NCAA Football Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 12/9/2013
This will be my final NCAA Football week ahead story of the 2013 season, although you can certainly find plenty of bowl previews here at Doc's, and it's been a pretty successful one in terms of my weekly trap game picks. Alas, I can't say the same as far as the Heisman or National Championship picks from back in early in the summer. I'm not all that surprised that Florida State is in the title game as the Noles had a pretty easy schedule and a ton of talent. They played two teams that are currently ranked, Clemson and Duke, and neither of those were close.
In fact, FSU had one of the most dominant regular seasons ever, with its closest win of 14 points on Sept. 28 at Boston College. The Seminoles absolutely deserve to play for it all and should be scary good again next year with presumed Heisman winner Jameis Winston returning and five-star recruits all around him. The schedule is a bit tougher with Notre Dame (in Tallahassee), Louisville and Oklahoma State (neutral site) on the schedule. Plus, you have to think Miami and Florida will both be better next year, especially the Gators.
Needless to say, I didn't see Auburn having the success it did. The Tigers not only weren't ranked in the preseason polls, they didn't get a single "other receiving vote." The amazing season earned first-year head coach Gus Malzahn a big new extension, which was necessary because Texas was likely to come calling if/when Mack Brown leaves. While Auburn is pretty good, there's no doubt the Tigers are pretty darn lucky as well. Thus, no surprise they opened as 8.5-point dogs against FSU.
I do believe that all the time off works hugely in FSU's favor. Auburn is riding an incredible wave of momentum now. It would be tough to prepare for that stellar rushing attack with just a week to do so -- ask Alabama and Missouri -- but having a month should work to FSU's advantage. The Seminoles know what Auburn is going to do offensively, while the same can't be said the other way. Alabama overwhelmed that somewhat vanilla Notre Dame offense last season with all the time to prepare. You can't teach overall speed, and FSU has the huge edge there.
Speaking of the Tide, make sure to bet the bowls on how motivated the teams will be. Bama opened as a 14.5-point favorite against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but do you think Alabama wants to be there? This reminds me of the Sugar Bowl in the 2008 season when the Tide were easily handled by Utah in the game. They had lost a chance for a spot in the national title game by losing to Florida in the SEC title game and then were totally flat against the Utes.
I could definitely see Ohio State having similar issues in the bowl game. The Buckeyes were more worried about holding off Auburn in the BCS Standings last week than Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, and it showed. You could see how devastated Urban Meyer was in that shot of him eating pizza in a golf cart in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium afterward. Thus, I love Clemson at +3 against OSU in the Orange Bowl.
There are no lines out yet on the Utah State-Northern Illinois Poinsettia Bowl, but I lean heavy on USU there because the Huskies will be deflated off losing a chance at a BCS bowl game. Ditto Fresno State against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Then there are those teams that are ecstatic to be where they are and likely to give 110 percent effort. I'm specifically thinking UCF (+17) against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl -- although certainly the Bears are pretty excited too -- and Michigan State (+3) against Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Sparty hasn't been there since the 1987 season, while the Cardinal were a year ago.
Finally, wager against those schools who will be playing under interim or lame-duck coaches. For example, I don't think the Nebraska players much like Bo Pelini, and I still think he gets the gate despite a show of support from the AD. He practically begged to be fired after the Huskers' regular-season finale. They are 10-point dogs against Georgia in the Gator Bowl, and there will be a huge Dawgs crowd in Jacksonville. I also believe the Texas players know Brown is a goner. There's no line on the Horns' Alamo Bowl game against Oregon yet, although that will feature a huge pro-UT crowd, and the Ducks are a little peeved they got passed over for a BCS spot, so they may not be all that involved.
Meanwhile, you have interim coaches who aren't getting the full-time jobs at USC, Washington (against BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl) and Boise State (vs. Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl). It's also possible Bowling Green and/or Ball State could have an interim coach. The Falcons' Pete Lembo and Cardinals' Dave Clawson both interviewed for the Wake Forest job. Keep an eye on Baylor, too, as there's talk the Redskins want Bears coach Art Briles to replace Mike Shanahan when he is fired -- and he will be.
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