Solon, longtime commenter and reader, likes a wager. Actually, he likes to have several rolling at a time, preferably leveraged against the bulk of his student loans, the mortgage, and a shipment of illegal Chinese black bear bile he's got stashed in a warehouse over in Oakland. We asked him to provide his fellow followers of the mighty lord Gamblor with a thorough rundown of the games each week. He responded with an exhaustive, Phil Steele-jargon laden tome we couldn't be more impressed with. For entertainment purposes only, of course...
Oh, and in case you don't think gambling addiction doesn't have its lighter side, check out the state of Washington's site for gambling addiction treatment. The kid with the homeless sign is really the coup de grace for us.
Enjoy, and happy wagering.
Orson and Stranko have been so good as to allow me to write a weekly column this season relating to the "entertainment" aspect of College Football. So, I'll get on here every week, do my thing, and we'll see how it goes.
Full disclosure: I am a California guy born and raised, and I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Georgia (making full use of that MA in New Testament Studies, obviously). With regard to CFB conferences, generally I think the five "major" BCS conferences are all pretty much even (now that the ACC has made its additions); this season, I think the ACC and the Big 10 may have a slight edge over the other conferences. I've lived in Atlanta for the past 4 seasons, but I currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area (if that makes any difference).
More full disclosure: I have been doing this for a long time (since 1988), with a career best of 63% in 1996. I generally finish with about 180 picks for the season, and I generally hit between 56% and 59% of them. That said, last season, I managed to hit only 49%--but I'm going to pin that on my ex-girlfriend's incarceration, which happened right as the season kicked off and proved a wee bit of a distraction.
All right, week one--a full slate of games, and I've got action every day except Friday. Lines are from the Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and home teams are in all caps:
ARIZONA STATE (-26) v. Temple
Temple has been a bad team for years. The last couple of years, their O has pretty much been QB Washington, who is now gone. ASU's D was stout LY and should be just as good this season. On the other side of the ball, Temple had an atrocious Pass D LY--against the quality Pass Os they played (Virginia, Toledo, Bowling Green, Pitt, West Virginia), the teams amassed a 77% completion percentage, and averaged 11 yards per attempt. Even with ASU's troubles at RB, as long as QB Keller can continue his form from the Sun Bowl, ASU should have little trouble covering this number, and they will score as many as they want to.
Minnesota (-15) v. TULSA
Minnesota tends to be overrated every season when Big 10 play starts, largely because they tend to dominate a weak non-conference schedule (I really don't think much of "trends," but, illustrating this point, Minnesota is 7-0 ATS in preseason non-conference games the last three seasons). They should continue to roll on here; they defeated Tulsa 49-10 in the season opener two years ago (in HC Kragthorpe's first game) and I am looking for something similar in this spot. Minnesota has a powerful running game, and even without RB Barber they should do the job against this D. Tulsa gave up more than 4.5 ypc to 8 of 11 opponents last year, and against the only comparable rushing attack they faced last season (in terms of productivity), Oklahoma State managed 276 yards in a 38-21 win that was not nearly as close as the final score might indicate. Even against an improved Tulsa D Minnesota should roll up the yards. On O, Tulsa is breaking in a new QB against a D returning 7 starters and they will likely struggle to score points.
Bowling Green (+2.5) v. WISCONSIN
Wisconsin is up against it this season, with their D depleted through graduation losses (5 NFL draft picks). They have also lost top RB Davis. Wisconsin averaged only 21 ppg last season and will likely not improve much, if at all, on that number, absent vast improvement from QB Stocco or a breakout season from Col transfer RB Calhoun. Their D, on the other hand, should do much worse than last year's 15 ppg, given the talent losses. BG returns nearly all of their skill position players from last season's team; the only question mark for them is the OL. But it is unlikely that Wisconsin's DL, having lost 4 draft picks to the NFL, will be able to exploit this advantage. There is some trepidation here, because BG's DL was overwhelmed by some teams LY (Oklahoma, N Illinois), but I doubt that Wisconsin will be able to score enough points to keep up with BG's powerful O. Alvarez might be pissed that he didn't quit LY after this one.
VIRGINIA (-33) v. Western Michigan
Western Michigan was, by my count, the second worst team in the nation LY (Florida International). Some of the lowlights on their schedule include a 27 pt loss to 2-9 Ball St., and a 63 pt loss to Va Tech. The WMU D gave up an average of 506 ypg to 1-A opposition LY and they return 6 starters. I would expect some improvement, but not enough to stop a still-strong Virginia O from scoring at least 50 points. Virginia's D did a good job shutting down lesser offenses last year; in their 8 wins (against the 8 worst teams on the schedule), they gave up an average of 10.5 ppg. Virginia's D returns only 6 starters but returns plenty of talent and they should not have too much trouble shutting down an improved WMU O here.
Maryland (-11) v. Navy (in Baltimore)
Navy was a nice story LY, and overachieved considerably. I think this season their fortunes will change. Navy only returns a total of 2 starters on O (1 of which is a WR), and only 4 starters on D. Lack of returning starters tends to hurt the academies less than it hurts other schools, but with this many losses Navy will feel it. Navy's 10-2 record LY was a little deceptive, as the only win over a 1-A team with a winning record came in the bowl game against New Mexico (a game in which stud New Mexico RB Moore went out in the 1Q). Maryland's D was pretty good LY, with Va Tech being the only team that scored more than 22 points against them. The Maryland D will probably not be as good this season but should have a good day against such an inexperienced O for which they will have a month to prepare. I am concerned about Maryland's OL, which only returns one starter with LT Heyer's injury, but I think it is unlikely that a Navy D which returns only 2 starters to the front 7, and could only manage 17 sacks last season, will give them too much trouble. Maryland is loaded at the skill positions and HC Friedgen will eat up opposing Ds this season as long as his OL comes together.
Texas A&M (-1) v. CLEMSON
Texas A&M's O should be quite potent this season. LY, they managed 400 yds in 9 of their first 10 games until being shut down by Texas and Tennessee to close out the year; among those strong performances during the first 10 games was a fairly easy dismantling of a good Clemson D in College Station in week 3. With 9 returning starters, Texas A&M should be even better on O this season and QB McNeal should have a great season. Texas A&M's D, surely the team's weakness LY, should also be improved with 8 returning starters. Clemson's new OC Spence (from Toledo) will no doubt increase the overall production of the (at times LY highly inept) Clemson O, but I do not think they will be able to match the output of Texas A&M in week 1.
Ucla (-7.5) v. SAN DIEGO STATE
UCLA had a pretty good O LY, and it should be almost as potent this season, given that they return 7 starters and QB Olson has recovered from the injury he suffered in the bowl game. Losing RB White will hurt, but as long as RB Drew can pick up the slack to some extent they should be fine. I do expect that UCLA will improve this season, though, primarily due to their defense. UCLA had serious problems with their Run D last season, but they should improve considerably with 6 of their front 7 returning. SDSU should have a pretty efficient running game, but they throw more than they pass and UCLA's Pass D is solid (they only gave up 6.56 ypa LY), and while they lost some talent there, with the stronger front 7 those numbers should stay the same if not improve. It is worth noting that RB Drew ran for 161 yds on 21 carries LY against a not-so-bad SDSU D that now only returns 2 of its front 7. I look for him to get over 200 yards and for UCLA to fool themselves into thinking they can compete with USC with a fat win here.
KANSAS (-23.5) v. Florida Atlantic
All things considered, Kansas was arguably the best team in the Big 12 North LY, as they were competitive in 7 of their 8 Big 12 games, and they lost to Texas Tech, Nebraska, Iowa State, and Texas by 6 pts or less. Statistically, they gave up 21 ppg and 346 ypg LY against a strong slate of offenses (including among others Toledo, NW, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Texas), and they return 8 starters to their D. Florida Atlantic only returns 3 starters to an O which scored an average of 17 ppg against 1-A opposition last season (which consisted primarily of Sun Belt teams). Kansas does not have a particularly strong O, but should be able to overwhelm a D that only returns 2 of their front 7, and 5 starters overall. Additionally, they should be dealing with short fields and might even score on D. The only question regarding Kansas is at LB, where the starters posed for that fairy-ass leaping picture--if the Fla Atl O sees that photo they will certainly not be intimidated.
Louisville (-21.5) v. KENTUCKY
Petrino has had the upper hand in this game during the Petrino/Brooks era, such as it is, winning 40-24 as a road dog in his first game (and, scoring a TD on the last play of the game), and winning 28-0 LY as a 9' favorite. Petrino's teams at UL have played slightly better on the road than at home, with a 9-2 record ATS (7-3 at home). Kentucky's D played well against Louisville LY, holding them to 439 yds. Keep in mind that this was QB Brohm's first game, and he was quite conservative (6 of 7 for 19 yards). As the season wore on, he improved substantially and should flourish in his first year as a starter. Louisville returns 4 starters to the OL and should still have a powerful Run O even with the loss of RB Shelton, as RB Bush is an absolute monster and will dominate a UK D that gave up 5.0 ypc last season. Even with a semi-experienced starter at QB LY, UK's O was pretty inept, averaging 16 ppg and 276 ypg. Skewing the offensive stats was an aberrational impressive performance against a horrible Indiana D, without which they only averaged 12 ppg and 247 ypg. New UK QB Woodson's stats LY were decent, but they were largely accrued in a 62-17 loss to UGA when he saw a lot of action after the game was essentially over. If you take out that game, he was 37-62 (60%) for 286 yds (4.61 ypa), with a 1-1 ratio. It is unlikely that new OC Phillips will make enough difference to overcome the lack of talent UK has on the offensive side of the ball.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE (+4.5) v. Virginia Tech
VT was a bit fortunate LY, winning close games against Wake, GT, UNC, and Miami. I think the breaks might go against them this season, and even though this team is nearly as good as LY's team, I think the results might not show it. NC State defeated VT LY in Blacksburg, during which NC St sacked mobile VT QB Randall 10 times. NC State returns their entire DL this season, and their front 7 is very experienced, so VT QB Vick will likely not have any more success running than Randall did LY. QB Vick is nowhere near the passer Randall was, so even though NC St might be vulnerable in the secondary, with the constant pressure Vick will likely face I do not think he will be effective in his first competitive game in a year. NC St loses RB McClendon, but is loaded with talent at RB and should run the ball fairly well. NC St QB Davis should be improved in his second year as a starter, and as long as he can avoid INTs, and VT QB Vick does not channel brother Ron Mexico, I think NC St is set up for an outright win here.
NEW MEXICO (-14) v. Nevada-Las Vegas
It appears NM RB Moore has recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in the bowl game LY. His return means that NM should be much more potent on O this season, as they return 8 starters. LY against UNLV, NM rushed for 284 yards. UNLV only returns 3 starters on defense this season, and, if anything, they should increase that output in this game. Add to this that NM's WR are 6'3" and 6'4", and will be able to exploit a 5'9" starter at CB for UNLV, and NM should put up plenty of points. UNLV is a little light at WR and RB, and will probably struggle early in the season. NM will have to deal with new UNLV HC Sanders--who should improve UNLV's offense--but NM generally puts a good D on the field. LY, despite having only 4 returning starters, they only gave up 28 pts to Sanders' (considerably more talented) offense at Utah, and only 24 pts to Texas Tech. They did a better job against Utah QB Smith (14-28, 169, 0 TD, 1 Int) than anyone else on their schedule. This year NM's D returns only 5 starters, but 10 of the projected starters have significant experience and they should be able to handle Sanders' O once again.
Other games of note:
Miami, Florida (-3) v. FLORIDA STATE
No play on this one, but if I had to pick, it'd be Miami. Not a whole lot of analysis here, other than that I can see FSU going 7-4 this season, seeing as how they have lost God at starting QB, and (amazingly) have lost an even better player than him (Cromartie) . It really wouldn't surprise me to see them get rolled in this game 31-0 like they did in 1988. It's not a play because, in this series, 3 points is a lot--Miami has beaten FSU by 3 points or less, or gone to OT, an amazing 4 times in the last 5 seasons. So, even though it isn't many, I don't want to lay the points. Oddly enough, this is the sort of game that, if Miami were in FSU's position, they'd win--witness 2 years ago, where Miami were a 7-point dog at FSU, generally given no shot, and they won rather handily in a heavy rain; they did the same thing as a dog at home after UW beat that ass in the Orange Bowl in 1994. It's almost like the weaker team tends to come out and control the game, against all expectations--although, now that I think about it, Miami is the only one of these two teams that does that. Still, I can see Miami QB Wright coming out and pissing his pants against a still pretty solid Cromartie-less FSU D. So I'll hold off on making Miami a play.
GEORGIA (-7) v. Boise State
Much has been said about this game during the off-season, and since my alma mater is involved, let me list my thoughts. I don't have a play in this game (truth is, I rarely play on or against Georgia). But if you put a gun to my head, I'd pick Georgia in this game and lay the 7 points. Here are three reasons why:
(1) Boise's defense is poor, particularly on the road.
Boise's played 5 games away from home LY. In those five games, their D gave up an average of 36 ppg and 422 ypg. In other words, a pretty good D at home becomes a below average D on the road. Boise's D is unlikely to improve--for the opener at Georgia, they will only return 5 starters, and only 2 of their back 7. Boise's entire secondary has 16 career starts between them. While Georgia's strength on O this season will likely be the running game, QB Shockley and the new UGA receivers shouldn't have too much trouble doing well against this D. I expect Georgia to score a lot of points.
(2) Boise won't run the ball against Georgia.
The idea that Boise has a "balanced" O is illusory. To illustrate the point, LY Boise played 5 halfway-decent run Ds (Oregon St, UTEP, BYU, Fresno St, Louisville), and in these games averaged 3.19 ypc. In their other 7 games, they averaged 5.59 ypc. The best Run D Boise played LY, in terms of ypc, was Louisville, which gave up an average of 3.12 ypc--which was worse than Georgia's 3.05 ypc. Georgia returns 5 full-time starters to their front 7 on D this season, so there is no reason to believe that they won't still be stingy against the run.
(3) Boise's WR situation is a little dicey.
Georgia lost two 1st Team WR to the NFL draft last season. As a result, their projected starters at WR and TE caught only 44 balls last season.
And that's still more than their Boise equivalents.
Boise's projected starters at WR and TE caught 28 balls last season. Boise does bring in a Jerard Rabb, a legit JUCO receiver, and transfer from Oregon St (in case you think this skews the numbers a bit, keep in mind that Boise starts 3 WR, and the OSU transfer caught only 6 balls the last year he played football). But unless the JUCO ends up being another Keyshawn Johnson, Georgia's probably got the edge at the receiving positions in this game--which would be stunning, given that it's their biggest question mark.
So why not play Georgia? Well, I'm not sure what to make of them yet. The question is, who has gone 42-10 the last four seasons? Is it HC Mark Richt, was it DC Van Gorder, was it QB David Greene, or was it DE David Pollack? In other words, I'm not sure why they've been winning, and, because of this, I'm not sure if it will continue. Georgia just might not be very good. I think if Georgia loses this game, they are probably a 6-5 or 7-4 team that won't be able to compete for the SEC title. I'd be very surprised if they lost this game and then went on to go 9-2.
So there they are. Legitimate criticism is welcomed. Illegitimate criticism? You can take it and stuff it.