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December 16, 2017

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of the first four games

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Colorado State running back Marvin Kinsey Jr. celebrates his touchdown against UNLV Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Mountain West Conference mania sweeps through college football on the first day of the season.

The 2017 season-opening game features the rare occurrence of a Mountain West team, Colorado State, drawing heavy betting action against a Pac-12 Conference member, Oregon State. That should wrap up in time for football bettors to enjoy an afternoon with two lesser Mountain West teams, Hawaii and San Jose State, competing against programs from a combined 8,000 miles away, Massachusetts and South Florida, respectively.

And if that’s not enough, the nightcap takes place across the Pacific when Stanford tries to improve its 2-4 all-time record against mighty Rice in Sydney, Australia.

What an odd way to start the year.

Local bettors have anticipated football ever since future odds and season-long proposition bets began invading betting boards months ago, but these weren’t exactly the teams driving the action.

The great thing about gambling is, they all pay the same. Handicapping Hawaii at Massachusetts correctly today pays no better than nailing Alabama vs. Florida State next week.

Talking Points wants to help every step of the season, which is why the college football by the odds preview series is starting alongside the sport’s soft opening. The blog went 116-109-8 last year picking all the biggest games each week plus every bowl game.

The goal will be to top that record this year, starting by looking at today’s four widely lined matchups between Football Bowl Subdivision opponents — BYU hosts the Football Championship Subdivision’s Portland State in a fifth game — and providing a couple of plays below. Lines are the best available currently in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

Oregon State plus-4 at Colorado State, over/under: 60.5; 11:30 a.m. on CBS Sports Network

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Oregon State running back Ryan Nall (34) stiff-arms his way past Oregon's Arrion Springs (1) for a touchdown in the second half an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday Nov. 26, 2016.

Colorado State has waited years for this moment. The Rams will unveil their new $220 million facility, Colorado State Stadium, against the Beavers. With the new venue and Colorado State on its way up — the Rams are a 5-to-1 third choice to win the Mountain West after a 7-6 straight-up, 9-4 against the spread season last year — they’re going to have a huge home-field advantage eventually. It just won’t be right away, as studies have indicated the benefits of playing at home don’t usually translate immediately into a new venue. Additionally, Colorado State’s one major weakness is stopping the run as they gave up 5 yards per rush to rank 92nd in the nation last year. Oregon State rated 32nd in gaining 5.1 yards per rush, and its top two running backs, Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce, both return.

Verdict: Oregon State plus-4

Hawaii plus-2 at Massachusetts, over/under: 62; 3 p.m.

Hawaii has the never-overstated benefit of bowl practices, but its usual disadvantage of immense travel. The Warriors are arguably available at a bargain as they opened the favorite in this game before money pushed the line in the other direction. But there are actually some expectations on Hawaii following a perceived successful first year in coach Nick Rolovich’s tenure. Rolovich did lead the Warriors to a 52-35 bowl win over Middle Tennessee, but it was at home and they only got a bid because there weren’t enough teams with winning records to fill the whole postseason. Massachusetts, on the other hand, has no expectations, but quietly some reasons for optimism. The Minutemen improved late last year and covered in three of their final four games, including a 46-40 loss at Hawaii as 7-point underdogs. They return almost everyone. This game will get far more action today than it would if it took place on a weekend with a full schedule. And therein lies the problem. There’s no reason to get involved with a game just because it’s on the board, especially one between two teams that could end up among the bottom 20 in the nation.

Verdict: Pass

South Florida minus-22 at San Jose State; over/under: 71.5; 4:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

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South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) is hoisted by a teammate celebrating his touchdown against South Carolina during the first half of the Birmingham Bowl NCAA college football game, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, in Birmingham, Ala.

San Jose State is going to struggle this year. New coach Brent Brennan needs a year or two to get his players and systems in place before the Spartans can really make their move in the Mountain West. Betting on this game, therefore, comes down to a gambler’s thoughts on South Florida. If the Bulls are primed to threaten for a New Year’s Six bowl game after winning the American Athletic Conference as many have projected, they might be able to name their score. If it’s going to take quarterback Quinton Flowers, a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate at 80-to-1, a couple games to mesh with new coach Charlie Strong and regain last year’s form, the Bulls might disappoint in this long road trip. The betting market is unsurprisingly leaning towards the latter scenario, as both the spread and total are on the way up with the expectation that Flowers rips apart a suspicious San Jose State defense.

Verdict: Under 71.5 points

Stanford minus-30.5 vs. Rice; over/under: 51.5; 7 p.m. on ESPN

Talking Points has already pledged allegiance to Stanford this season, and largely because of its offensive potential. But “potential” doesn’t even need to be used in regards to its defense. The Cardinal are going to be incredibly stingy. They might wind up with one of the best linebacking corps in the nation, as all four starters including Bobby Okereke and Peter Kalambayi return. The same could be said for Stanford’s cornerbacks with Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder providing a great one-two coverage punch. It’s tough to imagine a Rice team trying to break in a new quarterback being able to score many points on Stanford. The betting decision comes down to whether Stanford can put up enough points to ensure a blowout. With quarterback Keller Chryst in his first game back from an ACL tear, counting on an offensive explosion seems risky.

Verdict: Pass

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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