The Fade is your weekly college football column that breaks down the upcoming weekend's best bets and takes a look at major line movements, bad beats, and other oddities around the industry.
Week 10 was perhaps the first of several “separation Saturdays” that should help the CFP committee, fans, (and even degenerate gambles) whittle 128 FBS contenders down to four tournament worthy schools. (It was also a weekend that “separated” the author from his bank account, a conscious uncoupling of sorts, but that’s neither here nor there).
Meanwhile, paying attention to all those weeknight games in the MAC pays its dividends, literally. Bettors following the 13-team league closely will know that four of its teams (Toledo, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green State) are either tied for, or one win away from, being the top covering teams in the country.
News & Notes:
• Sometimes in the immediate lead up to games a line will slowly but steadily creep in one direction, acting as a tipoff to what direction sharp money is leaning. Last weekend, Louisville backers didn't even try to be subtle. About an hour before Syracuse’s game against the Cardinals, some person or persons put enough money on Louisville to shoot the line up 3.5 points. This wasn’t an early Sunday afternoon, unweighted correction. This came on a decently bet line. And whoever made it was right: The Cardinals won by 24, and the game was never in doubt after halftime.
• Unders and underdogs continue to win more weeks than not. Per SportsInsights.com, Unders went 34–26 ATS while underdogs went 31–27 ATS. These numbers are coming in a year, though, where 48 totals have closed above 70 points. That more through 10 weeks, Sports Insights notes, than from all of 2005, 2006 and 2007.
• The sun rose Saturday, and South Florida covered in a road game. It’s road cover mark is now a silly 25–7 ATS on the road under head coach Willie Taggart. And speaking of death-and-taxes type of spread events, Kansas State hosted its first game since being obliterated by Oklahoma 55–0 on Oct. 17. It covered against the formidable No. 6 Baylor Bears, improving Bill Snyder’s Big 12 Conference game cover record since his return to the program in 2009 to 30–16–1.
• It only took 10 weeks, but now every team in the FBS has both covered and failed to cover at least once. Old Dominion, the erstwhile 0–7–1 ATS team with quite the hangover from last season’s better-than-expected FBS-debut, finally covered in a game, topping UTSA 36–31 as eight-point underdogs. Bettors piled onto the Monarchs so far leading in to Week 11, too. More than three-quarters of the bets in ODU’s game against FBS-worst UTEP are on the Monarchs, and have pushed the line for ODU from -3.5 to -5.
• Something had to give when the two top covering teams in the country played on Tuesday night. Central Michigan hosted three-point favorite Toledo, aiming to be the first team in the country to eight spread wins. Instead, a late TD pass by Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush only put Central Michigan within five points, and the Rockets covered. Toledo improved its ATS record to 7–2 according to VegasInsider.com, with ATS losses against Iowa State and Northern Illinois. But according to SportsInsights, Toledo actually pushed the spread during the Iowa State game, so at least one organization has Toledo at 7–1–1 ATS on the year, and the only one-spread-loss team on the year. It also means that the Rockets’ game against Northern Illinois is the only thing standing between it, a perfect season and a perfect spread season.
• This week’s Letdown Award winner is West Virginia, with whom the author is no longer on speaking terms. After missing a 39-yard field goal earlier in the game that would have put the margin in the safe zone, the Mountaineers took a five point lead and the ball all the way down to 1st-and-goal from the seven-yard line with 1:30 left. After running three plays, quarterback Skyler Howard took a QB sneak to the one-foot line, setting up fourth-and-goal from the half yard line with roughly 50 seconds left. But a penalty on a Texas Tech player for ripping off Howard’s helmet in the pile resulted in an automatic first down. instead of going for a field goal or punching it in from one-foot line to cover -7.5, West Virginia devastatingly just let the clock run out.
• Bettors were curious how the Temple Owls would respond after losing a hard-fought game to Notre Dame and losing its perfect season. Few thought the Owls would bounce back like they did on Friday night. Leading 45-40 with 2:22 left in the fourth quarter and the ball, SMU spread backers had nothing to feat. The 13.5-point favorite Owls wouldn’t even cover if they somehow decided to score on their ensuing drive. A 3rd-and-14 run play to P.J. Walker could have ran time off the clock, but instead went for a 36 yard score, putting Temple up 53–40. SMU decided to fight until the bitter end, which is valiant, and all. But in taking the ensuing drive five plays and working the clock down to 55 seconds, it also threw a pass that was picked off by Owls corner Sean Chandler and returned for a touchdown, leaving a shellshocked Mustangs team down 20 and handing Temple this week’s Backdoor Cover Award.
• Here in the Paging The Burn Unit section we generally like to feature a team that missed covering by some astronomical amount of points. Michigan State wins the award this week, however, for an altogether different reason: the refs burned them on this play. Forget, if you will, that the author had Michigan State -4 (perhaps he was a bit harsh on the Cornhuskers last weekend in this space, for which he apologizes). Suspend disbelief that he is in some way more compelled than otherwise to recognize the injustice of this game because he had action on it and recommended it to tens or even dozens of readers. All he knows is that, even if Michigan State was up by five points and then lost explicitly because of a blatantly incorrect call that was not only made on the field but affirmed on review, the burn was Michigan State’s, not his. Again, Sparty’s selection has nothing to do with the author’s public stance on the game and recent belief that he’s been snakebitten beyond recognition by the officials’ grievous error. This pain is Michigan State’s, and its alone.
Oklahoma at Baylor (-2.5)
Since its inexplicable sleepwalking through the Red River Shootout one month ago, the Sooners have been lights out, averaging an astronomical amount of points and winning its last four games by an average score of 58–12. Baylor’s defense has some holes that could help Oklahoma continue its ways, specifically via Samaje Perine in the flat. Baylor actually isn’t that bad of a team defending the run, giving up 3.74 yards per attempt while opponents average more rushes against them than passes. It’s against Baker Mayfield’s arm that Baylor could struggle.
But why won’t Oklahoma similarly struggle against Baylor’s offense? The Big 12 offense that’s given the Sooners the most trouble this year is Texas Tech, which is like Baylor-lite (and also the program Jarrett Stidham was headed to before committing to Baylor). Speaking of Stidham, he’s not exactly the inexperienced freshman some have made him out to be. The dude is reliable.
Last season a Baylor team with the same top three receivers and same stud running back were overlooked in Norman as 5.5-point dogs. The Bears smoked Oklahoma 48–14. This game should be much closer; don’t assume a line drop from six points to two-and-a-half suggests disrespect for the Bears.
The Picks: Baylor -2.5, UNDER 77
Southern Miss at Rice (+7.5, moved to +7)
Bet percentages (80 percent for USM) and lack of corresponding line movement (line’s held at -7.5 all week) I would normally think seriously about taking the dog. But not this dog. If you’re a Rice Owls fan (it’s a fine institution) you likely despise this column for continued exposure that Rice is overrated due to the optics of its record. But then again, when has The Fade been wrong about Rice?
Southern Miss has a great passing attack, but moreover, Rice gives up an eighth-worst 7.03 yards per attempt. That 7.03 mark is skewed by Rice’s particularly bad passing defense, which allows 9.6 yards per pass. Only SMU and UTEP are worse.
Add to this the fact that Southern Miss is tied for the top cover record in the country at 7–2 ATS, and you’re not only talking about a statistical mismatch, but are involving a team that has consistently outperformed expectations all season.
The Pick: Southern Miss -7.5
Appalachian State at Idaho (+18, moved to +19)
Idaho had a nice moment, not too long ago. A big one. It won two games in a row. This is rare for the Vandals, who have six D-I wins in the past five seasons. Two of those five wins have come against New Mexico State, the ole’ punching bag down in Las Cruces. Which is why it was so unfortunate that, when favored by a touchdown for the first time since 2012 (when it was so against NMSU) and attempting to get a to 4–5 mark on the season with a bowl berth theoretically in play, Idaho lost to the Aggies in triple-overtime. Aside: congratulations to NMSU, which hadn’t won a game in its past 16 tries.
Then, this past week, Idaho lost by far its top talent in wide receiver Dezmon Epps, when he was dismissed from the team in the wake of allegations that he assaulted his girlfriend. The Vandals will be gassed after returning from South Alabama where they lost 52–47. And Idaho could already be looking ahead to a Week 12 road matchup as Auburn’s punching bag.
This is a demoralized team with no postseason shot who will face an Appalachian State team that’s the best team in the Sun Belt, and the 44th best team in the country according to Football Outsiders. It’s a top 20 team in terms of yards per play, and Idaho has no defensive match for it on either side of the ball. Sad times brewing in Moscow.
The Pick: Appalachian State (-18)
Bonus Picks: Marshall (-11.5), Army (-2.5), Old Dominion (-5.5), Wake Forest (+27.5), Syracuse (+28.5), Iowa State (+14)
Cumulative ATS record: 36–29–2; Cumulative < 5pt ML record: 3–0; Cumulative O/U record: 5–3