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September 20, 2014

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of week 9

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The sports book at Wynn Las Vegas is shown Wednesday, May 4, 2011.

The pain from the crash always outweighs the thrill of the preceding speed.

After hitting 14 of 20 picks in the two previous weeks, the plays posted in this blog series regressed to a 3-7 record last week. The disappointment drops the season total to 21-18-1 against the spread.

Powering forward nonetheless, let’s get to breaking down the 10 biggest games on this weekend’s college football schedule from a betting perspective.

Check out this week's college football by the odds rundown below.

    • Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans (13) runs a 64-yard touchdown against Auburn in the first half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in College Station, Texas.

      Vanderbilt plus-17.5 at Texas A&M; 9:21 a.m., ESPN3

      The same team might feature both the nation’s best offense and the nation’s worst defense.

      That’s a slight bit of hyperbole, but it comes darn close to describing Texas A&M’s conundrum. The Aggies have the defending Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, reigning over an offense averaging the fourth-most yards per game, 567, and fifth-most yards per play, 7.3, in the country.

      Much of Manziel’s magic is undone by a defense 116th in yards per game, 511, and 113th in yards per play, 6.6. Manziel tossed four touchdowns to Mike Evans alone last week, but Auburn still upset Texas A&M 45-41 as a 13-point underdog.

      It’s reasonable to think the unforeseen defensive disaster would shift some of the Aggies’ lines, but that’s not the case again this week. They were a 16-point favorite over the summer at Golden Nugget against the Commodores and have actually grown since then.

      Part of that has to do with Vanderbilt being down to freshman quarterback Patton Robinette after Austyn Carta-Samuels suffered an injury in last week’s 31-27 victory over Georgia as a 6-point underdog.

      Pick: Vanderbilt plus-17.5 Don’t like this game at all, especially with more money coming in on the underdog. But a stronger dislike is a defense that couldn’t stop a team of tackling dummies in practice.

    • Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene (80) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Clemson during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in Clemson, S.C.

      North Carolina State plus-32 at Florida State, 12:30 p.m., ABC

      To Florida State, NC State is the pestering horsefly.

      It should be harmless, but is instead consistently bothersome. And, every once in a while, it bites.

      The Wolfpack sank their teeth into the Seminoles last year, ruining the ACC Atlantic Division rival’s season with a 17-16 victory as 17-point underdogs. NC State improved to 8-1-1 against the spread over the past decade against Florida State with four outright victories despite being an underdog in every contest by an average of 12 points.

      But this year, NC State (3-3 straight up and against the spread) finds itself coming off of a bye week as the biggest underdog in series history. And for good reason.

      No one is lining up to bet against Florida State after its 51-14 stomping of Clemson as a 4-point favorite last week. The Seminoles have covered every game by double digits this season with the exception of their only spread loss, a 48-34 win at Boston College as 23.5-point favorites.

      Pick: North Carolina State plus-32 This line has moved three extra points from where it opened, giving further value to a side the vast majority of gamblers are too afraid to touch.

    • Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams (7) sits on the bench in the closing minutes of the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, in Clemson, S.C. Florida State won 51-14.

      Clemson minus-17 at Maryland, 12:30 p.m., ESPN

      Gamblers are doubling as football-team psychiatrists this week.

      The vast majority of people betting on this game believe they have diagnosed Clemson’s mental state after last week’s epic crash, burn and explode exercise against Florida State.

      Those taking Clemson say the Tigers are angry and poised for a bounce-back. Those fading Clemson say the Tigers remain in mourning and will come out listless.

      Let’s take a different approach and look at the data. As far as common opponents, it looks dangerous for the Terrapins. They lost to Florida State by nearly twice as many points as the Tigers, for example, and were out-gained by an extra 140 yards.

      But Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings have these two teams closer than the spread would indicate, with Clemson at No. 27 and Maryland at No. 64. Bettors can’t be too enthralled with either group, as they’re a combined 1-5 against the spread since the start of October.

      A four-point line move has gone in Clemson’s direction with nearly every one of Maryland’s offensive skill players injured. Most eerily, receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long both broke their right legs in a 34-10 loss to Wake Forest as a 4.5-point favorite last week.

      Clemson, by the way, routed Wake Forest 56-7 as a 28.5-point favorite.

      Pick: Maryland plus-17 Why not? It’s better than the alternative of laying this large of a number with a secretly average Clemson team.

    • Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury celebrates with Kenny Williams (34) following a touchdown run in the fourth quarter of their NCAA college football game against West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. Texas Tech won 37-27.

      Texas Tech plus-6.5 at Oklahoma, 12:30 p.m., Fox

      Kliff Kingsbury talks after 1999 Oklahoma win

      The legend of Kliff Kingsbury began in this series 14 years ago when the freshman quarterback made his first start for the Red Raiders and led the team to a 38-28 victory over the Sooners as a 12.5-point underdog.

      Now the 34-year-old head coach at Texas Tech, Kingsbury is off to another fast start with a 7-0 straight-up, 5-2 against-the-spread record. And it appears the betting market doesn’t know what to think about it.

      Sharp bettors poured money in against the Red Raiders last week, driving the line for their game at West Virginia down to minus-4.5 from a full touchdown. Freshman quarterback Davis Webb came through for the books, throwing for 462 yards and two touchdowns including one with a minute to go to secure the cover.

      Webb and Kingsbury may have won over some gamblers too, as this week’s line has moved in the opposite direction. The Wynn posted Oklahoma as 8-point favorites Sunday evening, and the spread was immediately bet down.

      Oklahoma hasn’t covered in its past three attempts but boasts the nation’s top-ranked passing defense. That could spell trouble for Texas Tech, which has aired it out against a strength of schedule Football Outsiders rates as the 121st-toughest in the nation.

      Pick: Oklahoma minus-6.5 Finally, here’s a game worth getting excited about. It’s a great spot for Oklahoma. Boomer Sooner.

    • Virginia Tech defensive end J.R. Collins (42) pressures Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.

      Duke plus-13 at Virginia Tech, 12:30, ESPNU

      Virginia Tech might be the best team in the nation that no one is talking about.

      Well, no one outside of Las Vegas. Bettors must have taken notice of how the Hokies are using an elite defensive line — consisting of Derrick Hopkins, J.R. Collins, Luther Maddy and James Gale, among others — to suffocate opponents.

      The Hokies have covered three straight since the start of ACC play with a defense ranking second in the nation at 3.9 yards allowed per play. The offense is coming along too with mistake-prone quarterback Logan Thomas yet to throw an interception in conference play and guiding the team to back-to-back games with more than 300 yards of production.

      That may not sound too jaw-dropping, but compared with last year, when Virginia Tech went 4-9 against the spread, it’s spectacular.

      Duke is another surprise with a 5-2 against-the-spread record to mirror its straight-up results. Quarterback Anthony Boone has thrown for five touchdowns and one interception since returning from an injury two weeks ago.

      In contrast to Virginia Tech, the defense has left much to be desired. Among the Blue Devils' exploits were surrendering 598 yards to Pittsburgh in a 58-55 loss in which they covered the 4.5-point spread.

      Pick: Virginia Tech minus-13 Grab the value with the Hokies now. It should be zapped within a few weeks when the market catches up to how well they’re playing.

    • Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, center, celebrates with Tennessee defensive lineman Malik Brown (90) and his son, Alex Jones, after defeating South Carolina 23-21 in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn.

      Tennessee plus-28.5 at Alabama, 12:30 p.m., CBS

      Tennessee coach Butch Jones knows the objective. That’s not going to make it any easier.

      Jones talked this week of needing to beat Alabama to reinvigorate a once-budding rivalry that withered after Phillip Fulmer was jettisoned out of Knoxville, Tenn.

      In Fulmer’s last 10 years, the annual Tennessee vs. Alabama game featured only one example of a spread higher than a touchdown. The Volunteers won six of 10 meetings too, though Alabama went 6-4 against the spread.

      Since then, oddsmakers have favored Alabama in all four games by an average of 20 points. The Crimson Tide have rolled to victories in every one of those meetings, beating the number in the past three.

      Speaking of crushing the spread, Alabama has mocked 26.5- and 29-point spreads in the past two weeks. The Crimson Tide have beaten Kentucky and Arkansas, respectively, by a combined 100-7.

      Tennessee is coming off a big win of its own, 23-21 over South Carolina as a touchdown underdog. South Carolina’s physical style of play has taken its toll on opponents this year, though, as no team has covered in the week after playing the Gamecocks.

      Pick: Tennessee plus-28.5 Not much confidence in this one, but taking Tennessee out of principle. The Volunteers are far better than the Razorbacks and Wildcats, which had virtually the same spreads against the Crimson Tide.

    • South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson (17) looks to throw against Kentucky during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Columbia, S.C.

      South Carolina plus-3 at Missouri, 4 p.m., ESPN2

      Time for an old favorite gambling hypothetical situation: Let’s say a bettor decided to put $100 on Missouri to win its first game of the season and continued to carry over the winnings each week with wagers on the Tigers.

      He’d now have $3,400 less than two months later. And that’s just for bets on the money line. Any side action on Missouri’s spreads would have resulted in further profit.

      Missouri is one of three teams left in the nation — the others being Houston and Wisconsin — that hasn’t lost against the spread yet. The Tigers' only semi-blemish is a push against Toledo in a 38-23 win.

      They dismantled a third straight vaunted SEC East opponent last week, carving up Florida’s top-rated defense in a 36-17 win as a 3-point underdog in quarterback Maty Mauk’s first start. As well as they’ve played, the Tigers have also experienced some good fortune.

      They’re plus-10 in turnover differential, ranking in the top 10 in the nation, as opposed to South Carolina’s minus-2. This game features a 10-point swing from the summer, when the Golden Nugget had South Carolina as a touchdown favorite.

      Pick: South Carolina plus-3 Here’s where it ends. Ranked No. 5 in the first BCS poll, Missouri players are already talking BCS national championship. That’s way too soon with a tough South Carolina team coming to town.

    • Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas (6) walks off the field after Oregon beat Washington 45-24 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, in Seattle.

      UCLA plus-23.5 at Oregon, 4 p.m., ESPN

      There’s not a sufficient enough sample size available to unearth any meaningful trends on how teams play the week after sporting pink helmets.

      Surely at least one disgruntled Oregon gambler somewhere blamed the breast cancer awareness-inspired headgear for the team’s non-cover in a 63-28 win over Washington State last week. The 10-to-1 ticket count sport books are attracting on the Ducks every week this season finally backfired with last week’s plus-40 spread.

      The market either has a short memory or doesn’t care, as the same wave of Oregon support is forming for another week. The Ducks opened as low as minus-21 against the Bruins but will probably close at least a field goal higher than that.

      UCLA is the second and final team this season to face the disservice of going through the Oregon and Stanford gantlet on back-to-back weeks. Washington couldn’t beat either in the same scenario, though it covered plus-9 in a 31-28 loss to Stanford.

      The Bruins were far less successful against the Cardinal, losing 24-10 as 4.5-point underdogs in a game that was far more lopsided than the final score indicated. Offensive line and running back injuries had UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley under constant attack, which shouldn’t improve much against an underrated Oregon defense.

      Pick: UCLA plus-23.5 So, this is the week where I pick against all of the best teams in the nation. No way that’s ending well.

    • Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (98) scrambles for a seven-yard gain as Michigan offensive linesman Erik Magnuson (78) blocks Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes (18) during the second quarter an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013.

      Penn State plus-15 at Ohio State, 5 p.m., ABC

      It’s the Probation Bowl.

      The Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions finished first and second in the Big Ten Leaders Division last year, respectively, but were barred from postseason play. That’s what ultimately landed Wisconsin, which went only 4-4 in the conference, an undeserved spot in the Rose Bowl.

      Ohio State is free to play in a bowl this season — and already is eligible — but Penn State has three more years until its ban ceases. The Buckeyes’ current issue is it might not be the bowl they want, as they were No. 4 in the first BCS poll despite a perfect 7-0 start.

      Gamblers don’t have their backs, either, as Ohio State has been a tad disappointing from a betting perspective. The Buckeyes struggled with Iowa last week, failing to cover the 18.5-point line and falling to 4-2-1 against the spread on the year.

      But that record is a miracle in the Northwestern game away from 3-3-1 and on par with Penn State. Ohio State is No. 11 in Football Outsiders’ F/+ poll, respectable but not outstanding. Penn State ranks No. 43.

      Pick: Ohio State minus-15 Ohio State knows it needs style points with all the juggernauts still undefeated. They’re ripe for the taking against Penn State.

    • Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion (4) throws a pass against California during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

      Stanford minus-4 at Oregon State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

      History is repeating itself in regards to the Beavers and the Tree.

      Oregon State stormed out to a 7-1 start last season and opened as a short 5.5-point underdog ahead of a matchup with Stanford. Bettors drove the spread down to 3.5 by kickoff.

      This year, the Beavers come into the same matchup 6-1 — though let’s not forget the one loss was to FCS opponent Eastern Washington — opening as high as an identical 5.5-point underdog earlier in the week. They’re now as low as plus-3.5.

      Here comes the part where it’s thrown in that Stanford besmirched the movement in 2012, beating Oregon State 27-23 despite going minus-3 in the turnover battle.

      Oregon State’s offense is producing at a higher level this time around. Sean Mannion leads the nation with 2,992 passing yards and has the second-most touchdowns with 29 to only three interceptions. Stanford counters with a defense the caliber of which Mannion hasn’t seen.

      Linebacker Trent Murphy has seven sacks on the season with a formidable secondary behind him, including potential first-round NFL Draft pick Jordan Richards at safety.

      Pick: Stanford minus-4

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

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