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November 22, 2014

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of week 12

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, second from left, is congratulated after scoring on a 14-yard touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon State in Stanford, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. Stanford won 27-23.

Sun's NFL betting game of Week 11

Which side would you take in this week’s Sunday Night Football game?
Baltimore -3.5 — 78.1%
Pittsburgh +3.5 — 21.9%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Sports books caused more forced retirements than a bankrupt mega-corporation last weekend.

A large group of disgruntled gamblers no doubt stomped out of a casino and onto Las Vegas Boulevard swearing they would never bet on sports again after the events of last Saturday’s college football slate. Bad beats struck quick and frequently, turning what looked like the surest tickets into nothing more than recyclable material.

Heck, the Magnolia State alone threw a lethal one-two punch in a matter of minutes Saturday evening. Mississippi State stayed within the 15-point spread at LSU for the entire game before throwing an interception that was returned 100 yards to lose 37-17 in the final minute.

That came right before MSU rival Ole Miss put the finishing touches on blowing a 17-point lead and allowing Vanderbilt to score a game-winning touchdown with less than a minute to go. Ole Miss lost 27-26 as a 3-point favorite.

That one hurt Talking Points’ six pack of picks, available at the bottom of the page. But in fairness, a victory was notched earlier in the day by an even more memorable collapse.

Rutgers, -17, and Army were tied at a touchdown apiece with nine minutes to go before the Scarlet Knights scored twice in three minutes to go up 21-7. Army then fumbled with 40 seconds remaining, and Rutgers returned the turnover 73 yards for a touchdown.

This is just a trio of horror stories that came out of Saturday. Plenty of other examples, UCLA’s 44-36 win as 16-point favorites and BYU’s 52-13 victory at -40, could work interchangeably.

Expecting to juke away from such situations is unrealistic. It’s part of betting football, just the part everyone’s hoping to avoid next weekend.

Look below for a betting breakdown of the week’s two major games as well as quick slants on other matchups on the card and picks to top it all off.

No. 18 USC -3.5 at No. 17 UCLA; over/under: 66

When the inevitable swarm of Angelenos descends upon Las Vegas Friday night, the cheapest entertainment will be available at the seats in the front of the sports books.

Watching the range of emotions when USC and UCLA fans drop in to peer at the betting board should make for an entertaining show.

Those dressed in blue and gold will likely smile and feel exhilarated. Their cardinal and gold adversaries may shake their heads and wonder how they got to this point.

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UCLA head coach Jim Mora gestures during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Houston, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Pasadena, Calif.

The Bruins are less than a 6-point underdog in the Battle for Los Angeles for the first time in a decade — in coach Jim Mora, Jr.’s first year, nonetheless. And in a year where Lane Kiffin’s Trojans started their campaign ranked No. 1 in the nation.

UCLA, truth be told, was a slightly bigger underdog a couple of days ago. Oddsmakers pegged UCLA at +4, but sharp money drove the price down.

The Bruins have certainly taken better care of gamblers’ money this year. They are 6-4 against the spread as opposed to the Trojans 3-7 mark.

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Jonathan Franklin have actually proven more productive than USC signal caller Matt Barkley and leading rusher Silas Redd.

One can only imagine what sports book directors would have posted as the odds on that at the beginning of the year.

Defense, aside from allowing a combined 101 points in losses to Oregon and Arizona, is where USC clearly edges UCLA this season. Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams are two of the best pass-rushers on the west coast.

USC has yet to cover on the road this season, though it’s debatable whether the Rose Bowl counts as an away game. UCLA has cashed in every game where oddsmakers installed it as an underdog this season.

No. 13 Stanford +20.5 at No. 2 Oregon; over/under: 65

In the current golden age of Stanford football, which began four seasons ago with Andrew Luck’s freshman campaign, the Cardinal has only lost by more than 20 points twice.

Oregon was behind both beatings, routing Stanford 53-30 as 2.5-point underdogs last season after covering -6.5 with a 52-31 win in 2010.

So analysts and those unqualified to comment on sports betting can go ahead and choke back the fake outrage voiced about three touchdowns being too much to give up to a strong Cardinal team.

If anything, the lines in this series the past couple years were the incorrect ones. Bettors who have gone against Oregon in recent weeks must feel like small pieces of bread left near a duck pond.

Oregon has covered the spread in five straight games with historic efficiency on offense. Kenjon Barner, Byron Marshall, De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota all average more than 50 rushing yards per game.

Mariota, freshman quarterback, tosses in his No. 1 ranking nationally in passing efficiency for good measure. The Ducks have sent six of nine lined games over the total.

Seven of 10 totals have gone under for the Cardinal. Their defense is among the most underrated in the nation.

Stanford allows a national-best two yards per carry. Junior linebacker Trent Murphy leads the unit with regular highlight plays and an NFL future ahead.

The Cardinal has drawn more money so far as the line is down from an opener as high as Oregon -23. Look for a lopsided amount of bets to start coming on the Ducks as the public gets more involved before kickoff.

Stanford contains the tools to slow Oregon for a while, but no team in the country is capable of shutting this machine down for an entire game.

Quick slants

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Clemson tight end Stanston Seckinger, left, celebrates with Sam Cooper after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 45-10.

• Can you name a team that’s one close loss, in which they covered, away from being right in the middle of the national championship race? Doubtful, because it’s a team that seems largely forgotten. It’s Clemson, which has treated bettors as well as a five-star resort treats its red-carpet vacationers. The Tigers are 8-1 against the spread with the lone loss coming when they beat Ball State by 25 as 27-point favorites. Clemson lays 17 at home against North Carolina State Saturday.

• Early money indicates the number of undefeated teams will fall from four to three this weekend. Bettors like Wisconsin to act as unfriendly hosts to Big Ten Leaders Division rivals Ohio State at Camp Randall. The Badgers are up to 3-point favorites, two points higher than they opened.

• No. 3 Notre Dame failed to cover in four of its last five games, making its against the spread record 5-5 on the season. Only one team in the last 15 years has won the national championship with a losing mark against the spread. Notre Dame gives Wake Forest 24 points Saturday at home, where the Irish have won by more than a touchdown just once all year.

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Kansas State wide receiver Chris Harper (3) goes up to catch a pass against Kansas safety Bradley McDougald (24) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.

• Sports books mind neither the new No. 1 ranking next to Kansas State’s name nor the way the Wildcats have covered in every game except one this season. Despite their continued success, the Wildcats aren’t a team the public loves enough to give the books exposure on the other side every week. Kansas State is a popular pick this week, however, as its line at Baylor is -13 after opening as low as -11.

• Sure seems like Indiana is the rare team that can lay claim to going from overvalued to undervalued in one week. Indiana was a seven-point underdog against Wisconsin last week, a number that proved fraudulent when the Badgers gorged 62-14. Indiana gets 11 more points this week at Penn State. The 18-point spread is larger than each of the past two years in the series when the Hoosiers were noticeably worse.

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West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith (12) drops back to pass against UNLV in the second half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia defeated UNLV 49-10.

• The quarterback carousel at Oklahoma State has now gone over 2.5 players. Injuries to Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh pressed Clint Chelf into action last week in a 55-34 win over West Virginia. Chelf is the toast of Stillwater, Okla., after throwing for 292 yards and five touchdowns. He’s expected to start against visiting 10-point underdogs Texas Tech Saturday. Let’s not forget Texas Tech’s defense is a significant step-up from West Virginia, which ranks dead last in the nation against the pass.

• Speaking of the Mountaineers, has anyone seen them recently? They seem to have fallen off the cliff of national consciousness by losing and failing to cover in four straight games. A month after being in discussions as a national championship contender, West Virginia gets 11 points at home when it welcomes Oklahoma. The Sooners are lacking in motivation after falling out of the title race themselves as evidenced by last week’s lackadaisical eight-point win at Baylor.

• Missouri and Syracuse are in eerily similar situations heading into Saturday’s game against each other: Both teams are coming off of major wins and need one more victory to become bowl eligible. The difference is, Missouri travels to Texas A&M next week while Syracuse feasts on Temple. Considering the scheduling and the way James Franklin has reinvigorated offense, giving 4.5 points with the Tigers sounds equitable.

• UL-Lafayette nearly joined the ranks of UL-Monroe and Texas State as teams to pull off upsets as underdogs of at least four touchdowns this season. The Rajun’ Cajuns were tied with Florida in the Swamp last Saturday, but gave up a touchdown on a blocked punt with two seconds remaining to lose 27-20. It’s hard to bounce back from that devastation, especially as a 4-point favorite against a Western Kentucky team that had covered 15 straight dating back to 2011 earlier this season.

• San Jose State is one of the best teams against the spread this season with an 8-2 record, but the Trojans haven’t played anyone as good as BYU since week 1. BYU, three-point favorites at San Jose State, boasts the No. 4 ranked defense in the nation. The Cougars are better than their 6-4 record, as three losses have come by a combined seven points.

Six pack of picks: West Virginia +11, Indiana +18, Missouri -4.5, Western Kentucky +4, Texas Tech +10, BYU -3

Year to date record: 37-34

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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