Saturday November 15th, 2014

For fans and bettors alike, Week 12 was foremost 'The Week of Melvin Gordon.' Wisconsin hosted Nebraska last weekend in what this column dubbed The Ground War: something approximating a one-touchdown home favorite win at Camp Randall Stadium. While it was certainly a war on the ground, it was a one-sided one. The 20th ranked Badgers (-6) destroyed an arm-tackling-prone Cornhuskers squad 59-24, scoring 49 unanswered points after a horrible start. Gordon set an FBS single-game record with 408 rushing yards and needed only three quarters to do it.

Week 12 was also, in several unlikely ways, 'The Week Of ACC Relevance.' Florida State did what it always does, falling behind early and clawing back. The Seminoles beat Miami on the road and barely covered a rigid -2.5 line, winning 30-26. In one of Vegas' larger losses on the day, the game featured roughly two-thirds of the total handle on the Seminoles. The -2.5 line held steady for Florida State all week, despite speculation earlier this month at some books that Miami could even be a favorite. Florida State won a 26th consecutive game straight up but covered for only the third time this season. 

Elsewhere in the conference, Duke finally derailed despite Virginia Tech's best attempts to hand the Blue Devils the game in the closing minutes. Duke lost both straight up and as 4.5 favorites against the Hokies in Durham. It was the first time the Blue Devils failed to cover at home all season.

Meanwhile, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson's knee injury set the tone early in an ugly game against Georgia Tech. Some bettors found the Yellow Jackets at three-point home dogs too much to resist and were rewarded as a Watson-less Tigers squad looked clueless, losing 28-6. 

Points Of Emphasis

  • Few pundits gave Mississippi State a chance to win outright against Alabama in the weekend's highly billed No. 1 vs. No. 5 game. Yet, twice as much money at several shops came in on the Bulldogs to cover at anywhere between +7 and +10. In a rare outcome, both the pundits and the public were right. The Bulldogs looked stymied against Alabama's defense and ultimately lost 25-20 but a late Mississippi State touchdown narrowed the margin to five, sacking Vegas with a loss and teeing up a weighty showdown for the Bulldogs with rival Ole Miss in two weeks.
  • After covering in each of its last seven games as an underdog, Auburn had its streak snapped against Georgia, as the Tigers' covering ability continued to regress to the mean following their hot streak under Gus Malzahn. This is to be expected. Just as bettors undervalued the team's abilities the past two seasons, bettors have laid into the Tigers too much this year. Auburn is 4-6 against the spread with two games remaining. Malzahn's covering percentage as Auburn's coach entering the season was an astounding 77 percent. Not even Urban Meyer or Bill Snyder can sustain that mark. 
  • After Minnesota rocked Iowa 51-14 in Week 11, the Hawkeyes came back to cover -5 handsomely in Week 12 against Illinois, winning 30-14. Perhaps one reason 65 percent of money on the game came in on the Hawkeyes was this: Iowa is 32-15-1 against the spread in the week following a straight-up loss under Kirk Ferentz, one of the best marks under any coach. 
  • Not even the most cynical of bettors figured Kansas would win outright against TCU last weekend. It's Kansas after all. Several, however, were sucked into the Horned Frogs laying 28 points in what turned out to be a classic 'let down' game. Despite trailing in the second half, TCU made off with a 34-30 win, dropping their second spread in the last three games. 
  • Western Michigan is officially the best against-the-spread team in the FBS. The Broncos moved to 9-1 with their 51-7 rout of Eastern Michigan, easily cleared -27.5. With only two games left to play, Western Michigan is in the driver's seat to win the so-called covering crown.
  • The opposite of congratulations goes to Akron. With Florida State, South Carolina and Oregon State all covering in Week 12, the Zips' 2-8 record against the spread is now the worst in FBS.
  • ​Arkansas not only got its first SEC win under Brett Bielema on Saturday, but it also moved to 8-2 against the spread after shutting out LSU 17-0. The Razorbacks easily covered (+1.5) in a battle of two teams that have both exceeded Vegas' expectations this season. The only other teams from the Power Five now at 8-2 or better against the spread are Baylor, Utah and TCU. Will Arkansas be undervalued yet again Saturday against a top 10 Ole Miss team? 
  • Instead of covering and losing straight up to a tough opponent, Utah, who is now 8-2 against the spread this year, covered and won outright. The Utes' double-overtime win against Stanford put them in the mix for a spot in either the Holiday Bowl or the Alamo Bowl, and sets up an intriguing line in Week 13 when they play Arizona.

3:42 | College Football
College football roundup: Week 12

Week 13 primer

USC at No. 11 UCLA (-3)

UCLA turned a corner in its win on Nov. 1 against Arizona. Before then, the Bruins had only covered in one game all year and seemed to be 'not losing' games (or actually losing them in the case of UCLA's defeats to Utah and Oregon) rather than winning them. As they displayed the past two weeks, the Bruins are now exceeding expectations. UCLA's defense completely stymied an up-tempo Arizona team, and the Bruins got a decisive road victory against Washington in Week 11. 

USC has gone back and forth on the spread all year, posting a 6-4 record against the spread, often covering one week and then fading the next. The Trojans let a large lead slip away as 14-point favorites against Cal on Thursday but still pulled out the win. Unlike UCLA, USC has been decisively good against bad Pac-12 teams.

Neither team has a major offensive or defensive strength or weakness. Both teams' most recent victories came against awful pass defenses. The battle of Los Angeles will come down to which UCLA team shows up and how well USC's defense limits the run. If Brett Hundley is running Saturday for 12 or 15 yards at a time, that's very a bad sign for USC. If the Trojans come out early and go up several scores like they did against Cal or even Arizona, it will be hard for UCLA to claw all the way back to cover. 

This is not an easy game to bet on. Look for clues in line vulnerabilities, and take cues from large movements and late sharp money.

No. 14 Arizona at No. 23 Utah (-3.5)

Here's a sneaky little jamboree that could either throw the Pac-12 South into even further confusion or possibly allow Arizona to play for admittance to the Pac-12 championship game. Critical for Arizona in this game is getting out to a quick start, getting points in the first half and operating on offense quickly but under control rather than frantic and disorganized. The games Arizona has lost this year are ones in which Anu Soloman has had to rely on himself alone and when his team has fallen behind early. 

Some argue Arizona won't be able to put up points at altitude against Utah. This might be the case, but there's a lot of hype surrounding Utah's defense despite its per-play yardage allowances and per-game scoring allowances not being among the best in the country. Utah's defense is certainly good. Nate Orchard turns a lot of heads, and the front seven proved critical in Utah's wins against Stanford and USC. But Utah's defense is not, by several statistical measures, among the very best in the country. It could be vulnerable to Arizona. 

The Utes usually give up 20 to 25 points per game against teams not named Oregon; almost always play tight games; and have an outstanding cover record, especially on the road (5-0). Arizona is an erratic team that can be great on the ground, is vulnerable through the air on defense and has higher highs and lower lows than Utah. I don't like -3.5 as a line for either team. The value in this line could come late if bettors are scared off by the Utes at -3.5. 

No. 20 Wisconsin at Iowa (+8.5, moved to +9.5)

If there is a term for bettors wildly overreacting the week after a team's performance, I'm not sure what it is. This term should exist, though, because the action it defines occurs consistently. One example that comes to mind is TCU bettors being brought back to Earth when they backed the Horned Frogs in hordes as five-point favorites against West Virginia following TCU's 82-point outburst against Texas Tech. Another example was wildly popular Auburn, coming off a big win over Ole Miss in Week 10, getting outright beaten by Texas A&M in Week 11 despite being a 23.5-point favorite. 

Whenever a team destroys another supposedly good team like Wisconsin did last weekend and whenever Heisman hype gets bantered around like it did with Melvin Gordon, either a) bettors will overreact the following weekend and back that team, pushing the line high, b) Vegas will anticipate this and set a line that is higher than it should be, or c) both a and b will occur. 

In cases like this it's almost always a good idea to fade the public, especially when said public is in big on a road team against a particularly unappealing Big Ten team. No tout ever says, "Boy, do I have a hot deal this weekend on IOWA!"

This might be a game to sit out, but if you really want action on the game, take Wisconsin on the MoneyLine. Barring a complete mental lapse, the Badgers' rushing offense and rushing defense will both be too strong and should overwhelm Iowa over four quarters. But why take the chance on Wisconsin covering an especially high-cost line when there are better deals out there? 

Arkansas at No. 10 Ole Miss (-2, moved to -3)

Recent history is rarely on Arkansas' side in straight-up SEC matchups. The Razorback didn't give a hoot about history on Saturday though and won the Golden Boot Trophy for the first time in four seasons by dominating LSU in all three facets of the game.

Arkansas has lost its last two against Ole Miss, but both games have been close. This is important for those backing Arkansas' side. Razorbacks bettors might be getting a bit of a bum deal here, as most fans' most recent memory of Ole Miss is the gut-wrenching Laquon Treadwell injury and loss to Auburn (there was a 48-0 win against Presbyterian after that), while fans' most recent Arkansas memory is their win over the Tigers. 

Arkansas is bound to regress at some point -- it is 8-2 against the spread, among the very best of all FBS teams -- and that the Razorbacks are on the road, so there are makings of a payday for Ole Miss. The game boils down to Arkansas' secondary containing Ole Miss' receivers and disrupting Bo Wallace so that he turns into "Bad Bo." Even without Treadwell, Ole Miss can create space down field with Cory Coleman, Vince Sanders and Evan Ingram. Arkansas needs to hold onto the ball on offense and keep Ole Miss off of the field for as long as it can. 

Spread bettors could chime in on the Hogs simply because they've covered often this season against very strong competition. So has Ole Miss, though. The Rebels aren't far behind the Razorbacks at 7-3 against the spread. Be careful here, but there's likely value early in the Rebels at a field goal. 

Missouri at Tennessee (-3, moved to -3.5)

If Missouri loses this game, Georgia will play for the SEC Championship. If Missouri wins this game, the Tigers will just have to survive Arkansas to get into the conference title game. So, Missouri, which isn't even ranked right now in the College Football Playoff rankings, could go to the SEC Championship game instead of Georgia, which throttled the Tigers 34-0. If Missouri can beat Tennessee. 

The Volunteers are flying high after laying 50 on Kentucky. Despite Joshua Dobbs' great performance last weekend, Tennessee generally has issues throwing the ball, though, and one of Missouri's strengths is its pass defense. The Tigers need to avoid defensive lapses and penalties that doomed them against Georgia and almost doomed them against Texas A&M. 

Both teams are 6-4 against the spread this year. Missouri is 4-0 against the spread on the road. The Tigers have a huge incentive to win convincingly to rise in the playoff rankings, which of course would mean covering. Tennessee, while improved, has wins against Utah State, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas State, Chattanooga and that's it. Until the Volunteers get a win against a top 25 opponent, bettors should give Missouri the benefit of the doubt in this matchup. Look for the best value in this line early. Missouri +3 is hard to pass up. 

Oklahoma State at No. 7 Baylor (-23.5, moved to -27)

Baylor is in an all-out war with TCU to become the Big 12's top contender for a playoff spot. In order to do that, the Bears need all of the style points they can get. I used this exact same reasoning two weeks ago in breaking down the benefits of trusting Baylor to get its first-ever win in Norman as small favorites. The Bears beat Oklahoma by 34.  

Baylor should crush this line. Note the emphasis on should. The team has every incentive to look dominant during its remaining games, especially with TCU squeaking past Kansas in one of the weirder games of the season. Oklahoma State has struggled mightily in the second half of the season in nearly every facet of the game and is coming off a three touchdown loss to Texas. The Cowboys did wallop Baylor 49-17 last year in Stillwater, but that game involved two top ten teams. This matchup has just one and is almost a dare for Baylor to have a let down game post-Norman. 

More importantly, this line is arbitrary. If Baylor wants to beat Oklahoma State by 20 points, it can. 30 points? Sure. 40? It's doable. This game revolves around how hard Art Briles wants to press his foot down on the gas pedal. Baylor can cover. Baylor would do well to cover, if for no other reason than to flex its muscles for the committee. But at the end of a game, if Antwan Goodley or Corey Coleman don't want to risk running over the middle for the 90th time or if Shaq Goodwin tweaks a hamstring before the half and sits the rest of the game out, maybe Briles will take the foot off the gas. No bettor can predict whether that will happen.

Baylor has exceeded Vegas' expectations in all but two games this season and is one of the best teams against the spread. This line is audacious and will likely push the four-touchdown mark. It should work out for Bears backers, but play it at your own risk. 

ATS records are provided by either or Wagering percentages are provided by

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