You know how bowling is less popular (on TV and league-wise) than it used to be? That’s partially because there’s only so much you can do to make a 3 lb., 6 oz bowling pin harder to knock down. Gear has progressed from hard rubber to advanced alchemy, and the 5-pin is defenseless against any strike ball thrown by a professional.
The result is that pro bowlers strike, again and again. Strings of strikes are now commonplace, making TV bowling somewhat like televised horseshoe pitching or pocket 9-ball. “Does anything happen to make it harder?” the viewer thinks. “When will somebody miss?”
Imagine gambling on a PBA bowler to win when the lanes are easy. He’ll need a perfect 300 to do it. The bettor savages her nails awaiting 12 do-or-die shots in a row.
That’s kind of what win-total gambling on Clemson or Alabama feels like in 2019.
For the ACC and SEC powerhouses of college football, out-of-conference games are almost always expected wins. When a bookmaker handicaps the Crimson Tide to finish a 12-game season with “Over or Under (11.5) Wins” that .5 wiggle-room at the top is not in reference to an OOC contest unless the Tide happens to be traveling to Death Valley.
I laugh whenever people say Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, or Oklahoma play easy out-of-conference schedules. Everybody has to play somebody, it won’t always be a Top-25 team every week, and more to the point, those programs make their OOC opponents look bad. Pundits will idiotically count 50-point wins against the Sooners or the Tide by taking the outcome as proof of how bad the opponent must have been.
But there’s no doubt about it – CFP futures are a more pleasant gambling market than “Over (11.5)” win-total bets on the dynasties of college pigskin.
For the Pac-12, the opposite may be true. The proud league has fallen from Olympus, slowly but surely, over the past few seasons. As a Power-5 conference the Pac-12’s representatives are supposed to be natural favorites in OOC games and bowl games. More and more, its teams are being devalued when playing against the East.
No Pac-12 team has won a CFP game since Oregon beat a blundering Florida State team in January 2015. The league is 0-1 in the playoff since then.
The league was 3-4 in bowl games last season, a significant number in that more than 7 teams from a P5 conference ought to make the postseason. In 2017-18 the Pac-12 posted an historically-bad 1-8 record in bowl competition. On an optimistic note, Pacific teams went 6-7 against the rest of the Power-5, 9-5 against Group-of-5 conferences, and a perfect 9-0 against the FCS in 2018.
But I stand firm that win-total picks – specifically those “Over” bets that inspire a season’s worth of rah-rah – are more fun when there’s some room for losses in there.
The lower a team’s Vegas win-total line, the more significance each potential win takes on, whether you’ve taken the Over or the Under.
There’s no point to putting national-title cash on a Pac-12 school at the moment. Sure, there are a few “legacy” futures like Washington at 40-to-1. USC is an 100-to-1 wager to win the next College Football Playoff. But if the Huskies or Trojans reach the CFP, it will be as a hexed #4 seed. Meanwhile Pac-12 football’s struggle to gain ground against other conferences means there will be a lot of close games in September.
Better for bettors to make those early scrums just as meaningful as any. I’m looking at west coast pigskin on the win-total lines for 2019.
Washington Huskies (Vegas Win-Total Markets at O/U (9.5))
When Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies played Auburn on September 1st of last season, the Tigers were still considered among the class of the SEC. When the Huskies lost the neutral-site game by a handful of points, nobody stopped to think that maybe it was the class of the Pac-12 losing to a mere also-ran from the Southeastern league.
But what happened to Auburn after that? Having lost their identity as a powerful Wing-T running team, the Tigers chucked-and-winced and floundered for most of the season. As recent Pac-12 champs and a New Year’s Six team in 2017-18, the Huskies should have been able to beat a troubled P5 opponent by a handful of touchdowns.
UW would go on to beat Utah in a grudging defensive battle for the Pac-12 title before losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl – an Ohio State team with off-field distractions and on-field issues of its own.
Georgia transfer Jacob Eason will try to keep things on the right track behind center following the departure of Jake Browning this spring. In his last significant FBS playing time, Eason threw 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions for the Dawgs. The new QB will have the luxury of playing behind a top-notch OL led by All-Conference center Nick Harris.
Myles Gaskin has left campus, and Aaron Fuller leads what could be a lunch-pail receiving unit. The defense has lost a plurality of crucial cogs.
Petersen could not have picked-out a more sneaky-difficult OOC schedule in late summer, asking the Huskies to take on Eastern Washington and Hawaii with a road trip to Berkeley sandwiched in-between.
Utah Utes (O/U (9))
Kyle Whittingham’s Utah Utes have earned respect, accolades, and even the fear of Pac-12 foes during his tenure. All that is still missing is a league title.
Senior QB Tyler Huntley is slated to return after having his 2018-19 season cut short with a broken collarbone. 5’10” senior RB Zack Moss will once again power the offense after consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons. 5’8” junior receiver Britain Covey caught 60 catches for 637 yards but must return from a severe knee injury suffered in November’s title game.
Utah’s #5 ranked rush defense received a huge boost with the return of senior DL-men Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae. Anae stifled offenses with 14 TFL and 7.5 sacks last season.
The Utes will have to replace veteran punter Mitch Wishnowsky and PK Matt Gay, but Covey returns as a deadly weapon in the return game.
Utah’s schedule avoids Stanford and Washington State, but NIU will make a tough OOC foe on 9/7.
Oh, and I’m still waiting patiently for a Utah coach to introduce a pair of Varsity kids at a press conference as, “these 2 Utes.”
Oregon Ducks (O/U (8.5))
ESPN said that the Oregon Ducks would murder Boise State in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos annihilated them.
The Worldwide Bleater in Sports then turned its daytime CFB previews into the Justin Herbert Hour on many occasions in the offseason to follow.
Mario Cristobal’s team was supposed to beat Stanford in ‘18 but blew a big lead instead, was supposed to take over the Pac-12 in midseason but suffered a 2-game slide. The offense produced almost nothing in a bizarre 7-6 win over Michigan State in something called the 2018 RedBox Bowl.
Now, we’re supposed to buy into the Ducks as top contenders for the conference crown?
I’m impressed by the talent on offense and a few defenders. C.J. Verdell is a quick RB who looks to build off an impressive 1000+ yard freshman campaign behind a veteran offensive line. Penn State graduate transfer receiver Juwan Johnson had a catch average of 14.1 yards and could revitalize a receiving corps that was inconsistent in 2018.
Senior linebacker Troy Dye has dominated back-to-back 100+ tackle seasons. The Ducks also boast an experienced defensive backfield led by 5’11” junior Thomas Graham Jr.
But it’s a question of whether a dozen ESPN and Yahoo Sports pundits, speaking for infinite years about how great Justin Herbert supposedly is, will eventually produce The Bible or Moby Dick or at least a novella where a scatterbrained and streaky QB steers Oregon to a Pac-12 championship while an out-of-his-depth head coach mouths platitudes to the media. It sounds like monkey business to me.
Oregon’s (8.5) win-total line is interesting, but the high side is a “99 cents” deception. Over bettors need the Ducks to go at least 9-3, not 8.5 and 3.5. Games against Auburn, Washington, Stanford and USC will be tough enough to go 2-2 or 1-3 in notwithstanding the other Pac-12 contests Oregon could lose.
Washington State Cougars (O/U (8.5))
Mike Leach enters his 8th season with the Cougars having posted his 1st normal cholesterol count, I mean, 1st double-digit winning record in Pullman.
Gardner Minshew demoralized the Pac-12 in 2018 while throwing for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns, but it was his lone season with the team.
The battle to replace Minshew will come down to Eastern Washington transfer Gage Gubrud, redshirt senior Anthony Gordon, and redshirt senior Trey Tinsley. Top targets Davontavean Martin and Dezmon Patmon should continue to flourish in Leach’s high-octane system. Martin, a 6’3” junior, caught 69 passes for 8 touchdowns in ‘18.
A solid linebacking corps returns, including the experienced duo of Jahad Woods and Dillon Sherman. Travell Harris is one of the league’s most dangerous returners and will break the Cougar school record with just 1 more TD.
WSU and Houston are scheduled to combine for about 300 points in Week 3, but otherwise Washington State’s OOC slate is easy.
Arizona State Sun Devils (O/U (7.5))
Cliché-machine Herm Edwards enters his 2nd season in the collegiate ranks after debuting at Arizona State with a 7-6 mark. He’s got the 5th-ranked recruiting class in the Pac-12 in 2019.
Manny Wilkins has departed and the resulting battle for starting QB will come down to redshirt junior Dillon Sterling-Cole against freshman Jayden Daniels.
Junior tailback Eno Benjamin will power the offense again, and senior WR Kyle Williams has over 100 catches in the last 2 seasons. There are also a few studs in the front-7, including burly LB Merlin Robertson and short-but-effective Darien Butler.
ASU avoids Washington in the regular season and faces an easy OOC schedule outside of a trip to Michigan State. Still, Edwards’ hype-vs-results ratio has always been too heavy in the 1st column and too light in the 2nd for my taste.
Arizona Wildcats (O/U (7))
Kevin Sumlin returns to coach Arizona (+2000) again after a lackluster 5-7 debut season with the Wildcats.
QB Kahlil “I Didn’t Come Here to Run Tripple Opshun” Tate and his made-to-order playbook produced a lot of highlights and few clutch, decisive moments in the 2nd half.
RB J.J. Taylor has been sensational for Arizona, producing 1,434 yards last season. There will be considerable pressure on Taylor to produce due to an inexperienced wideout group, however.
The offensive line is a standard, limited type of outfit, and there isn’t enough depth on defense to consider Sumlin’s team a solid wager to win 8+ games.
Stanford Cardinal (O/U (6.5))
Stanford fans hope that the storied program has not reached a point of diminishing returns under David Shaw after nearly a decade of stability in the HC chair.
K.J. Costello returns to lead a dangerous passing attack that helped the Cardinal overcome incredible odds in the 4th quarter against Oregon last season.
With the departure of Bryce Love, the Cardinal could shift even more focus to the passing game. 6’2” junior wide receiver Osiris St. Brown looks to have a breakout year after producing a 25.5 yard average last season. 6’7” junior tight end Colby Parkinson is a TD machine.
Shaw must be cautious with play selection though. Stanford’s offensive line won’t look like its usual impressive unit if asked to block uphill for 4 quarters at a time.
Veteran standouts like LB Jordan Fox and CB Paulson Adebo remain leading the defense, and senior PK Jet Toner (who somehow doesn’t have a lifetime sponsorship from Kinkos) is among the conference’s most accurate kickers, nailing 14 of 15 attempts last season.
The OOC schedule is daunting and includes trips to Orlando and South Bend. Still, I think the Cardinal will reach 7+ wins with Costello throwing to world-class WRs.
USC Trojans (O/U (6.5))
Southern Cal skipper Clay Helton took a great big fat chance in 2018-19. He knew that his new QB J.T. Daniels might have more pure passing talent than anyone in the FBS, but that the kid was green, and that the team would suffer growing pains to the Nth degree with Daniels in place for a year of important seasoning.
At times, the results were farcical. Now it’s Daniels’ turn to pay it forward by playing like a college kid, not a High School player, this autumn.
An improving OL and talented crop of receivers including sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown and 6’4” senior Michael Pittman Jr. could provide a security blanket for Daniels in Year 2 of the experiment. On defenses the front-7 will be mean and imposing, with sophomore Marlon Tuipulotu and senior Christian Rector providing the versatility to stuff the run and also rush the QB around the edge.
USC’s out-of-conference schedule is extremely unfriendly with early matches against Fresno State and BYU, making the Trojans either a worthwhile “floating” futures pick in late September or a squad likely to be demoralized by October…take your pick.
California Golden Bears (O/U (6))
Don’t sleep on Cal in 2019. The Golden Bears have a QB conundrum of their own to deal with given the transfer of Devon Modster from UCLA, but the defense will be the centerpiece of the team, and senior LB Evan Weaver will be a centerpiece of the unit.
The team has been improving under HC Justin Wilcox and there’s no reason to expect a slide backward this season. Yes, the squad is inexperienced at WR, but Chase Garbers or Modster (or both) will make patient stewards of the offense.
Cal opens against UC Davis, meaning that the Bears must only go 5-6 the rest of the way to push the Vegas win-total market.
UCLA Bruins (O/U (5.5))
Chip Kelly’s tenure in the City of Angels got off to an exceptionally humble start with a 3-9 record. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson struggled during an injury riddled freshman campaign.
There are a few bright spots. The OL blocked reasonably well in 2018 games in which the unit was not worn down by its own frenetic pace. 5’11” redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley was a dynamic threat in the backfield accounting for 1,243 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. 5’10” junior defensive back Darnay Holmes leads a talented secondary.
But a 2019 OOC schedule that includes Cincinnati, San Diego State and Oklahoma calls the team’s win-total line into question.
Colorado Buffaloes (O/U (4.5))
New head coach Mel Tucker will try to help the Buffs rebuild after consecutive losing seasons. Tucker inherits a senior QB in Steven Montez, who has been brilliant at times but must overcome inconsistency.
6’2” junior receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. is one of the nation’s most dangerous deep threats, making 86 catches for 1,011 yards and 6 touchdowns in a breakout sophomore season.
The Buffs should be able to go at least 2-1 against an opening OOC schedule that includes Colorado State, Nebraska, and Air Force.
Oregon State Beavers (O/U (2.5))
Senior passer Jake Luton has overcome numerous injuries and will compete with Nebraska transfer Tristan Gebbia for the starting nod at Oregon State. Neither QB is expected to find a sterling supporting cast around him on a team that posted only 2 wins in 2018.
At least there will be someone to hand off to, and some big bodies in front of him. 5’10” sophomore running back Jermar Jefferson had a remarkable freshman season, notching 1,380 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. If only the pass blocking and route running could have given the offense a chance to hurt defenses downfield.
There is nowhere to go but up for a Beaver defense that finished 2nd-to-last in the FBS last season, allowing an average of 45.7 points.
3+ wins isn’t a whole lot to ask for. But the OSU defense couldn’t be opening against a tougher pair of attacks, taking on Oklahoma State and Hawaii in Weeks 1 and 2. Giving up less than 100 combined points in 8 quarters would be a moral victory.
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.