Last weekend provided a valuable reminder: No matter how well you handicap a game, and how perfectly this handicapping may play out for roughly 59 minutes and 47 seconds, it can all come crashing down in a few meaningless laterals.
In the case of Northwestern, that’s exactly what transpired in the final chaotic moments against Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ late touchdown did not help last week’s overall record, although another week over .500 in the pick department will do just fine.
Switching gears to this week, a handful of key AP Top 25 matchups are on tap. Oregon has finally been handed a spread under 20 points, and a team ranked in the Top 20 will go on the road as a double-digit underdog against an unranked team.
Just another weekend of college football.
Record Against the Spread Entering Week 6: 63-45-2
Spreads courtesy of VegasInsider.com.
Don’t look now, but the Hokies have recovered quite well since Alabamageddon in Week 1.
Frank Beamer’s bunch has won its last five, covering the spread against solid ACC opponents (Georgia Tech and North Carolina) in the last two. The defense continues to be one of the nation’s best, and quarterback Logan Thomas has finally found some rhythm. Seriously, where did this come from?
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is coming off a bye following a 14-3 win (and cover) against Virginia. The Panthers are 2-2 against the spread, although they’re only a few weeks removed from allowing 55 points to Duke.
Pittsburgh won that game...but 55 points to Duke? I’m not sure what that truly means, but it feels important.
Let's ride the hot hand of Logan Thomas and hope this pick doesn't end up, well, picked off.
The Pick: Virginia Tech (-9)
Since nearly upsetting Michigan in The Big House as a 35.5-point underdog, Akron has struggled. I’m not quite sure what that tells us about Michigan—spoiler alert: You'll see soon—but the Zips haven’t mustered up much of anything.
Akron is now 1-5 on the year (2-4 against the spread), and the Zips just got hammered to the tune of 43-3 by Ohio. No, they did not cover.
Northern Illinois is again cruising closer toward a familiar BCS buster status, entering this game unbeaten. The Huskies have also covered the last two games against the spread, manhandling Purdue and getting past Kent State in Week 6. Quarterback Jordan Lynch is having another solid season, and Northern has scored 35 points or more all but once.
Akron totaled just 157 yards of total offense last week, which won’t win many games. The team is trending down, and the Michigan curse will likely live on.
The Pick: Northern Illinois (-22)
Here’s a game featuring two teams that endured dramatically different games in Week 6.
Down 10-0 against Kansas, Texas Tech was in trouble. And then the rest of the game happened—including this rather hilarious failed fake Jayhawk punt—and the Red Raiders scored 54 unanswered points.
In the not-so-fortunate results department, Iowa State got hosed against Texas thanks to a botched review on a fumble against Texas. The Cyclones still covered the touchdown spread, but don’t tell that head coach Paul Rhoads. Seriously, don’t. He’ll probably yell at you.
With the status of freshman quarterback Baker Mayfield up in the air, however, this one is a little bit dicey. Mayfield hurt his knee in the third quarter against Kansas, and he may not play. If not, it will be up to Davis Webb—another freshman—to get it done.
Texas Tech is 5-0 and also a cool 4-1 against the spread, while Iowa State has to go on the road following heartbreak. Even with a key injury, it likely won't matter. The nasty aftertaste for the Cyclones likely won't help matters.
The Pick: Texas Tech (-15)
This is a rarity—and a game mentioned in the intro. Not often will you see a team in Top 20 ranked as a double-digit underdog to an unranked team.
Wisconsin, of course, is close to being ranked, and the Badgers likely would be if it wasn’t for some bizarre officiating in the team’s game against Arizona State.
The Wildcats will hit the road after a hard-fought loss and non-cover (still bitter) against Ohio State, and this matchup presents a handful of issues. First, how will Pat Fitzgerald’s team respond following the most-anticipated home game in ages? The buildup was extreme, and the letdown feels likely.
Second, how does Northwestern plan on dealing with running backs James White and Melvin Gordon? Ohio State back Carlos Hyde was the difference in the game last Saturday, and now Northwestern gets to deal with one of the nation’s best duos coming off a bye.
The point spread is strange for a reason, and this is a tough assignment for the Cats.
The Pick: Wisconsin (-10.5)
Yet another ranked team dealt a fascinating point spread, although perhaps this should come as no surprise considering Michigan’s strange 2013. The Wolverines enter 5-0 and 3-2 against the number, but it has not come easy.
Michigan bounced back in Week 6 at home against Minnesota, covering the confident 19-point spread Vegas manufactured. So why is Brady Hoke’s squad only a three-point favorite to a team that was just blown out by Indiana? Interesting.
That’s no offense to the Hoosiers—a team that has made great strides in 2013—but Penn State lost by 20 as a slight favorite...to Indiana. (This warrants mention once more).
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg looks like he’ll be as good as advertised, but will the defense be good enough? This will be only Michigan’s second road game of the season, and the first was a near loss to the now coach-less UConn Huskies.
The Pick: Penn State (+2.5)
Before we discuss this game, let’s throw out a few numbers.
Baylor is averaging 779.5 yards per game, good for (surprise) No. 1 in the nation. Oregon is No. 2 at a distant 630.4 yards per game. The Bears are also averaging 70.5 points per game, good for (you guessed it) No. 1 in the nation. No. 2 is (you guessed it) Oregon at 59.2 points per game.
So there’s that.
This kind of offense is historically absurd, unfair and rare. But it has also come against the likes of Wofford, Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. In those games, despite dealing with point spreads of at least 28 points or more, Baylor has covered each time out.
Kansas State has struggled to replace key players on both sides, entering Week 7 with a 2-3 record straight up and against the spread. The Wildcats provided a game effort at Oklahoma State last week, losing but covering the two-touchdown number and looking much better on offense.
What do we make of this? Until Baylor is exposed—if it is exposed—17.5 doesn’t seem like nearly enough. Also, just assume the over will come in.
The Pick: Baylor (-17.5)
The Gamecocks did not cover the 21-point spread against Kentucky. In fact, this game was much closer than many—including myself—thought it would be. Heck, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said last week that the three-touchdown spread wasn’t enough. Bad gambling advice, Coach.
Since covering in Week 1, South Carolina has lost the last four games against the spread. Arkansas hasn’t fared well against the number either, and the Razorbacks are 2-4 against the spread following their 30-10 loss in Gainesville.
Does six points feel a bit strange? Sort of like somebody might know something we don’t? It certainly feels that way to me, and I expect to see Arkansas keep it close in the “Someone Has to Cover” Bowl.
The Pick: Arkansas (+6)
I know what you’re thinking: Will my bookie take my son’s piggy bank as acceptable currency for a bet against Texas?
The answer is yes, not that I would know from experience. Don’t judge.
Every angle of this game screams Oklahoma, which is terrifying because that’s where the public will be sprinting throughout the week.
Over the past two years, Oklahoma has outscored Texas 118-38 in the Red River Shootout. Also, it is the Shootout. Don’t say rivalry. It has seemingly been anything but in this time, and quite frankly, what have we seen from this season that makes us feel it will be any different?
David Ash is out for Texas, which is enormous. Case McCoy just does not look comfortable at quarterback, and the Longhorns will need him to make big plays (stressing the plural) if they stand a chance.
Oklahoma isn’t exactly a sure thing yet either. The Sooners’ undefeated record is noteworthy—as is the 3-2 record against the spread—but I’m just not completely sold yet. With that said, I don’t know how you possibly back Texas.
I hate to be with the sheep, blissfully wandering in the same direction, but here I cannot stray.
The Pick: Oklahoma (-14)
UCLA survived. That was the theme against Utah last week.
The Bruins came away with six interceptions on the road in an impressive grind-it-out win (and cover). Brett Hundley was under pressure all night, and outside one untimely pick-six, he played a brilliant game.
Thus far, UCLA has an unblemished Vegas mark, currently 4-0 against the spread. Cal, on the hand, has delivered almost the exact opposite. The Golden Bears are 1-4 against the number and just lost to Washington State by 22 as only a 1.5-point underdog.
This just isn’t a great matchup for Sonny Dykes’ group. The UCLA defensive line will be in the backfield early and often, and the UCLA offense should have no issues at home.
My only concern: Will UCLA shut it down early with Stanford on deck? It may not matter.
The Pick: UCLA (-24.5)
Something has got to give. A magnificent offense—and yes, LSU has provided that and then some—going up against Florida’s unbelievable defense.
While the Gators sit at No. 93 in points for, they’re also No. 4 in points against. With quarterback Tyler Murphy filling in, there’s a sudden bit of optimism in an offense that has lacked it over the past two seasons. Murphy was solid against Arkansas in Week 6, and the defense did exactly what we've grown accustomed to seeing.
For LSU, a letdown against Mississippi State felt likely. In fact, for a while, it was a reality. The offense picked it up in the second half, and the Tigers easily covered the touchdown spread on the road.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger will get his biggest test yet—as will this impressive group of wideouts—and the Tigers will likely fall well short of the 45.5 points per game they are averaging thus far. It won’t be pretty, and it certainly won’t be easy for the still inexperienced Tyler Murphy on the road. But the Gators defense will keep them in this game.
The Pick: Florida (+7)
This is a fascinating point spread and a fascinating game. Ole Miss limps home following back-to-back road losses against Alabama and Auburn and is only a six-point underdog to a well-rested Texas A&M team.
The public will be all over the Aggies in this one, and it’s easy to see why. Texas A&M is 3-2 against the spread and has yet to score under 42 points in a game. Johnny Manziel has been brilliant at quarterback, and Mike Evans just caught another pass while you were reading this paragraph.
But Ole Miss will be live here. The Rebels could have beaten the Aggies last year if it wasn’t for some strange late play-calling and a key fourth-down stop by A&M.
Expect a healthy serving of Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott, and look for a young team to find its rhythm at home. Plus, the injuries along the Texas A&M defensive line could prove to be too much to overcome.
Upset in the making? Hey, when the No. 9 is only laying six points against an unranked team coming off back-to-back losses, Vegas seems to think so.
The Pick: Ole Miss (+6)
Louisville will make its Thursday night debut, and this matchup provided plenty of Thursday night fireworks last year.
Remember that game? Teddy Bridgewater was playing on one arm and one leg and still led the Cardinals back to victory. Oh, it was good.
For the 2013 Louisville team, this game serves as one of the larger obstacles to an undefeated season. The word “obstacles” is relative here, with an accompanying 17-point spread attached to it. Last weekend the Cardinals laid more than 30 on the road at Temple, and they were unable to cover the number.
Rutgers staged a dramatic comeback against SMU in Week 6, a game that took approximately 17 hours and featured plenty of strangeness of both sides. But just how much did that game take out of this team? And is the quick turnaround, not to mention one on the road, too much for the Scarlet Knights to overcome?
That might be, but Rutgers is averaging 40 points a game and quarterback Gary Nova has been solid. The upset seems unlikely, but the spread feels a bit too high.
The Pick: Rutgers (+17)
Intrigue, injuries and the great unknown.
Georgia came away with a victory at Tennessee—not the cover, of course, but the win. And it came at a cost. Injuries hit this offense with force, and the Bulldogs enter this game against Missouri incredibly thin at running back and wide receiver.
Missouri, on the other hand, continues to roll right along. The Tigers blasted Vanderbilt 51-28 as only a two-point favorite and have yet to lose a game straight up or against the spread all season. Also, the Tigers' beatdown of Indiana in its own building suddenly has meaning after Indiana's showing on Saturday.
While Georgia has questions on both side of the ball, the Athens element of this looms large. Can Missouri keep this close and even win this game? There’s no question. But Aaron Murray is still just fine, which is keeping me from jumping on the underdog and asking questions later.
I’ll reluctantly lay the points and see what comes of it.
The Pick: Georgia (-8.5)
Utah showed me something last week against UCLA, which was perhaps the most frustrating non-cover—outside of Ohio State-Northwestern—throughout Week 6.
Even in a game where the Utes threw six interceptions, they barely missed covering the small spread against the Bruins. And really, the win wasn’t far off.
The defensive line was active, the offense moved the ball well and there was plenty of promise (well, minus those six interceptions).
Stanford heads on the road after Washington gave this team everything it could handle. And if there’s a weakness on this team—and one is not easy to manufacture one—perhaps it’s the secondary that looked vulnerable against quarterback Keith Price. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson isn’t Keith Price, but he does have the ability to throw the ball downfield.
This also serves as a sandwich game of sorts for the Cardinal, which will take on UCLA the following weekend. No major point spread analysis here. It’s a tricky place to play, and Utah could once again give a very good team fits.
The Pick: Utah (+9)
The point spread last week just didn’t feel right. Clemson closed as less than a two-touchdown favorite against Syracuse...and proceeded to score roughly 1,592 points in the first quarter.
Fine, it wasn’t that much, but the Tigers easily covered what could only be described as a Vegas gift.
Boston College followed up its strong showing against Florida State with another impressive win (and cover) against Army. The Eagles offense has actually performed quite well this season, and the team has covered in three of its five games.
More important than any offensive stat for either team, however, is the timing of this game. We’re now just one weekend away from Clemson-Florida State, which presents a potential “look ahead” scenario for the Tigers. Or perhaps they will just gladly cruise comfortably, choosing not to show much as FSU enjoys the bye week.
Either way, it’s more than enough reasoning to take the points here.
The Pick: Boston College (+25)
In five games, Oregon has been favored by 191.5 points, good for an average of 38.3 per game. Despite these robust numbers, the Ducks have yet to lose against the spread.
Playing at Washington, however, Oregon will get a challenge. The spread here speaks volumes to the respect the oddsmakers have for the Huskies, and this respect has certainly been earned. Washington pushed Stanford to the brink, covering the spread in Week 6 and nearly pulling the upset on the road.
While this is all good news, the punishment quarterback Keith Price endured in that game is a different story. Price was on the ground a lot, and I’m curious as to whether this will have a lingering effect.
De’Anthony Thomas sat out last weekend’s game for Oregon, although his status could be crucial for this one. Even without him, though, we’re approaching a “beat me if you can” status with the Ducks. Until Oregon looks human—and that could very well come this week—no point spread feels too high.
I love what Washington is doing, but beat me if you can.
The Pick: Oregon (-14)
54 points proved to be too much for Alabama to cover last week against Georgia State. Nick Saban was content pulling AJ McCarron early, and The Tide cruised to a casual 45-3 win.
Alabama has been kind to gamblers since Saban took over, although that hasn’t been the case this season. The Tide is 2-3 against the spread this season, dealing with inflated lines on a weekly basis.
Kentucky also enters 2-3 against the spread, although the Wildcats easily covered in Week 6 against South Carolina. Quarterback Jalen Whitlow was solid against the Clowney-less defense, although he’ll get a step-up in competition this week.
The good news is that this game will take place at Kentucky. The bad news is that Kentucky is severely overmatched against a team that has yet to really hit its stride yet. At some point the Alabama offense will get going (again), and when it does, no point spread will be safe.
I don’t feel great laying four touchdowns on the road, but I wouldn’t feel great getting them either.
The Pick: Alabama (-27.5)