Projecting Point Spreads for the Top Games of the 2014 College Football Season
There’s no good reason to manufacture point spreads for the top 25 college football games of the 2014 season at this point in the offseason. Then again, there’s no good reason not to, either.
I take that back. There is one very good reason to put on the oddsmaker cap well before it’s necessary. At the very least, it can give us a brief moment away from the defensive substitutions discussion and the sudden scrum regarding the 10-second rule.
As for this exercise, let’s point out a few necessary disclaimers.
First and most importantly, these are projections with a hint of personal forecast. The Golden Nugget will release its early "Games of the Year" point spreads around summer, which means there isn’t much else to go off of until then. These particular lines are an attempt to dissect what Vegas would do if games were to be played next weekend.
On that note, I wish these games were set for next weekend.
That’s a perfect segue into disclaimer No. 2, a reminder that these lines will change plenty over the next six months. Spring football will bring both the good and the bad—development and injuries—while the natural, unexpected attrition will occur for some teams. A lot of this can’t be predicted, of course, but instead reacted to.
We’ll have ample time to react, but why wait? The top 25 games—sorted by date—have officially been handicapped.
Aug. 28: Texas A&M at South Carolina (-6.5)
With the losses of quarterback Johnny Manziel and wideout Mike Evans, Texas A&M is one of the most difficult team to analyze at this point in the offseason. What’s most concerning about this particular matchup for the Aggies, however, is what South Carolina running back Mike Davis might do to this defense.
Factor in home field along with the timing of the game—very early on in the season—and a spread around a touchdown feels appropriate. Keep an eye on the A&M quarterback situation, though.
Aug. 30: LSU (-4) vs. Wisconsin (in Houston, Texas)
The food at this game will be extraordinary. In fact, let’s make the vastly different tailgating delicacies from these two fanbases a double-digit favorite over any other matchup this year.
As for the game itself, both teams lose quite a bit. LSU has to recreate its offense, while the Wisconsin front seven is undergoing a complete reconstruction. The oddsmakers tend to lean in the direction of LSU—not a bad strategy given recent history—which means four points feels about right.
Aug 30: Clemson at Georgia (-6)
Clemson will go on the road with a rebuilt offense right out of the gate, having to replace quarterback Tajh Boyd along with wideouts Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. The good news is that defensive end Vic Beasley is back for the Tigers, and that’s actually very bad news for Georgia.
But the Bulldogs get healthy and a little older on defense. Athens, Ga., is worth at least three-and-a-half points in this instance, which is why the line sits where it does. Timing, more than anything, plays a role in this line.
Aug 30: Florida State (-16.5) vs. Oklahoma State (in Arlington, Texas)
The Seminoles finished 11-3 against the spread last season despite being, on average, a 27.5-point favorite over the course of the entire season. That’s remarkable, and it’s why this line is as robust as it is.
Vegas isn't going to be surprised by FSU this season.
Heisman winner Jameis Winston returns, as do so many key members of the defense. Florida State will have to fill in some holes at wide receiver, but many of the key figures will remain intact.
The same can’t be said for Oklahoma State. The Pokes have roster openings all over the place, and this is not the best team to greet such uncertainty.
Sept 6: Michigan State at Oregon (-9)
This is the most interesting out-of-conference game of the season, hands down. Michigan State will travel to Autzen Stadium to take on Oregon, which serves as one of the biggest home-field advantages in the country.
Typically you think three points when it comes to point spreads and what home field can do to sway a number. Not here, though. Oregon is closer to seven points than three when it plays at home.
With Michigan State having to replace more than a handful of key defenders and Marcus Mariota even more unfairly polished, this line will likely be a big higher than many believe.
Sept 13: Georgia at South Carolina (-3.5)
Interestingly enough, this game could feature a similar—if not the exact same—point spread from a season ago. At least that’s how it feels right now.
After losing to Clemson in the opener, Georgia closed as a three-point underdog against South Carolina and proceeded to win outright by double digits. This time around, however, the game will be played in the Gamecocks’ home digs.
This line depends on the quarterbacks. How will Hutson Mason and Dylan Thompson each adapt to full-time roles? The early returns could move this line accordingly.
Sept. 13: UCLA (-5) vs. Texas (in Arlington, Texas)
This might be the most difficult game of the bunch to handicap, and much of this difficulty sits in Charlie Strong’s corner. At the moment, UCLA feels like at least a field-goal favorite here, although there is still much to be decided.
Texas is rebooting with a new head coach. It’s also hoping for a healthy season from quarterback David Ash. UCLA is hoping its quarterback, Brett Hundley, only continues to flash more brilliance.
It’s not on in Austin, Texas, but this will be a very pro-Longhorns crowd. Five it is…for now.
Sept 20: Clemson at Florida State (-14.5)
Does this line look too big? Instinctively, you’d say yes operating on name brands alone. But when you actually break down this scenario—home field along with the laundry list of losses for Clemson on offense—two touchdowns feels about right.
FSU closed as a four-and-a-half-point favorite at Clemson last season. The Seminoles proceeded to demolish the home team 51-14.
We won’t read too much into that game, of course, heading into 2014. (But we won’t completely forget about it, either.)
Oct 4: LSU at Auburn (-3)
Despite covering in its last 11 games of the 2013 season, Auburn was never really respected by the oddsmakers. That will change in a hurry, especially after the Tigers hung with Florida State in the title game.
The Tigers will lose running back Tre Mason, gargantuan left tackle Greg Robinson and defensive end Dee Ford, but much of the team returns. And with quarterback Nick Marshall’s continued development, they will be a trendy underdog no longer.
This much will be obvious against LSU, a game I’d like to purchase a ticket to right now.
Oct 11: Oklahoma (-7) vs. Texas (in Dallas, Texas)
Of course the Red River Shootout—Shootout, not Rivalry—makes the cut. In fact, the rivalry has a sudden bit of intrigue with the face-lift at Texas. Oklahoma, however, will enter the season with more hype and respect from Vegas following its Sugar Bowl carnage against Alabama.
In terms of this particular game, however, this point spread could vary greatly in either direction depending on the performance of OU quarterback Trevor Knight. For now, he’s trending up. And if keeps trending up this line could continue to climb.
Oct 11: Oregon (-6) at UCLA
In what could prove be the Pac-12’s most important game of the season, the Ducks will take their show on the road. At the moment, despite the difficult road trip, they’d still be a favorite against what is likely a preseason Top 10 team.
Don’t be surprised. In fact, at this point, it would be a surprise if the spread leaned toward the other direction.
Last season Oregon was a monstrous 24-point favorite over UCLA at home and covered that number with a second-half surge. This year’s spread won’t be in the same stratosphere as that line, but it could still hover near a touchdown.
Oct 18: Texas A&M at Alabama (-13.5)
The matchup dubbed preseason game of the year in 2013 lived up to the billing. And given the way the last two games have played out, there’s excitement building between these two.
Last year the Aggies closed as an eight-point home underdog against the Tide. They secured the cover on a late touchdown by, you guessed it, Johnny Manziel. This year we’ll see new quarterbacks under center. And while that is significant for each, tacking on more points to the line seems reasonable when you consider a) the location of the game (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) and b) how remarkable Manziel played in those games.
Oct 18: Notre Dame at Florida State (-11)
The Irish are a difficult team to prognosticate given the uncertainty at various positions. This point spread—even though it’s still large against Notre Dame—assumes that quarterback Everett Golson will return and that he will be productive.
That's where we are with Florida State, and such expected dominance will be on display from Vegas all season.
At the moment, the Seminoles might be a double-digit favorite in every regular-season game on its schedule. With Brian Kelly developing offensive players and a handful of solid recruiting classes set to fill in, that could change. Or, maybe not.
Nov 1: Georgia (-3) vs. Florida (in Jacksonville, Florida)
Last season Georgia closed as a three-and-a-half-point favorite over Florida, and the Gators covered that number by a half-point. This year, Florida will attempt to resurrect its offense and hope the defense can stay the course. Georgia, meanwhile, will try and replace quarterback Aaron Murray and hope its defense develops.
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party isn’t exactly riding high, but it’s still a game we have to circle each season regardless of expectations. And perhaps this year one (or both) could surprise.
Three seems like a good starting point for a line, although it will likely bounce around a bit.
Nov 1: Stanford at Oregon (-8)
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re not wrong.
Have you seen how this game has played out the past few seasons?
I have and it’s worth noting. But Stanford was crushed with departures following the season, and it has glaring holes at offensive line, linebacker and running back for starters. That’s significant, especially if you consider how the Cardinal has dismantled its Pac-12 foe in the past two years.
Stanford, of course, will also have to take this show on the road. And while it proved it could win in Eugene, Ore., a few years ago, home field will continue to garner enormous respect from Vegas.
Nov 8: Baylor at Oklahoma (-6)
There’s a rivalry brewing between these two, and the two forces will collide in Norman, Okla., this upcoming season. Both should enter the season with expectations to win the Big 12, and both will be depending on their quarterbacks to move the offenses.
Last year Baylor closed as a staggering 16.5-point favorite over Oklahoma in Waco, Texas. The Bears then covered that number, as they did throughout much of the season early on.
This year Baylor will take its show on the road—which proved to be a much different set of circumstances near the end of the season. You can expect the Sooners to be a decent-sized chalk.
Nov. 8: Alabama (-7) at LSU
One of our favorite yearly games has the potential to be a doozie yet again. And while plenty of matchups on this list will deliver incredible atmospheres, there might not be a better college football scene all season.
Each team has questions heading into the season, and both will have to determine the long-term solution at quarterback. Alabama will return a plethora of skill-position talent, however, and years of dominant recruiting should pay off.
This line could easily move up or down. It's not an easy place to play, but spot Alabama a touchdown for starters.
Nov 8: Ohio State (-3) at Michigan State
A rematch of last year’s Big Ten Championship Game has the makings to be the conference’s most important game of the season. But as has been discussed already, Sparty has to do a bit of reloading on the defensive side. Ohio State has pieces of its defense to replace as well, although it didn't lean on this side of the ball nearly as much.
The Buckeyes were a five-and-a-half-point favorite over Michigan State at a neutral site a season ago, and home field certainly is significant. At this point, however, the home team will enter as an underdog until questions are answered.
Nov 15: Auburn at Georgia (Pick 'Em)
Yet another game that could shift in either direction from a point-spread perspective, although ‘pick ‘em’ will do just fine for the time being.
Georgia closed as a three-and-a-half point underdog against Auburn in 2013, and the end result was a game Bulldog betters—and Tiger betters, for that matter—will recall for different reasons. Obviously we’ll switch venues this time around, which is significant.
If the Georgia defense doesn’t develop and Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall does, however, the home team could easily become an underdog here.
Nov 22: USC at UCLA (-6.5)
The battle for LA should have a rejuvenated bit of energy as Steve Sarkisian takes over the USC Trojans. And while Sark will inherit a plethora of talent—not necessarily depth, but talent—he will not inherit a quarterback of Brett Hundley’s ability. (At least none that we can see right now.)
That’s the difference in this game, and more specifically, this point spread. Well, that and the fact that UCLA's defense was one of the youngest in the country and should benefit greatly from another offseason.
For now, around a touchdown feels fair.
Nov. 28: Stanford at UCLA (-5.5)
UCLA struggled at Stanford in 2013, and it was unable to cover the four-point spread against the Cardinal. Both quarterbacks will be back for this game, although the surrounding casts should be slightly different, especially for the road team.
Obviously Oregon will garner ample attention in the Pac-12, but this matchup could shape the Pac-12 picture. Home field is certainly significant, although UCLA—given current roster assessments—feels about a field goal better, hence the line.
Nov. 29: Auburn at Alabama (-7.5)
Ah, the Iron Bowl. At this point the rivalry requires no introduction, especially when you try to comprehend the sheer insanity of last year’s matchup.
Alabama closed as a 10-point favorite in that game, although Auburn had different plans than what Vegas envisioned. With that said, and regardless of how much talent Auburn will return this season, Nick Saban's team has always garnered an incredible amount of respect from the oddsmakers under Nick Saban.
There’s good reason for this, too. Despite averaging out to a near three-touchdown favorite over the past three seasons, Alabama continues to cover at an alarming rate. Such trends are on display here.
Nov. 29: Notre Dame at USC (-1.5)
As is the case with UCLA, USC will enjoy a bit of infused interest with longtime rival Notre Dame thanks to a new head coach who knows just how important this game is. The matchup itself is one of the more difficult games to handicap, although home field—and a cross-country flight—looms large.
Last season Notre Dame closed as a short three-point favorite in this game, and the spread in 2014 will likely be small. With ample decisions between now and then, I'll be curious to see if the road team closes as the favorite once the game arrives.
Nov 29: South Carolina (-4.5) at Clemson
The recent history of this series is well documented. If you’re somehow unaware of how it’s gone, just ask South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier and he’ll narrate it for you.
Obviously both teams have to cope with losses. Each will be operating with a new quarterback, and both will have to replace weapons on the outside. South Carolina will also have to replace defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and he has loomed large in this rivalry in recent years.
Clemson has the luxury of getting this game at home, although it still feels like an underdog given the sweeping changes.
Nov. 29: Michigan at Ohio State (-8)
And finally, we end in a fitting location. Last year’s Ohio State-Michigan game didn't offer up much in terms of expectations. The Buckeyes closed as a 17-point favorite, although the Wolverines were a two-point conversion away from winning outright.
That was in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the scene will switch to Columbus, Ohio, in 2014. While 17 points seems excessive for the time being, Ohio State is still likely to be more than a touchdown favorite if Braxton Miller enters this game healthy.