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October 21, 2014

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of week 10

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Southern California’s Marquise Lee is tackled by Washington’s Desmond Trufant after a 14-yard gain in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Los Angeles. Southern California won 40-17.

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College football is steeped in tradition that few other sports can match.

Keeping up with the sheer number of quirks and practices spanning the nation’s football programs would be treacherous. Some are old; some are new. Some are fun; some are dangerous. Some are important; some are foolish.

The most pointless is one that the most dedicated fans of the game have developed over the last few years. College football fans religiously wait around Sunday evening for the release of the new BCS standings and follow the reveal with two things — complaining and overreacting.

Panic and outrage over what the BCS spits out — especially at the top — are as certain as praise and inquiry after a new episode of “Homeland” on Sunday night.

Las Vegas sports books illustrate the trivial nature of the whole exercise. The next time the BCS standings drastically change the odds to win the national championship before the tail end of the season will be the first time.

Last Sunday, for example, Oregon fell another spot to No. 4 in the BCS behind both Kansas State and Notre Dame.

To the moaners, this was as catastrophic as losing a five-team parlay on a last-second hail Mary. To the oddsmakers, it was insignificant.

Oregon continues to hold the second-lowest odds to hoist the crystal football at the end of the year in the majority of sports books. The Ducks are 3.5-to-1 at the LVH Superbook with Kansas State at 4-to-1 and Notre Dame at 6-to-1. Alabama is offered at even money.

Remaining schedules and a team’s power rating, at this point, are much more important than the BCS standings in determining who will win the national championship.

The odds are extremely against all four of those teams staying undefeated anyway.

We’ll discuss all four teams’ matchups this week below, following the usual format of an extended breakdown for the two games of the week, quick slants on the rest and picks at the bottom.

No. 4 Oregon -8.5 at No. 17 USC; over/under: 70

This line surpasses last week’s Georgia vs. Florida spread as the number that’s changed the most since sports books posted it as a Game of the Year this summer.

The number shifted more than two touchdowns in Oregon’s favor after the Golden Nugget opened USC at -6. We loaded up on the team that went from giving to getting points, Georgia, last week.

But Georgia was more likable than USC, a team that’s gone 2-6 against the spread. Florida was also more flawed than Oregon, which has gone 4-4 against the spread.

If the Ducks cared or needed to leave their starters in for longer than the length of an episode of “South Park,” they could have easily covered every game.

Commentators often note the positives of having a rested team. But the decreased workload could actually work against the Ducks if they ever get in a close game, because they aren’t used to going nonstop for four quarters.

The Trojans, +300 on the money line, could be the team to do it. Before laughing, remember that this is the same group that elicited a line of bettors halfway to the California border wanting to lay seven touchdowns in the first week.

Marquise Lee, 345 yards in last week’s loss at Arizona, looks like the best receiver in the nation and could pose matchup problems for Oregon. But let’s be honest, Oregon’s entire offense should cause USC issues.

No team has slowed Heisman-contending running back Kenjon Barner or dynamic freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Estimates place as many as 90 percent of the tickets on the Ducks — yet another difference from last week’s Florida vs. Georgia game.

USC reopened as low as 5.5-point underdogs on Sunday, but the line has steadily climbed with no buy-back. It’s getting to where value may exist on the team widely considered to be the best in the nation at the beginning of the year.

But how nice must it feel to have an Oregon +6 ticket stashed away? A 14.5-point middle sounds as pleasant as a massage on a tropical island.

No. 1 Alabama -8.5 vs. No. 5 LSU; over/under: 41

The annually anticipated SEC West showdown turned into the "Game of the Century" last regular season. The “Game of the Century” turned into the rematch for the national championship last postseason.

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Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (10) signals a play at the line of scrimmage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The rematch for the national championship turns into the game with the historic point spread Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

Good luck finding another contest between top-five teams where the home team got more than a touchdown. LSU hasn’t been this big of an underdog at home since 2001.

The Tigers have lost by more than a touchdown in the regular season three times during Les Miles’ seven-year tenure and only once at home.

But Alabama is in he midst of accomplishing all kinds of rare feats. The Crimson Tide rank first in scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense for the second straight year.

More surprising and valuable, however, is how well their offense has performed. The good folks of the Cotton State could rightfully complain about the lack of attention given to quarterback A.J. McCarron as a Heisman candidate.

The junior comes in No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. He may get less publicity than he should because dual backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Weldon seem to run wild every week.

Alabama’s offense is too well rounded for 99 percent of the defenses in the nation. LSU is in the one percent.

Despite depictions to the contrary, LSU’s offense isn’t helpless either. It’s just inconsistent, looking explosive one minute and lackluster the next.

That comes with running out a first-time starter at quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, through the SEC. Mettenberger and his teammates had a week to improve, too, as LSU comes out of a bye week to face Alabama.

No matter how compelling the arguments for the Tigers, however, the Crimson Tide looks like Jon Jones or Bishop Gorman right now. Don’t go against them without expecting to lose.

Quick slants

• This is new. As far as conference slates go, none sound more intriguing than the Pac 12’s on Saturday. The two late Pac-12 contests combine to have a point spread less than USC vs. Oregon. UCLA hosts Arizona as 3.5-point favorites, while Oregon State gives Arizona State four points at home. Leans are to the Wildcats and the Beavers, even though the Sundevils are surprisingly superior by most statistical measures.

Power towel

• Public bettors were slow to latch on to Kansas State this season, but they’ve got their purple power towels in hand now. Posting only one against the spread loss all season in eight games will have that effect. Kansas State opened as low as -7 hosting Oklahoma State this weekend but are now listed at -9.

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Kansas State wide receiver Chris Harper (3) goes up to catch a pass against Kansas safety Bradley McDougald (24) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011.

• The number of Florida players bawling on the sidelines as the final seconds ticked off the clock in its loss to Georgia last week showed the height of the emotion in the defeat. With the Gators season ruined, they have to turn around and lay 17 points at home against a disappointing Missouri team that’s gone 3-4 against the spread. But Missouri junior quarterback James Franklin returns from injury this week, which could give the offense the boost it craves.

• It’s tempting to call Notre Dame’s home game against Pittsburgh the letdown spot of the week. But letdown spot of the decade may be more appropriate. A week after shocking the college football world with a 30-13 victory over Oklahoma as 13-point underdogs, Notre Dame gives improving Pittsburgh 17 points in South Bend, Ind. Since these two schools renewed their series in 2008, every game has been decided by a touchdown or less.

• Anger is better than joy in college football. Syracuse rides into Cincinnati feeling terrific Saturday after winning two straight games behind quarterback Ryan Nassib’s 579 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Cincinnati, a four-point favorite, is fuming after losing razor-thin contests at Louisville and at Toledo. The Bearcats need to win to keep their Big East title hopes alive, something they should be able to accomplish behind the legs of 6.6 yard-per-carry back George Winn.

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Virginia coach Mike London yells at an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012.

• The ominous title of least profitable team in Las Vegas belongs to the Virginia Cavaliers, a bunch that’s compiled an 0-7 against the spread record. And to think there was some excitement for coach Mike London’s third year after he led the team to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011. It would take some nerve to back Virginia this week as 10.5-point underdogs at North Carolina State, but it’s probably the right side. The Wolfpack are coming off of a devastating loss that produced the bad beat of the year when North Carolina botched the late extra-point snap, but converted a two-point conversion to cover the 7.5-point spread.

• Michigan fans must root for hated rival Michigan State this week. If the Spartans can beat the visiting Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Wolverines are back atop the Legends Division standings. Oddsmakers and bettors are finding trouble picking the right side. The line has bounced back and forth with Michigan State opening as a 1-point favorite and Nebraska, currently posted as a 1.5-point favorite at most shops. The number, however, largely differs based on the book.

• For the first time in 12 years, oddsmakers favor Indiana over Iowa. The Hawkeyes receive 2.5 points in their trip to face the Hoosiers, a team that’s covered in four straight weeks. Iowa traditionally dominates the series, however, with 18 victories in the last 26 meetings.

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UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck closes his eyes on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of their game against Northern Arizona Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Lumberjacks upset the Rebels 17-14.

• In the Bobby Hauck era, UNLV has dressed up as a favorite three times. All three occasions were against New Mexico. Oddsmakers installed UNLV as a four-point favorite over New Mexico this weekend. While the Rebels haven’t shown much improvement in the win column with a 1-8 record, covering against New Mexico would mark a fifth straight victory versus the number.

• The two candidates for worst first-year coaches of the year collide in Hattiesburg, Miss., Saturday night. Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson and UAB coach Garrick McGee are a combined 0-15 against FBS opposition and 5-11 against the spread. Southern Miss gives the standard three points in a game this dreadful.

Six pack of picks: USC +8.5, Missouri +17, Pittsburgh +17, Cincinnati -4, Iowa +2.5, Southern Miss -3

Year to date record: 30-29

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

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