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October 2, 2014

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

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Leila Navidi

The Race & Sports Book at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson on Tuesday, March 13, 2012.

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Bragging rights and bowl eligibilities define the last full week of the college football regular season.

Every game of note over Thanksgiving weekend features either a rivalry or a team desperate to make a final push to get to .500 and possibly make the postseason.

Talking Points feels a kinship with those 15 teams battling to prolong their season. After last week’s debacle, we’re teetering on embarrassment for the season and fighting for respect of our own.

The six-pack of picks went an all-time worst 1-4-1 to bring the overall record to a season-low 50 winning percentage. We’ll spare everyone the gory late-game details on how Indiana failed to cover the 18-point spread at Penn State and how Western Kentucky had to settle for a push as a 4-point underdog at Louisiana-Lafayette.

Bad beats already were the subject of the top of last week’s blog.

Find this week’s picks at the bottom of the page after an extended look at two of the most significant games on the schedule and quick slants on the rest.

No. 5 Oregon -9.5 at No. 15 Oregon State; over/under: 65

This year’s Stanford football team is poised to join Sam Bowie, Greg Oden and Adidas as sports entities that fans throughout Oregon would rather just forget.

No matter which side of the Civil War rivalry Oregonians fall on, they have reason for beef with the Cardinal. A week after outlasting Oregon State for a 27-23 victory as 3.5-point favorites, Stanford stunned Oregon with a 17-14 victory as 20.5-point underdogs.

Stanford crushed Oregon’s national championship aspirations with the victory and also obliterated what was surely one of Oregon State’s late-season hopes. The Beavers wanted to be the ones to keep the Ducks away from the crystal football.

That’s the nature of this rivalry, which had seen its fair share of upsets until the last four years. Oregon is currently on a four-game win streak over Oregon State, which only covered in one of those meetings.

Despite any lingering animosity, the Beavers would be wise to take some cues from the Cardinal in regards of how to slow their Southern neighbors. Stanford became the first team to hold Oregon to less than 42 points all season by containing running backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, who combined for less than four yards per carry.

Like Stanford, Oregon State also boasts a top-15 rushing defense. The Beavers' defense may appear to match up well, but the Ducks return the favor.

Oregon’s secondary has the athletes to counter Oregon State receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. The Ducks have stifled every passing attack they’ve encountered with the notable exception of USC’s behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

Few states have treated sports bettors as well as Oregon this year. These two teams are a combined 13-7 against the spread.

No. 4 Florida +7.5 at No. 10 Florida State; over/under: OFF

The Sunshine State’s two best college football teams are in direct contrast to their Beaver State counterparts when it comes to caring for gamblers’ money.

The bankroll of bettors who consistently backed the Seminoles and Gators looks a lot like the faces of beachgoers in Miami and the barbecue ends in the panhandle: burnt.

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Florida State Seminoles mascot Chief Osceola raises his spear to the crowd before the start of action between the Florida State Seminoles and the Duke Blue Devils at Doak S. Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.

Oddsmakers have tasked Florida State with the unenviable responsibility of covering inflated spreads all season. The Seminoles have given at least two touchdowns on the spread in every game and responded by going 3-6 against the number.

Florida actually is profitable on the year at 6-5 against the spread, but don’t tell that to anyone who’s backed the Gators over the last month. They’ve dropped three in a row, not covering since an Oct. 20 blowout win over South Carolina as 3.5-point favorites.

The numbers caught up to the Gators.

Most of their concern is with a fledgling offense, which seems to only be capable of going as far as the running game can take it. That’s a problem against the Seminoles, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense.

The line was late to come out, and sports books still haven’t posted the total because of the injury status of Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel. He’s expected to play now, but it’s hard to imagine the spread changing much if backup Jacoby Brissett got the nod.

While Driskel’s done an average job as a sophomore signal caller, defense is the reason Florida still has an outside shot to make the national championship game.

They rank in the top five in every defensive category. Although quarterback E.J. Manuel and the Seminoles' offense is prolific, they’ve seen nothing like Jelani Jenkins and Jonathon Bostic coming at them every play.

Above all else, it’s nice to have this rivalry return to prominence. It’s the first time both teams are ranked in the top 10 for the game since 2000.

Quick slants

• Lines on potential national championship games began creeping out this week at sports books. Wynn Las Vegas was the first to post the two most likely matchups with Alabama as a 9-point favorite over Notre Dame and Georgia -1 versus the Irish. Of course, all three of those teams encounter obstacles this week first.

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Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson reacts after throwing for a touchdown against Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012.

• Rarely, if ever, will a line move as much from the summer Game of the Year opener to now than the one in Notre Dame’s trip to USC on Saturday. The spread has shifted an unprecedented 20.5 points. Notre Dame now gives USC 6.5 points on the road after the Trojans were -14 at the Golden Nugget all summer. It’s popular to give Notre Dame flak for its offense, but quarterback Everett Golson threw for more than 300 yards for the first time in his career last week in a 34-0 victory over Wake Forest.

• Alabama closes its regular season with yet another historic point spread. Oddsmakers favor Alabama by 32 points over Auburn in this year’s Iron Bowl. As far back as reliable data exists, the nation’s best rivalry has never featured one team favored by more than 21 points.

• The biggest rivalry in the state neighboring Alabama to the east has been as one-sided as a standard CD lately. Georgia has beaten Georgia Tech in nine of the past 10 years and covered in seven of those contests. All the pressure this year is on the Bulldogs, which host the Yellow Jackets as 13.5-point favorites. Georgia Tech has covered three straight and four of five since its bye week. Knocking its rival from national championship contention would make up for Georgia Tech’s disappointing season.

• The other SEC vs. ACC in-state grudge match shapes up as one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. For just the second time since 1896, both Clemson and South Carolina are ranked in the top 15 for their season-ending clash. Oddsmakers favor the host Tigers by four points. If South Carolina pulls off the upset, it will mark the first time since 1954 that one team has won four in a row. Imagine how much Steve Spurrier’s well-publicized trash talking to Dabo Swinney would increase with that achievement.

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Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (25) runs for a long gain against Colorado during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. Carey run for five touchdowns and 366 yards. Arizona won 56 - 31.

• The parade of rivalry games starts marching Friday, but only one stands out with a spread that’s less than double digits. Arizona gives visiting Arizona State three points in a series that’s seen the underdog cover eight of the last nine and the road team win four of the last six. Trends aren’t all that important, however, with two first-year coaches in Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham. What’s more meaningful is Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey, who is leading the nation in rushing, against a Sundevils defense that’s struggled against the run throughout the year.

• There’s evidence of reverse line movement in the annual game between Ohio State and Michigan. Although sports books report significantly more bets on host Ohio State, the spread has gone in Michigan’s favor, as it’s now +4 instead of the +5.5 opener. Statistically, the Wolverines are superior on both offense and defense. Analysts have wasted plenty of energy talking about the motivation of Ohio State — which is not eligible for the postseason but will finish the regular season undefeated with a win — but it’s not like Michigan will lay down against its biggest rival.

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A fan hangs from a goal post after it was torn down in celebration of Oklahoma State's 44-10 win over Oklahoma in an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011.

• Oklahoma has looked significantly weaker down the stretch, failing to cover in three of four games. The opposite is true of Oklahoma State, which has gone 3-1 against the Las Vegas number in its last four. The scenario sounds a lot like last year when the Cowboys routed the Sooners 44-10 in the Bedlam game for their first victory in the series in eight years and first cover in six. Oklahoma State gets 7.5 points this year at Oklahoma, where it hasn’t won since 2001.

• Pittsburgh needs to beat Rutgers at home this week and South Florida on the road next week to prevent watching bowl games from home. A little luck and the Panthers are better than their 4-6 record, as they’ve gone 0-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They give the Scarlet Knights two points at home, which sounds like a fair asking price.

• UCLA opened as a 1-point favorite at home against Stanford, but money shifted the line as far as -2.5 in the other direction. Stanford needs to win to clinch its spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game; UCLA gets in regardless. That’s a rather large discrepancy in motivational edge.

Six pack of picks: Michigan +4, Arizona -3, Florida +7.5, Pittsburgh -2, Stanford -1.5, Clemson -4

Year to date record: 38-38-1

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

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