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November 27, 2014

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of week 11

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Steve Marcus

An Oregon State player picks up his helmet during practice in this file photo.

Sun's NFL betting game of Week 10

Which side would you take in this week’s Sunday Night Football game?
Texans +1 — 53.7%
Bears -1 — 46.3%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Bowl season starts in exactly five weeks.

Anyone else ready for it to get here already? Diving into a game or two every day sounds more desirable than cramming for 50 or more per week.

It’s been a frustrating college football season, especially when it comes to this blog’s selections. Take last week, for example. The “six pack of picks” blazed to a 3-0 start, but settled for a mediocre 3-3 by the end of the night.

I’ll consider it a success that Talking Points has never dipped below 50 percent on the season, but a much bigger failure that the picks haven’t been unprofitable overall to this point.

Let’s give it another shot this week.

Picks are posted at the bottom of the page after the standard breakdown of the two biggest games of the week and quick slants on some of the others.

No. 11 Oregon State +4 at No. 14 Stanford; over/under: 44.5

The Beavers haven’t successfully escaped the Tree in the last two years.

They haven’t even come close. Stanford has outscored Oregon State a combined 76-13 in those matchups, both obviously resulting in easy covers.

NFL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Andrew Luck, however, directed those blowouts for Stanford. The Cardinal’s terrific year (7-2 straight up, 5-4 against the spread) after losing Luck makes them one of the Pac 12’s most surprising teams.

Oregon State (7-1 straight up, 6-2 against the spread) would probably rank as the only team ahead of Stanford in that regard. The Beavers weren’t ranked to start the year, but won each of their first three games as underdogs.

The quarterback situation for each of these teams makes this contest hard to handicap. Stanford coach David Shaw pulled starter Josh Nunes for backup Kevin Hogan in last week’s game at Colorado, which Stanford won 48-0 as 27.5-point favorites.

Hogan gets the starting nod after impressing against the Buffaloes. Oregon State coach Mike Riley has also flip-flopped as much as a beach sandal on the subject.

Sean Mannion paved the way for Oregon State’s strong start, but struggled ever since returning from a minor knee surgery.

Cody Vaz is now the man for the Beavers, but there’s no guarantee how long that will last. Either Shaw or Riley could experience a sudden change of heart in the middle of the game.

Stanford holds an edge on the other side of the ball with the No. 1 rushing defense in the nation behind seniors Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner. But early money supported Oregon State, pushing the spread down from as high as Stanford -5.5.

With Oregon State a perfect 4-0 taking points on the season, second-guessing the movement isn’t necessary.

No. 15 Texas A&M +13.5 at No. 1 Alabama; over/under: 57

An interesting theory began making rounds last week as Alabama prepared for its annual showdown with LSU — Some wondered if the Crimson Tide’s toughest task actually waited ahead and would come this week.

Story checks out, as Texas A&M potentially boasts an offense that could challenge the defending the national champions in a way they haven’t seen before.

That’s true even after LSU exploded for more than 400 yards and led until the final minute when T.J. Yeldon took a 28-yard pass from A.J. McCarron for a touchdown to grab the win-but-no-cover in Baton Rogue, La.

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Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) walks off the field after defeating Auburn 63-21 in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in Auburn, Ala.

Johnny “Football” Manziel is somewhat quietly putting together one of the best freshman seasons in the history of college football for the Aggies. Comfortable in new coach Kevin Sumlin’s wild spread attack, Manziel ranks second in the nation in total offense with 383 yards per game.

Manziel’s two worst games — though he had well over 200 yards of offense in both — came against comparable defenses to Alabama in losses to LSU and Florida.

Texas A&M also plays better defense than it’s given credit for. Damontre Moore is second in the nation in sacks.

The talk of Texas A&M’s chances in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last week translated into money this week, as the Aggies were bet down to +13.5 after they opened as full touchdown underdogs. A line move against the runaway national title favorites is risky business.

Alabama makes significantly fewer mistakes, as it’s ranked in the top five in the nation in turnover margin while Texas A&M places in the bottom 15 in the same statistic.

The public will likely drive this number back up before kickoff, so jump on the Crimson Tide now if that’s your lean. Wait for more points on the Aggies.

Quick slants

• Let’s take a look at the other three undefeated teams in the national championship race starting with Kansas State, which travels to TCU as a 7.5-point favorite this week. Sharp money seems to come in against the Wildcats every week but it hasn’t mattered as they’ve covered six straight with ease. The Horned Frogs appear to possess a defense capable of limiting quarterback Collin Klein, but the Wildcats simply aren’t a team worth betting against at the moment.

• No one seems to respect Notre Dame. Not even the oddsmakers this week, as host Boston College gets only 19 points against the Irish. Keep in mind the dreadful 2-7 Eagles could barely stay within 19 against Wake Forest last week. The threat of the Irish resting their starters and allowing a backdoor cover is the lone argument against laying the high asking price.

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Oregon running back Kenjon Barner (24) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, in Los Angeles. Oregon won 62-51.

• Unlike Notre Dame and Kansas State, no one wants to climb aboard the Doubt Express with Oregon. The Ducks are up to 28.5-point favorites at California Saturday. After bettors grumbled about it failing to cover in four of its first five games, Oregon has beaten the number in four consecutive contests by an average of eight points.

• Not only has Georgia Tech historically dominated the series with North Carolina, the Yellow Jackets have also won and covered three straight against the Tar Heels. But the Ramblin’ Wreck get nine points against the Marchin’ Heels here in a game they likely must win in order to not miss a bowl game for the first time since 1998. Oddsmakers favor North Carolina in the game for the first time since Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics.

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The Rutgers Scarlet Knight enters the stadium before the start of their NCAA college football game against Kent State in Piscataway, N.J., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. Kent State upset nationally ranked Rutgers 35-23.

• Speaking of things that haven’t happened since 1996, Army could earn back the Commander In Chief’s Trophy in a couple weeks. The Cadets upset Air Force as seven-point underdogs last week to put themselves in position. They should be emotionally drained and find themselves in a letdown spot at Rutgers Saturday. The Scarlet Knights are 17-point underdogs, which sounds reasonable especially when considering they are coming off of a bye week.

• Bettors would have been wise to go with plenty of Sun Belt teams this year in non-conference play. Teams from the New Orleans-based mid-major league have gone 10-0 as underdogs of more than 24 points in 2012. UL Lafayette goes into Florida as a 26-point underdog this weekend. The impressive streak may die in the Swamp, as the Ragin Cajuns have covered just once since the start of October.

• Fans are beginning to seriously consider the possibility that Indiana will represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Conference championship game. Sounds like a perfect time to fade the Hoosiers. Talk about perfect timing — Wisconsin comes to Indiana Saturday morning as 7-point favorites with forgotten-but-fantastic running back Montee Ball ready to feast on the nation’s 107th ranked rushing defense.

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San Diego State's Walter Kazee goes over the top for a 1-yard touchdown against UNLV during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in San Diego.

• Air Force hasn’t even flirted with the idea of covering on the road since Week 2, when it lost 31-25 to Michigan as 21.5-point underdogs. The Falcons go to San Diego State where the Aztecs, which stunned Boise State 21-19 as 16.5-point underdogs on the road last week, lay 7.5 points Saturday. A letdown sounds unlikely as San Diego State still wants to keep on pace to win the Mountain West.

• Vanderbilt has prevailed as underdogs against Ole Miss in three of the last four meetings, including two straight. But first-year coach Hugh Freeze has revived the Rebels to the point where giving three points at home to the Commodores doesn’t sound like enough. Ole Miss, 7-2 against the spread this season, has a decided advantage over Vanderbilt, 5-4 against the spread, on offense but aren’t as strong defensively.

• A promising home underdog kicks off in the final game Saturday night when UNR hosts Fresno State. The Wolf Pack, coming off of a bye, get 3.5 points at home against the Bulldogs, which play for the 11th straight week. If the year to this point is any indication, I’ll plan on using this game to cut into the deficit created during the rest of the day.

Six pack of picks: Rutgers -17, Georgia Tech +8.5, Wisconsin -7, San Diego State -7.5, UNR +3.5, Ole Miss -3

Year to date record: 33-32

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

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