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December 19, 2014

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of week 5

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Courtesy

The Golden Nugget’s sportsbook.

Like an imminent backdoor cover from a four-touchdown underdog, Talking Points is arriving late in the game.

Our weekly college football by the odds installment went on an unintended hiatus during the start of the season. Blame all the fights.

Showing any signs of fight is something that could have benefited college football’s underdogs during last week’s slate of games. Favorites clubbed their inferiors with uppercuts, going 55-2 straight-up and 36-21 against the spread during Week 4.

Memphis’ 31-7 win over Arkansas State as 3.5-point underdogs and Utah’s 20-13 upset as 7-point underdogs at BYU were the only victories from teams taking points in Las Vegas.

For the sake of underdog bettors, and many of our picks below, let’s hope for a bounce back in a week that features a far more intriguing slate of games. The blog is imitating the effect of a new offensive coordinator arriving in town by switching up the format.

For the rest of the college football season, we’ll analyze 10 of the best games of the week from a Las Vegas perspective and offer a pick.

Click through below for the Week 5 edition of college football by the odds.

    • LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger (8) passes between Auburn defensive back Adam Dyas (38) and defensive tackle Ben Bradley (50) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. LSU won 35-21.

      No. 6 LSU plus-3 at No. 9 Georgia, 12:30, CBS

      The chances of this line moving before kickoff seem about as likely as the Bulldogs staff suddenly deciding to chop down the hedges at Sanford Stadium. Big money feasted on LSU plus-3.5 at the few books where it was available in town earlier in the week. A move to Georgia minus-2.5 would be met with the same reaction.

      There’s a convenient narrative here in LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger returning to where he grew up — his mother works in the Georgia athletic department — and started his college career. Mettenberger has been one of the most efficient passers in college football through four games. But make no mistake: Georgia has the better senior quarterback, Aaron Murray, and superior offense. LSU holds a comparable edge on defense.

      Seven combined games for these two teams have all gone over the total to push this over/under to 62.5, the highest in series history by 13 points.

      Pick: Under 62.5 We’ll normally stick to sides as promised, but this line is just right while the total is a bit inflated.

    • Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell (10) avoids a tackle by Tulsa defender Derrick Alexander Jr. (54) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.

      No. 14 Oklahoma minus-3.5 at No. 22 Notre Dame, 12:30, NBC

      More than a handful of gamblers are either going to back Notre Dame or shy from Oklahoma today based on what happened in this matchup last year. In one of the most shocking results of the season, Notre Dame eradicated Oklahoma 30-13 on the road as 10.5-point underdogs.

      Is the effect of last year’s game on the betting market justifiable? Not at all. For starters, a look back reveals the meeting was much closer than the score indicated. Oklahoma had more first downs than Notre Dame, and just 24 fewer yards. The Sooners appear liberated playing with fewer expectations this season, especially now that coach Bob Stoops has come to his senses and made Blake Bell their starting quarterback.

      Aside from a season-ending trip to Oklahoma State, this projects as the toughest game on Oklahoma’s schedule. Its 30-to-1 odds to win the national championship, which have remained unchanged for months at the LVH Superbook, even look intriguing considering it’s a number due to drop with a victory in South Bend, Ind.

      Pick: Oklahoma minus-3.5 Laying the hook is always a cause for concern, but oddsmakers haven’t caught up to this Sooners team yet.

    • Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, center, runs in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Tallahassee, Fla.

      No. 8 Florida State minus-23.5 at Boston College, 12:30, ABC

      The nation has yet to break out of its honeymoon phase with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The freshman is now only an underdog to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater to win the Heisman Trophy at offshore sports books.

      The love could get another boost with Winston making his national-television debut against a hapless squad that couldn’t even defeat lower-level Villanova earlier this season. The line has moved as much as 1.5 points in Florida State’s favor.

      As dazzling as Winston’s first game on the road was at Pittsburgh, the Panthers’ defense is even more pitiful than the Eagles’. Often times the best moment to go against a team is when the public can’t possibly fathom it.

      Pick: Boston College plus-23.5 Take a deep breath and know you’re getting the best of the number.

    • Mississippi head coach Hugh Freeze yells to an official in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt on Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. Mississippi won 39-35.

      No. 21 Mississippi plus-14 at No. 1 Alabama, 3:30, ESPN

      For all bookmakers’ groans about elite teams covering at exorbitant rates this season, they’ve gotten a reprieve of sorts with the best program in the country. The Crimson Tide are just 1-2 against the spread, not covering since a season-opening 35-10 smash session over Virginia Tech as 21.5-point favorites.

      They find themselves in another tough spot here. The Rebels travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where they’ve covered in their last four trips, off of a bye week. They’ve been one of the best teams in the country to bet on at 12-4 against the spread since coach Hugh Freeze took over last season. Alabama might come out with extra focus, however, after coach Nick Saban expressed disappointment in his team’s 31-6 victory over Colorado State as 40-point favorites last week.

      Line shopping is paramount here. As recently as Friday morning, both Alabama minus-14 and Ole Miss plus-16 were available at different sports books around town.

      Pick: Alabama minus-14 Sigh. Here’s where I already regret deciding to pick every game. This would otherwise be an easy pass.

    • SMU defensive end Zach Wood (90) and Texas A&M offensive linesman Jake Matthews (75) lock up on the line in the fourth quarter during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in College Station, Texas. Texas A&M won 42-13.

      No. 10 Texas A&M minus-15 at Arkansas, 4:00, ESPN

      The Aggies are Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s lock of the week, so that says something. The professional boxer — and, despite what he portrays, amateur sports bettor — told the Howard Stern Show he’d bet $300,000 on Johnny Football and his cronies this week.

      Mayweather proceeded to get the spread wrong, though, referring to Texas A&M as a 3-point favorite. If that were the case, the Aggies would be everyone’s lock of the week. But the confusion was understandable, as several books posted no line on this game for most of the week with the status of Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen uncertain.

      He remains questionable. The Razorbacks’ prospects diminish if they start A.J. Derby, who’s no thoroughbred. Derby threw for only 137 yards in a 27-24 loss at Rutgers last week. That’s a quarter of the offense Johnny Manziel accounted for last season against Arkansas in one of his first breakout performances.

      Pick: Texas A&M minus-15 In the same interview, Mayweather estimated he was up “a few million” betting on sports in his lifetime. That’s clearly all the information needed to tail him.

    • Florida linebacker Ronald Powell watches the final minutes of the Gators' 21-16 loss to Miami on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

      No. 20 Florida minus-12 at Kentucky, 4:00, ESPNU

      In the annals of lopsided rivalries, this matchup ranks somewhere near rock vs. paper and the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals.

      The Gators have won 26 straight meetings against the Wildcats, including covering in the past six. The total score is 238-36 over the last five years. This year marks the tightest line since the last time the game was close, a 45-37 win for Florida as a 7-point favorite in 2007. That’s because the Gators lost both quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive end Dominique Easley for the season within the last week.

      Suddenly, a line that was minus-20 all summer at the Golden Nugget turned into minus-13. Action on Kentucky has pushed it down an additional point. It smells like an overreaction as Florida’s second-string is still better than Kentucky’s first.

      Pick: Florida minus-12 Embarrassingly, this is the third straight double-digit favorite picked here. But this is the only one to feel confident about.

    • Washington's Keith Price (17) hands off to Bishop Sankey against Idaho State in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Seattle.

      Arizona plus-10 at Washington, 4:30, Fox

      Tell the linemen they’re in for a treat and the backs they’re in for a meet. These teams in the unofficial Pac-12 game of the week are going to run the ball, and judging by what’s transpired early in the season, run it well.

      Both the Huskies and Wildcats rank in the top 10 nationally in rushing offense. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey is the nation’s top returning rusher from a season ago, while Washington’s Bishop Sankey has the second-most yards in 2013. The Huskies have been one of the most impressive teams in the nation thus far, rating third in net yards at +350 per game despite a relatively tough schedule with games against Boise State and at Washington.

      Arizona is far less tested with its best wins coming against UNLV and UTSA. But it’s almost as if the market has made too much of that, as this line has spiraled out of control. Washington was minus-5 all summer in the contest before reopening as low as minus-7 earlier in the week.

      Pick: Arizona plus-10 Feels like a close game that Washington should win by a field goal or a touchdown.

    • Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (25) breaks away from Purdue's Antoine Lewis for a touchdown run during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Madison, Wis.

      No. 23 Wisconsin plus-7 at Ohio State, 7:00, ABC

      Memo to the Denver Broncos: Stop responding to Montee Ball’s fumbling issues with befuddlement. Wisconsin fans forewarned of the problem.

      The vision of Ball losing control of the, um, ball at the goal line against Ohio State last season is permanently etched into their minds. The turnover was a major reason Wisconsin fell to Ohio State 21-14 in a game it statistically dominated. The Buckeyes covered as a one-point underdog, marking the third straight time the team taking points has cashed in this series and seventh in the last 10 meetings.

      Perhaps with that in mind, sharp bettors gobbled up lines like Wisconsin plus-7.5 or 8 earlier in the week. The Badgers surprisingly haven’t missed Ball much in the early going with running backs James White and Melvin Gordon combining to average nine yards per carry.

      Braxton Miller comes back from injury to start for Ohio State at quarterback despite Kenny Guiton making the offense look even more potent in two straight blowout victories.

      Pick: Ohio State minus-7 No real clue here, but slight lean to Wisconsin having trouble adjusting to the best defense it's seen by light years.

    • Washington State safety Deone Bucannon (20) looks into the crowd as he enters Martin Stadium before the start of an NCAA college football game against Idaho on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Pullman, Wash.

      No. 5 Stanford minus-10 vs Washington State in Seattle, 7:00, ESPN

      Here’s a classic case of a coined “neutral field” game that’s not really neutral at all. Pullman, Wash., is about the length of 100,000 football fields closer to downtown Seattle than Palo Alto, Calif.

      Expect the Cougars to have an advantage in the stands. They might not be at as severe of a disadvantage on the field as perceived, either. Although it’s coach Mike Leach’s passing offense that gets all the acclaim, the Washington State defense is the unit that’s surpassed expectations and led the team to a 10-7 shocker over USC three weeks ago.

      Oddsmakers and gamblers alike continue to treat Stanford as one of the best teams in the nation, but have the Cardinal really done anything to deserve the status? Non-covers against San Jose State and Army to open the season were followed by a non-pretty 42-28 win over Arizona State last week. Stanford covered the 6.5-point spread, but it was in doubt midway through the fourth quarter when an Arizona State rally cut the deficit to 11.

      Pick: Washington State plus-10 Throw out how horrendous the Cougars were a year ago and how terrific the Cardinal were. These are different teams.

    • Southern California tight end Xavier Grimble celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Utah State, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Los Angeles.

      Southern California plus-5 at Arizona State, 7:30, ESPN2

      If not for one of the most botched endgame handlings in the history of college football, Arizona State would likely be 1-2 right now. And this line wouldn’t have opened at the stunning seven points where it was all over town earlier in the week.

      The market has corrected the oddsmakers’ flub, but maybe not enough. The line on this game all summer was only minus-1 in favor of the Sun Devils. Arizona State has been no less disappointing than USC with an admittedly small sample.

      At a combined 1-5 against the spread, bettors aren’t rushing to the window to support either of these teams. USC caught more flak for its narrow 17-14 win over Utah State last week. But the Aggies somehow, despite a 14-2-1 record against the spread in the last two seasons, remain one of the most underrated teams around. Their defense specifically is much tougher than the one USC will play against Saturday.

      Pick: USC plus-5 This is easy. The better team is getting nearly a touchdown.

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

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