We are hovering around the midway point of the season, and the schedule can offer a sneaky edge for the astute entertainment hunter.
Take a clear mismatch, like the UCF-East Carolina game. UCF is averaging 46 points and more than 600 yards per game. East Carolina is simply dreadful and it makes a 35-point spread worth weighing. That said, UCF has Navy next week, and who's to say if UCF may spend some extra time getting ready for the that Navy option look.
Here's another one. Before the season, Miami and Georgia Tech were each supposed to be coming off a bye before their meeting this Saturday. But the hurricane-reshuffled Hurricanes schedule means Miami now gets a quick turn against that unique Tech offense after an emotional win over FSU.
As for trends, if the betting world had its version of College GameDay, it would be broadcasting from Buffalo, which hosts Northern Illinois this weekend. Buffalo is the last unbeaten team in the country against the spread. The Bills are 3-3 actually and 6-and-bagel against the spread. Northern Illinois is 3-2 overall but is now 4-1 against the number after beating Kent State 24-3 last week while laying 23. This is Iron Bowl of the betting crowd in 2017.
For the bad beat of the week, let's go to the rain-soaked picked that was Cincinnati-UCF blowout. The over was 53.5, and the teams scored 51 in the first half. Then three more TDs in the third quarter before a deluge forced the rest of the game to be called. So, all Vegas tickets were cancelled, which makes a lot of sense on the spread. Yes, UCF was leading 51-23 and you can never tell whether Cincinnati could have added a TD or two to get within the 15-point spread. But canceling the over/under when there were 74 points scored midway through three makes little sense.
Vegas baby. Vegas.
To the picks, and we offer this knowing that there were a lot of match-ups that are not dazzling but look especially inviting to the astute entertainment hunter, because this is leaving a few games on the cutting-room floor — like crazy ACC games with Duke-FSU, Tech and Miami and in-state games involving Memphis and MTSU with big challenges as favorites.
Alabama minus-30 over Arkansas. OK, here's what we know. Alabama coach Nick Saban was ticked off last week and took shots at the media for being too positive. Yes, you read that right. Nevermind, that Lord Saban did it after an eight-point road win over a Texas A&M team that could end up winning eight or nine games. Lord Saban was angry, and when he talks angry, his team almost always plays angry the following weekend. Yes, 30 points is a ton. A ton. But on the comfort scale, would you take Arkansas plus-30? Me neither. Now know that the best player on Arkansas' offense — quarterback Austin Allen — is a drop-back passer hobbled with a sore shoulder. Release the hounds.
Texas A&M plus-3 over Florida. The Aggies played hard last week against the powerhouse that is Alabama, a spot that a lot of folks have simply folded their tents. Yes, we'll buy the half and take our chances. What evidence do you have that supports a belief that Florida is any good? A 63-yard pass that exploited Butch Jones and the Tennessee staff for doing Butch Jones-type things? Florida is 3-2 with loses to a bad LSU team and a Michigan team that is not as good as we expected. Florida's three wins are flukes over Kentucky and Tennessee that results of terrible defensive coaching decisions and a 14-point home win over Vandy. Read that again. A&M has the better quarterback, the best play-maker on the field in Christian Kirk and signs of improvement.
South Carolina plus-3 over Tennessee. OK, another line that we're stunned is not the other way. Tennessee is in the bottom 10 in rushing yards allowed nationally and that was before indefinitely suspending a starting defensive end. So, despite having the best bye week in the history of bye weeks — which we are certain was filled with leadership reps for everyone — what is the strongest statement to make you believe Tennessee wins this game? Not sure we can come up with one, and in truth, considering all the angst within the program and fan base, this actually may be a one of the rare times that playing at Neyland actually ramps up the pressure on the Vols.
Auburn minus-7 over LSU. This logic over tradition. Auburn has the best defensive front a questionable LSU offensive line has seen to date. That's impossible to overstate here. Did anyone else think that the celebration and reaction to LSU escaping the Swamp screamed of a team unsure how good it is. The only draw back here is that Auburn almost always figures out a way to float a stinker when you least expect it. Maybe this is it, but playing the in afternoon at Death Valley is not as daunting, and playing this LSU team certainly is not as physical as the last eight fruitless trips Auburn has made to Baton Rouge.
Texas plus-8 over Oklahoma. As a head coach, Tom Herman is 6-0 against the spread when his team is an underdog, and going back to his time at THE Ohio State, Herman coached teams are 12-0 against the spread with 11 outright wins as an underdog. This is a monster rivalry, and the Texas offense is a totally different animal with a mobile quarterback. And after giving up 51 points to Maryland in the opener, the Texas defense may be the most talented in the Big 12. Yes, that's like saying the go-to dish from a really bad cook, but you get the idea.
N.C. State minus-11 over Pittsburgh. The Wolfpack defensive front is filled with NFL dudes. They are No. 8 against the run nationally and top 20 in sacks. Pittsburgh has offensive line issues; it is 107th in rushing and averaging less than 3.4 yards per carry as well as tied for 110th nationally by allowing three sacks per game. Plus, the Panthers are about to play its seventh straight in seven weeks; N.C. State gets a little extra time to heal after an impressive Thursday night win over Louisville. This is a nooner that will be in front of 12,000 at Heinz
Field in Pittsburgh.
Last week: 3-3 against the spread (50 percent)
This season: 19-13 against the spread (59.4 percent)
SEC items of interest
Man, there may not be a hallmark game this week, but considering that there are three top-10 and the divide after 1-3 between 4-14 is huge.
Sure, the names on the plates — LSU-Auburn, Florida-Texas A&M to name but two — may have the familiar cache that SEC October Saturdays can bring. But the explosion level — the Vegas totals for the Tigers tussle is 44.5 and for the Aggies-Gators is 51.5 — is tempered at best. (And yes, in a week that featured a lot of potential picks, we looked long and hard at the under in each of these games.)
Still, a lack of high-profile match-ups does not mean there's a lack of meaningful match-ups. Let's explore.
First down. Butch's last stand. Tennessee welcomes South Carolina for a game that can't be overstated for UT head coach Butch Jones. There will be empty seats. Butch pulled the quarterback change card from his deck of tricks and will turn to Jarrett Guarantano, who make his first start Saturday. USC has had time to adjust to losing dynamic playmaker Deebo Samuel and will lean heavily on sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley, who is the coolest teenager since Ferris Bueller. Man, as big as this game is, Guarantano's first series will be so huge. For him. for the crowd. For the momentum. For Butch.
Second down. Elite-level beat downs. Alabama and Georgia are hosting divisional foes this week and have the largest point spreads of any conference match-up among the FBS. Each is laying 30 points. Thirty. (The only line bigger this week in Central Florida dropping five TDs against East Carolina.) With defenses ranked in the top five in the country, Alabama and Georgia are steam-rolling all comers right now, and its not like a lot is expected from Arkansas and Missouri respectively. In truth, the most interesting parts of these Saturday affairs may be the postgame pressers for Lord Saban and his apprentice Capt. Kirby Smart. Here's betting at least one of the gets cross with the media in the bowels of the stadium sometime before church comes Sunday.
Third down. Crazy lines. Yes, we spent a lot of words going over our picks this week, but there are a lot of numbers in SEC games that made us scratch our heads. We discussed the one-sided nature of the Tide and Bulldogs, but how is Florida favored over A&M? How is Tennessee laying a field goal to South Carolina? How in the world is Ole Miss laying points to Vandy? Maybe the betting world thinks last-week's vote to officially change the sideline mascot to the Landsharks. Hey, we're cool with that. (Yes, they still call themselves the Rebels, but a school vote changed the Rebel Blackbear to a Landshark as their new sideline mascot. If it seems confusing, well, ask one of your Auburn friends, we know how to explain multiple mascot personality disorder.) The Landshark still does not have a name — here's betting Hugh or Mr. Freeze will not be in the running — and will make his debut in 2018.
Fourth down. Tigers on Tigers. This has been a great showdown filled with craziness over the last two decades. Now add in the fact that Les Miles will be honored during this game as LSU plays the last team he coached against after last-year's crazy finish at Auburn. Here are two keys — and yes, the large number of SEC plays this week calls for a little overlap in the picks and items of interest — for Auburn to stay in the hunt to make it a November to remember in Lee County: First, make Danny Etling beat you. Second
Well, that took a turn.
First, let's start with Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals ace was reportedly not going to pitch in Game 4. The news circled that he had allergies.
The backlash was fierce. In fact, the only thing more resonating was Strasburg's response to it. Dude grabbed the ball, took some Sudafed and choked out the Cubs in Game 4 in Wrigley.
He was the definition of an ace. Seven innings 12 Ks, no runs, and to put it bluntly, his performance was sick, in that fancy lingo way that actually is a compliment.
Now, to the AL, where the Yankees toppled what had been baseball's best team for the last two months in part because of a legend and the dude who replaced a legend.
C.C. Sabathia, the 37-year-old war horse, was great. He pitched four no-hit innings before leaving after the Indians connected on four consecutive singles and scored twice in the fifth. But for these Yankees, anything close to a five-inning start is viewed as quality because of the excellence of that Yankees bullpen. Side question: C.C. Sabathia, Hall of Famer? Discuss.
As for the legend's replacement, DiDi Gregorius, the Yankees shortstop who took over for the Captain, crunched two homers and knocked in three and knocked out Corey Kluber, the Indians ace who likely will win the AL CY Young.
Great night of baseball, unless you are a Cleveland fan, and it sets up a Game 5 tonight between Cubs and Nationals.
Side question, II: When did we get to the place that every pitcher on every team throws every pitch between 95 and 100 mph? Buckets, the Indians brought some dude in who looked like was part Kenny Powers and part that guy who wears '69' on your slo-pitch softball team because, you know, and that cat was throwing a 97-mph cutter with movement. Man, that's tough to handle.
This and That
— Man, that whole Alex Morgan arrest at Disney thing is not getting any prettier. In fact just the opposite. Here's police footage in which Morgan, a star on the U.S. women's national soccer team, brings race into the discussion. And one of the women in the room unloads the "Man, I'm glad I'm white" zinger. Ouch-standing. https://www.yahoo.com/sports/alex-morgan-disney-incident-cant-imagine-black-people-go-195304014.html Not exactly the best week-to-10 days for U.S. soccer.
— Shots fired. Newest Celtic Kyrie Irving said Wednesday that he's happy to be "in a real, live sports city" now that he's Boston. That's definitely a shot toward Cleveland. But here's knowing that Mr. Irving better deliver sooner rather than later, because that "real, live sports city" can turn on athletes in a heart beat.
— On a crazy fun baseball day, the Boston Red Sox fired manager Tom Farrell. So there's that.
— Monster NFL game tonight. Eagles-Panthers, a match-up of 4-1 teams that look to be among the best clubs in the NFC. We're going Panthers for two reasons: First they are at home. Second, Eagles left tackle Lane Johnson is unlikely to play because of the concussion protocol. So we'll lay three and ride with Cam Newton.
Hey, mailbag folks. Mailbag.
And yes, we've got a couple of hate mails, so we're good.
As for today, Oct. 12, man that 10-12 combination makes us thinks quarterbacks you know.
Hey did you know that "Three Blind Mice" was published on this day in London in 1609.
In 1999, the world's population hit six billion on this day.
Pavarotti was born on this day in 1935, Hugh Jackman is 49 today and Marion Jones is 42.
Robert E Lee died on this day in 1870; Wilt Chamberlain died on this day in 1999.
Also, John Denver died on this day in 1997.
Rushmore of famous people that have a city in their name.