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October 25, 2014

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 6

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Christopher DeVargas

The Cantor Sports Book at Silverton held its grand opening celebration Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012. The 2,000-square-foot sports book features a 2.35-million-LED-pixel video screen that can show four feature sporting events at once.

If sports book directors ever desired to have their domains double as campgrounds, this weekend would be the time to do it.

Bettors could grind their bankrolls for a record amount of time today until literal exhaustion, then wake up and do it all over again Sunday. Week 6 of college football combined with Week 5 of the NFL is a test of endurance for pigskin gambling aficionados.

With Air Force and Navy, a 13-point favorite in the game, kicking off the college slate at an earlier-than-normal 8:30 a.m., Saturday could bring a total of 16 hours of action. Sunday won’t be much less with a game between the San Diego Chargers, a 4-point favorite, and the Oakland Raiders moved to 8:35 at night because of the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Thirty hours of football? Best come prepared. Find coverage of the NFL’s weekend here, but it’s all about college football in this space and atoning for a disappointing 4-5-1 record a week ago.

That comes with a disclaimer that we decided to pick the 10 biggest games of the week with no regard for whether it was a strong enough stance to be an actual play. We’ll continue to analyze the week’s biggest games — no getting away from Ohio State vs. Northwestern or Washington vs. Stanford, for example — but also sprinkle in a more balanced sampling of matchups from all the BCS conferences.

Check below for the rundown on the 10 games as part of this week’s college football by the odds.

    • Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown looks for a receiver in the first half of an NCAA college football game against West Virginia in Baltimore, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.

      Maryland plus-15 at Florida State, 9 a.m., ESPN

      Juan Dixon, Chris Wilcox and Steve Blake were still roaming the campus in College Park, Md., and six months away from cutting down the nets in the NCAA Tournament, the last time the Terrapins started 4-0 in football.

      Maryland’s somewhat surprising fast start, in which they’ve covered every game without a sweat, makes this early matchup the most improbable of three Week 6 contests between ranked teams.

      Finally healthy quarterback C.J. Brown, who has thrown for seven touchdowns and run for six, has the Terrapins just sliding in at No. 25. Despite a schedule that Football Outsiders ranks as one of the six easiest in the nation thus far, at least some bettors are buying it.

      Lines posted as high as Florida State minus-16.5 were driven down early in the week. Expect the public to look beyond No. 8 Florida State’s troubling non-cover in a 48-34 win at Boston College last week and move the spread upward before kickoff.

      Pick: Florida State minus-15 Tough one to call, but it’s usually worthwhile fading teams beginning to experience accolades that feel foreign.

    • Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini talks into his head set in the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Dakota State in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.

      Illinois plus-9 at Nebraska, 9 a.m., ESPNU

      Warning: Explicit Language

      It’s almost as if Illinois coach Tim Beckman popped up from his seat and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini swooped in to sit in it. Now Pelini is squirming because it’s hot and uncomfortable.

      Beckman has erased fears concerning his job security with a 3-1 straight-up and against-the-spread record to start the season, one more victory and the same number of covers as his first year as the Fighting Illini coach. Pelini may not feel as safe, not after old audio surfaced of him cursing Nebraska fans and media after a loss.

      In fairness, the tirade was less offensive than his defense, which ranks 103rd in the nation allowing 6.6 yards per play. That can explain the abnormally high Big Ten over/under of 62 points in this game. By contrast, a conference matchup between Michigan State and Iowa at the same time has a total set at 38 points.

      Long-tenured Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is out with an injury, but backup Tommy Armstrong performed well as a replacement in a 59-20 win over San Diego State to cover the 21-point spread. Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaasse, who like Martinez seems like he’s started at quarterback since the last time these two “conference rivals” met in 1986, will look to hand Nebraska its second loss and third non-cover of the season.

      Pick: Nebraska minus-9 Getting the Cornhuskers off a bye week at a discount because of Martinez’s injury.

    • Kansas State coach Bill Snyder watches his team during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas, Saturday,  Sept. 21, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

      Kansas State plus-14 at Oklahoma State, 12:30 p.m., ABC

      'I'm a man. I'm 40.'

      Bill Snyder’s a man. He’s 40 times two.

      Well, almost. Kansas State’s football miracle worker and gambling demigod coaches his final game as a 74-year-old — his birthday is Monday — against the younger, more combustible Mike Gundy in Stillwater.

      Snyder has undermined his impressive career against-the-spread record of 140-98-4 this season. The Wildcats are only 1-3 vs. the number and 2-2 straight-up.

      Their early-season loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State as 12.5-point favorites was less exposing than Oklahoma State’s 30-21 stumble at West Virginia laying 19.5 points last week, though.

      The Cowboys, who have won the Big 12 only once in its 17-year existence, proved undeserving of the conference-favorite tag Las Vegas put on them before the season by leading one of the league’s bottom-feeders for just five minutes.

      The Golden Nugget had the line on this game at Oklahoma State minus-9.5 during the summer, and it’s difficult to compute what the Cowboys have done to precipitate a 4.5-point swing in their direction.

      Pick: Kansas State plus-14 Never doubt Snyder, especially when oddsmakers get generous with the points offering.

    • Miami quarterback Stephen Morris passes the football during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Savannah State, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

      Georgia Tech plus-5 at Miami, 12:30 p.m., ESPNU

      The Hurricanes have a history of being underestimated in this series and then rolling into town and flattening everything in their wake.

      Miami has beaten Georgia Tech for four straight years and covered the spread by an average of 17 points in those meetings. Oddsmakers might have a flawed reading again on the Hurricanes this season judging by the early returns.

      Miami has been dominant in all four games. The Hurricanes are a garbage-time touchdown — by Florida Atlantic in a 34-6 win as 31-point favorites — away from cashing tickets in every contest.

      They’re No. 9 in Football Outsiders’ ratings. Georgia Tech is all the way down at No. 46, and there are signs it’s been overvalued by oddsmakers.

      The Ramblin’ Wreck had no business giving seven points against Virginia Tech last week and justly lost straight-up 17-10. They’ll be desperate not to fall to 2-2 in the conference, but it’s not as if Miami will come out unmotivated in its ACC opener.

      Pick: Miami minus-5 Tread carefully because this line seems almost too good to be true. That’s usually a red flag, but not one Miami isn’t capable of gusting over.

    • In this Sept. 28, 2013, file photo, Oregon running back Byron Marshall, left, tries to evade California defender Dan Camporeale during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Eugene, Ore. Marshall embodies Oregon's "Next Man In" philosophy.

      Oregon minus-40.5 at Colorado, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network

      The Buffaloes took a U-turn on their route to respectability last week. The Ducks kept on cruising at double the speed limit down the highway to the national championship.

      After starting the season 2-0 straight-up and against the spread under new coach Mike MacIntyre, Colorado reverted to its old ways in a 44-17 blowout loss to Oregon State as 12-point underdogs. But it had a decent excuse in not playing for three weeks because of the Boulder, Colo., floods postponing a game.

      Oregon mocked another spread of more than five touchdowns with a 55-12 beatdown of California at Autzen Stadium, the Ducks' fourth straight win and cover despite an average line of minus-38. But coach Mark Helfrich hasn’t needed to rest many starters or be thinking ahead with the parade of walkovers in his path.

      That changes this week. With an early-season showdown at Washington on deck, expect Oregon to slow down once it gets a big lead. More stars will join standout running back De’Anthony Thomas, nursing an injured ankle, on the bench as the game goes on.

      Pick: Colorado plus-40.5 After last week’s win on Boston College against Florida State, this is this week’s version of the “take a deep breath and know you’re getting the best of the number” game.

    • TCU defensive end Jon Koontz (97), cornerback Jason Verrett (2) and linebacker Jonathan Anderson (41) recover a SMU fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU won 48-17.

      TCU plus-10.5 at Oklahoma, 4 p.m., Fox

      Speaking of scheduling spots that don’t appear conducive to covering the spread, the Sooners look like a fly trying to yank one of its legs off a glue trap.

      Oklahoma is coming off of a major revenge victory it thought about all offseason, a 35-21 humbling of Notre Dame as 3.5-point favorites, with the Red River Shootout against archrival Texas up next. Standing in its way is a plucky TCU team with an elite defense — led by Jason Varrett, the nation’s leader in passes defended — and an offense that showed signs of its capability without injured starting quarterback Casey Pachall last week.

      The Horned Frogs earned their first cover of the season in a 48-17 dismantling of cross-town rival SMU as 17-point favorites.

      Sharp bettors noticed the volatility of this spot for the Sooners in the offseason, betting them down to 6.5-point favorites from an opener of minus-9 at the Golden Nugget. It was one of the largest moves in any game.

      Pick: TCU plus-10.5 I’m on record with my love of this Oklahoma team — suggesting a future ticket on it to win the national championship at 30-to-1 last week — but it’s going to take one heck of an effort just to win this game by a touchdown.

    • Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen celebrates his team's 62-7 win over Troy in their NCAA college football game at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/

      LSU minus-9.5 at Mississippi State, 4 p.m., ESPN

      All things considered — the inherent disadvantages of recruiting to Starkville, Miss., notwithstanding — Dan Mullen has done a decent job in his tenure as coach at Mississippi State.

      He’s 31-24 straight-up and 28-25 against the spread in five seasons manning the Bulldogs. But he’s missing something of the utmost importance to any relatively young coach — a signature victory.

      Mullen is 1-9 straight-up and 3-7 against the spread against ranked teams at home. The one victory came in the Egg Bowl when Mississippi State defeated rival No. 25 Ole Miss in Mullen’s first season.

      Could this be the week? Let’s just make scheduling issues of some of the nation’s best teams a theme this week because LSU follows the same pattern as Oklahoma or Oregon.

      The Tigers are coming off of a taxing Game of the Year loss to Georgia last week with the annual showdown against Florida on tap for next Saturday. Mississippi State rested and watched the game from home on an off week.

      The Bulldogs additionally have only a game against Bowling Green before another bye week. Their undivided attention is on the Tigers. Situations don’t get much more favorable than this.

      Pick: Mississippi State plus-9.5 Not much confidence in this pick out of concern for the way Mississippi State has shown a tendency to fold against more talented teams in the past.

    • Northwestern's Treyvon Green (22) runs into the end zone after a touchdown against Western Michigan's Donald Celiscar (34) and Trevor Sweeney (25) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Evanston, Ill.,  Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.

      Ohio State minus-7 at Northwestern, 5 p.m., ABC

      The end of September 2013 will be remembered for the end of two memorable runs, both shown on television.

      It’s difficult to cope with losing both Walter White’s crime spree on “Breaking Bad” and Pat Fitzgerald’s covering spree with the Northwestern football team at roughly the same time. The Wildcats' streak of nine consecutive victories against the spread, and 14 of 15, has come to an end with two straight win-but-no-covers.

      Of course, they didn’t extend much energy in beating four-touchdown spreads against Maine and Western Michigan. Fitzgerald built a lead and pulled his starters, in a likely attempt to have them rested for one of the biggest games in school history. This game.

      Northwestern could take control of its dream to win a Big Ten title with a win against the No. 3-ranked team in the country.

      Ohio State bettors know about teams allowing opponents to cover after last week. Despite leading 31-14 to start the fourth quarter, Ohio State allowed 10 unanswered points from Wisconsin to end the game with a push on the 7-point spread.

      Quarterback Braxton Miller looked flawless in his return, going 17-for-25 for 198 yards and four touchdowns. But it’s not as if Northwestern lacks its own options with quarterback Kain Colter and running back Treyvon Green presenting a tricky running game.

      Pick: Northwestern plus-7 Ohio State is the better team, but don’t mind stepping out with a squad this disciplined and motivated.

    • Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty (14) celebrates his touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe  with teammate Lache Seastrunk (25) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Waco, Texas.

      West Virginia plus-28 at Baylor, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1

      Let’s take a moment to gawk at the per-game statistics the Bears have put up so far this season. Here’s a sampling: 70 points, 444 passing yards and 307 rushing yards.

      Wow.

      Now step back and realize they came against Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe. OK, but still impressive. Oddsmakers think so, as there’s no other way to explain a four-touchdown spread in Baylor’s Big 12 conference opener against a team that just shocked Oklahoma State.

      Last year in West Virginia, Baylor wound up on the wrong end of a 70-63 duel but covered its plus-11 spread. With this year’s over/under set at 70.5, expect a frenzy of points again.

      But the Mountaineers don’t have the pieces to keep up with the Bears. No one does. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk might post one of the most prolific offensive seasons in college football history by the time all is said and done.

      Pick: Baylor minus-28 No one is going to march to the window confidently giving four touchdowns, but this feels like the right side with what could turn out to be a special team.

    • Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan drops back to pass against Washington State in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Seattle. Stanford won 55-17.

      Washington plus-7.5 at Stanford, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

      The best major-conference game of the day will be the last to kick off.

      No one’s surprised to find Stanford, which blasted its first two Pac-12 opponents to stay undefeated and even its against-the-spread record to 2-2, in this position. But fewer, if any, saw Washington’s sheer dominance at 4-0 straight-up, 3-1 against the spread coming.

      The Huskies boast a more impressive statistical profile than any team in the nation. They’ve outgained a relatively tough schedule — including Boise State, Arizona and Illinois — by an average of 574 to 288 yards. To put that in perspective, Stanford is deservedly considered a great team but only winning by an average 439-343 yardage edge.

      The Huskies’ numerical brilliance has them ranked No. 4 in Football Outsiders’ FEI ratings, barely behind the Cardinal at No. 3.

      Quantifying all the other factors in this game gets murky. Stanford is thinking revenge for getting upset 17-13 as a touchdown-favorite at Washington last season. Washington is dealing with the distraction of coach Steve Sarkisian getting linked to the job opening at USC.

      Pick: Washington plus-7.5 It’s best just to sit this one out and enjoy the game. With the obligation to pick, however, I’ll potentially make a foolish mistake for the third week in a row and go against Stanford. No jumping off now.

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

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