Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Like a team two wins away from bowl eligibility, the blog needs to finish strong in the last few weeks of the regular season to reach its goals.
Profitability is now in question after another losing entry — the picks went 4-5-1 last week — further erased the lead built up last month. Talking Points’ record for the year now stands at 34-32-3 with just three full weeks of college football action remaining.
The format won’t change, as 10 of the most significant games of Week 12 are broken down from a betting perspective and picked.
Check it out below.
Ohio State minus-33.5 at Illinois, 9 a.m., ESPN
This year, the loudest of the annual BCS whines have come out of Columbus, Ohio, where the Buckeyes are unhappy about their No. 3 ranking.
Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer boasted his team would “wipe the field” with higher-ranked Alabama and Florida State, which had to elicit eye rolls from oddsmakers. Ohio State would be a double-digit underdog against either team.
It’s almost as if sports books are daring the Buckeyes to cover a Crimson Tide- or Seminoles-like spread here. This is the most points Ohio State has been favored by in a conference game since 2005, when it was minus-35.5 and beat Illinois 40-2. Coincidentally, that’s also the last time Illinois — which hasn’t exactly been a staple in BCS conversations — took this many points.
Pick: Illinois plus-33.5 It’s the return of the “take a deep breath and know you’re getting the best of the number” game. What a way to start the card early on Saturday morning.
Washington State plus-11 at Arizona, 11 a.m., Pac-12 Network
Washington State is the type of team the betting public, forever captivated with favorites and overs, uses to the detriment of sports books.
Six of the Cougars’ nine games this season have featured the favorite beating the spread and the total being eclipsed. Arizona holds an identical mark in the former category, but the record is flipped in the latter.
Six of nine Wildcats’ games have gone under the total. That’s representative of the biggest difference between the two teams.
While both can score points — Cougars chiefly with quarterback Connor Halliday through the air and Wildcats primarily using Ka’Deem Carey on the ground — Arizona has a decided advantage defensively. The Wildcats rank 18th nationally in passing efficiency defense, while the Cougars are 83rd against the run.
Pick: Arizona minus-11 The Wildcats should be able to score at will.
Georgia plus-3.5 at Auburn, 12:30 p.m., CBS
Anyone who considered Georgia a “bet-on” team before the season is living homeless staring up at the mansion just purchased by someone who thought the same about Auburn.
It’s the SEC’s best team to bet on — Auburn with an 8-2 against-the-spread record — against its worst — Georgia with a 1-7-1 mark versus the number — this year in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Despite the converging paths — Auburn is now 60-to-1 to win the national championship from opening at 200-to-1 while Georgia is off the board after starting at 12-to-1 — the teams look evenly matched.
Auburn is No. 17 in Football Outsiders’ F/+ rankings while Georgia is at No. 18. Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall has helped key the turnaround after playing defensive back for the Bulldogs two years ago.
Pick: Georgia plus-3.5 Getting the hook means the world here. Would prefer to go with the live underdog anyway, but a field goal is the right spread.
Michigan plus-3 at Northwestern, 12:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Speaking of closely contested games with at least one disappointing team — though in this case it’s two — Michigan and Northwestern look to salvage what they can out of a year that’s seen both completely fall out of the Big Ten Legends division race.
The Wolverines lost their first home game under coach Brady Hoke last week, a 17-13 defeat to Nebraska as 5.5-point favorites. Northwestern’s last contest was a defeat to Nebraska, too, as a last-second Hail Mary doomed the Wildcats to a 27-24 loss two weeks ago in a game where they were getting 4 points.
Bettors must have enjoyed Northwestern’s first cover in seven tries to a fault, as it’s getting all the action this week. Sports books that dared to open the Wildcats at minus-2.5 immediately had to adjust to the whole field goal.
But Michigan is rated higher by Football Outsiders at No. 34 to Northwestern’s No. 44. A Wolverines defense led by playmaking linebackers like James Ross and Desmond Morgan ranks 13th in the nation against the rush, which could present problems for the Wildcats.
Pick: Michigan plus-3 Smells like the wrong team might be favored here.
Miami minus-3.5 at Duke, 12:30 p.m., ESPNU
Betting against Duke the past couple of weeks has been akin to card counting perfectly at blackjack and still walking away from the table a big loser.
The Blue Devils were outgained by nearly 300 yards combined against North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, but timely turnovers and other fortunate breaks gave them wins and covers against both.
It’s a charmed year for Duke, which is 7-2 both straight up and against the spread. One of the potential best seasons in school history must continue for Duke to beat the Hurricanes, who have beaten the Blue Devils in all eight meetings since the two teams joined the SEC.
Miami hasn’t covered in a game since the first week of October, however, and it’s not leaving bettors feeling robbed like Duke. The Hurricanes just aren’t playing very well, failing to cover by an average of 14 points per game during their downward spiral.
Pick: Miami minus-3.5 Imagine what this line would have been three weeks ago — at least a touchdown chalkier in Miami’s direction. That’s value.
Michigan State minus-6.5 at Nebraska, 12:30 p.m., ABC
Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah is having one of the best under-the-radar seasons in the nation, rushing for 100 yards or more in every game except one. In the one outlier, the junior came up 2 yards short.
Michigan State’s top-ranked total defense, however, hasn’t allowed anyone to rush for more than 100 yards against it all season. The Spartans have only allowed two players to gain more than 50 yards on the ground.
But they’ve been less impenetrable against the Cornhuskers, as the Spartans have never beaten them in school history. In two trips to Lincoln, Neb., this century, Michigan State has scored a total of 6 points.
The Spartans will need to erase the bad memories they’ve reflected on this week to clinch a share of the Big Ten Legends division on the road.
Pick: Nebraska plus-6.5 Tough game to pick, but Nebraska seems to have rallied around questions about coach Bo Pelini’s job security and the loss of injured quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Oklahoma State minus-3 at Texas, 12:30 p.m., Fox
Try finding a series between two perennially strong conference rivals where sports books have favored the road team in five straight meetings and report back.
Odds are this is the only example out there. The visitors have done their part in proving the oddsmakers correct, winning and covering in every game since 2009, when the unusual streak began.
Public bettors might have a hard time deciding which team to get behind, as they’ve backed both the Longhorns and Cowboys during their recent win streak. Oklahoma State has rewarded them better with four straight covers by an average of 11.5 points in the middle of their five consecutive victories.
Texas is 4-2 against the spread during its six-game win streak, but last week’s 47-40 victory at West Virginia barely deserves a tally in the left column. It was the worst type of cover, an overtime beating of the spread by a half-point that sent Mountaineers backers mumbling and complaining out of the sports book.
Pick: Texas plus-3 Taking the points in expectation of an extremely close game.
Houston plus-15 at Louisville, 4 p.m., ESPNU
The blog experienced firsthand the dangers of fading the team vying to become the best against-the-spread group in the nation last week.
Houston improved to 8-1 against the spread on the season with a 19-14 loss to Central Florida as a 13-point underdog. The Knights appeared to outplay the Cougars by a wide margin, but the latter further built upon the nation’s best turnover margin with two takeaways inside their own 5-yard line.
With UCF and Louisville both ranking among the top 15 teams in the nation, according to Football Outsiders, and Houston proving competitive against anyone, the American Athletic Conference is quietly proving more formidable than anticipated.
A much louder development is Houston’s spread prowess behind John O’Korn, one of the best freshman signal callers in the country. Sports books are printing far more tickets on the Cougars early in the week despite Louisville countering one of the best young quarterbacks with one of the best quarterbacks period in Teddy Bridgewater.
Pick: Louisville minus-15 Have to pick a favorite sometime in this space, right?
Stanford minus-4 at USC, 5 p.m., ABC
The Cardinal's transformation in the court of public betting opinion over the past nine days resembles the classic Hollywood trope of the geeky kid becoming the most popular figure at school overnight.
Stanford punched out the bully, and now everyone is calling its number. The ticket count last Thursday night was heavily in Oregon’s favor, but Stanford won 26-20 as a 10-point underdog to pull off the upset for the second straight year.
Now the Cardinal are getting the attention the Ducks usually get, with seemingly every recreational gambler in town dismissing the Trojans’ chances against them.
USC has worked its way back up, however, by winning and covering in three straight and 4 of 5 under interim coach Ed Orgeron. The veteran assistant is even now being considered a legitimate candidate to take over the job permanently.
He has USC’s rank in Football Outsiders’ F/+ rankings all the way up to No. 9, surprisingly close to Stanford’s third.
Pick: USC plus-4 Great spot for the Trojans, who just might rewrite the story of their season with an upset.
Oregon State plus-14 at Arizona State, 6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
An easy moneymaking formula is going to break one way or the other Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
Anyone who has bet the Beavers in every game on the road and the Sun Devils in every home contest this season is bathing in cash, as the teams are a combined 9-0 straight up and 8-1 against the spread in those roles.
The teams had also each covered three games in a row two weeks ago before taking recent steps back. Oregon State has dropped two in a row both straight up and against the spread with its offense, and running game in particular, sputtering.
Arizona State’s rushing attack is thriving behind Marion Grice, but it had to sneak out a 20-19 victory as 6.5-point favorites at Utah last week.
Pick: Arizona State minus-14 Sticking with the Sun Devils for at least one more week.