The beer went on ice and the coals started getting hot a little earlier this week thanks to a pair of school-night showdowns with serious BCS implications. So crack open a cold one, and let’s dive into this week’s look at our picks against the spread.
It was a rough week for picks last week, so perhaps an early start will keep us from overthinking things. Two out of the three Tailgaters had (barely) winning records, but once again not one of our Upset of the Week picks worked out.
Here’s how each of us fared picking Week 10 games against the spread:
- Matt Strobl: 5-4-1
- Zach Bigalke: 5-4-1
- John Mitchell: 3-6-1
For Week 11 we wanted to choose the best games possible. Thus we couldn’t pass up the high-octane matchups in Waco and Palo Alto. Because of that fact, though, we are using Wednesday lines rather than the usual final lines this week. (You can find odds information here. We are using the first column for this week’s picks, as it sat on Wednesday night at 10:30pm Eastern.) Knowing that there could still be movement in the Saturday games, who do we like this week against Vegas?
Oklahoma Sooners at Baylor Bears (-14)
Bigalke: Sure, they don’t have the historical relevance of the visitors. Sure, they don’t have the recent level of success of Bob Stoops’ team. But what Baylor does have is the better offense and the better defense in this contest. The forlorn little Baptist institution in Waco became a household name thanks to Robert Griffin III, but this team has consistently improved since the former Heisman winner went to the NFL. Even since last season, the Bears can clamp down on other teams’ offenses and facilitate blowouts of opponents rather than enduring shootouts. Oklahoma, on the other hand, is more erratic than recent seasons on both sides of the ball. Just remember what happened the last time the Sooners traveled south into Texas and pick the home team.
Mitchell: It’s interesting to note just how drastically different this spread looks today compared to how it looked during the summer. Oklahoma was a six point favorite over Baylor during the summer, and the spread has swung 20 points as the Bears enter the game as two touchdown favorites over the Sooners. 14 points might seem a bit much in a battle of Top 10 teams, it really isn’t that much when you consider Baylor’s offensive prowess. Baylor can score in bunches, and they lead the country at 63.9 points per game. This game being in Waco, in what could very well be the biggest game in school history, makes me lean toward Baylor. Also, Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk, and company can score in a hurry. If Baylor builds an early lead, with a raucous home crowd behind them, will Oklahoma be able to comeback? I just don’t have that much faith in Blake Bell.
Strobl: On paper this spread makes sense. Baylor, which started the year as a dark horse (at best) in the Big 12 has emerged as a favorite to win the league. The Bears aren’t just winning. They’re mauling opponents with an offensive savagery typically reserved for a given season’s elite teams. Perhaps that’s because we are, in fact, watching an elite team roll its 2013 schedule. Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State are getting the bulk of the attention, but I don’t think anyone in the country wants to play Baylor right now. This line started big and has stayed that way throughout the week; I see no reason to go against it.
Oregon Ducks at Stanford Cardinal (+10)
Bigalke: We all know what happened in Eugene last year. But Marcus Mariota looks like a man possessed, while Stanford continues to be formidable defensively while showing signs of offensive regression. The game is being played in the Bay Area this year, but that should hardly make a difference. This is Oregon’s opportunity to cement the #2 spot above Florida State for good, and a chance for Mark Helfrich to emerge from Chip Kelly’s shadow once the team gets back to Eugene. Remember, the Ducks are a lot like Baylor in many respects, but perhaps the most important is the fact that their defense is underrated because so many people are focusing on the blur.
Mitchell: Stanford is the last team to beat Oregon, and they have been able to give the Ducks trouble in the past with their physical brand of football. Their ground and pound, ball control offense is able to keep Oregon’s high powered offense off of the field. They also were able to hold Oregon to just 14 points in last season’s meeting. The Cardinal defense has trended up in the last couple of weeks, as they held UCLA and Oregon State’s potent offenses to just 22 points in their last two games. But, it’s hard to ignore just how dominant the Ducks have been this season, and I’m not sure Stanford’s offense will be able to keep up with Oregon this time around. The Ducks’ offense grabs the headlines, but they also sport a defense that is ranked 8th in the country in points allowed. Look for Marcus Mariota to continue his Heisman case as the Ducks take down Stanford by a couple touchdowns in Palo Alto.
Strobl: Oregon does this every year. The Ducks chug along, making roadkill of everything in their path until they meet a team with a defense. Last year, Stanford held the Ducks to a pair of touchdowns in a 17-14 upset. In 2011 it was LSU, 40-27. In 2010, Auburn in the title game 22-19. For a team that typically averages well over 40 points per game, these contests were very much out of character and stand as proof that the Ducks’ offense can be stymied by a strong front. All that said, Stanford’s defense last year was better than the current edition. Looking over Oregon’s schedule, it’s hard to find a team that has a stop unit with the chops to slow down this flock of Ducks. I can’t go against them until I have a reason to do so.
Virginia Tech Hokies at Miami Hurricanes (-6.5)
Bigalke: I know Duke Johnson is injured for the season. It doesn’t matter. Yes, the Hurricanes were last seen getting pummeled in the second half of their trip to Tallahassee. It doesn’t matter, because Virginia Tech was too busy losing to take advantage of the fact in the ACC Coastal race. It doesn’t matter, because the Hurricanes still have the better overall pick of talent. It doesn’t matter, because this one is being played in south Florida. And it doesn’t matter, because the Hokies aren’t playing anything close to resembling Beamer Ball this year. When you look at it all, what you really come to is the fact that Virginia Tech in 2013 plain sucks.
Mitchell: Am I crazy for backing the Hokies here? After six consecutive wins that made Virginia Tech look like a legitimate contender in the ACC’s Coastal Division, the Hokies took a couple step backs the last two weeks. Consecutive losses to Duke and Boston College make it hard to trust Virginia Tech, but something seems a bit…. off with this spread. Even after Miami came back down to earth in last week’s blowout loss to Florida State, it’s hard to see why they would be less than a touchdown favorite at home against a team that has struggled so much in recent weeks. Miami’s offense has been sloppy lately, and losing workhorse running back Duke Johnson for the season will make it that much tougher for the ‘Canes to move the ball against a stout Virginia Tech defense. I figure Miami finds a way to win at home, but look for the game to be separated by a field goal or so.
PICK: Virginia Tech
Strobl: Oh Vegas, you are wily. A line that opened at Miami -7 has clicked down to the current -6.5, and that has me on edge. As bad as Virginia Tech has looked lately in consecutive losses to (former?) ACC whipping-boys Duke and Boston College, they were only getting a single touchdown on the road against the ‘Canes. That in and of itself was alarming. But to see the spread drop even further? The loss of tailback Duke Johnson and QB Stephen Morris’ lousy play have Miami reeling. Bear in mind that the ‘Canes only points against Florida State came following two Jameis Winston interceptions. Obviously VT is no Florida State, but I’m comfortable with the notion that the Hokies can keep this close.
PICK: Virginia Tech
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Michigan Wolverines (-7)
Bigalke: Who knows what to expect out of the Big Ten this season?! The Blackshirts aren’t exactly the Spartan defense that locked down Michigan last week. Yet last week’s Hail Mary to beat Northwestern suddenly makes it seem as though the universe is finally smiling on the Pelini family for a change. The Cornhuskers could still ostensibly play for the Big Ten championship if they can win out and beat Michigan State next weekend. And even if they don’t win this week in the Big House, they should still win you some money.
Mitchell: Both of these teams have been overrated over the course of the season, and both have fell back down to earth through humbling losses. Michigan, in particular, was taken behind the woodshed last week in East Lansing. Against the Spartans, Michigan had -48 rushing yards, and had absolutely no answer offensively against Michigan State’s defense. Seven points in their favor feels like too much, but I’m going to go with Vegas. Nebraska’s defense is nowhere close to Michigan State’s, and the Huskers are a Hail Mary pass away from having back-to-back losses. With the Wolverines at home, I expect them to bounce back and take care of the Huskers.
Strobl: This is a tough line with the way Michigan has played defense (if you can call it that). It’s hard to be confident that the Wolverines will beat anyone by a touchdown given how poorly they performed in East Lansing, and going back even further, it’s been a series of very close games for the Victors. Yet the oddsmakers like them here, perhaps because they return home and are unlikely to face Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez. Or perhaps because Nebraska has been lousy against quality opponents. Whatever the rationale behind it, this line hasn’t budged all week even though there’s a pretty good split in terms of pick distribution. My take? Michigan isn’t as bad as it has shown lately. Nebraska is.
BYU Cougars at Wisconsin Badgers (-7.5)
Bigalke: Oh, how I agonized over this pick. Wisconsin is a team near and dear to my heart. BYU is a rival of another of my favorite schools, Wyoming. And that extra half-point Vegas put on the spread Wednesday night leaves me feeling quite uncomfortable. But while I have a feeling the Badgers will win this contest, the other fact remains that BYU has not lost by more than seven points since falling 38-28 at TCU last October. Trust Bronco Mendenhall’s crew to at least keep this close, if not pull off the upset outright and solidify its case for what could potentially still be a BCS season.
Mitchell: BYU has won five in a row, as their uptempo offense has gotten rolling behind Taysom Hill. The Cougars are coming off an impressive win over Boise State last week. But that game was at home, and they’ve been a different team when they’ve had to go on the road. They had an inexcusable loss at Virginia, and beat Houston by just a single point. Now they have to go to Camp Randall, which is one of the toughest places to play in the country. The Badgers’ power ground game led by Melvin Gordon and James White will likely overpower the Cougars. Wisconsin has been downright dominant in the last three weeks after a seven point loss to Ohio State. Look for that trend to continue.
Strobl: BYU has proven me wrong several times since its season-opening stinker at Virginia. But while the Cougars have looked much better of late, they still have some weaknesses, particularly on the defensive side. And frankly, they haven’t seen a squad as talented as Wisconsin. Throughout the year I’ve been treating the Badgers like a one-loss team because that’s what I consider them to be. Official interference notwithstanding, they would have won a tight one on the road against ASU, meaning their only stumble has been against the Buckeyes in Columbus. A slow start against Iowa last week turned into a lopsided Wisconsin win; this team can hurt you quickly and in several different ways.
Houston Cougars at UCF Knights (-11)
Bigalke: Oh, boy, does Vegas love the Knights. The current AAC leaders, though, aren’t even the current AAC leaders. That distinction belongs not to the home team in this contest but the visitors. And if not for a one-point loss to a tough BYU squad, the Houston Cougars would be undefeated and making potential BCS Busters sweat far more than they are currently thanks to Subclause 3(b) in the BCS selection criteria. Not only are the Cougars back to scoring at a more familiar Keenum-like pace, but they are also leading the country in turnover ratio with an average of +2.5 per game. That should pay off on the trip to Orlando, for whether they win or not this one ought to be closer than double digits.
Mitchell: I haven’t bought into Houston this year, but they’re slowly beginning to sway me. These are the last two unbeaten teams in the AAC, so this game has major conference championship implications. While you have to commend the job that Tony Levine has done with the Cougars this year, I think Central Florida is on a different level. They took down mighty Louisville a few weeks ago, and the lone blemish on their resume came in a close home loss to South Carolina. The Golden Knights are legit, and Blake Bortles and company will make another impressive statement this weekend.
Strobl: This is not a spread I expected at all. With the way both of these teams have been playing I anticipated UCF giving the requisite home three and maybe a few more…but 11? That’s a big spread. The thing is, the line movement throughout the week pushes me to pick UCF. I might have anyway; the Knights are a very solid team that can hurt you with the run or the pass, and their defense has provien it can handle its business. UCF took down Penn State with relative ease and dispatched Louisville at home. Houston looked phenomenal in mauling Rutgers on the road, but the Cougars aren’t quite as multi-dimensional an offense. I do like the versatility of their two-QB system with John O’Korn and Greg Ward, Jr., but all things considered I have to go with the home team.
LSU Tigers at Alabama Crimson Tide (-12.5)
Bigalke: If one team has been Alabama’s Kryptonite during the Nick Saban era, it is the program where he won his first national championship before an ill-fated attempt at coaching in the NFL. No, LSU doesn’t have the dominant defense this year that has carried it in years past. But does Alabama really have a dominant unit on that side of the ball? What, after all, is their best win of the season so far? The closest thing to a complete team the Tide have played thus far is Texas A&M, and the Tigers have a far better defense. We’ve seen Bama slip up before, and while they should win this feels like it ought to be a closer margin than 12.
Mitchell: 7, 6, 9, 3, 3, and 4. That’s the margin of victories in this games in the regular season between these two since 2007. Outside of the BCS Championship Game, where Alabama blew out No.1 LSU 21-0, this game has been a nail biter since Nick Saban came to Tuscaloosa. The biggest blowout of the series in the regular season during that span was Alabama’s nine point win in 2009, where the game was close until the Crimson Tide sealed the deal with a field goal late in the fourth quarter to put the game away. With the competitiveness of these games over the last few years, there’s no way I can trust Alabama to cover such a high spread. Even though I think Alabama is the better team, even possibly by a wider margin than usual, I can’t see such a comfortable win. Zach Mettenberger and company should be able to find some success against Alabama’s secondary, with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry providing a touch matchup for the Alabama corners. Still, with the game being played in Tuscaloosa, AJ McCarron should be able to lead another clutch drive or two to lift the Crimson Tide to the win. But LSU should cover.
Strobl: I was a little surprised to see this line open in the double-digits given how close recent matchups have been. And it seems that much of the betting public shared that surprise, as LSU has garnered better than 40 percent of the picks this week. But here’s the interesting thing. Despite the fairly even distribution the line has not held steady. Nor has it gone down, making Alabama an easier selection. What began as the Tide giving 11 has moved to the current give of 12.5. With the way the money is going, that’s a red flag. And hey, while these two teams do typically play it tight, there’s more of a gap between them this year than in recent seasons. I’m going to listen to Vegas here, and see where it gets me.
UCLA Bruins at Arizona Wildcats (+1)
Bigalke: These two schools are tied with identical 6-2 records, each sitting at 3-2 in the Pac-12 South behind division leader Arizona State. The difference is that UCLA’s losses have come to two of the top five teams in the country, Oregon and Stanford, while the Wildcats dropped their two defeats to Washington and USC. Ten years ago, Arizona’s pair of losses would be more impressive. In 2013, UCLA has been knocked down by the preeminent teams in the Pac-12 since before Pete Carroll’s exit from Los Angeles. Look for Brett Hundley and the Bruins to give the city of Tucson nightmares on Saturday.
Mitchell: Arizona is trending up, but this is an interesting line, even with the game being played in Tuscon. The majority of betters are backing UCLA, but the spread has not budged. Vegas is begging you to take the Bruins here, and while I think they are the better team, siding with the general public isn’t a good idea. Both teams enter 6-2, but the Wildcats are the hotter team right now with three consecutive wins. The Bruins, on the other hand, have lost two of their last three, as they came back down to earth a couple weeks ago with a four touchdown loss to Oregon. Rich Rodriguez and company get this game at home, so I’ll trust Vegas and take the point.
Strobl: Well, well. We’ve got better than 80 percent of bettor going with UCLA and giving the point, yet this line has actually dropped from its weekly high of UCLA -1.5. That’s a commentary on the state of the Pac 12 South, where there is no clear-cut favorite. At one point UCLA looked like an overwhelming frontrunner, but since then the Bruins’ win at Nebraska has looked less and less meaningful as the ‘Huskers have struggled. Both UCLA and Arizona are sporting a pair of losses: the Bruins have the better defeats, falling to Oregon and Stanford, while the Wildcats dropped one on the road in the rain against Washington and then stumbled against USC in a short week. On the face of it, UCLA has outperformed the ‘Cats by more than a one-point margin, even when one considers the venue. Therefore, in this de facto pick ’em, I have to go with the underdog.
Kansas State Wildcats at Texas Tech Red Raiders (-3)
Bigalke: Yes, Texas Tech has lost two games thus far. But this isn’t about to be three in a row, because K-State no longer has a player like Collin Klein to turn Manhattan into more than a mirage of national title contention. Kliff Kingsbury has been stellar in his first season leading his alma mater, and luckily for him and the Red Raiders there are no more schools from Oklahoma on the schedule. With just three points given, Tech ought to comfortably pay off.
PICK: Texas Tech
Mitchell: This is essentially a pick ’em with Vegas giving Texas Tech the requisite three points for hosting this contest. With Baylor and a road game against Texas remaining after this week, this feels like a huge game for the Red Raiders. A loss, and there’s a pretty good chance that they end Kliff Kingsbury’s first regular season in Lubbock on a sour note with five consecutive losses. Texas Tech has been a bit overrated this year, while Kansas State has been underrated all year. Everyone wrote off Bill Snyder’s crew after their season opening loss to FCS North Dakota State, the Wildcats have gotten better every week. They’ve been competitive in losses to upper echelon Big 12 opponents Texas, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, and they are on a two game winning streak after taking care of business against West Virginia and Iowa State. I’m betting on Bill Snyder and Kansas State to pull off the minor upset at Jones AT&T Stadium.
PICK: Kansas State
Strobl: Texas Tech has to be furious with itself for the last two weeks. Losing to Oklahoma in Norman isn’t so bad, but the Raiders had a real chance to win that one at several different points, and letting it slip away had to sting. Enter week 10, where a terrible start doomed Tech against an Oklahoma State team whose rushing attack was in full effect. A fumble and a blocked punt helped OSU jump out to a big lead, and while Texas Tech managed to cut into before the half, it could never complete the comeback. Once atop the Big 12 stnadings, the Red Raiders are now seeing their chances fade away as they still have Baylor and Texas remaining. This is a must-win if TTU wants to have any hope of winning the league. Although the Wildcats have a punishing ground game, and although they’ve looked strong of late, I have to lean toward Tech in this one. I do think it will be a close contest, but there’s just too much on the line for Kliff Kingsbury and company.
PICK: Texas Tech
Upsets of the Week
Bigalke: Vanderbilt Commodores (+10) over Florida Gators
Let’s face it… this certainly ain’t Urban Meyer’s Florida squad. Will Muschamp had a breakthrough season last year, but the series of flukes that allowed the Gators to win 11 games hasn’t continued into 2013. Injuries have hurt the team, but more than that is the fact that they look like just another crop of mediocre teams in a mediocre division. Another of those schools, Vanderbilt, also regressed after the past few years of vaulting onto the scene with the Northwesterns and Baylors and Dukes of the brainiac-school world. The difference is that they play in the hardest conference of that group, and they have to take these upsets where they can get them. Look for the Commodores to inch one step closer to bowl eligibility, while the Swamp-dwellers are left wondering what might have been and left to try to seize another chance to eke out an upset.
Mitchell: Pittsburgh Panthers (+4.5) over Notre Dame Fighting Irish
I have zero faith in Notre Dame. I picked the Irish to cover a two touchdown spread last week, and they narrowly avoided an upset at the hands of Navy. While the Midshipmen were able to topple Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, it’s hard for me to back Notre Dame this week. This is a bit of a Vegas special, with the spread dropping from 5 to 4.5 despite the majority of betters taking Notre Dame. Picking Notre Dame to cover any spread is a dicey proposition, even more so with so much public backing. Pittsburgh took Notre Dame to the brink last year before falling in overtime, and while it seems the Irish are the much better team, I expect them to keep it close before falling by a field goal for the second consecutive year.
Strobl: Virginia Cavaliers (+13.5) over North Carolina Tar Heels
It’s not like I expect the Cavs to go on the road and win this week, but making UNC a two-touchdown favorite over anybody strikes me as ridiculous. With the exception of Clemson, Virginia hasn’t lost a single ACC game by that many points. The Cavaliers kept it within 11 on the road at Pitt and lost at Maryland by one. Aside from a 14-point win over Boston College, UNC has been winning ugly, when it wins at all. Case in point, last week’s eight-point victory over rival NC State. This line opened at UNC -14 but has dwindled a bit. I think that’s a signal that it was too big to begin with and remains that way now.
- Strobl: 56-41-3
- Bigalke: 54-43-3
- Mitchell: 44-53-3