Sidelines with John Clay

College football and NFL picks: Can UK rebound? Will interim coach change U of L?

We are back at it with our college football and NFL picks on this final weekend before Thanksgiving.

So far, I’m beating Ben when it comes to straight-up picks. After going 9-1 last week — Kentucky was my lone losing pick — I am 75-35 on the season. After also going 9-1 last week, Ben is 72-38 on the season.

Against the spread, however, Ben is ahead of me by a wide margin. After going 5-4-1 last week, Ben is 57-50-3 on the season. After going 3-6-1 last week, I am 48-59-3 on the season.

Here are this week’s picks:

Middle Tennessee at Kentucky

Saturday, Noon, SEC alternate

Line: Kentucky by 16

John: Kentucky 31, Middle Tennessee 14

Call me crazy, but I see a breakout Senior Day for the embattled Kentucky offense. Middle Tennessee’s defense is ranked 71st nationally, compared to 43rd-Tennessee, 12th-Georgia, 26th-Texas A&M.

Against the spread: Kentucky

Ben: Kentucky 24, Middle Tennessee 13

Middle’s defense isn’t as stout as the teams UK has faced most recently, but there’s also been little evidence the Cats’ offense has what it takes for a blowout. (And Kentucky is 0-4 against the spread as the favorite this season).

Against the spread: Middle Tennessee

Arkansas at Mississippi State

Saturday, Noon, ESPN

Line: Mississippi State by 21

John: Mississippi State 28, Arkansas 6

Mississippi State’s defense is the real deal. Arkansas’ offense is not. The Bulldogs can still finish 8-4 with wins over the Razorbacks and archrival Ole Miss.

Against the spread: Mississippi State

Ben: Mississippi State 35, Arkansas 10

Other than that loss to Florida, the Bulldogs have been money at home (5-1 against the spread in Starkville, with some impressive wins to boot.)

Against the spread: Mississippi State

North Carolina State at Louisville

Saturday, 12:20 p.m., ACC

Line: N.C. State by 16.5

John: N.C. State 34, Louisville 20

With the Cards finally free of the Bobby Petrino speculation, it will be interesting to see what Louisville will do under interim coach Lorenzo Ward. I expect a better showing, but not a winning showing.

Against the spread: Louisville

Ben: N.C. State 42, Louisville 20

U of L has a new coach, and that’ll be nice for the Cardinals down the road, but they still have lots of problems and little time to fix them.

Against the spread: N.C. State

Syracuse at Notre Dame

Saturday, 2:30 p.m, NBC

Line: Notre Dame by 11

John: Notre Dame 33, Syracuse 31

Keep thinking the Irish will stub its collective toe at some point, and Syracuse is more than capable of pulling the upset. Home field advantage gives the edge to Notre Dame.

Against the spread: Syracuse

Ben: Notre Dame 38, Syracuse 34

The Cuse has an offense that can make things interesting, and they’re 3-0 against the spread as an underdog this season (with double-digit wins in two of those games). This should be Notre Dame’s last real test before Clemson beats them by 20 in the Playoff.

Against the spread: Syracuse

Missouri at Tennessee

Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS

Line: Missouri by 6

John: Tennessee 23, Missouri 21

As they proved in rocking Kentucky, the Vols are improving under first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt. Missouri’s roller-coaster ride continues. Up the last two weeks, Mizzou is due for a downer.

Against the spread: Tennessee

Ben: Tennessee 28, Missouri 27

Hard to know what you’re going to get from either of these teams on a week-to-week basis. Vols do seem to be on the improve, and this seems like it should be closer to a pick ‘em. (And would it really surprise anyone if either team won by 20?).

Against the spread: Tennessee

West Virginia at Oklahoma State

Saturday, 3:30 p.m, ABC

Line: West Virginia by 5

John: West Virginia 42, Oklahoma State 27

The Mountaineers must get past the Cowboys in Stillwater to all but lock up a spot in the Big 12 title game. Quarterback Will Grier should get the job done.

Against the spread: West Virginia

Ben: West Virginia 50, Oklahoma State 27

Expecting Will Grier and his fellow Morgantown millennials to get liberal with the offensive output this weekend. Mike Gundy won’t like it.

Against the spread: West Virginia

Duke at Clemson

Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN

Line: Clemson by 28

John: Clemson 30, Duke 17

Duke Coach David Cutcliffe is crafty enough to keep the Blue Devils close, but Clemson should survive and continue toward their appointed meeting with Alabama in the national championship game.

Against the spread: Duke

Ben: Clemson 31, Duke 20

Four touchdowns is way too much to give up on a Blue Devils team that has been solid away from home this season (four wins, zero losses as a road underdog). Clemson wins, but it won’t be a rout.

Against the spread: Duke

Ole Miss at Vanderbilt

Saturday, 7:30 p.m, SEC

Line: Vanderbilt by 2.5

John: Vanderbilt 38, Ole Miss 34

Kentucky caught a break when Vandy running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn missed the UK game with a leg injury. Vaughn rushed for 172 yards at Arkansas and 182 last week at Missouri. He’ll keep the ball rolling against the Rebels.

Against the spread: Vanderbilt

Ben: Vanderbilt 38, Ole Miss 27

Vandy is back home in Nashville after three straight road games. ‘Dores have no room for error if they want to go to a bowl, and they take care of business here to keep those hopes alive.

Against the spread: Vanderbilt

Iowa State at Texas

Saturday, 8 p.m., Longhorn Network

Line: Texas by 3

John: Iowa State 26, Texas 24

If you haven’t heard of Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell, you will. His name will pop up for various college jobs this winter and he’s believed to be high on the list of the Cleveland Browns for their NFL opening.

Against the spread: Iowa State

Ben: Texas 34, Iowa State 31

The Longhorns’ lone home loss this season came by one point to West Virginia two weeks ago. Texas’ last six games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Horns are 4-2 in those games, and they win another close one here.

Against the spread: Texas

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams

Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Rams by 3.5

John: Chiefs 38, Rams 35

Loss of wide receiver Cooper Kupp will hurt the Rams’ offense and Wade Phillips’ defense will have trouble with Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt.

Against the spread: Chiefs

Ben: Chiefs 35, Rams 30

Rams have looked a little shaky the past few weeks, while the Chiefs just keep rolling along. (KC is also 5-0 against the spread on the road this season). Rams’ defense will be no match for them.

Against the spread: Chiefs

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader