We received some really good feedback on last week’s first installment of “Betting on College Football – Quick Hitters”. I’m glad many of you found the provided information helpful in deciding which sides and totals to consider. This week, I plan to touch on several key games and also point out some under the radar players and teams to keep an eye on. After all, the goal of this segment is to shed some light on the lesser known, yet relevant trends, stats, and situations for this week’s upcoming games.
As I said last week, it is important to remember that these trends and stats are only one piece of the puzzle when trying to figure out which team to place a wager on. They shouldn’t be followed blindly, but instead they should be considered and factored into the broader context and reasoning for selecting a side. So without further ado, let’s kick it off for week 9.
Betting on College Football – Week 9 Quick Hitters
(All point spreads and totals are as of noon CST on Thursday)
Western Kentucky is no longer king of the hill. The Hilltoppers had won 14 consecutive games against the spread, but an overtime loss against UL-Monroe last Saturday snapped that impressive streak. Now, the only team with a perfect ATS record this season is Utah State (7-0-1), due in large part to their impressive defense that ranks #10 in points per game allowed. The Aggies are large favorites over the UTSA Roadrunners this weekend. (Line = USU -23, 50.5)
Knight and day. Rutgers dominated Temple in the second half last weekend en route to a comfortable 35-10 win. The Scarlet Knights have been a second half team all season long. In fact, they have outscored their opponents by a combined 69-3 margin in the third quarter. Apparently first year head coach Kyle Flood is making all of the necessary adjustments at halftime, giving his team a great opportunity to succeed in the final 30 minutes. Rutgers will take on a surprising Kent State team this week. The Scarlet Knights are going for their 6th straight win against the spread. (Line = Rut -13.5, 46)
Orange Crushed. Since the beginning of last season, Syracuse has lost 7 straight ATS on the road. That includes defeats at Minnesota and Rutgers earlier this season. Even though the Orangemen looked impressive in their Friday night win over UConn, they will have a tough task against a resurgent South Florida team that nearly knocked off Louisville last week. SaberStxVii has a breakdown and pick of this game here. (Line = USF -2.5, 53)
Scrambled Eggs. In the past two years, Nebraska is 2-8 ATS when the opposing quarterback runs the ball 10 or more times. The two covers came against bad Minnesota and Southern Mississippi teams, otherwise the Huskers have not covered against every other scrambling/mobile quarterback they have faced. The Huskers will need to find an answer for Michigan QB Denard Robinson, who will surely carry the load when the Wolverines travel to Lincoln on Saturday. Also, Nebraska’s star RB, Rex Burkhead, is doubtful to play in this game. (Line = Neb -2, 57).
Do the Fighting Illini have a fighting chance? Illinois has given up an average of 41 points in their last four games. This week, they will face an Indiana team that ranks #13 overall in passing yards. That may mean trouble, considering Illinois has given up 9 yards per pass attempt, ranking #118 in that category. It will be interesting to see if the Fighting Illini can turn things around following their bye week. SaberStxVii has a breakdown and pick of this game here. (Line = Ill -2, 58)
Are the Hawkeyes ready to take flight? Iowa will travel to Northwestern this week for a Big Ten showdown. The weakness of Northwestern’s defense lies in its inability to defend the intermediate passing game, where they rank #113 in passing yards allowed. As we saw last week, Nebraska had a lot of success through the air in the fourth quarter, sparking a comeback win over the Wildcats. Iowa’s senior QB, James Vandenberg, has struggled so far this year, only throwing 3 TD’s and 5 INT’s. The Hawkeyes will need him to have his best game of the season if they want to attack the Northwestern secondary. (Line = NW -6, 49).
Minnesota could bottle up the Boilermakers. Minnesota’s undersized, yet highly skilled defense is built to defend the pass. The Gophers rank 5th in the country in passing yardage allowed. That is bad news for a Purdue offense that relies on their QB, TerBush, to sustain drives through the intermediate passing game. Now, if the Minnesota offense can get going with their freshman QB, Nelson, they might have a chance at pulling off the upset at home. (Line = Pur -3, 51).
Will Happy Valley be all smiles this weekend? On defense, Penn State has a terrific front seven that ranks amongst the top 20 nationally in defending the run. Ohio State will bring in a top 10 rushing attack, led by their banged up QB Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes run the ball a whopping 63% of the time, which may be problematic considering Penn State will be the best defense they have seen all year. (Line = OSU -1, 50.5)
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Apparently that saying also applies to covering the spread. In the last three years, UNLV is only 2-14-1 ATS while playing on the road. They did achieve a rare cover last weekend with a late, fourth quarter touchdown against the Boise State 2nd string defense. Despite that, I would not recommend rolling the dice on UNLV when they take on San Diego State, even though the Aztecs will be without their starting QB, Katz. (Line = SDSU -18, 56.5)
The MAC’s version of Collin Klein. Kansas State’s dual-threat QB, Collin Klein, has been receiving a lot of Heisman talk following his terrific performance against West Virginia last weekend. However, a lesser known quarterback, Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois, is actually putting up better numbers. Lynch ranks second in the nation in rushing, averaging 131 yards per game on the ground (7 yards per carry). This weekend, his Huskies will go up against a Western Michigan 3-3-5 defensive set that is primarily built to defend the pass. (Get the full game breakdown and selection at Opening Line Sports CFB Blog).
Carolina Blues. If you recall, last basketball season North Carolina lost to Duke on a buzzer-beater shot by the Blue Devils’ guard, Austin Rivers. As if that wasn’t enough to send Tar Heel fans into a state of depression, UNC lost to Duke again in gut-wrenching fashion last Saturday, this time on the football field. North Carolina will try to avenge that loss by taking on rival NC State at home, where the Tar Heels have played significantly better this season. North Carolina’s hurry-up, balanced, spread offense may create some problems for an NC State secondary that ranks #117 against the pass. (Line = UNC -7.5, 55)
Georgia Tech may run out of options this week. The Yellow Jackets option attack, which ranks 3rd nationally in rushing yards per game, will go up against a stout BYU run defense that only allows a measly 90 rushing yards per game, ranking 8th in the nation. BYU has not seen a running attack like Georgia Tech all season, but the Cougars certainly have a capable front seven that can at least limit the triple-option threat. It is also worth noting that Georgia Tech is banged up on the offensive line. They had two starting tackles leave the game last week, and one of them, LT Will Jackson, is skeptical to play with a shoulder injury. The Yellow Jackets’ offense really slowed down last week after sustaining these injuries in the second half. They ended up getting outscored by Boston College 14-9 in the final two quarters. They cannot afford to let up against a solid BYU team this weekend. (Line = GT -2.5, 50.5).
Don’t expect Mississippi State to give Alabama easy points. Tennessee helped Alabama cover the large spread last week by throwing two interceptions and fumbling once. Don’t expect that type of carelessness from Mississippi State on Saturday. The Bulldogs are one of the least turnover prone teams in the nation, ranking #6 in that category (ahead of Alabama). They are actually tied for 2nd in the nation (with Alabama) in turnover margin per game, so the Bulldogs get their fair share of takeaways as well. We will see if Mississippi State can continue to protect the ball against that vaunted Crimson Tide defense Saturday night. (Line = Ala -24, 46.5).
Can Auburn contain Johnny Football? Texas A&M QB, Johnny Manziel, has made defenses run in circles trying to catch him. He has rushed for over 700 yards and 10 TD’s already this season. The Auburn defense has given up some big plays to scrambling quarterbacks. UL-Monroe’s QB, Browning, found lots of running room against the Tigers, including a 39 yard touchdown run. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Mississippi’s Bo Wallace also had success running the ball on Auburn. The Tigers’ defensive ends will need to keep contain if they want to limit the Aggies’ offense. (Line = Texas A&M -15.5, 53).
The Bulldogs don’t like being called underdogs. In the past two seasons, Georgia is 0-5 ATS as underdogs, which includes a 35-7 beatdown they suffered at the hands of South Carolina several weeks ago. Georgia will try to break that streak against a physical Florida team in Jacksonville this weekend. In case you were wondering, the forecast is expected to be rainy and windy, which is why the over/under is set so low. (Line = UF -7, 47.5).
Home cookin’ on “the farm”. Stanford QB, Josh Nunes, is completing 56% of his passes for 245 yards per game, totaling 8 TD’s and 3 INT’s at home this year. That is much better than the 49% for 170 yards per game, 1 TD and 4 INT’s on the road. Stanford is scoring 36 points per game at home compared to only 16 on the road. They could improve that home scoring average by hosting a Washington State team that ranks in the bottom half in almost every critical defensive category, including #105 in opponent completion %, #100 in pass defense, #116 in 3rd down defense, and #94 in total defense. (Line = Stan -25, 50.5)
The Pac-12 Game of the Year…next week. Next Saturday, #2 Oregon will face off against #10 USC in one of the most anticipated games of the season. However, this week Oregon will play the Pac-12’s worst team, Colorado (Line = Ore -45.5). The Ducks may pull their starters after the first quarter if they build up a healthy enough lead. USC will have a much more difficult task this Saturday. The Trojans will travel to play an Arizona team that boasts the 7th best offense in the country (Line = USC -6.5). Are either of these teams overlooking their matchups this week?
Is this the week Oregon State will slip up? The #7 ranked Beavers will travel to Washington this week, and they are listed as only 3.5 point favorites. Oregon State has been battle tested on the road so far this year, getting wins at UCLA, Arizona, and BYU. However, they will need to prove themselves once again taking on a Washington team that plays very tough at home (which is now the Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field). The Huskies are 7-2 ATS at home the past two years, including an upset win vs Stanford earlier this season. Oregon State may have their starting QB, Mannion, back from injury. The Beavers will need his poise and leadership in what should be a close, hard fought game played in the rain (70% chance of showers).
Looks can be deceiving. You may be tempted to back the Toledo Rockets following their 29-23 win over a ranked Cincinnati team last weekend. While the win looked impressive on paper, it was much less flattering if you actually watched it. Toledo’s high-powered offense failed to score a touchdown the entire game. A kickoff return, pick-six, four field goals, and a plethora of Cincinnati miscues allowed the Rockets to take the victory in ugly fashion. This weekend, Toledo is favored by only 7.5 at Buffalo. Don’t fall in love with that line because Buffalo’s star RB, Branden Oliver, is likely to return for this game. If he is healthy, he will find plenty of running room against a Toledo defense that gave up 283 yards and 4 TD’s to Eastern Michigan’s RB two weeks ago.
Tracking the trend of the year. Last week, I noted that double digit home underdogs (with the spread between 10 and 19.5) have done very well against the spread this season. As I suspected, that trend didn’t hold up last week as the four teams fitting the profile only went 1-3 ATS, with Duke pulling off the outright upset. That makes these double digit dogs 31-13 ATS for the year, hitting at about 70%. Even though these dogs underwhelmed last week, I still think this is a noteworthy trend to keep track of. This week Wake Forest (+13.5 vs Clemson on Thursday), Auburn (+15.5 vs Texas A&M), New Mexico (+15 vs Fresno St), and Wyoming (+16.5 vs Boise State) fit the bill. Of those four teams, Auburn may be the most deserving of a strong look, granted they can contain A&M’s QB, Manziel, as I noted earlier. Pezgordo has a pretty good write-up on why you should consider Auburn here.
If you have any questions regarding matchups (covered or not covered in this article), feel free to post your inquiries in the comment section. I will be periodically checking and responding to all questions. You can also contact me on twitter @OpeningLine, and I should respond relatively soon.
You can see all of my College Football Selections for the week at Opening Line Sports. On a 25-8 (76%) run in the past month, and looking to keep it going with 7 selections this weekend.
Sources: Covers.com, TeamRankings.com, ESPN.com, scoresandodds.com, GoldSheet.com