Bleacher Report's College Football Locks of the Year for 2014
More than 200 college football games now have point spreads, a luxury made possible by the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.
For the eighth consecutive year, the Nugget released its CFB "Games of the Year" lines (h/t SB Nation), an exercise that has soared in popularity, especially in recent years. It began as a small 25-game release for the true degenerates. Now, it features point spreads from every week of the college football season, all laid out and available for your enjoyment.
Of course, much can change between now and when the season starts on August 30. Even more can (and will) change between now and late November.
But because we have betting options, it’s almost an obligation to handicap some of our favorite early picks. And to showcase the broad buffet of selections, each week of the college football season has been handed one “lock” along with a list of the notable opening numbers.
Week 1 Lock: Wisconsin (+7) vs. LSU (in Houston)
This won’t be the popular side, although it’s more about timing than anything else.
Both teams have questions at quarterback, although Wisconsin has to fill far fewer holes than its opponent. Each team also has questions in the front seven, each having to replace ample pieces. With that said, LSU certainly has more capable depth to fill such holes.
Yet, with a touchdown and Melvin Gordon—the nation’s No. 2 back in the country behind only Todd Gurley—I’ll take my chances and the points. This could be an ugly, low-scoring game, and if that’s the case I’ll gladly take the seven and assume it stays close until the SEC chants pour down after a three-point LSU win.
Notable Point Spreads From Week 1
South Carolina (-9) vs. Texas A&M
Florida State (-17) vs. Oklahoma State
Georgia (-9) vs. Clemson
Miami (Pick 'Em) vs. Louisville
Week 2 Lock: Michigan State (+13) at Oregon
The analysis over this spread is quite simple: It’s just too many points. It doesn't mean Michigan State will win; it's simply an assessment of a team that returns a lot of interesting pieces.
Although Oregon has quickly become one of the nation’s most challenging environments to play in, Michigan State—even with its many losses on the defensive side—is too talented to lay this kind of number.
Quarterback Connor Cook should be much improved, even only in Week 2, while Jeremy Langford will likely carry the ball 30-plus times. It’s a game Oregon should still win, although it should be close. Well, closer than 13, at least.
Notable Point Spreads From Week 2
Notre Dame (-3) vs. Michigan
Ohio State (-18) vs. Virginia Tech
Stanford (-3.5) vs. USC
Texas (-6) vs. BYU
Week 3 Lock: Nebraska (-4) at Fresno State
It’s an unassuming matchup on the Week 3 docket, although it still has a spread. In this instance, the spread doesn’t feel like nearly enough.
Fresno will enjoy home-field advantage, good for three points in this spread. Without quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Davante Adams, however, this game (and team) looks mighty different. The drop-off might not be as significant as some expect, but there will be one. And this game is early enough in the year that the replacements might not be defined just yet.
Add into the equation that the Bulldogs will play at USC and at Utah before coming home, and the test seems even more daunting.
Notable Point Spreads From Week 3
Oklahoma (-19) vs. Tennessee
UCLA (-8) vs. Texas (in Arlington)
South Carolina (-3) vs. Georgia
Week 4 Lock: Kansas State (+13) vs. Auburn
Hello, Thursday night excellence.
It’s a daunting task to pick against Auburn—a team that was marvelous against the spread in 2013, covering in its last 11 games—although there’s value on the other side here. Kansas State could enter 2014 as one of the more undervalued teams in the country.
With Jake Waters at quarterback and Tyler Lockett at wide receiver, Auburn's secondary could be tested. And the K-State defense returns enough pieces where a stop seems likely now and then. Well, maybe a few.
On paper, however, this game has the potential to be wild. And with home-field and 13 points, the Wildcats appear poised to hang around. Let's set the early over/under at 74.5, take the over and take the points.
Notable Point Spreads From Week 4
Florida State (-17) vs. Clemson
Alabama (-21) vs. Florida
Nebraska (-3) vs. Miami (FL)
Week 5 Lock: Notre Dame (-5.5) vs. Syracuse
The game will be played in New Jersey, which means the attendance will likely be split. Syracuse has the location advantage, and Notre Dame is, well, Notre Dame.
The Irish are not without questions, especially along the defensive line and at the skill positions beyond wideout DaVaris Daniels. But despite these looming concerns—and a starting quarterback still to be determined—Syracuse has far more checkboxes without checks.
Although Notre Dame is always very public and popular in the sportsbooks, that is not the case here. It’s one of the rare instances where you have value in the Irish. Take advantage accordingly.
Notable Week 5 Point Spreads
Arizona State (-7) vs. UCLA
Clemson (-4) vs. North Carolina
South Carolina (-11) vs. Missouri
Week 6 Lock: Baylor (-3) at Texas
There might not be another team in the country more difficult to handicap in this instance than Texas. By the looks of some of the Golden Nugget’s early numbers, the sportsbook doesn't feel that way. It's very high on Charlie Strong out of the gate.
I’m certainly not low on this team—and a healthy David Ash at quarterback is intriguing—but my confidence isn’t as prevalent. In this specific instance, three points against Baylor simply isn’t enough given the questions remaining.
Not against a team that will return Bryce Petty at QB and an incredible group of wideouts. The defense has holes—eight of 11 starters are gone—but that’s enough to talk me off backing the chalk.
Notable Week 6 Point Spreads
Auburn (-6.5) vs. LSU
Alabama (-9) at Mississippi
Stanford (-6) at Notre Dame
Michigan State (-8) vs. Nebraska
Week 7 Lock: Florida (+9) vs. LSU
The spread makes plenty sense. Florida is still wobbly from 2013, a season in which the Gators were blown out by Vanderbilt and lost outright to Georgia Southern. And yet, the Gators kept it within 11 against LSU—a game that was surprisingly close—and lost by just five to South Carolina late in the year when all hope seemed lost.
This team has questions, certainly, but the narrative bubbling against this team is far more negative than it should be. There was a lack of talent on offense, but there was also an abundance of injuries.
With a defense that should continue to be dominant, this will not be a team you want to lay many points against. Even in one of college football’s most chaotic stadiums, the nine seems like a little much.
Notable Week 7 Point Spreads
Oregon (-3) at UCLA
Georgia (-7) at Missouri
Oklahoma (-9) vs. Texas (in Dallas)
Week 8 Lock: Oregon (-20) vs. Washington
I picked against Oregon at home earlier, although I won’t test my luck again. Last season, with Keith Price at quarterback, Bishop Sankey at running back and Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end, Washington still lost this game by three scores.
It's not that simple, of course, but the losses are significant. Chris Petersen will be tasked with replacing those players, and he’ll have ample time to do so before Week 8. The defense, which was very good in 2013, will return many key pieces. It should be able to contain Oregon—for a while—although doing so over the full 60 is another story.
It’s a big spread, although 20 points simply isn’t the same with Oregon.
Notable Week 8 Point Spreads
Florida State (-24) vs. Notre Dame
Stanford (-6.5) at Arizona State
Alabama (-16.5) vs. Texas A&M
Oklahoma (-14) vs. Kansas State
Week 9 Lock: West Virginia (+19) at Oklahoma State
This isn't necessarily a play for West Virginia, which is a lovely way to introduce a convincing “lock.” No, this instead is a play against Oklahoma State, despite the enormous amount of respect I have for Mike Gundy.
The Pokes will replace almost their entire defense and a good chunk of the offensive line, and they're still not sold at QB. J.W Walsh is the guy, for now, but his consistent production shouldn’t be assumed. And despite all this, Oklahoma State is still garnering a fair amount of respect.
West Virginia has ample questions too. Clint Trickett returns with a status similar to Walsh’s, and Charles Sims is gone at running back. But almost every wideout returns, and this team is still ripe with skill-position talent.
It’s simply too big of a number to lay given the unknowns.
Notable Week 9 Point Spreads
Virginia Tech (-1) vs. Miami
Auburn (-7) vs. South Carolina
Ohio State (-9) at Penn State
Michigan State (-7.5) vs. Michigan
Week 10 Lock: North Carolina (+1) at Miami
Over the second half of last season, few teams matched North Carolina’s offensive output. And with quarterback Marquise Williams poised to continue where he left off—and promising redshirt frosh Mitch Trubisky waiting for his chance if he doesn’t—the offense is in good hands.
Miami will get back Duke Johnson, who is fabulous when healthy. The quarterback position isn’t quite as defined, although it appears to be Kevin Olsen’s job to lose. Or perhaps not, with Jake Heaps heading to South Beach after stops at BYU and Kansas.
The Tar Heels lost to Miami last year, although that loss seemed to ignite a late run. UNC is getting respect from the Nugget this time around, coming in as just a slight underdog on the road, although it still looks awfully tempting as is.
Notable Week 10 Point Spreads
Georgia (-9) vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
Oregon (-10) vs. Stanford
Texas Tech (-1) vs. Texas
Week 11 Lock: Auburn (-14) vs. Texas A&M
Texas A&M will be a much different team in Week 11 then it is in Week 1, although the fixes necessary to cure this defense won’t happen in three months. It’s for that reason this two-touchdown spread in favor of Auburn feels like the play.
Even with the losses of Tre Mason at running back and Greg Robinson at left tackle, the offense should thrive. Nick Marshall should improve throwing the football, and the Tigers have one of the deepest and most intriguing stables of wide receivers in the country.
Auburn won’t have the value it did last year, but that doesn't mean you should radically adjust the expectations.
Notable Week 11 Point Spreads
Alabama (-2.5) vs. LSU
Michigan State (-1) vs. Ohio State
Oklahoma (-11) vs. Baylor
Week 12 Lock: Florida State (-14.5) at Miami
As it stands, 14.5 is the smallest point spread Florida State will deal with all year. That can and likely will change, although—in many ways—this shows exactly how much of a favorite the Seminoles will be in 2014.
Miami, as mentioned previously, is getting plenty of Vegas love early. It may not seem that way with a line still more than two scores, but that’s more than anyone in the Seminoles' path can say.
The problem, however, is it likely won’t be enough. It’s not just Jameis Winston, it’s the offense line; it’s the fascinating athleticism all over the defense. It wouldn’t shock me to see this line at three touchdowns by kickoff.
Notable Week 12 Point Spreads
Georgia (-1) vs. Auburn
South Carolina (-6) at Florida
Oklahoma (-10) at Texas Tech
Week 13 Lock: UCLA (-4.5) vs. USC
Like Texas, USC is a difficult team to evaluate as Steve Sarkisian takes over. The no-huddle, pro-style offense will take some time to implement, although it should be broken in by Week 13.
While the Trojans may not have much depth, they do have talent on both sides. And leading it all will be Cody Kessler—at least to start—who played well in the second half of 2013. But UCLA has a quarterback. It also has talent, particularly on a defense that will return eight starters.
I like USC more than most, but UCLA at less than a touchdown is too good to pass up.
Notable Week 13 Point Spreads
North Carolina (-3) at Duke
Notre Dame (-8) vs. Louisville
Baylor (-9) vs. Oklahoma State
Week 14 Lock: TCU (+9.5) at Texas
I was full speed ahead on the TCU hype train last year, from the opening game against LSU until the ship sank roughly four weeks later. I’m not as hyped about the 2014 squad—not close, actually—but there are plenty of things to like.
For starters, Matt Joeckel is intriguing at quarterback. The A&M transfer should give the position the stability it has searched for. And on defense, nine starters are back from a group that, despite injuries, has still been quite good.
Perhaps Texas will be as good as the Golden Nugget envisions out of the gate. But this is a lot of points to lay against a defense that should be one of the best in the conference and an offense that could finally find success.
Notable Week 14 Point Spreads
UCLA (-3) vs. Stanford
USC (-10) vs. Notre Dame
Ohio State (-8) vs. Michigan
South Carolina (-3) at Clemson
Alabama (-6) vs. Auburn
Week 15 Lock: Oklahoma (-11) vs. Oklahoma State
With only two Big 12 games to pick from in a week that will eventually include conference championship games, we head to Bedlam. And as was outlined earlier with Oklahoma State, there are simply too many questions at this moment, with this team, to feel supremely confident.
That’s not to say that Oklahoma’s perfect. The team’s hope for the playoff relies on quarterback Trevor Knight duplicating his Sugar Bowl performance, which is still to be determined. It also has to find talent at running back and wideout. But the team also returns one of the most athletic front sevens in the country.
It’s a lot to lay on the road in a rivalry game, but given the way this game has gone in recent years, it feels like the right side (also, our options are limited).
Notable Week 15 Point Spreads
Baylor (-6) vs. Kansas State