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July 27, 2014

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

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Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher walks off the field with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (5) after the second half of an NCAA college football game against the Clemson, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, in Clemson, S.C. Florida State won 51-14.

The record number of gamblers descending upon local sports books will witness a rare sight on the betting board this weekend.

Oddsmakers have posted college football’s largest-ever favorite in a game between top-10 ranked teams this late in the season, according to R.J. Bell of Pregame.com. No. 3 Florida State gives No. 7 Miami more than three touchdowns — anywhere from 21 to 22.5 points depending on the shop — in a contest that Las Vegas casinos heavily dispute as the most competitive of the week.

Nonetheless, it’s one of 10 games broken down and picked as part of this week’s college football by the odds blog series. After a so-so 5-4-1 showing against the spread last week, the record for the year sits at 25-22-2.

Check below for the full betting rundown of this week’s games.

    • Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon (25), rushes against Illinois' Mason Monheim (43), and Mike Svetina (34), during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Champaign, Ill., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. Wisconsin won 56-32.

      Wisconsin minus-10 at Iowa; 9 a.m., ABC

      Statues of legendary coaches dot the exterior of college football stadiums all across the country. So why can’t sports books find space for likewise shrines?

      Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen deserves first-ballot consideration for the honor because of the unreal gambling tear he’s on. Yet to lose against the spread since taking over the Wisconsin program this year, Andersen is now 16-1-2 versus the number dating back to last season at Utah State.

      Oddsmakers have begun providing considerable obstacles, favoring Wisconsin by double digits on the road in two consecutive games. They beat Illinois 56-32 laying 10 points before a bye week in the first chapter.

      The last time sports books asked Wisconsin to live up to those lofty numbers on the road, two years ago, it won both games but failed to cover. That’s meaningful because, despite Andersen’s arrival, the makeup of the team has stayed much the same.

      Melvin Gordon and James White — specifically Gordon, a one-time Iowa commit, who’s averaging nine yards per carry — have kept with the tradition of Wisconsin boasting an unstoppable running game.

      Iowa looks identical from year-to-year too, despite the revolving door of players in college athletics, with a stingy defense and tedious offense. The Hawkeyes have covered the last four times oddsmakers have gifted them with double digits.

      Pick: Iowa plus-10 On second thought, let’s hold off on the statue for now. No value in this game, but will lean toward the home underdog in a rivalry game.

    • South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles smiles as he sits on the field after defeating Missouri 27-24 in overtime of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, in Columbia, Mo.

      Mississippi State plus-13 at South Carolina; 9:20 a.m., ESPN3

      A week before Halloween, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs frightened their bettors.

      South Carolina’s startling was ultimately insignificant, but Mississippi State’s quickly turned nightmare into reality. The Bulldogs looked well on their way to covering a 12-point spread against Kentucky with an 11-point halftime lead, but stumbled like a clumsy ghost in the second half en route to a narrow 28-22 win.

      The Gamecocks, on the contrary, were resurrected late as a 3-point underdog against Missouri. Quarterback Connor Shaw rose from the depths of the injured to help South Carolina turn a 21-0 fourth-quarter deficit into a 27-24 double-overtime victory.

      The results were indicative of these two teams’ last few years in conference play. Mississippi State hasn’t put together a winning season against the spread since coach Dan Mullen’s first year, in 2009, against the SEC. It’s 1-2 both straight-up and against the spread against the conference this season with no prayer of winning the SEC West.

      Coach Steve Spurrier has guided the Gamecocks to a winning mark versus the number in each of the past two seasons, but is just 2-4 against the spread in SEC play this year.

      Pick: Mississippi State plus-13 South Carolina is playing for a sixth straight week, and coming off of three straight SEC road games where the spread was less than a touchdown, while Mississippi State has enjoyed 10 days off since beating Kentucky last Thursday. Good spot for the Bulldogs.

    • Indiana's Tevin Coleman (6) breaks through the Penn State defense and rushes the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana defeated Penn State 44-24.

      Minnesota plus-7.5 at Indiana; 12:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

      Records don’t always reflect reality.

      Minnesota, for instance, has won three games more than Indiana and lost two games less. But the Golden Gophers are in no way a better team than the Hoosiers, at least not in oddsmakers’ power ratings or other statistical measures.

      Football Outsiders F/+ ratings have Indiana rated as the 44th best team in the nation with Minnesota trailing at No. 55. That’s significant, but maybe not enough to justify a touchdown-plus spread in a midseason game.

      So where do the other points come from? The situation. The Hoosiers are coming off of a bye week, while the Gophers just notched one of their most significant wins in recent memory.

      They beat Nebraska 34-23 as 10.5-point underdogs for their first victory against the Cornhuskers since 1960. The Gophers have now crossed off their foremost goal, becoming bowl eligible, while the Hoosiers are still out to accomplish the feat.

      Indiana will need to win three of its five remaining games — and two of them are virtually impossible back-to-back road assignments at Ohio State and Wisconsin — to cap a season where it has a top-10 offense with a postseason berth.

      Pick: Indiana minus-7.5 Don’t get sucked into backing Minnesota, which has attracted more of the bets but has still seen the line move in the other direction at some books. That’s a telltale sign the professional money is on Indiana.

    • Georgia running back Todd Gurley (3) works against the LSU during the first half of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Athens, Ga.

      Georgia minus-2.5 vs. Florida; 12:30 p.m., CBS

      World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

      The drinks will be a little stronger at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party this year.

      Georgia and Florida fans need the extra boost to get through a down year for the annual matchup appropriately held at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ home stadium. The only saving grace for these two heated rivals is that their seasons have been equally disappointing.

      The Golden Nugget had the line at Georgia minus-3 during the summer. Despite the Bulldogs and Gators falling from their status as SEC East favorites, the line remains unchanged.

      Their 4-3 records — Georgia is 1-5-1 against the spread with Florida at 2-5 — leave both teams unranked, marking only the second time in the past 30 years they’ll face off with neither in the polls. A rash of injuries is partly to blame for their setbacks, but that’s not the full story.

      Georgia is as atrocious defensively, ranking 58th in the nation giving up 5.4 yards per play, as Florida is offensively, gaining 4.8 yards per play to rate 103rd in the nation.

      Pick: Georgia minus-2.5 The Bulldogs get back one of the best running backs in the nation, Todd Gurley, which should be enough to set them up for their third straight win in the series.

    • Northwestern Wildcats running back Stephen Buckley (8) is wrapped up by Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back John Lowdermilk (37) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

      Northwestern plus-6.5 at Nebraska; 12:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

      Like a gambler enduring five fourth-quarter beats on the same day, Northwestern can’t catch a break.

      Having covered the most consecutive games of any team in the nation earlier this year, the Wildcats now hold one of college football’s longest streaks for not cashing a ticket.

      They’ve lost six straight against the spread, dropping the decisions in a number of different excruciating circumstances. Last week, Northwestern outplayed Iowa as 4-point underdogs but had to settle for overtime when it couldn’t finish in regulation.

      The Hawkeyes got the ball first, scoring a touchdown that the Wildcats couldn’t match, to win 17-10. At least when Nebraska fails to cash, it does so emphatically.

      The Cornhuskers are 4-3 against the spread on the season, with the three non-covers by an average of 23 points per game. Coach Bo Pelini’s job security took another hit last week when Nebraska fell 34-23 to Minnesota as 10.5-point favorites at home.

      Going forward, much will come down to how hard Pelini’s players want to perform for him.

      Pick: Northwestern plus-6.5 I’ll guess not too much for the notoriously hard-nosed headman. Not a good week for the Pelini family, as Bo’s older brother Carl Pelini stepped down as the coach at Florida Atlantic amid a drug scandal.

    • Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook (18) hands the ball off to running back Jeremy Langford (33) against Illinois during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.

      Michigan plus-6 at Michigan State; 12:30 p.m., ABC

      Mike Hart coins Michigan State 'little brother'

      Michigan fans have taken after former running back Mike Hart and taunted Michigan State as its “little brother” for the past five years.

      That’s only true if little brother spent its adolescence going through Drago-like workouts with the motivation of pummeling big brother. The Wolverines may have snapped a four-year losing streak in the rivalry last season, but the Spartans covered their fifth straight since Hart’s insult.

      Michigan’s 12-10 victory as an 8.5-point favorite in 2012 could have gone either way. The over/under is 3.5 points higher this season — from 43 to 46.5 — but the game projects to go similarly.

      Michigan State’s defense, led by tackle-everything linebacker Denico Allen, is stingy with giving up points as it leads the country by most measures. Michigan’s offense, on the other hand, is maddeningly inconsistent.

      Quarterback Devin Gardner and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for 762 yards in a win over Indiana in Michigan’s last game, some three times more than they did against lowly Connecticut a few weeks earlier.

      Pick: Michigan plus-6 Taking the plunge with hopes that the Wolverines have cured some of their scoring ills with changes on the offensive line.

    • San Jose State minus-3.5 at UNLV; 1 p.m., Mountain West Network

      An apology goes out to the Mountain West, a conference that’s been completely neglected in this space over the 2013 season.

      The Mountain West’s most ardent supporters, however, could concede it’s a down year for what’s traditionally the strongest non-BCS collection of teams. The two teams meeting in town this afternoon are, after all, practically shoo-ins for bowl games.

      Neither the Spartans nor the Rebels are exactly world-beaters either, ranking No. 80 and No. 105 respectively in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings. San Jose State needs two wins in its final five games to reach the postseason. UNLV needs just one in its final four.

      From cannon-painting to opponent-jawing, it’s been a week of celebration for the Rebels ever since the moment they took down UNR for the first time in eight years, 27-22.

      The Spartans’ tenor has sounded more muted despite a three-game winning streak during which it’s gone 2-1 against the spread and seen quarterback David Fales pass for 1,231 yards and 10 touchdowns.

      Pick: San Jose State minus-3.5 UNLV will become bowl eligible, but it won’t be this week.

    • Aubie offers free face painting to Auburn defensive end Craig Sanders (13) after an NCAA college football game against Florida Atlantic on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, in Auburn, Ala.

      Auburn minus-9 at Arkansas; 3 p.m., ESPN2

      Over the summer when writing the SEC betting preview, I picked Arkansas minus-3.5 in this spot.

      Whoops. In defense of the pick, these teams looked awfully similar coming into the season.

      Both were coming off 4-8 against-the-spread campaigns — Arkansas was 4-8 straight-up to Auburn’s 3-9 — and introducing new coaches that excited their fans. The resemblances ended when the Razorbacks and Tigers actually got on the field.

      Gus Malzahn’s offense has boosted Auburn to No. 8 in the country with a 7-1 straight-up, 6-2 against-the-spread record while Bret Bielema has, ahem, not done much of anything at Arkansas. The Razorbacks have gone 3-5 straight-up and 2-6 against the spread.

      Arkansas hasn’t covered since a Sept. 28 meeting with Texas A&M, a 45-33 loss as 13.5-point underdogs. Auburn hasn’t failed to cover since a Sept. 14 meeting with Mississippi State, a 24-20 victory as 6.5-point favorites.

      The scheduling spot, a reason for the Arkansas pick this summer, remains advantageous for the Razorbacks. They’re coming off of a bye week with Auburn playing its fifth straight without rest.

      The stretch has already visibly taken its toll, as quarterback Nick Marshall is dealing with a shoulder injury but is expected to play.

      Pick: Arkansas plus-9 To add insult to injury, let’s stick with Arkansas. Still not ready to trust an Auburn team adjusting to a shower of praise.

    • Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb (7) passes under pressure from Oklahoma defensive end Geneo Grissom (85) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. Oklahoma won 38-30.

      Oklahoma State plus-2.5 at Texas Tech; 4 p.m., Fox

      The back-loaded nature of Texas Tech’s schedule, in which the Red Raiders play their five toughest opponents in the final five weeks, could make their 7-0 start a distant memory.

      The betting market, however, isn’t buying it. A week after gamblers came in on Texas Tech against Oklahoma to drive down the spread — the Red Raiders failed to cover plus-6 in a 38-30 loss — they’re supporting coach Kliff Kingsbury’s team again.

      Wynn Las Vegas opened this Lubbock, Texas, showdown as a pick’em before quickly having to readjust the Red Raiders as the favorite. Backing the Cowboys isn’t an easy proposition these days, what with the week-to-week uncertainty of who’s playing quarterback.

      Coach Mike Gundy has flip-flopped between J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf all season, with the latter appearing to fall more into favor recently. Walsh has the better statistics — a 129 rating to Chelf’s 117 — but Chelf is 2-0 against the spread in games he’s started, and won a third where he took the majority of the snaps. Walsh has gone 2-3 against the spread as the starter, but that includes one win where Chelf came to the rescue.

      Texas Tech has a signal-caller tandem of its own with freshmen Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield. After Mayfield started the year 4-1 versus the number, Webb has taken over to go 1-2.

      Pick: Oklahoma State plus-2.5 Number seems right, but lean to Oklahoma State’s defense slowing Texas Tech just enough.

    • A general view of the Florida State University Marching Chiefs as they perform on the field at Doak Campbell Stadium before the start of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina State on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida State beat North Carolina State 49-17.

      Miami plus-21 at Florida State; 5 p.m., ABC

      Advocates of taking the points in rivalry games have no better series to point toward than this one.

      The underdog has covered 12 of the last 13 meetings, and the favorite didn’t even beat the number in the one exception. Miami beat Florida State 16-10 as a pick’em in 2004 the last time an underdog failed to cover.

      The line this time around is, of course, the largest it’s been in the span and trending as high as 23 at some spots. The lone reason is Florida State being that good.

      The Seminoles trail only Alabama at No. 2 in Football Outsiders F/+ rankings. It would appear Miami isn’t far behind at No. 17, but the ratings have Florida State twice as efficient.

      Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has covered in all three meetings since arriving in Tallahassee. That’s helped cut Florida State’s overall deficit to 7-6 in the series since the start of the underdogs’ reign in 2002.

      Pick: Florida State minus-21 Graciously pushed picking against the Seminoles last week. No longer looking for opportunities to go against this team.

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

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