Pick Six: Breaking down Week 3 college football odds, best bets
‘Pick Six’ is your weekly college football column that breaks down six of the upcoming weekend’s best bets and takes a look at moves and news around the sports betting industry.
The second week of the college football season offers bettors their first chance to overreact to a team’s Week 1 performance and momentum heading into its second game. While some wagerers certainly fell victim to this (see: Arkansas, Auburn), propping up large spreads based on little more than general enthusiasm, others were sharp, backing home dogs that paid out like Colorado State and Virginia. Before we get to the picks, let’s look at the week that was.
Six Notes on Week 2
• Last week, Pick Six maintained there would be value in Week 2 in the Florida games, and there was. South Florida did what it always does: cover on the road. (USF is now 23–5 ATS on the road under Willie Taggart.) And Miami used one of the worst second halves ever played by Florida Atlantic to cover a 19-point margin after being tied at halftime. But there was nearly some unreal value up the road in Alabama, in the form of FCS program Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks were not only 47-point underdogs in their almost-win over Auburn. They were a +65000 money line pick at some offshore books. Had Jacksonville State won, 5Dimes would have paid out $675 for every $1 bet on the game. According to Pat Smith, an Auburn loss would have been the biggest spread upset in college football history.
• Arkansas -23 tied for the most lopsided line of the week at William Hill, earning 92% of tickets and 97% of all money wagered on the game—and the book won big. Toledo’s straight-up defeat of the Razorbacks was “borderline erotic” for sharp bettors, and stanched a growing sentiment in favor of Arkansas, which was the country’s third-best team ATS in 2014 (10–3) and covered in Week 1 against UTEP. The point-spread loss was the SEC’s fourth-biggest over the past five seasons, according to Evan Abrams.
• It could be randomness, but over the last six seasons there’s been a mild correlation between teams covering the spread and losing the previous week to Alabama. Wisconsin, which lost soundly in Week 1 to the Crimson Tide, covered a somewhat audacious 32-point spread against Miami (Ohio) despite having gone 4–5 ATS since 2010 when being favored by that margin. The cover put teams that have lost to Bama in the past five years at 35–22 ATS in the week following a loss to the Tide. The next Tide victim up this week? MTSU (-19) against FBS newcomer UNC Charlotte.
• Something in the water at San Diego State is keeping scores low in Aztecs games. In 2014, Vegas didn’t adjust Aztec totals down enough over the course of the year, and as a result SDSU hit the under 12 out of 13 times, more than any other team. In 2015, Vegas still hasn’t adjusted. The Aztecs hit the under each of the last two weeks, notably in Week 2 against ’s strong offense. This week, the Aztecs have South Alabama at home (O/U 48.5). Will San Diego State go 15 for its last 16 hitting the under?
• Kentucky made some noise this past weekend by actually beating an SEC opponent, knocking off South Carolina 26–22. But the Wildcats also got a larger, personal monkey off their back: The win both covered the spread (+7) and ended a 20-game road SEC losing streak, which College GameDay’s Chris Fallica was quick to point out. In Week 3, Kentucky hosts a Florida team that it’s 1–7 ATS against in their last eight meetings.
• The Pick Six award of the week goes to Rice, which rewarded its backers (+14.5) with an epic backdoor cover late in its game against Texas, losing 42–28. But putting aside the payout for a moment, what would you have guessed the real final score was based on the lopsidedness of this Owls-Longhorns box score?
Six Picks for Week 3
Ole Miss at Alabama (-8.5, moved to -6)
Hugh Freeze in 2015 is what Gus Malzahn was in 2013: The newest, sexiest SEC cover-master on the block. Over a small sample size of four seasons, Freeze has the highest career ATS win-loss percentage of any coach at 69%, checking in at 36–16. His stock might never be higher.
His team’s stock is equally strong, as evidenced by the Rebels’ 149-point offensive explosion and subsequent covers in the season’s first two weeks, and by this line shrinking two points for the Rebels in early trading.
The thing with stock, though, is that you should buy low.
It’s rare among early season Crimson Tide games to see lines moving in Alabama’s favor. Ole Miss backers have correctly perceived the extent of the team’s talent level relative to weaker competition so far. The question is whether Ole Miss’s perception will hold up against top talent.
Interestingly, Alabama is usually the side hampered by bettors’ outsized perception of how it will fare. That’s partially why since the 2012 season, Alabama is a mere 19–23–1 ATS. Since 2008, these two teams have traded off covering each year, with Ole Miss most recently covering a 4.5-point dog spread last season in its first outright win over Alabama since 2003.
In Week 3, Alabama’s front seven could potentially halt Ole Miss’s running game early and inhibit the team’s lethal-strike capability on offense. Chad Kelly could be forced to turn to his elite receiving core a little more often than he’d like, and certainly against tougher pocket pressure than he’s used to. Heading into the season, SBNation’s Bill Connelly, among others, noted that the team’s biggest question mark was its offensive line.
The move here could be to wait on this line and shop around to see how far it decreases in Alabama’s favor, but don’t count on anything much lower than six points.
Still, the betting tide here is flowing in the Tide’s direction.
The pick: Alabama -6
Georgia Tech (-1.5, moved to -2.5) at Notre Dame
When does the luck run out for the Irish? According to bettors, this week. This line moved a bit in Tech’s direction early, and who can blame the reactionaries? At last count, three Irish offensive starters are now out for the season after tight end Durham Smythe went down with a knee injury in the Virginia game. He’ll join stud quarterback Malik Zaire and running back Tarean Folston on the sidelines for the rest of the year.
Yes, Georgia Tech has covered the spread in its last nine games. And yes, Georgia Tech has an exciting offense that put up a combined 134 points in two weeks. But it did so against Tulane, one of the FBS’s worse defensive programs, and Alcorn State, which is not a thing. Everyone rushes the ball at Georgia Tech—and I mean everyone. In Week 2, an insane 13 ballcarriers got busy on the ground for 439 yards and six touchdowns.
Money on the spread in this game is 75/25 for Georgia Tech. I would not be surprised if this line rises even higher to four or five points. The value here is in waiting until the Georgia Tech line hits its apex, and then backing Notre Dame.
Why? The Irish are still a deep, talented team, whose defense is still healthy. This game is all about Notre Dame’s ability to stop the run on second and third down. Whoever is carrying the ball for the Jackets this weekend will have to get through Jaylon Smith and Co., who have helped ND defend the rush much better so far this season than it did last season.
Bonus: In innumerable game simulations conducted by The Power Rank’s Ed Feng, Notre Dame wins this one by nearly five points at home.
The pick: Notre Dame +2.5
Clemson (-3, moved to -6.5) at Louisville
The Cardinals, with a big 0–2 next to their name, are clearly losing the perception battle in this one in the wake of a loss to Houston last weekend and Week 1’s bizarre almost-comeback against Auburn.
Meanwhile, Clemson backers were surprisingly conservative last week against an FCS name that still engenders a tic of fear in the faces of Power 5 fans: Appalachian State. Clemson covered a line that fell as low as -17, easily clearing the margin with a 35-point victory.
As Spencer Hall put it, Louisville was “nibbled to death” last week by Houston, which ran 90 plays en route to a 34–31 win. When Clemson comes to town on Thursday night, it will not run 90 plays.
The line opened at a field goal and rose to seven points for the Tigers, but this movement could be running the wrong way. Or, if you’re a Louisville backer, the right way. While it’s unclear who the Cardinals will start at quarterback in Week 3, Louisville has underperformed relative to its talent level.
When you factor in a) home field advantage for the Cardinals on a Thursday night game, b) Bobby Petrino’s 39–21 career spread record at home and c) Clemson money coming in on this game by a factor of four to one, this game feels too much like it’ll be a three- or four-point game that comes down to the wire.
The pick: Louisville +6.5
Nebraska at Miami (-4)
It’s likely that relatively few people watched either of Miami's first two games of the season. One was an ESPN3 blowout against Bethune-Cookman during a packed TV schedule, while the other was a Friday night mess against Florida Atlantic that was suspended early due to weather and didn’t even get back underway until 10:30 p.m. local time.
Those who did watch the FAU game would’ve seen a contest that was much closer than the runaway 44–20 final score would indicate. Miami gave up rushes of over 40, 30 and 20 yards to Owls running back Jay Warren and looked hapless in the first half against the run, which for reasons unknown FAU coach Charlie Partridge abandoned in the second half.
Nebraska’s offense so far this season has featured an even balance of passing and running. But assuming Nebraska coaches have gotten the memo, Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Terrell Newby could turn things up on the ground.
The absence of Gus Edwards for the year hasn’t halted the Canes’ running game, with underclassmen running backs Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton making an impact. Teams have ran the ball against Nebraska only 50 times this year, which is the eighth fewest attempts against of any team. It will be interesting to see if Miami wants to emphasize Yearby and Walton, or stick with quarterback Brad Kaaya through the air.
With the possibility this game will be decided on the ground and have a fast clock, it’s tempting to pick the Under here. But an O/U sitting at 57.5 is too low for our comfort zone. If Miami is still giving four points to a Nebraska team averaging 5.2 yards per carry by the time you read this, take the points.
The Pick: Nebraska +4
California (-3, moved to -6) at Texas
It is not prudent to beat a dead horse in gambling. If you pick for or against a certain team every week—regardless of whether it’s out of passionate fandom or a supposed neutral, analytical edge—at some point your pattern will come back to haunt you.
And yet, here in this space we’ll do just that while also advocating for the squarest bet possible: a streaking Cal team with 70% of the handle and an elite quarterback against a program whose stock is nearing an all-time low.
To be fair, this bet was a lot sexier when it was Cal by a field goal. If this were a Sunday night column, that pick would have been printed here, sealed in a time capsule and protected by armed guards. Since then, the line has shot up to between six and seven points for the Bears at a variety of shops due to general Longhorns malaise, specifically resulting from the team’s performance in its first two weeks.
The school firing AD Steve Patterson on Tuesday underscores the program’s continued unraveling. The move certainly won’t help the team’s perception (and thus, the game’s line). But the program’s on-field results are just as bad. Here’s how Texas has performed in its biggest September home nonconference game in each of the past five seasons:
|Date||Home opponent||Line||Score||Texas result|
|Sept. 6, 2014||BYU||Texas -1||BYU 41, Texas 7||S/U loss, ATS loss|
|Sept. 14, 2013||Ole Miss||Texas -1.5||Ole Miss 44, Texas 23||S/U loss, ATS loss|
|Sept. 1, 2012||Wyoming||Texas -31||Texas 37, Wyoming 17||S/U win, ATS loss|
|Sept. 10, 2011||BYU||Texas -7.5||Texas 17, BYU 16||S/U win, ATS loss|
|Sept. 25, 2010||UCLA||Texas -15.5||UCLA 34, Texas 12||S/U loss, ATS loss|
That right there is the Longhorns losing each of those games against the spread, doing so by an average margin of 23 points.
The Horns couldn’t even cover against Rice last week, allowing a late TD that covered, plus an onside kick recovery and an ensuing Rice drive. This column is 2–0 so far when picking against the Longhorns ATS, and Jared Goff forcing the Texas secondary to step up and defend, combined with an unraveling program in Austin, is just too tempting not to pick against.
Unlike most of the picks presented in this space, this game is a gut pick. If Charlie Strong rallies his troops and pulls out a victory at home over Cal, Pick Six will be the first to doff its hat to Texas next week and admit we were wrong.
So prove us wrong, Texas.
The Pick: Cal -6
Here we go again. This game is this week’s biggest line-mover by far, with the line rising eight points at last count in favor of Texas A&M. This is a recurring theme with Aggies games. Last week, the line moved five points to -31 for A&M against Ball State.
Based on anecdotal evidence from the past several college football seasons—and despite the contrary evidence you just read directly above this preview—Texas teams are often a prime target for homer bets, which disproportionately increase the percentage of money on one side of a spread and usually drive the line up for said Texas team, regardless of whatever the line starts at.
This space boldly predicted last week that Ball State and its efficient offense would cover that generous 31-point spread against A&M. The final margin ended up being 33 points, and the Cardinals were well within field goal range on the game’s final play, opting instead for a garbage-time touchdown pass attempt that was broken up.
Texas A&M—or any team, for that matter—converting on inflated lines is unsustainable. This isn’t sharp money driving up these spreads. These are bettors who see a large Texas A&M score one week and expect to see that same margin the following week.
The Aggies are a great team, but any line that’s inflated between five to 10 points from its open by a devoted fan base is always worth taking another look at.
As usual, use a nonconference Texas A&M home game as part of a conservative money line parlay, not ATS. If you have to use it ATS though, I suggest boldly picking the Wolfpack—who looked oddly flat at home against Arizona last week in a game many thought would be closer—to only lose by 28.
The Pick: Nevada +34
Bonus Picks: Stanford +10; Colorado State +4; Air Force +27; Old Dominion +19;
Cumulative ATS record: 10–7–1; Cumulative < 5pt ML record: 2–0; Cumulative O/U record: 2–1