Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The perfect counterbalance to giving thanks is watching hostility.
College football annually obliges on the desire for the latter on the last weekend in November. Rivalry games pair with leftover turkey as Saturday’s traditional staples.
The teams in the biggest games aren’t fond each other, and this is their outlet for the dislike. It makes for one of our favorite college football slates of the year, though surpassing last week’s action might be tough in 2013.
That’s because Talking Points went a season-best 8-2 against the spread picking the 10 most significant games of the week. The blog’s overall record now sits at 45-41-3 heading into the last full Saturday of the season.
Check below for the usual rundown of games and picks.
Florida State minus-28.5 at Florida, 9 a.m. ESPN
Tracking down a place in town to bet this game early in the week was as difficult as finding someone picking Florida to win outright.
With the uncertainty surrounding the sexual assault investigation against Florida State’s Heisman Trophy front-runner Jameis Winston, sports books were hesitant to post a number. Spreads began trickling out when it looked as if Winston would be free to play for at least another week.
And they confirmed what was expected: Coming off of quite possibly the worst loss in school history — a 26-20 setback against Georgia Southern as 28.5-point favorites — the Gators are now quite possibly the biggest underdog in school history. They’re already eliminated from becoming bowl eligible while the Seminoles are two victories away from their first national championship game appearance since 2001.
Pick: Florida plus-28.5. With this game being all the Gators have to play for, they will throw everything possible at the Seminoles. That should be enough to keep it relatively close, or at least secure a backdoor cover.
Ohio State minus-16.5 at Michigan, 9 a.m., ABC
The sharp money doesn’t always land on the right side, especially when it’s coming in three to five months early.
The Big Ten Conference’s preeminent rivalry game is a testament to that this year. Before the college football season began, Michigan was a more popular team than Ohio State when it came to the professionals’ consensus opinion.
The Game of the Year line at Golden Nugget for this matchup even dropped from Ohio State minus-6 to minus-4.5 during the summer. In other words, a lot of tickets are floating around town that gives the oddsmaker a 10-point advantage.
The Buckeyes' perfect season, and 6-4-1 against the spread record, has a lot to do with their rushing acumen. Running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller combine to run for nearly 7 yards per carry.
Ohio State is fifth in the nation in rushing offense, while Michigan — 7-4 straight-up, 6-5 against the spread — slums all the way down at No. 100 after a season’s worth of failed attempts to boast a balanced offense.
Pick: Michigan plus-16.5. Feels like a few too many points considering the Wolverines’ stellar defense.
Duke plus-5.5 at North Carolina, 9 a.m., ESPN2
Figuring out all the scenarios of which ACC Coastal team gets sacrificed to Florida State in next week’s conference championship game is as complicated as a graduate-level math class at Duke.
The Blue Devils can spare everyone the headache by simply defeating the Tar Heels on Saturday to clinch their spot and nab a school-record 10 wins. It’s the same position North Carolina was in last season before traveling up Tobacco Road and getting stunned 33-30 as 10.5-point favorites against Duke.
It appeared the Tar Heels never recovered this season, as they started 1-5 to make their bowl hopes a long shot. But five straight wins and covers, with the last three coming under backup quarterback Marquise Williams after Bryn Renner was lost for the season, have changed the conversation.
Duke has one-upped its rivals with a streak of six consecutive, both straight-up and against the number, behind a balanced offense starring running back Jela Duncan and receiver Jamison Crowder.
Pick: North Carolina minus-5.5. Revenge. Sweet revenge. Although both teams are on similar streaks, the Tar Heels’ wins have been significantly more decisive.
Alabama minus-10 at Auburn, 12:30 p.m., CBS
The final stretch of regular-season road on the path to Alabama’s national championships the past two years featured less than a pebble getting in the way.
This year, Auburn is back to being a full-fledged boulder. The Tigers have cut the spread against the Crimson Tide down three times from where it was last year, when they lost 49-0 getting 34 points, with a season for the ages.
Given little chance to compete in the SEC at the beginning of the year, Auburn now only looks up to Alabama and two other teams in the BCS rankings. It’s covered eight games in a row during a 10-1 campaign, which has bettors uncharacteristically shying from Alabama.
Sports books around town had Alabama as a two-touchdown favorite in look-ahead lines the past couple weeks, but adjusted downward upon reopening the Iron Bowl spread. It makes sense, as this is only the second time in the storied series’ history that both teams clash while ranking in the top 5.
Pick: Alabama minus-10 The offenses are surprisingly even, but Alabama’s overwhelming edge on defense can’t be denied. Or ignored.
Georgia minus-3.5 at Georgia Tech, 12:30 p.m., ABC
Snapping a streak of futility came at a great price for Georgia last week.
The Bulldogs covered their first spread in nine games, beating Kentucky 59-17 as 26-point favorites, but lost four-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray to an ACL tear in the process.
Backup junior Hutson Mason must now step in to attempt to prolong a streak of dominance for the Bulldogs. They haven’t lost or failed to cover against the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 1999.
Georgia coach Mark Richt has only fallen to his in-state rival once in 12 years at the helm, but this is the second shortest spread in the span.
At 5-5-1 versus the number this season, Georgia Tech hasn’t been a profitable bet either. But its offense is producing at the highest clip in years with senior running backs David Sims and Robert Godhigh threats to find the end zone on any play.
Pick: Georgia Tech plus-3.5. Realistic opportunities to beat Georgia don’t come around all that often for Georgia Tech. It’s going to pounce on this one.
Notre Dame plus-14 at Stanford, 4 p.m., Fox
Most prevalent rivalry series are defined by upsets. Not this one.
These cross-country foes have met uninterrupted for 16 straight years, and the favorite has won 15 of the showdowns. That’s not to say the games aren’t close.
To the contrary, the spread has come into play at an abnormally high rate, with the loser covering in seven of the instances. It happened last year, when Notre Dame slid past Stanford 20-13 as 7.5-point favorites.
The case for the Irish breaking out of their underdog funk this season starts with their quietly surging offense, which ranks 12th in Football Outsiders F/+ ratings behind a strong senior season from quarterback Tommy Rees.
Stanford is a far better defensive team, at No. 5 in F/+ to Notre Dame’s No. 35, with linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy regularly ruining opponents’ plans.
Pick: Stanford minus-14. The no-upset trends continues in grand fashion.
Clemson plus-3 at South Carolina, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Dabo Swinney earned the Clemson job full-time by beating South Carolina as the Tigers’ interim coach in 2008.
He probably wouldn’t have believed he could hold on to the Clemson coaching post for five years without ever coming close to doing it again. Swinney’s tenure has been an undeniable success in almost every regard except the South Carolina game.
He’s lost and failed to cover in four straight, dropping all of them by double digits. In all other games, Swinney is a cool 36-24 against the spread.
Swinney could graduate a second set of recruits, including quarterback Tajh Boyd, that never beat their in-state rival Saturday. Gamblers like the Tigers' chances, though.
Immediate betting steam came in on the road team, dropping the Gamecocks’ number from minus-5.5 to minus-4.
Pick: South Carolina minus-3. Speaking of coaches, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier is a terror in rivalry games. Would rather back his team.
Texas A&M plus-4.5 at Missouri, 4:45 p.m., ESPN
It’s safe to say these two Big 12 defectors have invaded the SEC successfully.
Although they’re only a combined 16-14 against the spread in their new conference since ditching the old one in 2012, the Aggies and the Tigers each have one remarkable season to their credit. Texas A&M went 5-3 against the spread last season but has followed with a disappointing 2-5 leading into this game.
Missouri missed bowl eligibility last year, going 3-5 against the spread in conference play, but is 6-1 versus the number against the SEC this season. It could give the SEC Championship Game some Big 12 flavor with a victory over the Aggies, who are only playing for a bowl-game boost at this point.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has played spoiler before, but Missouri’s stout defense could be up to the challenge as it’s routinely limited opponents all year.
Pick: Texas A&M plus-4.5. Scooping the 1.5 points or so worth of value because of how poor the Aggies looked last week in a 34-10 smackdown against LSU.
UCLA plus-4 at USC, 5 p.m., ABC
Right when it appeared the balance of power was set to shift in the Battle for Los Angeles, a new general arrived.
Through five games this season, it looked like UCLA would be favored over USC in their season-ending clash for the first time in 12 years.
The Bruins had cruised to a 5-0 start both straight-up and against the spread, while the Trojans toiled at 3-2 overall and 1-4 versus the number. Then, USC let coach Lane Kiffin go and everything changed.
A defense that had just given up 62 points to Arizona State transformed into the third-best in the nation, according to Football Outsiders, under interim coach Ed Orgeron. The Trojans have gone 6-1 straight-up and 5-2 against the spread ever since.
UCLA has adopted its coach’s personality too as a gritty defensive team under Jim Mora Jr. But the Bruins are also more than capable on offense.
Much-scrutinized quarterback Brett Hundley is in the middle of the best four-game stretch of his career, throwing for an average of 228 yards per game, completing 70 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns to one interception.
Pick: UCLA plus-4. Bruins are in a great position to win their first game at Memorial Stadium since 1997.
Arizona plus-12 at Arizona State, 5 p.m., ABC
The pain from what transpired in last year’s Territorial Cup has stuck with Arizona.
Leading by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats gave up 24 unanswered in nine minutes to leave their fans at Arizona Stadium devastated. It followed a common trend in the series, as the road team has now won four straight and the underdog has taken six of 10.
Both teams enter on a high this year, with Arizona State clinching the Pac-12 South by beating UCLA 38-33 as 3.5-point favorites last week while Arizona crushed Oregon 42-16 as a 20.5-point underdog.
Ka’Deem Carey became the Wildcats’ all-time leading rusher in just his junior season with 206 yards and four touchdowns. Sun Devils running back Marion Grice, who killed the Wildcats with three touchdowns in last year’s game, joins Carey as one of the top 30 rushers in the nation this season.
Pick: Arizona plus-12. Approaching with caution, as this blog seems to feature an incorrect prognostication about Arizona every week.