It’s my job to provide a wide-view glimpse of every college football weekend, so for the past few weeks WagerBop has focused on “handicapping the out-of-conference slate” prior to teams getting into their in-league schedules in late September.
But despite most of the OOC match-ups having taken place already, there is no bigger non-conference scrum in America than Notre Dame at Georgia this Saturday.
The prime-time Top 10 contest at Samford Stadium will be broadcast on CBS, making it a lynchpin for speculators and gambling action.
Despite the Fighting Irish having lost badly to Clemson in the 2018-19 College Football Playoff semifinals, I was surprised to see Las Vegas opening-for-business with a 1-to-4 favorite’s moneyline on the host Bulldogs.
I’m especially surprised to see line-movement making UGA into a 1-to-6 favorite alongside a (+415) line-to-win for Notre Dame at Bovada Sportsbook.
It’s not like each team isn’t unbeaten and ranked in the Top 10. It would appear that a majority of gamblers think Georgia’s Jake Fromm will out-play UND’s Ian Book from behind center, or at least that the Bulldog cast will give Fromm better protection and more support in the run game.
Pass protection is certainly a UGA strong suit. Fromm has the benefit of playing with 1 of the best offensive lines in college football and is off to a fast start through 3 games. The Bulldogs have another potential NFL star toting the rock in junior D’Andre Swift, who has only scored twice so far in ’19 but has an astounding average of nearly 10 yards-per-carry.
But the Georgia OL has been without a key component in right tackle Isaiah Wilson. Wilson has missed the last 2 games with a sprained ankle, but could return to action this week.
The UGA offense can afford a few injuries with the way the defense is playing, already halfway to last season’s sack total after bringing down QBs in the backfield a dozen times in 12 quarters.
Can the Irish protect their own gunslinger against the SEC’s finest pass rush?
Perhaps gamblers are shy of Notre Dame due to the small sample-size of a 2-0 record against expected 2019 also-rans. Book’s offense has put up 101 points against Louisville and New Mexico combined, but Georgia has whipped Vanderbilt of the SEC along with annual Sun Belt contender Arkansas State.
The senior QB will get a boost with the return of junior TE Cole Kmet, an absolutely monster target down the middle who is making his season debut.
South Bend’s passing game is already shiny, though – it’s the task of moving the ball on the ground which has been a problem. Junior Tony Jones Jr. has rushed for 127 yards on 21 attempts, a paltry stat line compared to the dominance of Swift at UGA.
Notre Dame’s defense has been terrific so far, however, and the Irish play spirited football on special teams, each a factor that could be getting overlooked by a betting public anxious to take Georgia-to-win at anything but bargain prices.
Predicting the Outcome of Notre Dame at UGA
I’m attracted to the Under (58.5) because Georgia head coach Kirby Smart surely knows what kind of dangerous defensive backfield Brian Kelly’s visitors are bringing to Athens.
The Irish have allowed 0 touchdown passes while snagging 3 picks in the opening 2 games, a dynamite performance in a CFB landscape of top-heavy TD-to-INT ratios.
Smart would be wise (see what I did there?) to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible, chewing the clock and avoiding turnovers.
UGA cornerback Tyson Campbell is injured, which might be the signal for Notre Dame to crank things up in the passing game – but all the more reason for the Bulldogs to try to control the ball and limit Book’s opportunities.
However, the moneyline is full of SEC bias. Yes, UND may have been blown away in the CFP last season – but ‘twernt an SEC school that done it. In fact, the same Clemson defense that shut-out the Irish went on to shut down Alabama for most of the title match.
A likely “Under” outcome favors the ‘dog anyway. Exaggerated Las Vegas line-movement toward Georgia makes Notre Dame a super-solid underdog pick at (+415).
Now for a few quick picks on the rest of college pigskin’s Top 25.
Southern Cal vs Utah
There is no worse turn of fate for a football team than to be a train on the tracks for months, even years headed in a certain direction, and then try to switch to a different course just as the season starts.
For instance, former USC quarterback Matt Leinart had posted an 8-8 record with the Arizona Cardinals as of the offseason Kurt Warner retired from the NFL. Leinart took 1st-team snaps throughout training camp and preseason, and suddenly then-Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt got a bug up his shirt about the ex-Trojan star. Whisenhunt quickly phased-out Leinart – who in truth probably muttered something rude or petty within earshot of the head coach – and replaced him with a collection of the worst NFL quarterbacks you’ve ever seen. Of course the lousy season (and Whisenhunt’s slow, epic fall from the top tier of Shield coaches) wasn’t really the fault of the other QBs on the roster – the train was taken off the tracks by a self-destructive skipper at the last moment.
Not that USC coach Clay Helton is necessarily making a mistake that drastic. In fact, Helton could do absolutely nothing about former starting QB J.T. Daniels going down for the year with a torn ligament. But perhaps the program is just a little bit too eager to put all kinds of responsibility in the hands of freshman QB Kedon Slovis.
Slovis was excellent in the Week 2 win over Stanford, connecting with WR Tyler Vaughns for 100+ yards and hitting targets with such accuracy that USC didn’t even need more than a token running game – almost every throw was like an extended hand-off. Perhaps overconfident in the new starter, Southern Cal’s coaching staff allowed another 34 pass attempts from Slovis against Brigham Young…and the other shoe dropped as the youngster threw 3 costly interceptions.
Now it’s on to an arguably much-tougher opponent this Friday night. Will Slovis keep regressing? Maybe, but I can’t see the Trojan offense backing down and playing it safe.
As for Utah, it’s hard to handicap a team that hasn’t played a Power-5 opponent yet. But the 10th-ranked Utes shined against common-opponent BYU in Week 1 as the OL blew open holes for Zack Moss in a 30-12 victory. In Week 3 the Utes met Northern Illinois, another Group of 5 team with Power-5 level ability, and fell behind in the 1st half…then roared 35-17 behind a superb passing day from Tyler Huntley and a sparkling 2nd-half from the secondary.
Utah is blocking better than USC, and tackling better on-average than the Trojans. Those kinds of fundamental advantages are probably good for more than the (4.5) points the Utes are favored by in Sin City. But I’m as interested in the Over (53.5) as the ATS wager on the visiting Utes. USC will enjoy a boost to its own pass rush and friendly home-field support for its own OL, and Slovis has more raw talent than any QB on the Utes roster. The element of chaos and an angry USC squad looking for redemption could lead to big plays from all 6 units on the gridiron.
I’m not convinced that the offenses of both teams will combine for 55+ points, but add short-field turnovers and razzle-dazzle on special teams, and you’ve got a 60% winner on the Over.
Alabama vs Southern Miss
The Over/Under total for Alabama’s latest thrash-for-cash home game has climbed to (61.5) – this isn’t the NFL after all – and this time the betting public has it exactly right.
It’s not just the fact that ‘Bama and Southern Miss have been scoring a lot of points, but that Alabama can be like a sleeping giant against overwhelmed opponents that the team knows it can beat. Visiting Group-of-5 teams can try to control the clock or try to score quickly, poke at Godzilla and suffer in the 2nd half. Southern Miss has no choice but to poke the monster, because the Eagles’ passing game is better than the running game at this point.
Abraham will put a few FG drives together with short throws, and the result will be that Saban and Tagovailoa decide to go bombs-away and get way out ahead as fast as possible.
Take the Over for a winner on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
Ohio State vs Miami (OH)
Any team that can beat Cincinnati by 42 points can beat Miami of Ohio by 6 touchdowns or more. OSU quarterback Justin Fields is taking mild criticism from the Columbus media for not putting up Dwayne Haskins-like numbers over the 1st few games, but that’s ridiculous. Fields has the skill set – stats are largely due to circumstances.
But I am interested in the Over (58) more than the Buckeyes ATS. If Miami happens to pierce a sleepy Ohio State defense early-on, it could turn into a high-scoring slaughter. On the other hand, Day will replace his entire defense 3 times over if Ohio State is ahead by 40+ at halftime, the opening for a decent Miami (OH) offense to score in mop-up minutes.
3 straight Over picks? Why not? It’s not like college teams don’t score bunches of points in 2019.
Wager the Buckeyes ATS or the high side of (58) for Columbus on Saturday.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.