Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013 | 2 a.m.
It’s the college football week where Thursday stole Saturday.
This entry of college football by the odds won’t include arguably the two biggest games of the week. They already happened, coming two days early and going without any semblance of a sweat for gamblers.
The home teams were the right bet Thursday night. Baylor silenced critics questioning its legitimacy by nearly lapping the 15-point spread in a 41-12 victory over Oklahoma.
The Bears took another step forward in their hopes for a national championship berth a couple of hours later when Stanford upset Oregon, 26-20, as an 11-point home underdog.
Another undefeated contender must prove its worth Saturday night when Alabama hosts LSU. It was nice of the scheduling gods to leave one marquee game on the weekend.
Check below for a betting breakdown and pick of Alabama vs. LSU and nine of the other biggest games of the week. Record on the year is 30-27-2.
Penn State plus-2.5 at Minnesota; 9 a.m., ESPN2
The Golden Gophers are one victory away from posting their first season of more than seven wins in 10 years, and Las Vegas is providing a decennial gift in advance.
Oddsmakers installed Minnesota as a favorite at home in a Big Ten contest for the first time in several seasons, since it lost to Illinois 35-32 giving 6.5 points on Nov. 7, 2009. It was the least sports books could do after budding sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson and his fellow Gophers mocked the establishments’ lines over the past three weeks.
Minnesota became only the third team since 1980 to win three straight games outright as an underdog of at least a touchdown, according to R.J. Bell of Pregame.com. It mostly helped bookmakers as more money came in against Minnesota.
But that ends this week. Gamblers appear to also be celebrating the Golden Gophers as they’ve pushed the spread in this game a point in their favor.
Despite a two-game losing streak against the spread, Penn State is developing some weapons in running back Bill Belton and receiver Allen Robinson for freshman quarterback Christian Hackenburg.
Pick: Penn State plus-2. Fading a team with rising expectations sounds like the way to go.
Kansas State plus-2.5 at Texas Tech; 9 a.m., ABC
It’s a battle of contrasts today in Lubbock, Texas.
College football’s oldest coach, 74-year-old Bill Snyder at Kansas State, takes on its youngest coach, 34-year-old Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech. A defense coming together, Kansas State’s, takes on one that’s falling apart in Texas Tech's.
Boil everything down, and it’s the Big 12’s hottest gambling team against its coldest. Kansas State has beaten the number in four straight games, winning the past two. A two-quarterback rotation of Daniel Sams and Jake Waters is getting much of the credit. But it’s the defense that’s close to the top 25 in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings after holding all those opponents — even Baylor — well below their average offensive output
Turnover-prone Texas Tech freshman quarterback Davis Webb is getting much of the heat for his team’s two-game losing streak, in which it also failed to cover the spread as underdogs against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The defense is a bigger concern, however, after giving up an average of 509 yards to the two struggling offenses.
Pick: Texas Tech minus-2.5 No real feel for this one, but look at the statistics in each team’s games against common opponents — West Virginia, Iowa State and Oklahoma State — and Texas Tech emerges as the stronger group.
Nebraska plus-6.5 at Michigan; 12:30 p.m., ABC
The difference in these teams’ moods must be as different as their school colors.
The team in red and white rides into Ann Arbor, Mich., on a high after beating Northwestern 27-24, but failing to cover the 4.5-point spread, on a 49-yard Hail Mary from Ron Kellogg II to Jordan Westerkamp on the last play of the game. The blue and gold squad arrives dispirited after getting physically manhandled against rival Michigan State and watching quarterback Devin Gardner get sacked seven times.
It’s nothing new for the Wolverines, as they’ve now lost to the Spartans in five of six attempts and followed with another straight-up loss in the week following the grudge match, too. This is a fresh position for the Cornhuskers, though.
It’s the first time they’ve taken points this season, a situation in which they’ve gone 1-5 against the spread over the past two seasons. This was projected as the most important game in the Big Ten Legends race with Michigan installed as a 4-point favorite over the summer.
Michigan has fallen out of the division race for now, while Nebraska gets a shot against leader Michigan State next week. The opportunity won’t mean anything if the Cornhuskers can’t pull the upset here.
Pick: Nebraska plus-6.5 No confidence in this one, but it feels like a few too many points for the Cornhuskers.
BYU plus-7.5 at Wisconsin; 12:30 p.m., ESPN
Those who long for the age of disco and bell-bottom slacks, a time before football coaches realized the superiority of the pass to the run, won’t want to miss this game.
The Cougars and the Badgers are going to line up and run at each other to find out who’s the better team. They’re both in the top 15 nationally in rushing offense and are the only teams in the nation boasting two players apiece who average more than 100 yards per game.
For Wisconsin, it’s running backs Melvin Gordon and James Taylor. For BYU, it’s running back Jamaal Williams and quarterback Taysom Hill.
Defensively, however, Wisconsin is fifth against the run to BYU’s 42nd. The Badgers have another advantage in coach Gary Andersen, who covered against BYU in all four attempts at Utah State the past four seasons and won two outright.
As for the weekly gawking at Andersen’s against-the-spread record over the past two years, he’s now 17-1-2 after Wisconsin beat Iowa 28-9 as 10-point favorites.
Pick: Wisconsin minus-7.5 Number looks right, so no strong opinion here. Is that getting old yet? Might as well jump aboard the Andersen Cash Train when in doubt.
Arizona State minus-6.5 at Utah; 1 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Arizona State coach Todd Graham had a harrowing bye week when a plane he was riding in from a recruiting trip dropped from 35,000 feet to an emergency landing.
Now he might have a sense of how the Sun Devils have made opponents feel in recent weeks. Arizona State takes a three-game covering streak, in which it’s beating the number by an average of 20 points, into Salt Lake City today.
Utah knows all too well about how Arizona State forces its opponents to crash. In two years since joining the Pac-12, Arizona State has beaten Utah by a combined 72-21 despite both games having a single-digit spread.
And neither of those teams was as efficient as this year’s Sun Devils, who rank No. 5 in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings behind a one-two punch of quarterback Taylor Kelly and running back Marion Grice.
Utah’s home-field advantage is all the rage after it upset Stanford 27-21 as 7.5-point underdogs last month. But truth is, the Utes are only 5-7 straight up and 6-6 against the spread at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Pac-12 play.
Pick: Arizona State minus-6.5. Jump on the Sun Devils before the market realizes how strong they really are.
Texas minus-7 at West Virginia; 4 p.m., Fox
West Virginia qualifying for the postseason was as big of a long shot as Mack Brown keeping his job as Texas’ coach seven weeks ago.
Now both are possibly on the verge of happening, which makes this previous look-over game one of the best of the week. The Mountaineers have pulled off two upsets — at home against Oklahoma State getting 19.5 points and on the road at TCU as 11-point underdogs — to get in a position where they need to win two of three remaining games to become bowl eligible.
Texas has won five straight, covering in three of them, to overcome a 1-2 start and take some heat off of Brown. An improving defense led by defensive end Cedric Reed is a major reason for the surge most never saw coming.
For the Mountaineers, their offense has recovered from losing every significant contributor from last year’s team by leaning on running back Charles Sims, who has more than 700 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards.
Pick: West Virginia plus-7. This is Texas’ first-ever trip to Morgantown, W.Va., a notoriously difficult place to play.
Houston plus-10.5 at Central Florida; 4 p.m., ESPN2
Wisconsin is officially the last team standing that’s unbeaten against the spread.
Led by freshman sensation John O’Korn at quarterback, Houston ran right with Wisconsin all year until last week. A lofty spread did Houston in, as they beat South Florida 35-23 but couldn’t cover minus-19.
No matter to the Cougars, they still control their own destiny to get to a BCS game. Same with Central Florida, which has one less win and cover than Houston at 6-1 in both categories.
The two teams meet with first place in the American Athletic Conference on the line. The Golden Knights counter O’Korn with a veteran quarterback, junior Blake Bortles, and prized running back Storm Johnson.
O’Korn’s best weapon is fellow underclassman Devontay Greenberry, a sophomore receiver with 948 yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
Like Houston, Central Florida’s only noncover came in a win, when it beat Memphis 24-17 as a 10-point favorite. Football Outsiders has UCF rated as the 13th-best team in the nation with Houston trailing at No. 43.
Pick: Central Florida minus-10.5. With a win at Louisville and near-shocker against South Carolina, UCF could argue it’s the most underrated team in the nation.
Virginia Tech plus-7 at Miami; 4 p.m., ESPN
If someone would have made the asinine decision to bet $100 on the Hurricanes and Hokies in every game this season, they would have found themselves happily ahead more than $300 through the first seven weeks.
Ever since then, they’d be down $500 without a single winning ticket to show for the exercise. No, this matchup between ACC Coastal rivals doesn’t project as can’t-miss as it did a month ago when Miami and Virginia Tech were on a combined seven-game winning streak against the spread.
It’s not going to match the feel from the vintage Hokies vs. Hurricanes games from a decade ago. You know, the ones where the Hokies always seemed to win.
Miami snapped a five-year spread losing streak against Virginia Tech two years ago. Last year, the Hurricanes picked up their first victory in the series since 2008.
Now they’re favored by the biggest margin against the Hokies since the fabled 2002 team that went on to lose to Ohio State in the national championship. It looks like a tougher number to cover without Duke Johnson, Miami’s acknowledged best player and running back who went down with a season-ending ankle injury in last week’s 41-14 loss to Florida State with the Hurricanes as 21-point underdogs.
Pick: Virginia Tech plus-7. Will keep trying to cash with Virginia Tech no matter how many times it fails. What’s the definition of insanity again?
LSU plus-12.5 at Alabama; 5 p.m., CBS
Oklahoma State had just plucked Les Miles out of relative obscurity as the Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach the last time LSU was a double-digit underdog.
That was in 2001, when LSU failed to cover a 14-point spread at home in a 44-15 loss to Florida. The Tigers’ program is obviously in a better spot now, as they’ve only taken points an average of two times per season under Miles.
He’s gone an inconclusive 9-8 against the spread as an underdog compared with Alabama coach Nick Saban’s more impressive 41-28 as a favorite.
In head-to-head matchups, however, Miles’ Tigers have outdone Saban’s Crimson Tide by Las Vegas standards. LSU has covered in four of seven meetings, with all but the infamous 2011 national championship matchup featuring a final score with a single-digit margin.
Pick: LSU plus-12.5. At sixth in the nation in Football Outsiders’ F/+ rankings, LSU has the best offense it’s had in years. And one that’s a lot better than anything Alabama has seen this year.
UCLA plus-1.5 at Arizona; 7 p.m., ESPN
The most competitive game of the week might be one found at the tail end of betting boards. Sports books are at least treating the Bruins’ showdown with the Wildcats that way.
The market can’t decide which team deserves to be favored. Lines ranging from Arizona minus-1.5 to UCLA minus-1 are spread all across town.
UCLA is three spots ahead of Arizona in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings — No. 28 to No. 31 — with the teams’ defenses ranking back-to-back at 23rd and 24th. They didn’t look so evenly matched last year when UCLA smacked Arizona 66-10 as a 2.5-point favorite.
That marked the last time Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher this season, gained less than 100 yards. It also continued a trend of home teams prevailing in this series, as they’ve now covered eight of the past 10.
The Bruins are getting healthy after a two-week span at Oregon and Stanford, in which they lost and didn’t cover in both games, left them bruised and broken. They get back leading rusher Jordon James and leading tackler Eric Kendrick at full strength.
Pick: UCLA plus-1.5. The Bruins should break out of a three-game slide against the number off of the sheer fact that they’re the better team.