The second weekend of the college football season offers up some of the better rivalries in the land, some early season league showdowns and one heavyweight fight in Columbus that will have poll ramifactions all season long. It also has my two favorite underdog series on the board. And when determing in early August who to back during this weekend of football, there is no better place than with those games.
CLEMSON +4 AT GEORGIA TECH, 9/10 (THURS), 7:30, ESPN
According to the media, this game pits two teams projected to finish second place in their respective ACC divisions. With CJ Spiller and Jonathon Dwyer, the game stars the top two players in the pundits preseason poll for league player-of-the-year. Its an early season shakedown of the pecking order in the standings and the chase for conference honors.
A game with Spiller and Dwyer in the tailback spotlight is worth the price of admission. Spiller has been a factor back in the ACC from the moment he arrived on campus. As the featured back for the first time ever this season expect a career year. Dwyer, meanwhile, has become one of the most explosive players in recent Tech history. He is the perfect weapon for Coach Paul Johnson’s tricky option football and gives him the home run threat his effective, if not undermanned, Naval Academy teams lacked.
So what is the right side in a game featuring the league’s two best offensive players?
If you pay attention to history, you should play the underdog. While it would be great to breakdown such an early ACC clash of contenders by the match-up, my guess on the rivalry will lean entirely on the history books here. And why not? After all the puppy in this series is 18–6 ATS the last quarter century, 17-3 in that last 20 games. The Yellowjackets are the favorite this season by 4, but Tech has covered just one of nine in this series when laying chalk.
Let’s review just how gold the puppy has been in this matchup. Two years ago, Tech held the powerful Tiger offense, averaging 33 points per game, to just 3 en route to an upset win. In 2005, the Jackets scored just nine points, but still covered the +2.5 in a 10-9 loss. In 2004, Tech scored 14 points in the final five minutes of the game to get the cover and upset win in Clemson. In 2000 and 2001 the programs exchanged upset wins as double digit dogs in Instant Classic type of games. Do you get the picture yet?
One caveat: The favorite has covered 2 of the last 3. Last season, Tech won 21-17 as 3-point chalk in Clemson in a game that took place the week Tommy Bowden was fired and replaced as the Tigers coach by Dabo Sweeney. The dog still almost got the cash despite a week of epic turmoil in Clemson.
I wont concern myself with whats happened in the short term. There’s way to much overall history on the side of the underdog in this rivalry. I’ve been watching games from this perspective for a decade now and remain way ahead on this game when taking the points. Regardless, it ought to be a fun game to watch. A chance to learn a bit more about some ACC contenders. With the Thursday night spotlight shining from ESPN, plenty of action will pour in on this game. I’ll let others sweat out actually breaking it down by tape. I’m just going to grab four points with the underdog, enjoy a night of football and see what happens.
MICHIGAN +3 VS NOTRE DAME, 9/12, 3:30, ABC
The historic Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is another series that leans heavily over the long term to the underdog. Beyond these two series, you wont find too many others that trends so dramatically to one side where the programs often change roles. We reviewed the Clemson-Tech numbers, so lets take a look at this series.
Since the programs began their modern day rivalry in 1978, the underdog has gone 20-5 against the spread. In the last five years, the dog has gone a symetrically comfortable 4-1 ATS. The Irish enter Ann Arbor currently laying field goal, but Notre Dame has only covered as a favorite one time in this series. That was way back in 1982 when they hosted Michigan in the first ever night game in Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish won 23-17 and covered a short number. Michigan was driving for a winning score in the closing minutes when Irish DB Dave Duereson recovered a Vince Bean fumble after the flanker had caught a big gain over the middle.
The one thing that has fascinated me by the results of this series is how many times you can make a strong case for the winner having played its best game of the season. Find me a better game the 1998, 2004, 2005 or 2008 Irish played played and won. Same goes for the the 1999, 2003, 2006 and 2007 Wolverines. Through those efforts alone, the underdog nabbed the cash six times.
It’s just weird scheduling that has the two series where I always blindly play a certain side, in this case the underdog, crop up on the same weekend. And like the above Tiger/Yellowjacket clash, I am not putting any added thought into this play. The underdog often catches magic when the Irish and Wolverines play, and I dont mind spending a unit on the chance that it will happen again.
SOUTH CAROLINA +11.5 AT GEORGIA, 9/12, 7:45, ESPN
The Georgia-South Carolina series trends to the dog as well over the last nine years. But, I dont consider this to be an underdog series, certainly not in the vein of the above two games whose trend goes back to the mid 1980s or farther. Also, the Gamecocks are the underdog every year. The other two series routinely swap roles from program to program. Saying the underdog wins the money in this series is nothing more than a fancy way to say South Carolina owns the recent point spread edge.
I am intrigued by this series because under Holtz and Spurrier, the Gamecocks may not have beaten Georgia a whole lot, but they’ve exceeded oddsmakers expectations six of the last nine games. Only twice in this span have the Dawgs rolled the Cocks by more than double digits. So, in one the more underrated matchups of every season, it’s compelling to see South Carolina catching 11.5 points.
An early September college football tradition evolved this decade, that being a South Carolina team dissolving a contest with Georgia into an ugly street fight and giving the heavily regarded Dawgs a major run for their money. In 2000, 2001 and 2007, South Carolina stopped all talk about a legit Dawg team with upsets as heavy underdogs. Six of the last eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Dont expect a lot of scoring either as the winner has scored 20 or less points seven times since 2001. If this series sticks to its identity, whoever loses this game wont need to put that many points on the board to stay within 11.5 of the winner.
This is one of those series where he motivation level is always uneven. South Carolina highlights UGA as a prime rivalry and with the game always slated early in the season, there always is a summer motivating force for the players to get ready for the Dawgs. South Carolina considers Georgia its biggest league rival, bar none. Meanwhile, UGA always has bigger fish to fry and, in many years, would consider half the SEC teams a more important clash than their amnual meet with the Gamecocks. They clearly overlook South Carolina. This mixture of attitudes lends itself to the Gamecocks, and, as a reuslt, they arguably play their best defensive game of the season each and every year against Georgia.
This will be such a different Georgia team than we’ve seen in a while. Nobody is really sure of their identity. I wonder if the team will have that figured out in time not just to play a team out for their blood. The steady playmaking of Matt Stafford is gone. They have more than enough talent, but I wonder if the new quarterback is ready to lead a team smoothly enough to cover such a big spread in an SEC grudge match. Besides, Georgia has never been much of a profit maker at home, checking in at 9-15 ATS the last four seasons.
Like with Week One, we’ve identified three picks we like this far out. There were plenty of others to choose from, but I was reluctant to pull the trigger in advance. We’ll take a look at those games in a separate post later this week.