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April 24, 2014

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of week 8

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Baylor Bears wide receiver Tevin Reese (16) in action during the NCAA Football game between the Baylor Bears and Kansas State Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas.

Six years ago this weekend, sports books listed Baylor as one of the two biggest underdogs on the college football card.

The Bears were getting 26.5 points at home against Texas, a game they ultimately lost but covered in a forgettable 31-10 affair.

This weekend, Baylor is one of the two biggest favorites in college football. The Bears, who lead the nation in offensive production, give Iowa State 33 points — and counting — in a game taking place in the same Floyd Casey Stadium confines as the Week 8 contest from 2007.

It’s not one of the best matchups of the week and therefore not a part of the “college football by the odds” preview below. But it’s an adequate example of a Las Vegas measure that shows how quickly everything can change.

So while it seems Alabama and Oregon are co-favorites to win the national championship every year — they’re both plus-160 (risking $1 to win $1.60) at the LVH Superbook — just give it a few years. In the same season as the Baylor anecdote, the Crimson Tide went 3-9 against the spread and the Ducks clawed their way to the Sun Bowl, where they were a 5.5-point underdog against South Florida.

The landscape constantly changes.

Look below for a rundown of 10 of the biggest college football games of the weekend. The picks went 7-3 again last week to improve to 18-11-1 on the year.

    • Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh runs during the second half of an NCAA football game against Kansas State in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Oklahoma State won 33-29.

      TCU plus-7.5 at Oklahoma State, 9 a.m., Fox

      Like carpet stains and a lingering stench from an apartment’s previous occupant, Texas A&M left an undesirable welcome gift for TCU when it departed the Big 12.

      TCU moved into Texas A&M’s schedule, which contained a strange quirk requiring the Aggies to play in Stillwater, Okla., in consecutive seasons. The Horned Frogs learned about the uninviting nature of Boone Pickens Stadium last season, losing 36-14 as a 6.5-point underdog.

      Oklahoma State is 20-11 against the spread at home over the past five seasons. It had covered six in a row there before a 33-29 win but noncover against Kansas State two weeks ago.

      The narrow escape as 14-point favorites was Oklahoma State’s second straight lackluster showing to open Big 12 play after a stunning 30-21 defeat at West Virginia as 19.5-point favorites.

      At least these two teams, which were practically Big 12 co-favorites before the season with two others, have been equally disappointing at a combined 1-4 against the spread, 2-3 straight up in the conference.

      Oddsmakers at the Golden Nugget had this game with the same minus-7.5 spread all summer that it’s ended up with this week.

      Pick: Oklahoma State minus-7.5 The line moving off a touchdown, where it sat earlier in the week, makes this game a stay-away. But, for the sake of picking every game in the blog, Oklahoma State’s offense is the lesser of two evils when it comes to these scoring-strapped opponents.

    • Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, right, throws the ball past Murray State's Demetric Johnson during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 58-14.

      Florida minus-3 at Missouri, 9:21 a.m., ESPN 3

      Maty Mauk high school highlights

      Out of the hundreds of thousands who have played quarterback in high school over the years, Maty Mauk is the best.

      Or at least the most successful as he holds national records for career yardage, completions and touchdowns. Mauk, the pride of Kenton, Ohio, gets pressed into action early in his college career for Missouri.

      Missouri’s best win since joining the SEC, last week’s 41-26 beatdown of Georgia as a touchdown underdog, came at a hefty price with star signal caller James Franklin separating his shoulder.

      Mauk steps in for an offense averaging 6.3 yards per play, the 19th-best tally in the nation. But Florida’s defense has an even better stat line, surrendering the fourth-fewest yards in the nation at four yards per play behind a fearsome linebacking wall of Antonio Morrison, Dante Fowler and Michael Taylor.

      With a 6-0 record, including 5-0-1 against the spread, Missouri is in control in the SEC East. But the Tigers must also feel a bit slighted, as both CBS and ESPN passed on their biggest home game in years to air SEC contests of lesser significance.

      Pick: Florida minus-3 The Gators have slowed phenom-type quarterbacks on the road in their first start before. Does Johnny Manziel sound familiar? After a rough first half last season, Florida shut down Mr. Football in a 20-17 win as a similar 1.5-point favorite.

    • UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley passesduring the first half of their NCAA college football game against California, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, in Pasadena, Calif.

      UCLA plus-6.5 at Stanford, 12:30 p.m., ABC

      Last year’s Pac-12 championship game owns a place in the registry of forgettable, nondescript title clashes.

      Play a game of recent trivia and ask friends which teams played in it, and most probably wouldn’t even remember it was the Cardinal and the Bruins. UCLA lost 27-24 as 9.5-point underdogs six days after falling 35-17 to the same Stanford team while getting 2.5 points at home.

      The Bruins’ improvement ever since has been as palpable as it was in that two-week stretch. Brett Hundley has gone from a green freshman still finding his way a year ago to a sensational sophomore bound to become a first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback for UCLA.

      Jordon James has bolstered Hundley and the offense by averaging six yards per carry. UCLA holds an edge in most statistical measures — including being 0.5 yard per play better on offense and 0.2 on defense — but Stanford has played the more difficult schedule.

      Not by much, though. Stanford’s strength of opponent is 15th in the nation, according to Football Outsiders, while UCLA is at 29th. The site’s F/+ metric ratings have Stanford fifth and UCLA eighth.

      Last week’s 27-21 loss to Utah as 8.5-point favorites was only coach David Shaw’s fourth at Stanford. In an admittedly small sample, he’s 3-0 straight-up and 2-1 against the spread after a defeat.

      Pick: UCLA plus-6.5 The Bruins are one of college football’s biggest surprises this season, and their undefeated record against the spread shows the betting market is still scrambling to catch up.

    • Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock (15) runs from Michigan State defensive tackle Tyler Hoover (91) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Iowa City, Iowa.

      Iowa plus-17 at Ohio State, 12:30 p.m., ESPN2

      Bet on Urban Meyer teams and thou shall receive cash. It’s almost time to put that into the sports betting commandments.

      The well-traveled coach has another squadron assaulting point spreads, the Buckeyes' only noncover was in their opener as 34-point favorites against Buffalo, to make his career against-the-spread mark even more unbelievable.

      Meyer is 87-49-4 versus the Las Vegas number lifetime. He’s 11-6-1 against the spread since arriving in Columbus, Ohio last year, but 18-0 straight up.

      On the opposite sideline Saturday at Ohio Stadium, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz used to get the same recognition. Remnants of his success for gamblers remain, as his career mark is still a profitable 93-78 despite him not posting a winning record against the spread in five years.

      Iowa is 4-2 straight up, 3-3 against the spread to this point of the season. In addition to their coaches, both teams are in a traditional “bet-on” scenario coming off a bye week.

      Get used to seeing Ohio State carry this large of a price, and don’t expect any discounts. There’s a good chance it could be favored by double digits in every remaining regular-season game, with a finale date at Michigan the only potential exception.

      Pick: Iowa plus-17 The Hawkeyes’ two losses, to Northern Illinois as 3-point favorites and Michigan State at pick ’em, don’t look that bad in hindsight. So much for that commandment.

    • Auburn running back Tre Mason (21) runs a 53-yard touchdown run as Western Carolina defensive back Trey Morgan (26) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.

      Auburn plus-13 at Texas A&M, 12:30 p.m., CBS

      This spread has bobbed up and down as much as a boasting Johnny Manziel’s head after a long touchdown run.

      Several books went with Texas A&M as a two-touchdown favorite to open only to get bet down as low as minus-12 on the home team. That prompted some buyback, and now the Aggies are back to as high as minus-13.5.

      Looking back even further, the Golden Nugget had this as a 24-point game this summer.

      Auburn’s 5-1 straight-up, 4-2 against-the-spread start under new coach Gus Malzahn put an end to it ever carrying that high of a number. What the Tigers have done best, additionally, could challenge the Aggies.

      Auburn has a number of capable ball carriers, including Tre Mason, who’s tallied six yards per carry, ready to attack a Texas A&M defense ranked 104th nationally against the run. The Tigers are seventh in the nation in rushing offense.

      Texas A&M also gave two touchdowns when it visited Auburn last year for the team’s first meeting in 26 years. Manziel negotiated with ease and poise, leading the Aggies to a 63-21 victory.

      Pick: Texas A&M minus-13 Not much confidence here, only siding with the Aggies out of a skeptical suspicion that Auburn isn’t that drastically improved halfway through Malzahn’s first year.

    • Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, bottom left, hangs on to the football as he beats Colorado's Kenneth Crawley (2) to the end zone as field judge Steven Strimling signals for the touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday Oct. 12, 2013, in Tempe, Ariz.

      Washington plus-3 at Arizona State, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network

      Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly would make for a strong fit as the face of this blog series. Based on his statistics, the junior is an all-out gambler.

      Kelly can and will make every throw imaginable, but he sometimes comes up devastatingly short. Aside from the two games where oddsmakers favored his team by four touchdowns or more, Kelly has thrown an interception in every contest this season.

      But he’s also averaged 358 passing yards in the affairs. His touchdown-to-interception ratio in games that were somewhat evenly matched is 9:6.

      No decision yet on whether he’ll have to forfeit his executive position in the Two First Names Club to join Talking Points.

      The last thing the Huskies want to think about is another quarterback who’s going to bomb the ball downfield, not after Oregon’s Marcus Mariota tore them up with 366 yards last week. Washington lost its second straight and didn’t get the cover in the process, falling 45-24 as a 13-point underdog.

      History doesn’t indicate Sun Devil Stadium, where Arizona State coach Todd Graham is 8-3 against the spread since taking over the program, as a promised land for the Huskies to heal. They haven’t won in Tempe, Ariz., since 2001 or covered against the Sun Devils period in their past seven attempts.

      Pick: Arizona State minus-3 Consider this a job interview, Kelly. Anything less than a big day and victory against a drained Washington squad is unacceptable.

    • Florida running back Kelvin Taylor (21) carries as  safety Craig Loston (6) tries to tackle with linebacker Lamin Barrow (18) and linebacker Lamar Louis (23) pursuing in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.  LSU won 17-6.

      LSU minus-8.5 at Ole Miss, 4 p.m., ESPN2

      Trindon Holliday is this fast

      LSU sent gamblers sprinting to the betting window with the speed of track/football alum and current Denver Broncos return man Trindon Holliday this week.

      The Tigers have been bet up as much as three points, from an opener of minus-7.5, for their trip to Oxford, Miss. Although they were impressive last week in outlasting Florida as a 7.5-point favorite in a 17-6 slugfest, that’s not the primary reason for the movement.

      It’s because Ole Miss is giving Georgia a run for its title as the most injured team in the SEC. Star tailback Jeff Scott will miss this game for the Rebels along with an estimated six defensive contributors.

      It’s not ideal timing in what looks like far and away the toughest remaining challenge of the year for Ole Miss, which is already mired in a three-game losing streak and 1-2 against the spread run.

      The Tigers, meanwhile, haven’t failed to beat the number in nearly a month, since beating Auburn 35-21 but coming three points short of the money. A once-maligned defense appears to be coming around under the leadership of outstanding senior linebacker Lamin Barrow.

      That didn’t stop oddsmakers from placing the largest total in series history on this game at 64 points.

      Pick: LSU minus-8.5 Not to jump on the bandwagon — in fairness, this game stuck out to me since Monday — but find the lowest number available and fire.

    • Southern California wide receiver Marqise Lee (9) gets tackled by Arizona State Marion Grice (1) during the second half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 28 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. Lee was hurt on the play and never returned to the game.

      USC plus-3 at Notre Dame, 4:30 p.m., NBC

      Anyone else notice the way the Trojans were flying around and celebrating freely in their first game under interim coach Ed Orgeron?

      Looked a lot more fun, and like a significantly more motivated team, than it did under recently fired Lane Kiffin. The man whom players affectionately refer to as “Coach O” recruited the majority of the Trojans' core, and now they’re relishing the chance to play for him.

      Orgeron said he learned from his infamous flame-out at Ole Miss, where he went 10-25 in three seasons, and has lightened up for this unforeseen opportunity.

      USC will get an additional boost against Notre Dame with the return of both its top receiver, Marqise Lee, and running back, Silas Redd, from injuries.

      The game that got Kiffin canned was a 62-41 loss against Arizona State as a 3.5-point underdog. It doesn’t look promising for the Trojans that the Irish turned around and beat the Sun Devils 37-34 while getting 6.5 points the next week.

      Additionally, Notre Dame is coming off a bye week. But Orgeron’s debut, which finished in a 38-31 win over Arizona, was last Thursday, meaning USC also had ample time for preparation.

      Pick: USC plus-3 The above narrative admittedly, and conveniently, ignores the part where USC nearly blew a 25-point lead it built in the first half against Arizona. The Trojans’ inconsistency makes this play risky, but they’re the right side.

    • Clemson's Garry Peters (26), Robert Smith (27) and Vic Beasley stop Boston College's Andre Williams in the backfield during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 24-14.

      Florida State minus-3 at Clemson, 5 p.m., ABC

      Jameis Winston in 2005

      The last time a game of this magnitude took place in the ACC, several of the players involved today at Death Valley weren’t yet in junior high.

      Two of the remaining 14 undefeated teams in college football meet for the conference’s first game pitting top-five opponents since 2005.

      It’s no shock the Tigers and Seminoles are in this position. Clemson was a short underdog in its opener against Georgia — the Tigers beat the Bulldogs 38-35 getting a point from bookmakers — but favored by at least 12 points in every other game. Sports books have favored Florida State in every game by an average of 23 points.

      The surprising part is the way Florida State, 4-1 against the spread, has torched every opponent in making freshman quarterback Jameis Winston a Heisman candidate. And the way Clemson’s offense behind quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins has looked more mundane in a 3-3 against-the-spread start.

      That’s the basic explanation for why this game has flipped favorites, as Clemson was minus-2.5 over the summer at the Golden Nugget against Florida State.

      Clemson’s defense has accounted for what the offense has lacked. The Tigers lead the nation in sacks behind a staggering nine from defensive end Vic Beasley. The Florida State defense can hold its own too, ranking ninth in the nation and sporting a highly touted NFL prospect at every level in defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Christian Jones and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner.

      Pick: Clemson plus-3 More inclined to look at the under 64 than anything, but for the side, I’ll lean to the more tested home team. The Tigers have also covered four straight in the series.

    • Utah quarterback Travis Wilson (7) is hoisted to the air by Utah fans after defeating Stanford 27-21 during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

      Utah plus-4 at Arizona, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Network

      Nowadays a team can’t even pull off a major upset without everyone looking ahead to the next week and whispering “letdown.”

      Oddsmakers apparently aren’t immune to the bias, either, as Utah opened an absurdly high six-point underdog against Arizona a week after beating Stanford 27-21. The plus-6s were gone as fast as Utah running back Bubba Poole in the open field, and for good reason.

      Yes, the Golden Nugget had Arizona giving 11.5 points in this spot over the summer. But after half a season of action, it’s apparent Utah is the stronger team.

      The Utes are 12th in Football Outsiders’ F/+ metric with Arizona trailing all the way back at No. 26. The Wildcats are one-dimensional with running back Ka’Deem Carey expected to carry the brunt of the offense, as they rank 112th nationally in passing.

      Opponents have started to figure it out, which is part of the reason why Arizona hasn’t covered in its past three attempts and lost two straight.

      Utah will have to overcome its road woes, though. The Utes are just 1-8 against the spread away from Salt Lake City since joining the Pac-12.

      The one cover? Utah won outright, 34-21, as a four-point underdog at Arizona two years ago.

      Pick: Utah plus-4 The letdown angle can be valuable in certain spots — for example, when the market drives up a price on a team that looked flawless a week before — but not seeing it here. The Utes are better than they’re getting credit for.

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

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