Monday November 10th, 2014

Week 11's mammoth slate of six top 25 matchups not only separated contenders from pretenders but also helped starkly distinguish between sharps and square bettors. 

With the exception of Alabama's stunning overtime win at LSU that pushed a seven-point line, final scores in each of the week's most impactful games -- and several of the minor ones, too -- blew the spreads away.

TCU easily put down 6.5-point dogs Kansas State to the tune of three touchdowns as the Horned Frogs improved to not just 8-1 straight up but an FBS-leading 8-1 against the spread, as well.

Oregon took advantage of one of the strangest scoop-and-scores known to man to set the tone early against (+8) Utah, pulling away late to win by 24.

We can dedicate the name of this column to Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who threw not one, but two pick sixes against 2.5-point favorites Arizona State, stunting the Fighting Irish's formidable comeback as Arizona State pulled away for a 55-31 win.

Oklahoma blinked, and Baylor scored 48 points in Norman, lifting the 5.5 point underdogs to a 34-point blowout road victory few saw coming.

Bettors piled on to Michigan State both before and after Mark Dantonio all but guaranteed a victory for the Spartans, with some shops reporting up to eight or nine times less money coming in on Ohio State +3.5. J.T. Barrett gave Vegas a nice win as he was responsible for five touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 49-37 win

In sum, last week didn't mandate bettors wait for nuances in lines. No amount of movement, outside of Alabama shifting from -6.5 to -7, mattered.

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Points Of Emphasis

  • Of the 12 teams remaining that have one loss or fewer, three do not play Saturday. Oregon and Baylor have Week 12 off. So do the mysterious phenomenon known as Colorado State, a squad that could give Marshall a run for its money in the Group on Five battle for a New Year's Six bowl slot.
  • Hat tip to Ed Feng over at The Power Rank for predicting a Connor Halliday-less Washington State would beat Oregon State by roughly a touchdown, when nearly everyone else, including Vegas, had the Cougars as one touchdown underdogs.
  • After the Texas A&M-Auburn line opened somewhere in the 14s on Nov. 2, incessant loads of Tigers money pushed the line to between 23 and 24 points. Auburn fumbled twice in the game's waning minutes, and the usual Gus Malzahn Cover Machine didn't even win straight-up, much less win by 24. That made for an easy win for the smart money that came in late on the Aggies.
  • West Virginia (-3) had a let-down game after a back-breaking loss in Week 11 to TCU, while Texas secured a nice win that could preserve the Longhorns' shot at a bowl game this year. By a few indications, Vegas actually might have lost money on the Longhorns, who went from 5.5 to three-point dogs and won by 17.
  • With Alabama's line-pushing seven-point win in Baton Rouge, the Crimson Tide have still not covered on the road once all year. In fact, Alabama hasn't covered in its last seven games away from Bryant-Denny Stadium, dating back to a 40-7 win over Kentucky on Oct. 12, 2013.
  • If you had bet the under on San Diego State in every game they've played this year, you'd be much wealthier and more observant than most college football bettors. The Aztecs are 0-9 O/U and remain the only with a zero in either column of the ATS or O/U standings. San Diego State plays Boise State in Boise on Saturday.

2:34 | College Football
College football roundup: Week 11

• STAFF: Saturday Snaps: Breaking down the best of Week 11

Week 12 primer

​No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs at No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide (-7)

As mentioned early, Alabama has not covered the spread in its last seven games away from home. Were it not for last Saturday's improbable push against LSU, the Crimson Tide would be tied with Florida State and a few other teams at an FBS-worst 2-7 ATS this season. Thankfully for Alabama bettors the story is murkier when the Tide play at home.

Saturday's matchup with Mississippi State boils down to two things: Alabama's defense stopping or not stopping Dak Prescott on third downs, and how effective Mississippi State is at pressing Amari Cooper.

Mississippi State has a top fifteen rushing offense but will likely have to win the game through the air as Alabama's run defense is notoriously stingy. The Tide's passing defense isn't too shabby either, allowing 4.82 yards per pass attempt. If there is a weakness for Alabama, it's on third downs, where the Tide are allowing a 34-percent conversion rate. If anyone can shred a secondary in a tight situation, it's Prescott, who has done that all season. 

To the second key, while running back T.J. Yeldon's status is not known for Saturday's game, whether he plays or not isn't critical to this matchup. Mississippi State's secondary is not exactly iron clad. And while Cooper is earning defenders' attention, quarterback Blake Sims and running back Derrick Henry have the ability to gain yards on the ground. 

Something about Alabama laying opponents exactly seven points two weekends in a row feels too simple. Sure, Alabama beat a tough opponent by seven last week. They'll do it again. 

There will be at least minimal variance in this line. Remember when pondering Alabama's various matchup advantages that the No. 1 team in the country +7.5 is never a horrible option.

No. 12 Nebraska Cornhuskers at No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers (-6)

The line jumped two points in Wisconsin's favor Sunday night almost immediately and could very well jump even higher, framing an intriguing Big Ten matchup that may as well be dubbed The Ground War. A reportedly healthy Ameer Abdullah (186 attempts, 1250 yards, 17 touchdowns) challenges Melvin Gordon (198 attempts, 1501 yards, 19 touchdown) in a game during which the clock might never stop running other than for first downs. 

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At first glance, aspiring sharps will notice a lower-ranked home team favored by six points (and growing) and play devil's advocate: It's a fairly even match up, so laying the No. 12 team anything over a touchdown seems hard to swallow. I'll quietly jump on Nebraska.

Not so fast. The more plays the Badgers run and the longer they control possession of the ball, the higher the likelihood is of a spread-clearing win is for Wisconsin. This game will be played on the ground; both teams boast strong pass defenses and have an obvious proclivity for running. 

So, the key comparison is this: Against similar competition, Wisconsin is the FBS' third-best rushing offense (7.28 yards per carry) and ninth-best rushing defense (3.88 yards per carry allowed), while Nebraska has averaged 6.13 yards per carry and allows 4.64. With those edges Wisconsin can out-Nebraska the Cornhuskers by wearing them down on the ground. 

If Nebraska controls possession and forces turnovers, this could get really feisty. But if Wisconsin holds onto the ball and controls the clock, there is value in Wisconsin -6. 

​No. 2 Florida State Seminoles at Miami Hurricanes (+2.5)

Very little is left to be said about Florida State. The Seminoles have not covered often this season -- they're now tied at an FBS-worst 2-7 ATS record. They come on notoriously strong in the second half. There's a load of off-the-field distractions that initially seem to impact results on the field and then end up not mattering. Against the spread, Florida State has struggled. Straight up, it clearly hasn't. As I wrote about in this space two weeks ago, Vegas has not figured the Seminoles out.

When this happens, some bettors might back Florida State to lose either ATS or S/U because they have this vague feeling that it "can't keep this up." This moves money against the Seminoles, as was the case with the Florida State-Louisville line a few weeks ago that traveled from eight to 3.5.

This line, as it currently stands, feels bargain basement for Florida State backers. As always, it's not that simple. Miami hasn't beaten Florida State at home in 10 years, but the Hurricanes have quietly come alive in their last three games, albeit against North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati. Miami has a top-25 passing offense, top-10 rushing offense, top-10 passing defense and top-25 rushing defense, according to yards-per-play data. Florida State does not boast those same tempo-free rankings. The Seminoles have played the 51st toughest schedule in the country, according to Jeff Sagarin. Miami? The 25th. 

Florida State has shown almost zero ability against the spread this season, but it has also refused to lose S/U since Nov. 24, 2012The margin for both of these habits to still continue is around 2.5 points this week. I don't foresee Florida State winning this game by only one or two. CG had its line at -2 as this went to publication, and several online shops as well as the Stratosphere had it at -2.5. There are worse bets you can make this weekend than laying the points on the defending national champion at under a field goal. 

No. 3 Auburn Tigers at No. 20 Georgia Bulldogs (-2.5)

This line is begging for money on the Bulldogs at home against an Auburn team for which, according to popular narrative, the magic has finally ran out after Saturday's debacle at Jordan-Hare Stadium. All eyes will, perhaps mistakenly, be on Todd Gurley, who will be active for the Bulldogs for the first time since his suspension for accepting money in exchange for autographs.

While the focus may be on Georgia's top-five per-attempt rushing game, consider Auburn's aerial vulnerability. The Tigers are a top-25 team against the run but give up 6.61 yards per passing play, 93rd-worst in the FBS. Georgia averages more than seven yards per pass attempt, and quarterback Hutson Mason threw for four touchdowns last weekend against Kentucky. The Wildcats are not Auburn, but if Mason connects with his receivers this Saturday close to how he did his past weekend, and the Georgia can go to Gurley on second or third down, Auburn could be in for a long day. 

Another factor to consider could be motivation: If Georgia wins, there's a decent possibility, it can come back to win the SEC East. The Bulldogs just need Missouri to lose to Texas A&M, Tennessee or Arkansas. If that happens, Georgia gets a shot at winning the SEC title game and possibly playing itself into the periphery of the conversation for the College Football Playoff. The best Auburn can hope for is a four-way, two-loss tie in the SEC West that throws everything into mayhem and spits out the Tigers as the division champs.

Auburn is 6-0 in its last six games as an underdog, including this season against Ole Miss. Recently, the Tigers have been a trendy pick to cover because they're both a talented team and, until Saturday at least, seemed to receive the blessings of the football gods. But it's no secret that Gus Malzahn's miraculous ability to cover -- Auburn went 20-6 ATS in the coach's first two seasons -- is regressing to the mean: Auburn is 4-5 against the spread this season. 

​No. 9 Arizona State Sun Devils at Oregon State Beavers (+9.5)

The line opened offshore at 6.5 and jumped all the way up to 10 within minutes, before settling back down Monday morning at 9.5. This makes sense. Oregon State is, by most accounts, one of the three worst teams in the Pac-12, and Arizona State's aggressive takedown of Notre Dame is fresh in everyone's minds. The Sun Devils were an excellent value at -2.5 last week. Bettors expect value to be consistent week-to-week. Unsurprisingly, Arizona State has received roughly 70 percent of money so far at some books. 

The Sun Devils are still a strong bet at -9.5, but as always, there are caveats. One is history: Arizona State has won in Corvallis just once since 1997. More significantly, Oregon State is actually competitive late in games this season; it's just not winning many of them. This doesn't mean the Beavers will win Saturday, but it's harder to justify giving 10 points to a team that has blown three fourth-quarter leads this season, most recently against Washington State this past week. 

Saturday's matchup will be a night game at Reser Stadium, and as we've warned before: Anything can happen in #Pac12AfterDark. Oregon State has a habit of holding close against ranked Pac-12 foes at home in the past few season. The Beavers played No. 20 Utah to within six points this season, No. 8 Stanford to eight points in 2013 and No. 16 Stanford to four points in 2012. Sean Mannion is prolific and dangerous when he gets into a comfortable rhythm. But it's hard to envision Oregon State's passing game working seamlessly against a defense Mike Riley is the first to admit is "really disruptive." 

The real value on this line disappeared in about 10 minutes on Sunday, but -9.5 is still a strong line for Arizona State.

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