Each week during the college football season, renowned Las Vegas wiseguy and Covers Expert Bruce Marshall looks at the NCAAF odds and tells you which spread to bet now, which one to bet later, and which total to watch as the week plays out.
Spread to bet now
Utah Utes (+7) at USC Trojans
The season is not progressing quite as planned for either of these Pac-12 entries, both of which are no guarantee to get to the required number of wins for bowl eligibility (in SC’s case, that means seven wins this season due to the extra game at Hawaii).
But on the disappointment meter, the Trojans score higher, already enduring a coaching dismissal and dealing with a roster shorn of depth thanks to recent NCAA penalties.
More illuminating is the fact that the normally voracious SC support base has gone into seclusion and is not moving numbers in Las Vegas as it did when the Trojans were riding high a few years ago. And for good reason, as Troy is now 5-15 vs. the line since last season.
In addition, sources report that the last possible indicator of an SC turnaround was squandered last week in an unsightly 14-10 loss at Notre Dame, a game in which the Trojans couldn’t capitalize upon a KO of Irish QB Tommy Rees.
And now, with star WR Marqise Lee reinjuring his knee at South Bend, the SC offense could once again be minus its most field-stretching component.
Further, the loss at Notre Dame effectively condemns interim HC Ed Orgeron to caretaker status. Sources report that the only way Orgeron could have emerged as a potential candidate to retain the job on full-time basis would have been to run the table after Lane Kiffin’s late-September dismissal. Now, that’s not going to happen.
In fact, many Pac-12 observers believe SC’s season could possibly go up in a mushroom cloud, with uncertainties about a new regime causing assistants to plan their escape route and many players on scholarship to worry about their place in the upcoming new order. History suggests those sorts can be expected to send out transfer feelers, adding more potential distractions in the last half of this season.
It’s no box of chocolates in Salt Lake City, either, with Utah blowing a fourth quarter lead at Arizona last Saturday and perhaps minus QB Travis Wilson, who was pulled after suffering a hand injury at Tucson. Backup Adam Schulz, however, was serviceable in relief, and if Wilson can’t make the post this week, the effective drop-off at QB for the Utes should be minimal.
We suspect that because of those aforementioned Trojan pointspread shortcomings, there will be some anti-SC money showing up as Saturday approaches. Early in the week, however, several seven's were still available throughout Nevada.
We suggest Utah backers to grab the full seven ASAP, because the price likely drops below that key number as the week progresses, especially with the usual Trojan support base now staying away from the sports book windows in droves.
Spread to wait on
Texas Tech Red Raiders (+7) at Oklahoma Sooners
Not a lot of early movement either way in the sports book action for this key Big 12 battle Saturday at Norman.
But given the parameters and recent history in this series, we suspect the money will be mostly drifting in Oklahoma’s direction at some point during the week.
Specifically, this is a price that we believe the public is likely to move (perhaps unwisely) toward the Sooners as we proceed to the Saturday kickoff.
Though unbeaten, Texas Tech remains a bit of a mystery, having taken advantage of a favorable schedule in the first half of the season.
Fueled by the football media, and aware of past late-season fades in Lubbock, many college football followers are understandably a bit wary of the Red Raiders and new HC Kliff Kingsbury. Popular opinion is that Texas Tech will soon get its comeuppance against a backloaded schedule that begins to toughen considerably this week with the trip to Norman.
And Oklahoma is still, well, Oklahoma, even though Bob Stoops’ troops have burned their backers with recent non-covers vs. Texas and Kansas.
Back home in Norman this week, however, the masses will likely be swayed by the trends in this back-and-forth series in which home field edge has proven a huge benefit.
In fact, the home team has won the last nine meetings between these teams, and covered the spread in seven in a row. That sort of angle is not to be lost on the masses, who could be expected to support the Sooners in greater numbers as the week progresses.
The fact there was no sharp money movement towards the Red Raiders at the onset of wagering suggests that any sharp money interested in Texas Tech is probably waiting until later in the week to make a move. And with the current price mostly sitting at OU -7, any Red Raider-inclined backers would probably rather sit tight and wait for the spread to float higher as we get closer to Saturday.
No reason for Texas Tech supporters to bite on this price as long as it rests on a key number. We’d advise Red Raider money to idle for the moment, as this spread likely moves above that key seven later in the week.
Total to watch
Baylor Bears at Kansas Jayhawks
We remain fascinated by the machinations involving totals on Baylor games, which continue to distort normal oddsmaker etiquette.
Once again last week against Iowa State, there was buy pressure on the Over involving the Bears, even with the oddsmakers hanging an initial total in the mid-to-high 70s for the game against the Cyclones.
Indeed, most books had the first total price at a sky-high 75 or 76 for Cyclones-Bears last week at Waco, but there was still considerable appetite for the Over as there were mostly 78.5s posted around Las Vegas at kickoff time.
The game landed on 78, with Art Briles’ team once again doing almost all of the scoring with 71 points. The Over was the winner on most of the tickets, moving the Waco bunch to 5-1 O/U this season.
As mentioned earlier, oddsmakers are making pre-emptive moves on totals involving video-football teams like Baylor and Oregon, posting heretofore unthinkable totals into the stratosphere from the outset. We suspect another initial total in the 70s for Bears-Jayhawks, with totals perhaps into the 80s for upcoming games vs. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
We’ll be interested to see if there is a bit more caution on the part of the wagering public regarding another Baylor Over this week, simply because the Bears are on the road. That’s because in their one game away from Waco, against Kansas State, Baylor was held to “only” 35 points, a far cry from the 71 ppg it is scoring at home. (The Wildcats were also the stiffest test to date the Bears have faced this season.)
If nothing else, it will be fascinating to see if the public continues to play the Over on Baylor games no matter how high the oddsmakers set the totals price.