Greeson: When spreads look too good, they normally are

Greeson: When spreads look too good, they normally are

September 29th, 2017 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Maryland sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager will make just the second start of his college career when the Terrapins play at Minnesota on Saturday.

Photo by Nati Harnik

Gang, we've developed a few hard and fast entertainment guidelines through the years.

Buy the half on games with point spreads of 3 and 7. As Coach Finstock from "Teen Wolf" told us, never play cards with someone nicknamed after a city. And we all know that lines that look too good to be true generally are.

That's where we are with Tennessee plus-7.5 at home against Georgia. You have to think Tennessee played about as poorly as possible last week and that Georgia played almost spotless football.

So the easy conclusions call for a Georgia runaway. And it may be that, because this Bulldogs defense arrives quickly, with a nasty attitude and normally in large numbers.

Still, the closer we get to kickoff, I believe Georgia is better and will win. But that line screams chicken liver to catfish, and I can't help but look back to that third rule and wonder if this is a one-score game, as this rivalry meeting has been for the past few years.

To the picks.

Southern California minus-3.5 over Washington State. Buy the half to get to the even field goal, but this moment feels too big for the Pirate (Washington State coach Mike Leach) and his bunch. Know this: Washington State has not beaten a ranked team at home since 2006, while Southern Cal has won 13 consecutive games and each of its five trips to Pullman. Yes, the home underdog catching points can be scary — especially on a Friday night — but Washington State's 4-0 start is a facade built on the Oregon States, Montana States and Boise States of the world.

Minnesota minus-12.5 over Maryland. OK, when you think storied Big Ten rivalries, Michigan-Ohio State is easily No. 1, and the Minnesota-Maryland square-off is clearly not in the top 20. Still here's what I know, and I like all of these prospects: I love Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, who built Western Michigan before coming to the Gophers; I love that Minnesota was off last week; I love a team going against a third-string quarterback who's playing on the road. Maryland lost freshman quarterback Kasim Hill last week, so the Terrapins hit the road to a loaded, amped-up Minnesota setting and turn to sophomore Max Bortenschlager to make his second career start. Yes, please.

Washington minus-26 over Oregon State. There has been some groaning about the 4-0 start for the Huskies because they have not really clicked. Is that a cause for pause for an experienced team that made the College Football Playoff last year? Potentially. And yes, Washington is giving almost four touchdowns on the road. But we believe that a) Washington is pretty legit, and more importantly, b) Oregon State is one of the three worst Power Five teams in America. When you check the scroll and it's Washington 45, Oregon State 3 to start the fourth, offer a little silent nod to entertainment hunter.

Oklahoma State minus-8.5 over Texas Tech. This is a monster game for the host Techsters. The Red Raiders are 3-0, but is that a real mark with wins over Eastern Washington, woeful Arizona State and distracted Houston? Oklahoma State had its guts ripped out last week, and here's a bet the Fighting Gundy Mullets come out irked.

Navy minus-7 over Tulsa. Buy the half to be safe, and let's do some math. Navy is in the top 25 nationally in yards per play at 6.9 per snap. Naturally, almost all of them — 192 of the 217 Navy offensive plays — have been runs. Conversely, Tulsa is 129th in yards allowed per play at 8.5 yards per snap. Want more? Tulsa's rushing defense has allowed 1,178 yards on 170 carries and ranks 125th nationally. Clearly, this is not a good fit for Tulsa. (But don't go getting spoiled by all this research, people.)

Last week: 3-3 against the spread (50 percent)

This season: 14-7 against the spread (66.7 percent)

SEC ITEMS OF INTEREST

The central game of the weekend is in Knoxville. Not so much because of the high-profile nature of the matchup as much as the stakes for those involved.

Butch Jones needs a win like a starving man needs a ham sammich. There are desperate folks in orange, and they are uneasy — especially in these parts, where a loss to Georgia means a lot of smack talk from co-workers come Monday.

Georgia has the look of actually being a good SEC East team, something we have not seen in several years.

It's also a chance to start moving away from the negative terminology of "Georgia-ing," which is a less-than-flattering description of the Bulldogs' tendency to drop games they had no business dropping.

Giddy-up.

First down. Can Tennessee deliver for its embattled coach? Forget the clichés and the angst and the fake "fake news" rant from Jones on Monday. With all the swirling bitterness and growing hot seat talk, we believe the Vols' effort from the start will be a very clear statement about the pulse of this team. It also will show whether this bunch has Butch's back. Side note: I dig the Smokey Grey uniforms.

Second down. Is Auburn good or not? Hard to know. I believe Clemson is good, and it provided Auburn's one loss this season. I believe Auburn laid an egg against Mercer. But last week's dismantling of Missouri in front of the last 49 Mizzou fans left is an enigma. Was that Missouri's stickiness or Auburn's effectiveness? We will find out Saturday, when Dan Mullen and his Bulldogs head to the Plains. They need to find some help for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who was beaten up pretty badly last week at Georgia.

Third down. How will Florida coach Jim McElwain continue the Gators' magic carpeted shark ride? Florida could very easily be bagel-and-3 considering it got pantsed by Michigan, hit a 63-yard walk-off touchdown because Butch is Butch and beat Kentucky because the Wildcats thought covering wide receivers was optional. Hey, the Gators' quarterback play in recent years make that belief understandable, but McElwain is now circling the waters with Luke Del Rio. Seems like the best fit. Vanderbilt gave up something close to 12,000 yards and 3,500 points last week to Alabama. But that's as much about Alabama as anything. This feels like the first team to 14 points will win Saturday in the Swamp.

Fourth down. Frustration bowl. Will Muschamp is not on the hot seat. Kevin Sumlin is. But when the classic SEC border war that is South Carolina-Texas A&M happens Saturday, where will the frustration meter register for the loser? Side note: South Carolina's 17-16 win over Louisiana Tech was fun and fortuitous.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6343.

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