This college football season at Doc’s Sports, I will provide you with a few game previews each week (with free college football picks), and always one of the games will be among the final starts on Saturday night -- so Hawaii no doubt will be more than a few. It’s a final way for bettors to recoup some lost money from earlier in the day or just add more winnings and take big-time momentum into the NFL Sunday. This week there are four games scheduled for 10:30 p.m. ET kickoffs and by far the most interesting is Arkansas State at No. 5 Oregon.
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For the first time in a few seasons, the Ducks aren’t the Pac-12 favorites – three-time conference champion Oregon is 9/4 to win the conference title game behind preseason No. 1 USC (5/9). Almost everyone assumes those clubs will meet twice in 2012: Nov. 3 in Los Angeles and then again in the Pac-12 title game. Anything less than a BCS bowl game would be unacceptable at Oregon, which won its first bowl under Chip Kelly last season by beating Wisconsin in a shootout at the Rose Bowl. Kelly has led Oregon to 12 wins in each of the past two seasons – OU’s wins total this year at Bovada is 10.5 -- that’s just the regular season.
Don’t sleep on Arkansas State, a potential rising power among the non-BCS conferences. The Red Devils won the Sun Belt Conference last season for the first time before falling to MAC champ Northern Illinois in the Godaddy.com Bowl for a 10-3 mark. Those school-record 10 wins got ASU coach Hugh Freeze noticed in his lone season in Jonesboro, as he was lured away and is now the head coach at Ole Miss.
In a pretty surprising move, ASU was able to lure Arkansas native Gus Malzahn from Auburn to replace Freeze. Malzahn has been considered one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators for several years and was named the nation’s top assistant coach in 2010 when the Tigers won the national title and Cam Newton thrived under Malzahn’s direction. Frankly, if Malzahn hadn’t taken the ASU job last December he probably could have had the Arkansas job once the Bobby Petrino scandal unfolded (if ASU has a good season, the Hogs could still come calling after this year).
Malzahn had lured former Auburn star running back Michael Dyer to Arkansas State, but Dyer wasn’t going to be able to play this year because of transfer rules (although Dyer appealed for a waiver). And then Dyer got into more trouble and was booted off the Red Devils team just as he did at Auburn. ASU is the second-favorite at Bovada to win the Sun Belt again this season at 7/2, just behind Florida International (5/2).
This is the first meeting between Oregon and Arkansas State and the first time ASU has faced a Pac-12 team.
Arkansas State at Oregon Betting Storylines
Oregon has to replace star running back LaMichael James, but the Ducks are truly crazy deep at that position with Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas leading the way – Thomas might be the most electric player in the country, and to keep him and Barner on the field at times Thomas will play some receiver. Thomas had 18 total touchdowns as a true freshman despite averaging just 10 touches per game.
The big question on the offense was replacing QB Darron Thomas, who made the idiotic decision to declare early for the draft and was never taken. Third-year sophomore Bryan Bennett, who played very well as Thomas’ backup last year, was the heavy favorite to take over. But Kelly recently handed the reins to redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, who was stellar in the Ducks’ Spring Game. The three-star recruit dual-threat from Hawaii will become the first freshman quarterback to start the season for the Ducks in 21 years. James tweeted that Mariota could be the best Ducks QB ever.
Arkansas State senior QB Ryan Aplin, the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year, could start for many BCS programs. Last season, Aplin threw for 3,588 yards and 19 touchdowns and led the Red Wolves in rushing with 588 yards and an additional 10 scores. He should put up even bigger numbers in Malzahn’s up-tempo offense. Aplin did lose leading receiver Dwayne Frampton (94-1,156-6) to graduation and fourth-leading receiver Earl Lucas (20-225-0) was dismissed from the team this week.
Arkansas State at Oregon Betting Odds and Trends
The Ducks opened as 37-point favorites with the total at 67.5 on BetOnline. Oregon was 7-5-2 ATS last year and 3-4-2 at home. Arkansas State was a stellar 10-3 ATS last year and 5-2 on road. “Over/under records”: ASU 4-9, UO 10-4.
ASU has covered its past six September games. Oregon has covered just one of its past six home games. OU is 4-0 ATS in its past four games vs. Sun Belt teams. The under has hit in 13 of ASU’s past 16 nonconference games. The over is 5-1 in Oregon’s past six nonconference games.
College Football Picks: Arkansas State at Oregon Predictions
No ASU coach has won his first game since 1979, and that’s obviously not going to change here. But can the Red Devils make it competitive? Their only game vs. a ranked foe last year was a 26-7 loss at Virginia Tech (in 2010 ASU opened against Malzahn’s eventual National Champion Auburn team and lost, 52-26). Oregon should score at will against a defense that lost seven starters, four of whom were all-Sun Belt selections.
In the last two seasons, the Oregon offense ranks first in both touchdown drives of three plays or fewer (39) and touchdown drives in less than two minutes (90). I’m guessing the Ducks probably add to those totals Saturday. Even with that high total, take the over. But take ASU to cover – barely. I’m thinking a 35-point loss, something like 56-21.
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