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Texas A&M Aggies

NC State at Clemson (-6.5, 46)

Featured Game | Clemson Tigers vs. NC State Wolfpack

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Georgia at Missouri (+27.5, 55.5)

Featured Game | Missouri Tigers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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Arizona State at USC (-24, 61.5)

Featured Game | USC Trojans vs. Arizona State Sun Devils

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Stanford at Oregon (-16, 62.5)

Featured Game | Oregon Ducks vs. Stanford Cardinal

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