Week-by-week handicapping of college football can be like driving down a dusty Nevada road, maybe during Magic Air or some other visually-deceptive time of day.
Is that a thunderstorm brewing way up yonder? Nope…just a far-off mountain range. Whoa, look at that gorgeous watering hole up ahead. Erm, no…it’s just a mirage.
Kansas State might be the internet tout’s mirage headed into the Sunflower Showdown at KU this Saturday. KSU’s new coach has waltzed onto campus and led the Wildcats to a nice record at the 3/5ths pole following an epic stint leading hand-picked FCS athletes at North Dakota State. But K-State’s schedule has been quite friendly.
That’s not an approaching thunderstorm or even mountains you’re seeing with a Kansas Jayhawk logo on them. Not yet, anyway. It’s just a set of solid foothills Les Miles is patiently building in Lawrence.
KU appeared to be in perpetual-rebuilding mode once again upon starting the season with episodes against FCS and mid-major schools. Since early September, though, the Jayhawks have posted an impressive series of outcomes against Big-12 rivals – including a heart-stopper vs Texas and a recent defeat of Texas Tech – and may actually be the more-solid of 2 commodities at the showdown on Saturday.
It also helps Kansas to be hosting the state-championship game, of course. But KSU remains a touchdown favorite at Kivisto Field.
Kansas vs Kansas State isn’t the only potentially-illusory betting line of Week 10 in the FBS. Let’s go through a few of Saturday’s match-ups in which bookmakers (or high-rollers, or both) appear to have made some bad assumptions.
KSU Wildcats at Kansas Jayhawks
Obviously, Kansas State’s stock has been boosted by the 1 profoundly unfriendly date on the October schedule – a recent trip to Norman, Oklahoma which the Wildcats made the best of by besting the proud Sooners 48-41.
KSU head coach Chris Klieman did an excellent job of turning OU’s weakness – a better-than-average but still 2nd-tier defense – into a game-control weapon. Rather than try to score quick points and “keep up” with Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma, the Wildcats got the running game cranked-up and patiently controlled the rock. By the time the hosts quit sleep-walking in the 2nd half it was too late to respond adequately.
OU was never as complete a team as anyone currently in the Top 5, and I’m concerned that a lot of ‘cappers aren’t putting the K-State at Oklahoma result in perspective. Upsets like this make national banner headlines, but is it any more significant as an angle than “KSU and KU have each taken a Big-12 leader down to the wire?”
If Kansas had managed to beat Texas with just 1 extra lucky bounce, the Sunflower Showdown would have a different point spread.
It bears mentioning that K-State’s other wins have come vs Nicholls State, Bowling Green, Mississippi State, and TCU, making the Wildcats’ 5-2 record look a little thin.
Klieman’s ‘Cats already remind me of Bill Snyder’s teams, because the program is still capable of stout defense but doesn’t always play that way, and is capable of scoring points only when you stop expecting it. Oklahoma lost because too much of its production came from Jalen Hurts while K-State got James Gilbert cranked-up in the ground game and tossed it around to nearly 10 receivers.
Kansas State can still put-together quality wins and out-play bookmakers’ expectations. Yet there is nothing in the team’s schedule and outcomes through 7 games to offer any concrete evidence of consistency.
Kansas has not played well against common-opponents headed into Sunflower Saturday, but styles make fights, and Les Miles has spent much of the last 10 years game-planning against offenses similar to that of QB Skylar Thompson and Kansas State.
I’m seeing this scrum as a toss-up…and in a toss-up scenario a moneyline underdog is always the bet.
Pick: Kansas (+195)
Ole Miss Rebels at Auburn Tigers
With expert game-manager Bo Nix taking snaps and a top-15 defense, the Auburn Tigers are getting back to their roots and also back to the Top 25 of Division 1. But a bear of a schedule hasn’t allowed for much breathless hype.
Oregon. Tulane. Texas A&M. Florida. LSU. A succession of powerful opponents has threatened to derail Auburn’s momentum several times over. But the Tigers have emerged through the gauntlet at 5-2, and stand as (-18) to beat visiting Ole Miss this Saturday night.
Like a lot of teams at 3-5 (or worse) Mississippi has been exceptional at times against big-shot foes but prone to playing down to the competition when handed a winnable kickoff.
I happen to think Memphis is among a batch of American Athletic Conference programs which do not get their due from the media. However, you can’t imagine there was anything but frustration on the Ole Miss sideline when the Tigers won a late-August Memphis-Ole Miss clash with 2 touchdowns and a safety while the SEC offense spun its wheels.
Ole Miss has tried a bunch of QBs since then, namely Matt Corral and dual-threat freshman John Rhys Plumlee. Plumlee is an interesting recruit, a slender player who hasn’t always gotten it going through the air but ran all over Vanderbilt and Missouri on Read-Option keepers and pocket-scrambles. The teen upstart was injured in the recent 24-17 loss to Texas A&M, but hopes to return this weekend.
I’m not sold that LSU is actually the #1 team in the FBS right now – we’ll find out more about the Baton Rouge “Tigers” as the season wears on. But running back D.J. Williams and the Auburn Tigers proved that they’re back in the SEC’s ledger of elites in Week 9 by nearly knocking-off Louisiana State.
They say there’s no such thing as a “quality loss” and it’s just something Power-5 boosters made up to increase their polling advantage. I submit that a 3-point loss in Tiger Stadium is more impressive than a thousand victories over Southeast LA, the FCS cupcake responsible for 1/3rd of Mississippi’s win total.
Pick: Auburn ATS
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Illinois Fighting Illini
Deceptive 11-on-11 running games allow underdogs lacking in efficient downfield passers to move the sticks and mount some kind of challenge vs a heavy favorite. In the old days of circa 1987, a Purdue or an Illinois would run a meek variety of NFL offense vs Notre Dame, and passes would fall incomplete while runs off-tackle went nowhere for 4 quarters. what was really boring to watch.
Illinois and Rutgers have used run-heavy playbooks trying to keep up with the best of the Big Ten in 2019. But it’s been a far, far more successful run for this Saturday’s host Illini than for the visiting Scarlet Knights, who eked-by Liberty in a shoot-out last weekend for only their 2nd win of the season. Lovie Smith’s surprising 4-4 squad is a (-21) favorite to beat Rutgers in a mid-afternoon scrum in Champaign.
Rutgers played reasonably well in the 44-34 defeat of Liberty. QB Johnny Langan has received high praise for a smart, tenacious performance in which his combined running and passing yards accounted for close to 70% of the Scarlet Knights’ overall yardage production. But there’s no getting around the fact that Rutgers has lost badly in every single game vs Big Ten competition. The team’s lone decent showing against the Power-5 came late in summer in a 2-TD loss to Boston College. Since then the Scarlet Knights have amassed 5 games against Big Ten foes and scored exactly 2 touchdowns the entire time.
The question of whether Illinois is a formidable Power-5 opponent should have been answered in the past couple of weeks. As if to prove that the victory over Wisconsin was no fluke, an Illini defense which had sleep-walked through games against several league rivals visited Purdue and held the Boilermakers to almost zilch in a 24-6 snoozer.
Lovie Smith has to be battling nerves. Here he was on the hot seat for years, now coaching a team which has seized the “ON” button and is a short-order contender in the Big Ten. And voila – here’s a game at home that you’re supposed to win and will be mocked and derided if you don’t. Illinois is having a great rebound, but is still on the precipice of national ignominy. That could make Smith extremely cautious in game-management tactics this Saturday. Illinois is likely to ground-and-pound and spend every moment of play-clock while leading Rutgers, and Smith will punt on 4th-down-and-millimeters.
Pick: Under (48.5)
Northern Illinois at Central Michigan
NIU has been having a foul autumn, the program’s worst August-October stretch since 2016 when the Huskies lost 4 games by 7 points or less and finished 1 win away from bowl-eligibility. Not that MAC schools – even well-respected brands like Northern Illinois – get automatic bowl invitations at 6-6. The pressure is on head coach Thomas Hammock’s team to win immediately.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s hosts of visiting NIU are feeling a different kind of pressure to go bowling…the good kind. Central Michigan is 5-4 and needs just 1 more victory to officially peek into the postseason picture.
CMU is also 4-2 in conference games and not out of the race in the MAC West. But despite Northern Illinois’ recent skid of 5-out-of-6 scrums lost, Las Vegas odds-makers are weighing the Huskies as a slight favorite over the Chippewas when the programs meet in Mount Pleasant this weekend.
But the moneyline is moving in CMU’s direction for when the teams meet this weekend in Chippewa country. I’m not sure that the Huskies have maintained the trademark energy and grit of the program under a new skipper, and apparently a few gamblers agree.
Defense is the best reason to take Central Michigan over NIU though. The Week 8 victory over Bowling Green is typical of CMU’s success this season, as the Falcons patiently tried to run all night but were not allowed a 75+ yard rusher, and BGSU quarterback Grant Loy threw 3 interceptions under duress.
Look for the host defense to help forge a potentially-easy ML win in Mount Pleasant, despite the “reputation juice” Northern Illinois is still hanging-onto in Sin City.
Pick: CMU (-105)
3 Quick-Hitter Saturday Moneyline Picks
NC State Wolfpack at Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake opened as nearly a 1-to-4 favorite in this contest, and like a lot of the gambling public I’m not A-C-C’eeing that at all. I suggest taking NC State’s line-to-win before it shrinks any further than the current (+250).
Army Black Knights at Air Force Falcons
The Air Force Academy is surging while Army suffers unexpected losses vs a soft schedule, but the idea that West Point only has a 1-in-5 shot to win a clone-wars rivalry game in Colorado Springs is ridiculous. The % pick is Army with a small wager on fat (+500) payoff odds.
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Arkansas Razorbacks
Mississippi State will handle the weak Razorbacks and should make an excellent addition to any parlay of lock-down moneyline favorites at (-280).
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.