The college football offseason is cruel, relentless and determined. And although the absence will live on a little bit longer, the Golden Nugget is here to make a trying time slightly more tolerable.
In what has become offseason tradition, the Las Vegas sportsbook has again released its '‘Games of the Year’'—248 point spreads scattered throughout the 2013 college football regular season.
If it seems a little early for point spreads, that's because it is.
These games do more than just generate buzz and business for a sportsbook eager for its yearly flurry of free marketing, however. The evaluation process is a sign of things to come, and Vegas is one of the game’s most respected faceless prognosticators. More than just a means to gamble, expectations are taking shape.
From September to November, the Golden Nugget has unveiled more games than it ever has. These odds are telling, and a few glaring trends stand out.
Alabama is Redefining What the Favorite Looks Like
Of course, Alabama is the chalk heading into the fall. Outside of the offensive line—which appears to be coming along swimmingly—and a few holes on defense, this is without question the most talented team in the country. Again.
Being the favorite is one thing. Being labeled head and shoulders above all others, including hopefuls in the nation’s premier conference, is another. It's a label Nick Saban is becoming more familiar with each season.
On average, Alabama is a 22.5-point favorite in the 10 games posted at the Golden Nugget. The largest point spread comes against Colorado State in Week 3, when the Crimson Tide is a monstrous 41-point chalk. The smallest number comes the week prior, when Alabama will travel to Texas A&M as a six-point favorite.
Other notable spreads include Alabama as a 17-point favorite against Ole Miss and an 11.5-point favorite against LSU. Both of these games will be played at Bryant-Denny Stadium. For rivalry buffs, Alabama is a robust 24-point favorite against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
The opener in Virginia Tech will mark the 42nd game in which Alabama is favored. Unless key injuries surface, it’s likely that this streak will eclipse the 50-game mark late in the 2013 regular season. That's hard to fathom.
While this by no means guarantees an undefeated regular season, it throws an exclamation point on something you already know: Alabama is approaching a level of unknown dominance, and Vegas is having to reach new thresholds to close the gap between Nick Saban and everybody else.
Even Without Its Starting QB, Las Vegas Loves Notre Dame
No Everett Golson? No problem. This appears to be the stance Vegas is taking when it comes to Notre Dame's 2013 potential.
Sportsbooks always love Notre Dame because the betting public loves Notre Dame. It doesn’t matter whether it's warranted, the Irish are evaluated differently because of the interest that follows. It's hard to factor in what influence this has, but it is real.
Still, the Nugget clearly has confidence in a team whose offensive identity and outlook remain a mystery. The defense, despite the loss of linebacker Manti Te'o, has a chance to be special again.
Notre Dame is favored in 10 of the 12 games listed. The only exceptions include a road trip to Michigan early in the season, which opened at pick ‘em, and the November 30 season finale at Stanford, where ND is a five-and-a-half-point underdog.
Outside of these two games, the Golden Nugget believes Notre Dame has the upper hand—at least on paper—with the rest of its schedule, a path loaded with talented teams. This includes matchups against Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State and USC.
Is this Vegas simply giving the nation’s biggest football brand its yearly boost, or is this Notre Dame team poised to surprise for the second consecutive year? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
Florida’s Challenging 2013 Comes into Focus
After a dazzling (and surprising) 2013, the Florida Gators were given a gift from the schedule gods. And by “gift,” I mean the kind of gift that ends up on your doorstep in a bag smothered in flames shortly after the doorbell wakes up the dog.
The Gators are just a two-and-a-half-point favorite in their game at Miami in Week 2, a slightly surprising line given the recent history of both. Las Vegas, however, is high on the Hurricanes as well, which means a difficult schedule will start earlier than Will Muschamp anticipated.
Florida is a double-digit favorite over Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas early on, although gimmes are tough to come by as the season progresses. LSU is listed as a four-point favorite over the Gators at home, and Missouri is just a six-point underdog playing host to Will Muschamp’s group the following week.
As for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party—and, yes, you should still refer to it as such regardless of what they tell you to call it—Georgia is listed as a four-point favorite. Florida is also an underdog on the road at South Carolina and at Florida State to end the season.
Schedules just don’t get much tougher than this.
Despite key losses on defense and uncertainty on offense, the Gators are still liked by Vegas. The problem? Vegas also likes the other teams on Florida's schedule quite a bit. There are land mines everywhere, and matching the success from a year ago would be a tremendous (and albeit unlikely) accomplishment.
Looking For a Sleeper? How About Oklahoma State?
Perhaps “sleeper” isn’t the most appropriate term. After all, Oklahoma State will be a buzz pick by many to win the Big 12, especially those who aren't buying Texas.
The Cowboys are talented, experienced and Mike Gundy has proved to be one of the nation’s finest offense generators over the past few seasons. Still, Oklahoma State is flying comfortably under the radar.
Although the starting quarterback remains unknown, Vegas doesn't seem the least bit concerned. It won’t be Wes Lunt, this much we know. But the competition between Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh will likely wage on into fall camp.
Most teams with a quarterback controversy won’t get the red carpet treatment from the oddsmakers. It’s become quite clear that Oklahoma State isn’t receiving the same treatment.
Mike Gundy’s group is at least a touchdown favorite in seven of the nine games listed. The only game where Oklahoma State is listed as an underdog is the big November 16 road showdown against Texas. The Longhorns are a six-and-a-half-point favorite.
OK State is a two-touchdown favorite over Mississippi State in Week 1, a 10-point favorite against TCU on October 19, an 11-point favorite over Baylor—a team garnering buzz as the season closes in—on November 23 and a three-point favorite over rival Oklahoma during the final week.
It’s not just that Oklahoma State is favored in the majority of its games. It’s the size of some of these lines that makes you wonder if it is a team to watch.