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November 26, 2014

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Need a clear picture of college football? Look at the betting lines

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Cathleen Allison/AP

UNR won 12 regular-season games last year, but they could be headed for a down season, if you believe the betting lines.

Sports gamblers are the ultimate information hogs. We voraciously devour news regarding team personnel, potential lineup changes, game plans and other tidbits that can help us make wiser decisions at the betting window. We find ourselves in a familiar jam when conducting research before the start of a new season, however, particularly in college sports. Even professionally produced preseason team previews tend to have an overly optimistic bent.

Anyone reading up on college football teams this time of year, for instance, has surely noticed that all but the most hopeless programs in the nation are being hyped as legitimate bowl-game contenders. It’s reminiscent of Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.

Fortunately, we can rely on Las Vegas betting lines to serve as an equalizer, offering true believers an ideal opportunity to put up (their money) or shut up.

College football team regular-season victory over/unders, recently released in several sports books, reveal four teams primed for a fall this season after strong showings a year ago: Auburn, Nevada-Reno, Michigan State and TCU.

Auburn, which won 12 regular-season games last year, opened at just 6 victories, over minus 155 (bet $1.55 to net $1) at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book. (The Tigers also won two postseason games, but they don’t count for the purposes of this proposition.) UNR, which lost several key players, including quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua, won 12 regular-season games last year but opened at 8 victories for 2011.

Michigan State, coming off an 11-win season, has an over/under of 7.5 attached to it. And TCU, facing a challenging schedule after winning 12 regular-season games last year, opened at 9 victories.

Those are the largest projected drops of the 35 college teams on the board at the Hilton.

In my column from June 22, before any sports books posted college football team season-win totals, I wrote that I would likely be interested in betting the “over” on Boise State when the odds were released.

The Las Vegas line on Boise’s regular-season victory total stands at 10.5 with a premium on the over. For example, sports books at all Station Casinos properties opened it at 10.5, over minus 130.

That’s roughly equivalent to my original projection of 11, with a premium on the under. So, put me on the record with a play of Boise to win more than 10.5 games.

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