NCAA Football Betting and Handicapping: Scouting the Week Ahead
by Alan Matthews - 11/11/2013
I've been watching college football since I was a very young kid, and I honestly can't remember ever seeing a Top-5 team so physically dominated at the line of scrimmage as Oregon's defense was on Thursday night in the Ducks' upset loss at Stanford.
It was the definition of smashmouth football as the Cardinal ended Oregon's national title hopes for the second season in a row, this time 26-20 in game that wasn't that close. Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney ran the ball an incredible 45 times (school record) for 157 yards behind an NFL-sized offensive line. Stanford ran 66 times for 274 yards overall, occasionally using nine offensive linemen on a play, and had possession for almost 43 minutes; it had a 20-play, 96-yard drive at the end of the first half. It was a total clinic on power football and really a blueprint how to beat these hyper-fast offensive teams -- keep the ball.
The Ducks knew what was coming and still couldn't stop it. Two red-zone turnovers by the offense didn't help, either. Marcus Mariota clearly wasn't 100 percent as he never used his feet as a weapon and finished 20-of-34 for 250 yards, two TD passes and a costly lost fumble. Mariota might be the No. 1 pick in next May's draft, but he's not winning the Heisman now. The Ducks have averaged 327 yards rushing against teams other than Stanford the past two seasons and only 130 vs. the Cardinal. They simply have to get bigger on the line.
The big winner from that game was Florida State, which now has a clear path to face Alabama in the National Championship Game. I thought the Seminoles might have a bit of a letdown against Wake Forest unless the Ducks lost on Thursday. That clearly energized FSU as it rolled, 59-3. Here's a great stat from ESPN: From the 7:15 mark in the first quarter to the 10:31 mark of the second, FSU’s offense ran four plays, and the Seminoles scored 28 points. Jameis Winston was 17-of-28 for 159 yards, two TDs and a pick. Not a great game, but he wasn't needed much. He is now -800 on Sportsbook.ag's Heisman odds, with Mariota dropping to +4000. FSU, which opened at -39.5 this week at home against Syracuse, is +160 to win the national title, now just behind the Tide (+130).
Ohio State and Baylor are going to need some help. The Buckeyes are solidly No. 3 in the BCS standings, but they finish at Illinois, vs. Indiana and at Michigan, not a ranked team among them. The Wolverines' sudden struggles are the worst thing that can happen to OSU in terms of strength of schedule. The Buckeyes will then likely face the winner of this week's Michigan State-Nebraska game in the Big Ten Championship. Sparty might give OSU a game with that terrific defense. MSU opened as a 6.5-point road favorite vs. the Huskers.
Unbeaten Baylor is No. 5 in the standings behind the one-loss Cardinal, but the Bears should jump Stanford by winning out. They opened as 27-point favorites this week against sliding Texas Tech. There's really no scenario that Baylor gets into the Top 3 of the standings barring losses by two of the teams.
Texas suffered a double whammy in Saturday's 47-40 win at West Virginia to stay atop the Big 12 Conference. Running back Johnathan Gray will miss the rest of the season with an Achilles' injury, and so will defensive tackle Chris Whaley (knee). Gray is the team's leading rusher, with 780 yards and four touchdowns on a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Whaley, a former running back, had two defensive scores this season. The Horns opened as three-point home dogs this week against Oklahoma State.
Perhaps no team has been more gutted by season-ending injuries than Florida, and the Gators lost another in linebacker Antonio Morrison, the team's leading tackler. Quarterback Tyler Murphy has a shoulder injury and is questionable for Saturday against South Carolina. Skyler Mornhinweg, who hasn't thrown a college pass, would play if Murphy isn't able to start. The Gators are a mess after losing 34-17 at home to Vandy on Saturday. It was the Commodores' first win in Gainesville since 1945. Suddenly there are questions about Coach Will Muschamp's job security. I doubt he gets fired after this season as he can point to all those injuries, but he's definitely on notice for 2014. UF must win two of its final three games to avoid missing the postseason (without a postseason ban) for the first time since 1986 . Good luck with that as the Gamecocks are 13.5-point home favorites this week, and UF will be a sizable dog in the regular-season finale against Florida State -- the Gators will beat Georgia Southern in between those games.
Finally, USC running back Silas Redd is questionable for this week's game against Stanford after suffering a knee injury vs. Cal on Saturday. Redd has been injury-prone this season and a disappointment. The Trojans still have a shot at winning the Pac-12 South, but they can't lose to the Cardinal, who opened as four-point road favorites.
Week 12 Trap Games
It turned out I only used two trap games last week, bailing on Wake-FSU when Oregon won Thursday as noted above. I went 1-1, hitting on UConn +28 against Louisville and missing on Kansas +31 against Oklahoma State. I can't believe the lousy Jayhawks couldn't manage a garbage TD in their final three possessions with OSU barely trying. Why is Charlie Weis employed again?
Mississippi State (+25.5) vs. Alabama: The Tide were pushed for about a half by LSU before pulling away on Saturday to all but clinch the SEC West (sorry I'm not buying Auburn). Playing LSU usually takes a lot out of a team. Last year, the Tide lost to Texas A&M the week after LSU. In 2011, they only beat Mississippi State 24-7 the game after. I think the Bulldogs, who must win two of their final three to get bowl eligible, can stay within 21 here.
Temple (+17) vs. Central Florida: I'm rather shocked this line isn't at least 20. The Owls are terrible, no doubt about it, but this will be their bowl game. They also had last week off to game plan. The Knights come in off a big win against Houston to take control of the AAC and know they have a quick turnaround next week against a capable Rutgers team.
Iowa State (+24.5) at Oklahoma: This could be the most ordinary team Bob Stoops has ever had at Oklahoma. The Sooners can't win the Big 12 and won't be playing in a BCS bowl game after Thursday's 41-12 loss at Baylor. So I'm not sure how motivated the players will be even though this is the home finale. ISU is better than its 1-8 record.
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