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December 17, 2017

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 12

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Miami defensive back Trajan Bandy, right, wears the turnover chain after returning an interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Bettors were surely muttering under their breaths about oddsmakers being too tough after last week’s college football action.

There were a number of Week 11 results that fell right around the point spread. Five of the 10 games previewed in college football by the odds, in fact, were decided within a touchdown of the point spread. Three of them finished within a point of the betting line.

Listen in on conversations in local sports books following a rash of results like that and the comments are typically similar. They consist of complaints, especially from those who wound up on the losing end, about the tightness of the lines.

It’s usually comical, because it’s almost always a form of confirmation bias in action. The betting market is evolved, and a much more efficient way of indicating the likely outcome of a game than any one person’s opinion.

That doesn’t mean its perfect. Inefficiencies exist, which is exactly why columns like Talking Points are around.

A lot can also happen in a random one game sample. Those who marvel at the point spread coming close aren’t reacting as loudly when the odds miss badly.

Instances of that happened last week too — perhaps in the two biggest games, with Miami crushing Notre Dame 41-8 as 3.5-point underdogs and Auburn demolishing Georgia 40-17 as 2.5-point underdogs.

It’s all worth keeping in mind for a bettor to maintain a proper perspective, and stay levelheaded to have the best chance at success.

Check below for preview and picks of the 10 biggest games of Week 12 with extra selections at the end. Picks are labeled in three confidence categories, with lines the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side. The blog’s record for the year stands at 84-84-4 after going 8-6-1 last week.

    • TCU defensive end Mat Boesen (9) looks to the sideline during an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas.

      TCU minus-7 at Texas Tech, over/under: 57; 9 a.m. on Fox Sports 1

      TCU’s transition into the Big 12 Conference has gone smoother than anyone could have expected when it left the Mountain West five years ago.

      Surprisingly, one of the only teams that’s made it rough on the Horned Frogs in their new home is the Red Raiders. Texas Tech is 3-2 straight-up, 4-1 against the spread against TCU since the schools continued their series as conference mates.

      Now would be a wise time for the Horned Frogs to turn it around and cover against the Red Raiders for the first time since their memorable 82-27 offensive explosion as 24-point favorites against Texas Tech in 2014. Despite having lost its last two road games, 38-20 to Oklahoma as 7-point underdogs and 14-7 to Iowa State as 7.5-point favorites, TCU will still reach the Big 12 Championship Game with wins over Texas Tech and Baylor.

      Series history and road struggles are no bother to the betting public, which have backed TCU in this spot to see the spread climb a point.

      Guess: Over 57 points

    • In this Oct. 28, 2017, file photo, Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert (6) runs against Pittsburgh during an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh. Consecutive lopsided losses caused Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall to do an about face. Instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, that being the Cavaliers' need to win at least one more game to go to a bowl game for the first time since 2011, he acknowledged it hoping to help refocus a teetering team.

      Virginia plus-20 at Miami, over/under: 50.5; 9 a.m. on ABC

      Despite pulling off one of the most celebrated wins of the year against Notre Dame, Miami is only drawing a tempered amount of action at sports books this week.

      Perhaps that’s because bettors fear the dreaded letdown game. It’s one of the oldest handicapping techniques around, and also one of the easiest to poke holes in.

      Just don’t look towards Virginia to prove it doesn’t exist. Those employing the strategy against the Cavaliers last week came out winners.

      After clinching bowl eligibility for the first time in six years with an upset over Georgia Tech, Virginia had an anemic offensive performance in a 38-21 loss to Louisville as 13-point underdogs.

      Miami’s defense, led by Shaquille Quarterman at linebacker and Jaquan Johnson in the secondary, is far more fierce than Louisville’s. The Hurricanes rank second in the nation with a plus-15 turnover margin.

      That’s a volatile statistic, however, regardless of whether a reward like Miami’s turnover chain is at stake.

      Lean: Virginia plus-20

    • FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, file photo, Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards returns an interception for a touchdown against Maryland wide receiver Jahrvis Davenport during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Madison, Wis. Such a picky defense at No. 5 Wisconsin. Not only do the Badgers excel at getting interceptions, but they're a threat to score on defense too, tied with Duke for an FBS-leading four pick-6s this season.

      Michigan plus-7.5 at Wisconsin, over/under: 39.5; 9 a.m. on Fox

      The debate over how good these teams really are has raged all season.

      Wisconsin sits undefeated, 10-0 straight-up, and profitable, 6-4 against the spread, but has played arguably the easiest schedule of any power-five conference team in the country. Michigan’s competition has only been slightly better and it’s fallen in its two biggest tests, a 14-10 loss to Michigan State as 13-point favorites and a 42-13 loss to Penn State as 7.5-point underdogs.

      This game is unlikely to completely eradicate that discussion, though maybe it should for one reason — the defenses. Regardless of overall perception of both teams, there’s no taking away what either has done on the defensive side.

      Michigan, Wisconsin and Alabama are the only teams in the nation allowing less than 4 yards per play. The winner here must at least somewhat crack what’s mostly been an impenetrable unit on the other side.

      That’s worth something.

      Guess: Michigan plus-7.5

    • Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson, right, tries to tackle Southern California running back Stephen Carr during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Los Angeles. USC won 27-24 in overtime.

      Texas plus-3.5 at West Virginia, over/under: 53; 9 a.m. on ESPN

      The Big 12 is a surprise option in any conversation about the best conference in the nation this year according to oddsmakers’ power ratings, and it’s not because of leading teams like Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State.

      It’s because of the Big 12’s middle class, which grades out stronger than other power conferences. Teams like West Virginia and Texas aren’t among the best in the nation overall, but they’re better than anyone else in certain areas.

      For the Mountaineers, that certain area is slinging the ball with its passing game. Quarterback Will Grier is in the nation’s top 10 in almost every passing category, including third with 3,440 yards and second with 34 touchdowns.

      Texas might have two players taken in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft in linebacker Malik Jefferson and defensive tackle Poona Ford. Watching teams try to run on the Longhorns explains why, as Texas ranks eighth in the nation in giving up 3.2 yards per rush attempt.

      That could come in handy on a day where snow showers are forecasted in Morgantown, W.V. The total has dropped three points with weather concerns.

      Guess: Over 53 points

    • Navy quarterback Zach Abey (9) runs with the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Central Florida in Annapolis, Md., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.

      Navy plus-19 at Notre Dame, over/under: 59.5; 12:30 p.m. on NBC

      Don’t expect an overreaction to Notre Dame’s blowout loss in the marketplace.

      On the contrary, the Fighting Irish are getting bet as if they’re still the trendy the national championship pick they were a week ago. This line has swelled as much as two points to make the Irish the biggest favorite they’ve been in their annual game with the Midshipmen since 2011 when they reached the national championship game.

      Uncertainty on who will be heading the Navy triple option attack probably doesn’t help. The Midshipmen went with a surprise at quarterback last week in Malcolm Perry, who rushed for 282 yards in a 43-40 win over SMU as 1-point favorites before spraining his ankle late in the game.

      Original starter Zach Abey has returned to full health but there’s a chance Navy goes with backup Garret Lewis. Either way, Notre Dame will need to fortify its front seven defensively as it’s turned into an unforeseen problem in the last few weeks.

      Not only did Notre Dame give up nearly 250 rushing yards to Miami, but it’s surrendered more than 5 yards per carry over the last three weeks.

      Play: Navy plus-19

    • Georgia Tech running back Dedrick Mills (26) is tackled by Kentucky safety Mike Edwards (27) during the second half of the TaxSlayer Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla. Georgia Tech beat Kentucky 33-18.

      Kentucky plus-21.5 at Georgia, over/under: 50.5; 12:30 p.m. on CBS

      Unlike Notre Dame, the point spread is moving away from Georgia coming off of a humbling loss.

      The Bulldogs opened a point higher before the line shifted closer to three touchdowns. That doesn’t mean most bettors are backing Kentucky.

      The vast majority of tickets remain on Georgia, but an initial surge of bigger bets were on Kentucky. Reasons can be seen from both parties.

      The Wildcats are coming off of arguably their finest performance of the season, a 44-21 victory over Vanderbilt as 2.5-point favorites where running backs Benjamin Snell Jr. and Sihiem King rushed for nearly 200 yards and five touchdowns combined. The Bulldogs’ rush defense has slipped in the last few weeks, now down to 20th in the nation in allowing 3.6 yards per rush.

      On the other hand, Georgia has talent that could overwhelm Kentucky, which lucked into the SEC’s easiest schedule this season in avoiding Alabama, Auburn and LSU out of the West division. The Bulldogs have two running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, more explosive than anyone the Wildcats have seen.

      Guess: Georgia minus-21.5

    • Syracuse's Devin Butler, right, tackles Wake Forest's John Wolford, left, as he passes the ball in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017.

      North Carolina State plus-1.5 at Wake Forest, over/under: 63; 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU

      There can only be one biggest surprise team in the ACC this season. Its’ either the Demon Deacons or the Wolfpack, so tonight’s game should help sort it out.

      After future odds and public consensus indicated these two teams would finish in the bottom half of the ACC Atlantic Division standings this year, they’re likely to instead finish second and third. And they’ve both defied expectations through a similar fashion — with a better than expected offense led by an experienced quarterback.

      Wake Forest put up a school record 734 total yards in a wild 64-43 comeback victory over Syracuse as 2.5-point favorites last week. John Wolford accounted for 499 of those yards to go with six touchdowns.

      NC State’s Ryan Finley hasn’t ever reached that level of production, but he does have four games where he’s surpassed 300 yards passing. The offensive awakenings for both teams have outweighed defenses that have slightly underachieved.

      Expected to lead their respective teams, the defenses have both given up a mediocre 5.5 yards per play on the year. That’s not the only place where the schools have practically identical numbers.

      In Football Outsiders F/+ ratings, Wake Forest slots at No. 26 in the nation. NC State is No. 27.

      Lean: Under 63 points

    • Colorado wide receiver Bryce Bobo, front, is dragged down by USC linebacker John Houston Jr., center, as cornerback Isaiah Langley trails the play in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Boulder, Colo. USC won 38-24.

      UCLA plus-16 at USC, over/under: 71.5; 5 p.m. on ABC

      The Golden Nugget deemed seven Week 12 games significant enough in the preseason to post a Game of the Year line all the way back in June.

      Six of the seven lines are hardly recognizable now with three months of additional data, having moved an average of 8.5 points per game. The seventh is the Victory Bell rivalry, where the point spread has stayed virtually intact.

      The Trojans were 15.5-point favorites over the Bruins in the preseason, and the teams’ seasons have played out mostly true to form. NFL scouts will still litter this game with two of the top quarterback prospects for next year’s draft, USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen, going head to head.

      They may not ultimately decide the outcome, though. Both team’s defenses are a mess defending the run.

      USC is 76th in the nation in giving up 4.6 yards per carry and must contend with a deep UCLA running back corps featuring Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi. The flip side is even more problematic.

      Only two teams have given up more than UCLA’s 5.8 yards per rush attempt against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents — Bowling Green and Air Force. Now it must battle Ronald Jones II, who’s coming off three straight games of gaining at least 140 rushing yards.

      Guess: USC minus-16

    • Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside (19) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Corvallis, Ore., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017.

      California plus-16.5 at Stanford, over/under: 55.5; 5 p.m. on Fox

      The last time California covered in “The Big Game”, C.J. Anderson and Keenan Allen scored touchdowns for the Golden Bears. Andrew Luck led the Cardinal to a victory.

      This is a rivalry that has belonged to Stanford, and not only from a betting perspective. The Cardinal have won seven in a row in the series straight-up in addition to covering five straight.

      Bettors typically take into account that type of history, often to a fault, but not in this case. California has been a popular bet to snap the skid, as this spread opened a point higher.

      The Golden Bears have been more trustworthy on the season, going 6-4 against the spread including a 37-23 win over Oregon State as 7-point favorites in their last game. The Cardinal are only 4-6 versus the number, though their finest hour was knocking off Washington 30-22 as 7-point underdogs last week.

      The win ensured much would be on the line for both teams in this game. California needs to win one more game — it plays UCLA next week — to improbably reach bowl eligibility in Justin Wilcox’s first year.

      Meanwhile, Stanford will reach the Pac-12 championship game with a win against California parlayed to a Washington State defeat, and the Cougars will be underdogs next week at Washington.

      Lean: California plus-16.5

    • Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) eludes the tackle from Washington State linebacker Frankie Luvu (51) in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Salt Lake City.

      Utah plus-18 at Washington, over/under: 46.5; 7:30 p.m. on ESPN

      The Utes and Huskies have seen their seasons derailed by stumbling in areas that were supposed strengths.

      Washington reached the College Football Playoff last year partly because of one of the nation’s most efficient passing games, but veteran quarterback Jake Browning has now failed to throw a touchdown pass in three of his last four games. That included last week’s upset lost to Stanford that effectively ended the Huskies’ dreams for back-to-back playoff appearances.

      Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has always held a reputation as a hard-nosed team that doesn’t inhibit its chances by making mistakes. Last week, the Utes lost seven turnovers in a 33-25 loss to Washington State as 1-point underdogs.

      They’ve also been merely average defensively in Pac-12 play, where Utah sits at 2-5 straight-up, 3-4 against the spread. The betting public has long since ditched the Utes, and won’t be climbing back aboard against the Huskies.

      Early reports had Washington drawing more than three out of every four tickets.

      Guess: Utah plus-18

    • Alabama defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne (94) pressures Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn.

      Extra points

      Central Florida minus-13.5 at Temple Not enough points. UCF has tailed off in the last three weeks while Temple has come on, but taking into account the whole season, the Golden Knights should lay a few more in Philadelphia.

      Minnesota plus-8 at Northwestern Too many points. The Golden Gophers need this win to reach bowl eligibility, while the Wildcats have caught every possible break during a five-game winning streak to become overvalued.

      Kansas State plus-21 at Oklahoma State The ideal time to back one of coach Bill Snyder’s team is when everyone else has written it off. That appears to be the case here with the Wildcats the biggest underdog they’ve been in six years.

      UTSA plus-1 vs. Marshall Not wanting to pass on a chance to buy low on a team with more talent than its opponent. The Roadrunners have gotten off to slow starts two weeks in a row, against UAB and Florida International, which should help the senior-laden squad refocus for its final home game.

      Vanderbilt plus-9.5 vs. Missouri The Tigers have wowed with their offense in a four-game win streak but two opponents were overmatched — Connecticut and Idaho — and two others were in turmoil — Tennessee and Florida. The Commodores have the pass defense to make this a game.

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

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