Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com.
In the wagering world, you must know when to hold them and when to fold them. With the season midpoint arriving this week for many teams, it’s time to take stock of the most overrated and underrated teams:
Penn State Nittany Lions: The Nittany Lions used to play quality nonconference games, but with Joe Paterno in a neck-and-neck race against Bobby Bowden for most career victories, the decision was made to play as many creampuffs as possible to give old Joe an edge. It has paid off this season with a glossy 4-1 record, but if you’re wagering on Penn State from week to week, you’re probably due Monday in bankruptcy court.
The Nittany Lions are a dismal 1-4 against the spread and the only game against a credible opponent — Iowa — resulted in a 21-10 loss. Six of the Nittany Lions’ first seven games are at home and there will be some serious hardship for this team in the second half of the season when it actually has to go back on the road and play other credible opponents. If you haven’t done so already, sell. This team is a fraud.
Auburn Tigers: Gene Chizik went from winning five games in two seasons at Iowa State to winning his first five games as Tigers head coach. Auburn has skyrocketed on the scene and is a sparkling 4-1 against the spread. But look closer and you’ll see the warts. Like Penn State, Auburn will play eight home games and the schedule to this point has been on the soft side. Yes, the Tigers beat West Virginia, but that victory was gift-wrapped by six Mountaineer turnovers. Winning at Tennessee doesn’t carry the weight it used to. Auburn’s stock is at a season high and now is the time to sell, starting with Saturday’s game at Arkansas.
Louisiana State Tigers: The Tigers will be all-in against Florida Saturday and it’s the perfect week for this team to be exposed. LSU nearly lost its last two games. The Tigers benefited from Mississippi State’s poor play calling on the goal line two weeks ago and were handed a gift from Southeastern Conference officials last week at Georgia. LSU is 2-3 against the spread and 99th in total offense. This is a team about to crack and don’t be surprised if the Tigers lose three or four of their final seven games. Most definitely, sell.
South Florida Bulls: Another undefeated team whose resume is pumped up by one victory — Sept. 26 at South Florida. Let the record show that the Bulls caught the Seminoles after their stunning 54-28 victory at Brigham Young. The Bulls’ other wins have come against Syracuse, Charleston Southern, Western Kentucky and something called Wofford. The degree of difficulty will be ratcheted up this month, with games against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. On Nov. 28, a resurgent Miami (Fla.) comes to Tampa. Although B.J. Daniels, who replaced the injured Matt Grothe at quarterback, has done an admirable job, a second-half collapse is in order. Look back at 2008. The Bulls started 5-0, then lost five of their last seven before beating Memphis in bowl game. Sell.
Cincinnati Bearcats: The Bearcats are only 3-2 against the spread, but the best is yet to come. This team has a Thursday night showdown (Oct. 15) at South Florida and after that, four of the final six games are at home. Cincinnati has a dynamic offense and coach Brian Kelly isn’t afraid of keeping his foot on the pointspread pedal. Just look at his wonderful 28-12-1 record against the spread since 2006. The Bearcats’ stock is only going to climb, so now’s the time to hitch a ride.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Has it been the luck of the Irish, or is this going to be a special season in South Bend? The defense has been soft, but Jimmy Clausen has put up big numbers working behind a veteran offensive line and engineered three comeback victories. Although Notre Dame is only 1-4 against the spread, the team has been tested. All that’s missing is a hallmark victory and that is likely to happen Oct. 17 against USC. There are two trap games: Oct. 24 against Boston College and Nov. 28 at Stanford. Yes, it’s always a risky investment when Charlie Weis is the coach, but we’re buying.
Boise State Broncos: Much is riding on the Broncos’ season. Win out and there is the strong possibility of playing in a Bowl Championship Series game. Win out and maybe, just maybe, Boise State will play in the BCS title game in Pasadena. A lot has to go right for that to happen, but the Broncos learned a tough lesson last week by sleepwalking through a 34-16 victory over UC Davis, a Division I-AA team. Virginia Tech passed them in the polls and Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson took note.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised,” he said. “I guess there were voters who were more impressed with Virginia Tech’s eight-point win over Duke than Boise State’s 18-point win.” It’s all about style points for Boise State. The Broncos not only need to win, but they need to pound opponents and impress pollsters.