NCAA Football Predictions: Week 9 Opening Line Report and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 10/20/2014
How ridiculous is the SEC West? In Monday's Associated Press poll that division has four teams in the Top 5. That's just silly and a first for any conference to hold down 80 percent of the Top 5. Mississippi State, which was off last week, remains at No. 1, with Ole Miss at No. 3, Alabama jumping three spots to No. 4 and Auburn moving up a spot to No. 5. I'm not sure Notre Dame deserved to drop from No. 5 to No. 7 after that thrilling loss at Florida State on Saturday. Was there a penalty on that last-second TD for the Irish? Probably by the letter of the law, but you don't see it called much -- and definitely not at that point in a huge game. The Irish acquitted themselves well enough that I believe they still have an excellent chance of reaching the College Football Playoff if they win out. Frankly, they were better than FSU. Both the Noles and Irish are off this week or they would be on major letdown alert.
Here are some Week 9 games and opening lines from BetOnline that caught my eye.
Miami Fla. at Virginia Tech (+2), Thursday: The Hokies used to always win on these Thursday night ESPN games, but they lost last Thursday to an average Pittsburgh team. I have no idea how Virginia Tech managed to win at Ohio State early this year. I think Miami coach Al Golden isn't in any imminent danger of losing his job, but the Miami faithful are tired of watching his team always come up short against good opponents. His seat will definitely get a bit warmer if the Canes flop here. The loser can kiss any shot of playing in the ACC title game goodbye. The pick: Virginia Tech.
No. 6 Oregon at California (+18). Friday: Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has regained the Heisman Trophy favored role at Sportsbook.ag as he is +140, leaping ahead of Mississippi State's Dak Prescott (+180). Mariota could widen that lead this week because I expect monster numbers as his Ducks visit Cal. The Bears are wretched defensively. Washington State's Connor Halliday threw for an NCAA-record 734 yards against Cal a few weeks ago. Not saying Mariota will do that, but you could easily see 400 yards and four scores along with a running TD or two. My only worry here for Oregon is whether it is caught looking ahead to next week's game with nemesis Stanford. The pick: Ducks should be able to win by at least 21.
Texas at No. 11 Kansas State (-10.5): We all expected the winner of the Baylor-Oklahoma game in a few weeks to be the Big 12 champion and perhaps that conference's representative in the College Football Playoff. Apparently Kansas State didn't get the message. The Wildcats pulled off a 31-30 stunner at then No. 11 Oklahoma on Saturday to end the Sooners' hopes of reaching the playoff (Baylor also lost). Now the question is whether KSU will suffer a huge letdown against Texas. I don't expect the Wildcats to win the conference because they still have to visit TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. The pick: Texas to cover.
No. 13 Ohio State at Penn State (+13): Could the season-ending injury to QB Braxton Miller back in August have been the best thing to happen to the Buckeyes? Can't really go that far, but OSU will have an interesting choice next season if Miller does decide to return. That's because freshman QB J.T. Barrett has been outstanding, and Ohio State has scored at least 50 points in four straight games. Barrett is completing well north of 70 percent of his passes in that stretch with 17 touchdowns and one interception. The Buckeyes have opened conference play with routs of solid teams Maryland and Rutgers. PSU's defense will be a tougher challenge, however. I'm just not sure if Penn State can score on OSU. The Nittany Lions have totaled only 19 points in two conference games with QB Christian Hackenberg somewhat regressing. However, the Lions did have last week off to prepare for this one. The pick: PSU to cover.
No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee (+17): Everyone seems to be back on the Alabama bandwagon after the Crimson Tide crushed No. 21 Texas A&M 59-0 on Saturday. Now the Tide are favored to win the National Championship on Sportsbook.ag at +650 along with Ole Miss. I wonder if this might be a trap game for Bama. It hasn't had a bye week yet and could be peeking ahead to the Nov. 8 trip to LSU. The Tide will get back starting center Ryan Kelly this week. He missed the past two games. I thought he Vols were going to be a lot better this year, but they were thumped at Ole Miss 34-3 on Saturday. Still, this is the biggest home game of the season, and I think they play well. The pick: Hoping to get another halt point here, but take the Vols.
No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah (+1.5): This one is huge in the Pac-12 South Division. The Trojans, Utes and both Arizona teams all have one conference loss. Utah already has beaten UCLA but has the misfortune of having to play Oregon in a few weeks, a team that USC avoids. It's not clear who Utah will start at quarterback. Kendal Thompson, a transfer from Oklahoma, started Saturday's double-overtime win at Oregon State, but Travis Wilson started the second half. He had started Utah's first five games but wasn't sharp in three series against UCLA and pulled for Thompson. Neither QB did much against Oregon State as the Utes relied mostly on running back Devontae Booker. He finished with 32 carries for 229 yards and three scores. USC beat Colorado 56-28 in Week 8 behind a school-record seven TD passes from Cody Kessler. He also became the first Pac-12 quarterback to throw seven TD passes in the first three quarters of a game. Utah, meanwhile, leads the nation in sacks with 5.5 per game. This is the first game between ranked teams in Salt Lake City in four years. The pick: USC.
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