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December 14, 2017

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 13

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Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) waves to fans as he leaves the field after they defeated Auburn 30-12 in the Iron Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Oddsmakers unintentionally contributed to the conversation over how many teams are left with a legitimate shot to reach the College Football Playoff heading into the final full week of the regular season.

Future odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook imply eight teams are truly in the running at the national championship at odds of 12-to-1 or less. Ten more teams are still listed with individual odds, but they’re all at least 60-to-1, which calculates out to less than a 1 percent chance.

The only game between college football’s unofficial elite 8 this weekend interestingly pairs the group’s biggest titan, Alabama, against its largest interloper, Auburn.

The Crimson Tide is down to minus-120 (risking $1.20 to win $1) to win the national championship, after sitting as the favorite from the start of the year at 3-to-1. The Tigers are tied for the fifth choice at 10-to-1 after getting as high as 100-to-1 after suffering their second loss of the season, to LSU in October.

The winner of the Iron Bowl will advance to take on another contender, Georgia at 10-to-1, in next week’s SEC Championship.

Also scheduled for next weekend are two other championship games between teams at the top of the board — 8-to-1 Ohio State vs. 12-to-1 Wisconsin in the Big Ten, and 8-to-1 Clemson vs. 10-to-1 Miami in the ACC. All of those teams must first get through this weekend, however, to maintain their playoff pole position, and that’s never as easy as it may sound.

Check below for Talking Points’ preview of Week 13 including picks on the 10 biggest games with extra bets at the end. Picks are labeled with three separate confidence categories. The record on the year stands at 93-90-4 after a 9-6 showing last week. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

    • Miami running back Travis Homer 924) runs as Virginia defensive lineman Mandy Alonso (91) pursues during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Miami won 44-28. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

      Miami minus-14 at Pittsburgh, over/under: 50; 9 a.m. Friday on ABC

      It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of the season Miami and Pittsburgh were considered somewhat comparable contenders for the ACC Coastal division title.

      The Hurricanes’ over/under win total was nine, only two more than the Panthers’ number. It didn’t take long to realize they were two divergent teams.

      Pittsburgh failed to cover in its first four games, including three straight outright losses in its first three games against Football Bowl Subdivision opposition. Miami covered in three of its first four, including what then looked like impressive victories at Duke and Florida State.

      The two teams have pretty much stayed on the same trajectories ever since, which lands Miami as the biggest road favorite in the series since 2001 when it won the national championship. The only concern for the Hurricanes might be a look-ahead, with the ACC Championship Game against Clemson already locked in for next Saturday.

      Sports books currently have Clemson as a 6.5-point favorite over Miami in what would amount to a College Football Playoff play-in game.

      Guess: Miami minus-14

    • California quarterback Ross Bowers throws against Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

      California plus-7.5 at UCLA, over/under: 64; 7:30 p.m. Friday on Fox Sports 1

      Handicapping this game will come down to two key components beyond football — how the home team responds to an interim coach and how both teams deal with coming off heartbreaking rivalry-game losses.

      California came up just short of a comeback in the Big Game, falling 17-14 to Stanford as 13.5-point underdogs. UCLA covered against its rival too, but couldn’t do enough to defeat USC in a 28-23 loss as 13.5-point underdogs.

      On the surface, this looks like a vintage week 13 game where both teams throw everything they have at each other in order to secure the one win needed for bowl eligibility. The firing of UCLA coach Jim Mora complicates matters.

      Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch takes over as interim coach, a capacity that usually makes a team a bet-against this late in the season, though there have been cases where it swings the other way and teams rally. Fisch is well liked among the players by all reports, but only arrived at UCLA this season.

      California coach Justin Wilcox also only took over this season and getting to a bowl would be considered a major accomplishment in a year where the Golden Bears’ win total was only 3.5.

      Play: California plus-7.5

    • Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith (3) celebrates after a Georgia fumble recovery late in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. Georgia won 20-19. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

      Georgia minus-11 at Georgia Tech, over/under: 52.5; 9 a.m. Saturday on ABC

      Georgia quietly had one of the most dominant performances of Week 12 in obliterating Kentucky 42-13 as 21.5-point favorites.

      The game was even worse than the score indicated, as the Bulldogs outgained the Wildcats by nearly 250 yards and more than 4 yards per play. The dynamic running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for five touchdowns.

      Georgia Tech quietly had one of the most distressing performances of Week 12 in falling 43-20 at Duke as 6.5-point favorites. It was the Blue Devils’ first cover since Week 4 and they did it easily in racking up more than 300 rushing yards and more than 6 yards per carry on the Yellow Jackets.

      Of course, it’s always dangerous to overreact to one week’s worth of results — especially in a rivalry game. Georgia Tech is now an underdog to Georgia for the seventh consecutive year, but it’s won two of the last three.

      Guess: Georgia minus-11

    • Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller plays against Penn State during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

      Ohio State minus-12 at Michigan, over/under: 50.5; 9 a.m. Saturday on Fox

      Might as well brand this one the “Bookmaker’s Bowl” because both Big Ten bluebloods have brought money into the house this year.

      The Buckeyes and Wolverines go into their rivalry game with a combined 9-13 against the spread record despite drawing most of the action in the majority of their games. Ohio State’s only cover of the last month, a 48-3 win over Michigan State as 17.5-point favorites, was beneficial for the house as the betting public picked the wrong time to turn against the Buckeyes.

      The Wolverines weren’t very competitive in the two other instances when they were underdogs this season, getting blown out 42-13 at Penn State catching 7.5 points and 24-10 with the same line at Wisconsin last week. Their problem is almost exclusively offense, with the Wolverines 80th in the nation in gaining 5.2 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.

      They’re fourth defensively, giving up only 4.1 yards per play. That’s expected to climb against the likes of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and running back J.K. Dobbins, who have led the charge to make the Buckeyes one of six teams in the nation averaging at least 7 yards per play.

      Lean: Michigan plus-12

    • Auburn wide receiver Darius Slayton (81) is tackled by Louisiana Monroe safety Roland Jenkins (2) and cornerback Juwan Offray (1) after a reception in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

      Alabama minus-4.5 at Alabama, over/under: 48; 12:30 p.m. on CBS

      Every year in the final week of the regular season, it seems like the most singular focus is devoted towards either Michigan vs. Ohio State or Alabama vs. Auburn.

      After a couple year hiatus, the hype has swung back below the Mason-Dixon line for the Iron Bowl this year. The spread on Alabama vs. Auburn is the shortest it’s been since 2011, when Cam Newton memorably led the Tigers to a comeback 28-27 victory.

      The Crimson Tide were priced higher against the Tigers all season in the game of year markets — opening at minus-6.5 and stretching as high as minus-14 — but find themselves limping into their biggest game. Alabama is dealing with far more injuries to Auburn, including most notably to cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, who’s questionable with a hurt hamstring.

      Regardless, the early rush of money came on Alabama, as the few sports books that opened as low as minus-3 stayed there for less than an hour. The Tigers have been the surer bet this year, going 6-4-1 against the spread as opposed to the Crimson Tide’s 5-6 versus the number.

      Lean: Auburn plus-4.5

    • Fresno State's coach Jeff Tedford looks on during a route of Nevada in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

      Boise State minus-7.5 at Fresno State, over/under: 48.5; 12:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

      The Mountain West could produce one of the longest shot champions in college football history this season.

      Fresno State was 250-to-1 to win the Mountain West coming into the season. The Bulldogs are guaranteed a shot at the crown in next week’s conference championship game regardless of what happens on Saturday.

      They’ll play the Broncos for a second straight week, meaning the conference has already produced an exceedingly rare situation. It’s only the second time in 80 years that teams have played each other in back-to-back weeks.

      It makes Saturday’s affair difficult to handicap. Both coaches swear their teams’ full effort will be devoted towards winning the first matchup, but there’s no erasing the fact that much more will be on the line in the rematch.

      That’s not to say the first game is without stakes. It’s just that the most significant thing at risk is home-field advantage in next week’s game, as the Mountain West awards it to whichever team is ranked higher in the College Football Playoff rankings.

      Lean: Fresno State plus-7.5

    • Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

      West Virginia plus-22 at Oklahoma, over/under: 68.5; 12:45 p.m. on ESPN

      Baker Mayfield’s televised crotch grab failed to derail his Heisman Trophy campaign according to the betting odds. Now it’s time to find out if it will torpedo his team’s national championship hopes.

      Mayfield closed as high as a minus-2000 favorite to win the Heisman at sports books, which must take off award betting before balloting opens. His Sooners also control their own destiny to the College Football Playoff, but now must navigate the path without him at least a series or two.

      Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley announced Mayfield would not start against West Virginia, though he will play, as punishment for the gesture. Bettors were undeterred by the news.

      Money rolled in on Oklahoma anyway, as the spread grew a point. The Mountaineers’ performance last week didn’t help matters as they were uncompetitive in a 28-14 loss to Texas as 3-point favorites.

      Lean: West Virginia plus-22

    • Citadel's Wally Wilmore (3) breaks up a pass intended for Clemson's Ray-Ray McCloud (34) with Khafari Buffalo watching during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

      Clemson minus-14 at South Carolina, over/under: 46.5; 4:30 p.m. on ESPN

      South Carolina has three against the spread losses this year.

      None of them came when the Gamecocks were an underdog. South Carolina stands at 6-0 against the spread, 4-2 straight-up when taking points.

      They hope they can continue their successful ways as an underdog to throw added chaos into the College Football Playoff picture. As it stands, next week’s ACC Championship Game between Clemson and Miami will determine one playoff participant.

      There’s approximately a 36 percent chance that goes awry, however, according to the odds. Miami and Clemson are facing identical challenges in the final week of the regular season by oddsmakers with both going on the road as two-touchdown favorites.

      Production-wise, Clemson has the tougher task. South Carolina has been solid, though not outstanding, in almost every area this season. The Gamecocks have at least been good enough to not incite an avalanche of action against them like most Clemson opponents this season.

      This point spread has stayed stagnant ever since opening.

      Play: South Carolina plus-14

    • Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello runs during the first half of an NCAA college football game against California Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

      Notre Dame minus-2 at Stanford, over/under: 57; 5 p.m. on ABC

      If it’s not apparent enough already, here’s the obligatory mention of the importance of teams’ motivation in handicapping Week 13 games.

      Motivational concerns could particularly boil over in this cross-country rivalry. Stanford has nothing to play for as the game with more significance to its season takes place simultaneously 800 miles North in Seattle.

      If Washington defeats Washington State, Stanford is in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If Washington State wins, Stanford is out.

      Notre Dame has only marginally more on the line, as it needs a win to stay queued for a New Year’s Six bowl appearance. The Irish looked lethargic themselves coming off a blowout loss to Miami that destroyed its playoff hopes when they edged Navy 24-17 as 21-point favorites last week.

      Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has played a large part in the decline as he’s struggled in competing less than 50 percent of his passes and rushing for less than 3.5 yards per carry in the last two weeks. Stanford has dealt with uneven quarterback play all season, but seems to have somewhat settled behind sophomore K.J. Costello over the last two weeks.

      Stanford running back Bryce Love, the third Heisman choice at 9-to-2 odds, remains questionable for this game with an ankle injury.

      Guess: Notre Dame minus-2

    • Washington State wide receiver Tavares Martin Jr. (8) catches a touchdown pass while defended by Stanford cornerback Quenton Meeks (24) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

      Washington State plus-9.5 at Washington, over/under: 48.5; 5 p.m. on Fox

      The betting line doesn’t support the idea that this is an Apple Cup for the ages.

      The Huskies are commanding the highest point spread in their annual season-ending rivalry since coach Chris Petersen arrived in 2014. And yet they’re the ones playing for nothing more than the pride against their in-state enemies.

      Washington has won and covered in all three games against Washington State under Petersen, but Cougars’ fans would say they’ve never had a team as strong as this one. The Cougars have always had the high-flying offense, but defense is the reason they’re a win away from reaching this year’s Pac-12 Championship Game.

      Washington State is giving up only 4.8 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents to rank 16th in the nation. That’s still trailing Washington, which is third at surrendering 4.1 yards per play.

      Washington State quarterback Luke Falk has piled up a mountain of records, including the Pac-12 passing mark, in his four years as a starter but has never come close to beating Washington. The betting market believes this is the year it happens with three-fourths of the early action coming on the Cougars.

      Lean: Washington minus-9.5

    • Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury celebrates with Kenny Williams (34) following a touchdown run in the fourth quarter of their NCAA college football game against West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. Texas Tech won 37-27.

      Extra points

      Houston minus-4.5 vs. Navy Not the best spot for the Midshipmen coming off three straight physically demanding games that took their toll on the injury front. The Cougars also have one of the best rush defenses they’ve seen all year.

      Texas Tech plus-10 at Texas A win might be needed to save Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job, and his team has rallied behind him before. More importantly, this is just too many points for a Red Raiders team that’s shown flashes of brilliance on both sides of the ball this season.

      Duke plus-12 at Wake Forest Blue Devils should carry over the same urgency they used in smashing the Yellow Jackets in an attempt to become an unlikely bowl participant. Wake Forest’s season is already made, and while its offense has flown recently, the Demon Deacons’ defense has done the opposite and regressed.

      North Texas minus-11 at Rice The Owls are one of the worst teams in the nation, and yet somehow have managed to cover two weeks in a row. That’s driven down their power rating enough to put value on the Mean Green, one of the most pleasant group of five conference surprises this year.

      Iowa State plus-3 at Kansas State It’s the oldest rule in sports betting: Don’t overreact to one week’s results. Kansas State would be an underdog in this spot if it hadn’t upset Oklahoma State 45-40 as 21-point underdogs last week, just as it should be based on a season-long sample.

      UTSA plus-2 at Louisiana Tech Even with last week’s 9-7 escape against Marshall, UTSA is only 2-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season. The Roadrunners have endured rotten luck all season — they’re also in the nation’s bottom 20 in fumble recovery percentage — to conceal that they’re one of the better Conference USA teams.

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

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