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August 19, 2014

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College football by the odds: Vegas preview and picks for week four

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Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel (3) celebrates with a fan after their 69-3 win over Murray State in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, in Tallahassee, Fla.

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It’s time for another week of bad beats, backdoor covers and busted parlays.

Or, for the more optimistic, it’s the return of sweet victories, sweat-free covers and stuffed-full wallets. We’ll do our best to help with the latter in this year’s fifth entry of college football by the odds.

Talking Points has gone a profitable 13-10 against the spread so far.

Find the weekly six pack of picks at the bottom of the page after an extended betting breakdown of two major Week Four games and quick slants on some of the other contests on the card.

No. 10 Clemson +14.5 at No. 4 Florida State; over/under: 56

5 p.m., Saturday, ABC

Tracking down Clemson supporters this week in Las Vegas is as difficult as finding slot machines that still accept coins.

They’re out there somewhere, but don’t expect many people to know where to find them. The vast majority of experts and picks columns are calling for the Seminoles, led by the top-ranked defense in the nation and Heisman candidate E.J. Manuel at quarterback, to cover the pricey spread.

Rest assured, Clemson money is out there. Perhaps the Tigers backers are just less vocal. The line has only moved slightly in Florida State’s direction from its opener at 14 points.

That’s a six-point difference from where Golden Nugget first posted the number this summer, as Florida State went up as eight-point favorites. What has Clemson done to change perception that drastically? Better yet, has Florida State proven it actually deserves this level of respect?

The Seminoles have rightly received praise for outscoring their three opponents a combined 176-3, but that consisted of two Football Championship Subdivision teams and Wake Forest, a team slower than driving on the Strip over the weekend.

Clemson is a perfect 3-0, too, with the athletes to match. Especially now that All-American receiver Sammy Watkins is fully back from a suspension, the Tigers should find ways to score as the Seminoles adjust to a game speed they haven’t experienced since last season.

Can Clemson keep up in a shootout? That’s worth wondering. Looking at over 56 points seems reasonable.

No. 15 Kansas State +15 at No. 6 Oklahoma; over/under: 57.5

4:50 p.m., Saturday, ABC

They’re going to blitz and toss like it’s 2000 all over again in Norman, Okla., Saturday evening.

That’s the last time Bill Snyder and Bob Stoops, two gambling demigods who have combined to cover nearly 57 percent of their games, brought two teams this highly touted into this contest.

Last year was close, as Kansas State got off to a stunning 7-0 start to the season and hosted Oklahoma as 13-point underdogs.

Oklahoma boomed, smacking the Wildcats around en route to a 58-17 victory. It wasn’t all that shocking considering the Sooners have now won five in a row in the series by an average of 22 points per game.

The games have proven close against the spread, however, with Kansas State going 5-4-1 against the Vegas number in the last 10.

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Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder, left, talks with Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, center, and quarterback Sam Bradford, right, before an NCAA football game in Norman, Okla. on Saturday, Oct. 31 2009.

Almost all of the key personnel from last year return, including star signal callers Landry Jones and Collin Klein. Gamblers backing the Sooners are surely pointing that fact out as much those siding with the Wildcats are declaring it the dreaded “revenge game.”

Oklahoma has the luxury of this showdown being sandwiched by bye weeks on its schedule, while Kansas State gets some rest of its own following the contest.

The teams have gone an uninspiring 1-2 against the spread this year, with Kansas State smashing Miami but failing to cover 28 points against North Texas last week. Oklahoma got a scare at UTEP as 30-point favorites before pulling out a 17-point win.

Unsurprisingly, more gamblers have backed the favorite so far.

Quick slants

• Want someone who’s not overreacting to Rich Rodriguez’s 3-0 start at Arizona? Let’s introduce oddsmakers, who posted the now-ranked Wildcats as 22.5-point underdogs against the Oregon Ducks despite their strong start. Oregon has failed to cover in its two lined games this season, but were well on pace at halftime of both before Chip Kelly pulled his starters. Arizona should enjoy no such goodwill against an Oregon defense that has given up an average of a touchdown in first halves this year.

• The underdog has covered in 14 of the last 16 meetings between Notre Dame and Michigan. The Wolverines get six points in their trip to South Bend, Ind., this year despite beating the Irish as underdogs for three straight years. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has accounted for nearly 1,000 yards in the last two games against Notre Dame.

• Like to bet against teams in letdown spots? Take a glance at Connecticut, which is coming off a three-point win against former coach Randy Edsall’s Maryland Terrapins as 2.5-point favorites. Western Michigan, a one-point underdog at home Connecticut this week, is in the opposite emotional state. This is a huge game for the Broncos, who haven’t hosted a BCS team since 2008 when they beat Illinois.

• Letdown Part II: Western Kentucky is coming off of the biggest win in school history as it overthrew in-state titan Kentucky in overtime last week. This week, the Hilltoppers are uncharacteristically four-point favorites at home against Southern Mississippi. Western Kentucky has covered in an astounding 12 straight games, but are only 1-4 in school history as home favorites.

• Oregon State has emerged as one of the more popular picks this week, as the Beavers are down to seven-point underdogs at UCLA after opening at 11. It’s worth noting sharp money also tried to beat the Bruins last week with Houston as 17-point underdogs. It failed as UCLA won 37-6 to improve to 3-0 against the spread and straight-up with new coach Jim Mora and the nation’s leading rusher, Jonathan Franklin.

Click to enlarge photo

This Oct. 8, 2011 file photo shows Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato (12) looking for a receiver during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Central Florida, in Orlando, Fla.

• Stump some friends with this trivia question: Who leads the nation in passing after three weeks? It’s none other than Marshall sophomore Rakeem Cato, who is averaging 422 passing yards per game. He has a tough test this week, on the road against Rice, a team on a two-game against the spread win streak after beating Kansas straight up as a 10.5-point underdog and hanging with Louisiana Tech as a 21-point underdog.

• For the second time since the turn of the century, Auburn is a 21-point underdog at home. Although the Tigers lost to Alabama 42-14 last year in the other instance, there are some factors in their favor ahead of this weekend’s game with LSU. The home team, for instance, has won 11 of 12 in the series. Auburn is 7-3 against the spread as home underdogs in the last 10 years.

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Auburn defensive end Dee Ford (95) sacks Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning (15) during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Auburn, Ala.

• The nation’s best team may be meeting the nation’s worst team Saturday. Alabama, No. 1 in every meaningful poll, gives Florida Atlantic 50 points in Tuscaloosa. The Owls have beaten one FBS team in their last 16 tries and gone 7-20 against the spread since 2010.

• If there’s a traditional low-scoring SEC slugfest Saturday, it may involve a team with no history in the conference. Missouri travels to South Carolina as 10.5-point underdogs for its first SEC road game. Both teams’ quarterbacks, Missouri’s James Franklin and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw were hurt last week but will play here. Their defenses are underrated and stout. Bettors have pushed the over/under down to 48.5 points.

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Air Force running back Cody Getz (28) celebrates his touchdown in the second quarter of Air Force's 31-25 loss at Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

• A line has moved in UNLV’s direction for the second week in a row, as the Rebels are 10.5-point underdogs against Air Force after opening as high as 14. Bobby Hauck has covered tremendously well at Sam Boyd Stadium, going 10-2 against the spread, and the perception may be that UNLV’s rush defense is better than its pass defense. Statistics support that, but they are misleading. The Rebels haven’t faced a solid rushing team yet. They’ve seen no one like Air Force’s Cody Getz this season.

Six pack of picks: Southern Miss +4, Arizona vs. Oregon under 79, Western Michigan +1, UCLA -7, Air Force -10.5, Michigan +6

Year to date record: 13-10

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

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