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December 18, 2014

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

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Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller throws a pass against Alabama-Birmingham during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio.

Sun's NFL betting game of Week Four

What’s the bet in this week’s Monday Night Football game in Dallas?
Cowboys -3.5 — 52.3%
Bears +3.5 — 47.7%

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

Will you ever open your eyes so that you could really see you’ve come this far doin’ what you do, so why change now?

Consider a moment that occurred Thursday night a self-realization that I’m either, a) a degenerate gambler or b) just think entirely too much about betting on sports.

I was standing in the back of Vinyl, the newest venue at the Hard Rock, watching seminal 1990s punk rock outfit Strung Out tear through a nostalgic set when they started playing “Speed Ball,” which includes the aforementioned lyrics.

The song has about as much to do with sports betting as a seven-team parlay has to do with a seven-string guitar. But my warped mind started applying the words written by a 21-year old in 1996 to last week’s slate of college football.

It was a rough week, especially here on Talking Points, where I posted my first losing record of the year at 2-4 in the picks.

It’s natural for disappointing results to force bettors to question their approach. What’s important, however, is remembering to stay the course and having faith that putting the work in will lead to the desired result.

As the song concludes, “somehow it always ends up working out.” I can only hope.

I’m leaning ‘b’, by the way.

Look below for a six pack of picks at the bottom of the page after a breakdown of the week’s two biggest games and a quick slants section on the rest of the card.

No. 14 Ohio State +2.5 at No. 21 Michigan State; over/under: 42.5

12:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC

Three things registered as shocking this week in the gambling world. The third — behind the D Las Vegas refunding tickets on the Packers after Monday Night Football and Pokernews.com posting an interview series with reclusive Full Tilt founder Howard Lederer — was the Spartans opening as less than a field goal favorite against the Buckeyes.

Throughout the summer, sports books listed Michigan State as a 4.5-point favorite in this game. Does one rough loss to Notre Dame, which appears to have an elite defense, deserve to swing the number that much?

Oddsmakers have possibly overvalued Urban Meyer’s return to the sidelines, as Ohio State has gone 1-3 against the spread this year. That’s the same mark posted by Michigan State, but it had to kneel at the end of the game not to cover against Boise State and got caught in a look-ahead spot against in-state foe Eastern Michigan last week.

The Spartans 23-7 victory over EMU was actually better than the Buckeyes dreary 29-15 win against UAB. Both Big Ten teams were 30-point favorites last Saturday.

Behind tackle-breaking runner Le’Veon Bell and run-stuffing linebacker Max Bullough, Michigan State looks like the superior squad. The nearly identical Spartans defense was so dominant last year against the Buckeyes that interim coach, and current assistant, Luke Fickell benched quarterback Braxton Miller in the third quarter.

The situation should increase in difficultly with the 100,000 fans dressed in red turning into 75,000 green-clad 250 miles north.

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West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith (12) drops back to pass against UNLV in the second half of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 in Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia defeated UNLV 49-10.

No. 25 Baylor +11.5 at No. 9 West Virginia; over/under: 82.5

9 a.m., Saturday, FX

The only other matchup between ranked teams this weekend features the nation’s top two most productive offensive players early in the season.

Baylor quarterback Nick Florence is accounting for 387 yards per game, while West Virginia counterpart Geno Smith averages 380 yards.

Sports books and gamblers alike have taken notice of Florence’s and Smith’s ball-moving prowess as the game has by far the highest total of the week. Bettors actually pushed the over/under up an extra field goal after William Hill sports books opened the number at 79.5.

The spread has danced around like it’s at the Electric Daisy Carnival. After the Mountaineers were bet up to 13-point favorites all around town Wednesday, they’ve crashed to as low as 11.

It’s a tricky situational game, as pressure will fall on West Virginia making its Big 12 Conference debut. But the Mountaineers receive the comfort of playing on their home field, while the Bears must make the rare trip for a morning kickoff in the Eastern Time zone.

Both teams have split against the spread this season in widely lined games, blowing out their first opponents before failing to cover in victories last week.

Quick slants

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Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones runs an interception back for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Missouri in Columbia, Mo.

• Speaking of Cheech and Chong-high over/unders in big games, the total for Tennessee vs. Georgia is listed at 58.5 after opening at 60 earlier this week. That’s the highest mark in the history of the SEC East series. Georgia, 14-point favorites in the game, may have the nation’s best defensive player in Jarvis Jones, a linebacker who transferred from USC. Tennessee’s defense has underwhelmed after returning nine starters, but showed signs of improvement in the second half of last week’s game against Akron.

• Five teams are a perfect 4-0 against the spread through four weeks — Northwestern, Ball State, Western Kentucky, Fresno State and San Jose State. While none of the squads look like easy takes this week, Western Kentucky may be the most likely to stay perfect against the Vegas number. The Hilltoppers are only 2.5-point favorites at Arkansas State after covering 13 straight games dating back to last season.

• Several more teams are winless against the spread including SMU, which might be the most disappointing team in the country. Oddsmakers may have not reacted fast enough to the Mustangs troubles. After losing by 35 as 7-point underdogs to Baylor, SMU dropped a 45-point decision to 10-point favorite Texas A&M its last time out. TCU, a stronger team than both Texas A&M and Baylor, travels across town to SMU this week giving only 16 points.

• I presented two teams in potential letdown spots last week and went 1-1. Let’s keep looking at those games throughout the season to see if there’s anything to the old handicapping axiom. Central Michigan knocked off Big Ten opponent Iowa last week as 14.5-point underdogs by scoring a touchdown and recovering an onside kick inside the final 45 seconds. This week, the Chippewas could be emotionally drained in a trip to Northern Illinois. The Huskies, a reasonable 10-point favorite, are focused on winning the MAC this season.

• Louisiana Tech beat a BCS opponent on the road last week, destroying Illinois 52-24 as three-point underdogs. Now the Bulldogs are favored to do it for the second week in a row? Sports books favor Louisiana Tech by 3.5 points over Virginia, which has lost two straight and gone 0-3 against the spread this season. This is a must-win for the Cavaliers to keep bowl eligibility dreams alive.

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Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro (4) celebrates making an interception off a pass by UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince (4) with teammates Keenan Robinson (1) and Alex Okafor (80) in this file photo.

• The home team’s quarterback is out and the road team has the best defense in the conference. Doesn’t sound like a scenario where anyone would want to bet over 65.5 points, but that’s the total in Texas at Oklahoma State. The Longhorns are 2.5-point favorites with Wes Lunt expected not to start for the Cowboys. Backup J.W. Walsh is more of a runner, which bodes well for Texas’ stop unit.

• Few teams have cost their backers as much money as the South Florida Bulls the last two years. The Bulls, favored to win the Big East coming into the year, have lost straight-up as 7.5-point favorites to Ball State and Rutgers the past two weeks. They’re 4-10 against the spread since last year and would be 3-11 if it weren’t for a late hail mary against Nevada-Reno three weeks ago. It would take a brave soul to back South Florida as 17-point home underdogs against Florida State this week, but that’s probably where the value lies.

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Arkansas coach John L. Smith talks to a player on the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.

• Even after the Bobby Petrino fiasco, only eight teams were favored over Arkansas to win the national championship coming into the season. The Razorbacks were 25-to-1. Now they’re more like 2.5 million-to-1. Arkansas has gone winless both straight-up and against the spread in three lined games. It travels to Texas A&M as 13.5-point underdogs this week, a contest in which they were favored by 2.5 points this summer. But, don’t worry, the Arkansas administration keeps promising to keep interim coach John L. Smith around until the end of the season.

• There’s another 0-3 against the spread team in the SEC — Missouri, which is a three-point underdog at Central Florida Saturday. Despite the impressive program George O’Leary has built in Orlando, the Knights are 1-10 against BCS opponents at Bright House Networks Stadium. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is a slightly profitable 13-10 against the spread as a road underdog in his career.

• Let’s not leave the Pac 12 completely out of the conversation. Arizona hosts the conference’s marquee game of the weekend as 2.5-point favorites against Oregon State. The Beavers have dominated the series, winning and covering in 10 of the 12 meetings since 2000. Oregon State has beaten Wisconsin and UCLA as touchdown underdogs to open the season. Can they become the rare team to open the season with three straight upset victories?

Six pack of plays: Michigan State -2.5, TCU -16.5, Texas vs. Oklahoma State under 65, Virginia +3.5, Northern Illinois -10, Missouri +3

Year to date record: 15-14

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

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