Most college football teams have only two games remaining on the schedule, and with so much at stake—bowl eligibility, BCS bids, etc.—the lines sometimes tend to skew (even further than usual) toward home teams.
Public perception says that crowds can shift the outcome in some of these late-season contests, which isn't entirely untrue. If a fanbase knows its team is playing a must-win game, it is sure to show up in full, unlike earlier in the season against FCS chum.
Because of that, these later weeks present an opportunity to get some juicy road teams at a value. Squads that are vastly superior to their opponent might be giving less than a field goal, and sometimes they're actually underdogs.
That is a consistent theme in the Week 13 version of best bets, though it's obviously not an absolute rule. Happy wagering!
Note: Spread info courtesy of Vegas Insider
The Pick: Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois made me feel like an idiot last week, when I was more confident than I had any right to be that Ball State would beat it in DeKalb.
I'm equally scared of Toledo, which just scored an impressive win over Buffalo, and I don't want to bet against the Rockets at home. But when you can get NIU giving less than a field goal, at this point you have to take it.
The Huskies have won 21 consecutive conference games and 22 consecutive games in the regular season. They have the best player on the field in Jordan Lynch and BCS dreams to play for.
I think this will be a close game throughout, and I wouldn't be shocked if Toledo won. There's a reason this is down at No. 10 instead of higher.
But I was made into a believer last Wednesday, and I expect that to continue in Week 13. On principle, a team this hot should be bet on to cover a field goal.
The Pick: Utah
Washington State is much improved this year, and it would be a great story if Mike Leach could lead that program to the postseason—with defense, of all things.
But Utah is simply the better team. And in a game that both teams need to go bowling, I expect that cream to rise to the top.
The Utes have been plagued by a brutal schedule this year, and even though they have been much stronger at home, they have shown enough on the road to inspire confidence. A win at BYU is better than anything on Washington State's resume, and I liked the fight they showed at Oregon last week.
The Cougars appeared to have saved their season with a win over Arizona in Week 12, but the Wildcats are highly overrated. This is still the same team that got pounded on its home field by Oregon State.
They didn't save anything against Arizona; they simply delayed the inevitable.
The Pick: UCLA
In what could be a de facto championship game for the Pac-12 South, I think UCLA is just good enough to hold serve at home.
I don't feel great about it, though. The advanced numbers love ASU, and UCLA's offense has been a tad inconsistent for my taste. But with a pair of two-loss teams, I prefer to look at who has the better losses. That's the team I trust the most.
UCLA's losses were true road games at Oregon and Stanford, two of the best teams in college football. ASU also lost at Stanford, but its other loss was on a neutral field against unranked Notre Dame. Plus, it also should have lost a non-conference home game against Wisconsin, if not for a blown call down the stretch.
The Bruins really impressed with a win against Washington last week. Their front seven should be strong enough to contain ASU's running game and win a close one at home.
The Pick: Missouri
It's nice to see Ole Miss playing better. The Rebs have reeled off four straight wins after a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season—a spiral that was more a product of scheduling than anything else.
Still, despite a win over LSU, I haven't been that impressed by Hugh Freeze's team at home this year. It won a game it should have lost over Vanderbilt in Week 1 and only beat Arkansas by 10 points a couple of weeks ago.
Missouri, meanwhile, has only played one bad quarter of meaningful football this season. Other than that late-game collapse against South Carolina, it has thoroughly dominated almost every opponent in its path.
According to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports, James Franklin is expected back under center for the Tigers after last week's bye. Even if he wasn't, I'd like Mizzou to win...but having Franklin certainly won't hurt.
The Pick: Cincinnati
If these two teams were playing in a bowl game, after a month's rest, on a neutral field, I would probably like Houston. All variables equal, I think it is the better team.
But all variables are not equal. The Cougars are coming off their two toughest games of the AAC schedule—back-to-back close losses at UCF and Louisville—and now have to play the third-best team they will face on that slate.
In sort of a mini-version of what happened to Washington after playing competitive games against Stanford and Oregon—a 29-point thrashing at Arizona State—I think the body blow theory comes into play.
Houston will be beat up and tired; Cincy is riding high after its best performance of the year, a 52-17 win at Rutgers. These two ships will continue to sail in opposite directions.
The Pick: Notre Dame
Notre Dame's low moments have been well-documented, including a near-loss at home against Navy and ugly road losses to Michigan and Pittsburgh.
But the Irish also have a few remarkable highs. They beat Arizona State on a neutral field, along with USC and Michigan State at home. Those three teams are all ranked in the BCS Top 25, and they have combined to lose just three other games all season.
BYU might well be the better team, and I expect this win to require all 60 minutes of game time. It will be ugly and physical; it will feel like pulling teeth.
Still, I trust Brian Kelly to come up with one more signature win before the Stanford game, which I think even he knows will probably be a loss. The difference between going 8-4 and 7-5 is a colossal one, so Notre Dame knows it needs this game.
Irish in a close one.
The Pick: Boston College
Boston College hasn't lost to a bad team all season, depending on how you classify North Carolina, which really started its revival a few weeks before beating the Eagles in Chapel Hill.
Beyond that, losses at USC, vs. Florida State and at Clemson can all be easily forgiven. All three of those teams are in the current BCS Top 25, two are in the top 10 and Boston College played all three of them relatively competitively.
Maryland, on the other hand, has inflated its stock with a win over Virginia Tech—a team Boston College has also beaten this year. The Terps are still injured past the point of recognition, and they're still just a few weeks removed from a 17-point home loss to Syracuse.
Boston College is significantly better than Syracuse. With third place in the ACC Atlantic potentially on the line, expect it to come out and beat UMD by a couple of scores.
The Pick: Wisconsin
Kudos to you, Minnesota, on your marvelous season, and congrats on cracking the BCS Top 25.
Enjoy it while you can.
Wisconsin is a beast the Gophers have not seen all season—easily one of the most under-ranked teams in the country. The Badgers are just one week removed from rushing for 554 yards against Indiana, and they've shown the ability and willingness to blow teams out on a consistent basis.
Minnesota has been scrappy, but multiple-score losses against Iowa and Michigan still haunt its profile—especially knowing what we now know about the Wolverines. And even though the past three weeks have all resulted in wins, the Gophers have allowed Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State to rush for 606 yards on 103 carries.
That's a scary-big average of 5.88 yards per carry. Wisconsin is the best rushing team in America, and it's barely even an argument. Badgers win B1G.
The Pick: Mississippi State
Unlike Arkansas, which sits at the bottom of the SEC West at 3-7 overall, Mississippi State still has a postseason pulse working in its favor. With one more loss, that will no longer be the case.
I expect that to fuel the Bulldogs in Fayetteville, against a team they have simply been playing much better than since the start of conference play. They just gave Alabama its closest game of the season, and prior to that, they put up 41 points at Texas A&M.
Arkansas has little semblance of a passing game, instead relying on the signature rushing attack of Bret Bielema. But Mississippi State has been the best road rush defense in the SEC, holding Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M to just 371 yards on 103 carries—a scant average of 3.60 that is well below their combined season average.
Hopefully you can get to this line before it swells to three. At 2.5, it's a very nice value.
The Pick: Navy
This is a game where the wrong team is favored; if it's offered at your shop, forget the plus-2 and take Navy on the moneyline to win outright.
For the sake of this article, though, take the two free points with confidence. Navy's last five games have all left me impressed, resulting in a 4-1 record against the spread against (mostly) good competition.
San Jose State, on the other hand, just got beat up by a Nevada team that is pretty bad. For the season, SJSU is allowing 201.6 yards per game on the ground—100th in the country—and 4.88 yards per carry.
Against a Navy offense that can run the ball on anyone, that is a portent of doom. The Spartans are favored (I think) because they have a name-brand quarterback in David Fales, which square bettors are typically eager to bet on.
Don't be a square. Be a sharp. For God's sake, be a Patriot!
Navy wins by a touchdown or more.