I’ve always been partial to handicapping wide point spreads, which are more likely to arise in college football than for the NFL…assuming the Miami Dolphins aren’t involved.
The reason is simple – a big spread simplifies the handicapping.
Picking a (-4) line ATS involves an awful lot of potential scenarios that could take place in the 4th quarter. Is the underdog coach conservative enough to try a field goal when losing by a touchdown? How will the favorites proceed if they can put the game to bed with a TD or take a slender lead with a chip shot?
Meanwhile, choosing a side of the market on a big, fat, wide Las Vegas spread reduces things to an easy either-or proposition. If a 5 or 6-score underdog plays reasonably well, and the 2nd half scoreboard flashes any kind of a tight margin, then the cupcake is going to cover ATS. If the speedy favorites manage to romp from the start? Well, as Ohio State has shown over the past couple of weeks, a 40-point lead can be built and expanded-on in only a couple of quarters.
FBS conference games tend to be a little closer even when it’s a David vs Goliath match-up for the same reason that Sin City handicappers are loathe to put double-digit spreads on Sunday kickoffs. The NFL can be viewed as a 32-team “conference” in which all teams have similar backgrounds and about the same level of athleticism. In-league NCAA football tends to pair schools which are comparable on the gridiron even if the TV and mainstream magazine hype would lead you to think otherwise.
Yet look around the betting board for Week 5, and there are a ton of eye-popping spreads ‘capped for conference rivals. Michigan (-28) is expected to blow out fellow Big Ten representative Rutgers despite Jim Harbaugh’s seat getting warm after a terrible loss to Wisconsin. Speaking of the Badgers, Paul Chryst’s team is a (-25) favorite over Northwestern despite the Wildcats being only a few games removed from a Big Ten Championship battle against the Buckeyes. The Clemson Tigers are a (-27) point favorite over North Carolina…actually a heartening number for the Tar Heels considering how bad UNC looked prior to Mack Brown’s arrival in Chapel Hill.
Then there are match-ups that opened with gigantic spreads which have been pushed even wider with a rush of ATS betting action on the favorite.
Alabama was prompting wagers for a 5-touchdown cover vs Ole Miss when action opened. But the Crimson Tide are now a whopping (-38.5) point favorite as gamblers don’t see a group which has lost to Memphis and California causing any issues for Nick Saban’s powerhouse.
I’m not in love with either side of that market. Alabama blow-outs always get into garbage time in the 3rd or early 4th quarter, causing consternation for point-spread bettors as Tide coaches substitute players and dial-down the offense.
However, there might be a better gambling opportunity in Norman this Saturday, as the Oklahoma Sooners host Texas Tech with Jalen Hurts prepared to run wild and embarrass the Red Raiders.
Or at least that’s what a majority of speculators are expecting.
Oklahoma Sooners vs Texas Tech Red Raiders
Smart-aleck pundits like to call option offenses “High School” systems, but the Air Raid of Texas Tech is a prep-football playbook if there ever was one. With 4 and 5 wide receivers taking the field for every play, any athletically-inferior defense will simply get bowled over and scored upon again and again.
In fact, that’s probably the biggest reason – apart from QB and WR recruiting – that the Red Raiders and other FBS teams utilize such a wide-open passing style. It’s too hard for any cupcake to keep up for 60 full minutes, and TTU is able to win almost every game it is supposed to win. Texas Tech has not lost to an FCS or Group-of-5 opponent in the regular season since falling 29-28 at Houston way back in 2009.
But when an Air Raid team runs into elite defenders, the other shoe drops, and so do a lot of incomplete passes. The Masked Rider smiled as TTU began 2019 in trademark fashion by smoking Montana State and UTEP with a combined score of 83-17, but the season’s 3rd contest was another story altogether as the fair-to-middling Arizona Wildcats out-lasted the Red Raiders 28-14 in Tucson.
QB Alan Bowman threw 2 picks and suffered a shoulder injury that will sideline him against the Sooners and other foes.
Bookmakers were aware on Monday that veteran Red Raider backups Jackson Tyner and Jett Duffey would be relied-upon going forward. Gamblers looked at a wide point spread and picked the Sooners to cover anyway, driving Oklahoma’s number to (-27.5) even as an inflated Las Vegas total shrinks to a “measly” (70.5) points.
The question isn’t whether Oklahoma will score points. Arizona has a paltry attack compared to the high-flying Sooners, who scored 34 points in the 1st half vs UCLA last weekend as Hurts was impeccable by ground and by air. Hurts notched 4 combined TDs in limited action and averaged 10+ yards per carry.
But could the contest turn into a shoot-out in which the Red Raiders cover the number with relentless passing and catching, even in garbage time?
I’m of 2 minds about it. Oklahoma’s pass rush was fearsome against Chip Kelly’s high-tempo attack in Week 4, but did give up 31 points to the more-established Houston Cougars in the season opener. The Sooners make no bones about fielding a defense that will give up some yards and points in almost every situation. Lincoln Riley just wants the unit to force field-goal attempts and turnovers while his magnificent offense races out to a massive tally.
It’s more likely that the expected early lead will be protected well on Saturday afternoon at OU. The noisy host crowd will continue to bolster a pass rush that dominated in last week’s contest, and neither QB Texas Tech can put on the field is a match for Houston signal-caller D’Eriq King in form or experience. TTU’s defense intercepted Khalil Tate while holding Arizona to under 500 yards in a losing cause…but Tate is overrated and so are the Wildcats.
Hurts might take a hurtin’ in the Red River Showdown vs Texas, but it’ll be all gravy and fried Coca-Cola against the finesse-oriented Red Raiders in Week 5.
Take Oklahoma-to-cover unless the spread reaches more than (-28) points. Even then the Sooners are a decent bet ATS if the sportsbook’s payoff odds are (Even) or otherwise tasty.
Here’s a few other picks on Friday and Saturday college football action.
Air Force Falcons vs San Jose State Spartans
It would appear that Las Vegas sees the San Jose State Spartans’ upset win over Arkansas as a total fluke.
The odds on SJSU upsetting Air Force on Friday night are about the same as they would be if the team hadn’t surprised bookmakers on the previous weekend – the 2-1 Falcons are an (-18) point favorite in Colorado Springs.
But even though Arkansas is anything but a top-tier SEC team, any offensive line that can push the Razorbacks around – San Jose State averaged 5 yards per carry and QB Josh Love passed for over 400 yards in the 31-24 win – can hold its own against lighter academy lines.
I’ve been burned on the point spread by Air Force before, especially when the team is expected to win by several TDs. Trey Calhoun’s squad is almost always competitive and even gave the Boise Blue what-for last weekend, but the program doesn’t notch many blow-outs against solid conference foes.
If San Jose State was having a typical dismal season, you could surmise that the Falcons’ overall execution and precise style would be enough to cover a 3-score spread as the visitors make mistakes. But last week’s triumph will give the Spartans confidence to fight for all 4 quarters and help to produce a decent ballgame that should almost certainly finish in a 2-touchdown-or-less margin of victory…if Air Force manages to win the game at all.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs Virginia Cavaliers
UVA is nothing to sniff at this season – the Cavaliers are 4-0 and have notched impressive conference wins over Pitt and Florida State while holding serve against Old Dominion and William & Mary. (In the latter case, it’s hard for a mixed-gender team of just 2 people to compete against a whole program, except when W&M outnumbers poor James Madison 2-to-1.)
But Notre Dame’s (-12.5) Vegas line reflects that old John Madden quote, “it’s never as good as you think it is when you win, and it’s never as bad as you think it is when you lose.” The Fighting Irish came within 1 or 2 big plays of knocking-off Georgia last Saturday, and if UND had gotten a few more breaks and prevailed in the titanic match-up, the point spread would be more like (-15) against Virginia.
The quantity of Irish luck (or lack thereof) vs UGA has little to do with the likely outcome against the Cavaliers unless Notre Dame suffers an emotional letdown following the close-shave loss. I don’t think Brian Kelly will let that happen considering all of the good things that could still lie ahead for the program in 2019-20.
Besides, the game will be played in fabled South Bend where Rudy was offsides inspired a generation and where the sign reads Play Like a Likely New Year’s Six Bid Champion Today.
I like Notre Dame to cover on Saturday, and I’m also interested in taking advantage of line-movement on the O/U which has shrunk to (48.5) from an opening number above 50 points. That’s too low considering the talent on the field and the lesser defense Ian Book will be facing compared to last week.
Central Florida Knights vs Connecticut Huskies
This fat point spread of (-43.5) on the UCF Knights is moving in the wrong direction, but not because we’re devaluing the Knights following a rare loss in Week 4.
Rather, Josh Heupel will choose to coach a cautious and steady game to make absolutely sure there’s no more nasty surprises in the month of September.
That puts value on Huskies-to-cover as well as the Under (65) in Orlando on Saturday night.
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.