In 10 days, the college football season begins. And you know what? Why wait? Let’s throw some of our picks for the first weekend out there right now. Most onlines and Vegas sportsbook already have a full set of odds for Week One, so we’re obliged to play early. Those are the rules. I’m almost positive.
First, a few quick words on the Week One Board. As of this morning, Oklahoma State and Alabama are the largest chalk on the board, both laying 36.5 points at home to Louisiana and Kent State respectively. There are several other chalky monsters at -30 or more, including Wisconsin -35 vs UNLV and Ohio State -33.5 vs Akron.
We’ve talked throughout the summer about how nobody is betting Michigan. Their opener has been met with ‘meh’ eyes to the gambling community. At -14 over Western Michigan, that line has held steady for two weeks, whereas earlier in the summer lines were getting hammered against Michigan from the second books put them out there. What’s interesting in the WMU game is the first couple onlines I noticed that listed full Week One odds didnt make the Michigan/WMU available for at least a couple days. Gun shy from getting so much anti-Michigan action on its other games? Maybe. But, unlike the other games, there appears to be a groundswell for supporting Michigan in the opener. We’ll see. Until proven otherwise, I dont think they have the defense to lay chalk. I’ll be sitting this one out.
Sticking in the Big 10, I initially wanted to be all over Northwestern +5.5 over Boston College. But, I blinked and the line shrunk to 2.5. While its been upped to a full field goal, I am less bullish on this one. I feel a field goal decides it either way, so +5.5 looked like a fun ride. I still have a couple weeks to toss this one around. It certainly is one of the more underrated games of opening weekend. The Underdog in Northwestern games has been cashing out for four years in a row. Will that continue this season?
Alright on to the actual Week One picks. There are two games already on the card. Here they are, but as always, my warning, these picks may be hazardous to your wallet:
South Florida +10 at Notre Dame
Bad home favorite meets great road dog. It’s a classic tale, a rich tapestry of conflict between a team in its worst role and a coach who is in his prime spot played under the watchful eye of touchdown Jesus. Alright, maybe not that dramatic. But in one corner, we have Notre Dame, one of the worst money burners at home, logging a 31-52-3 ATS mark as home chalk since the end of 1993 and their Return To Glory Era began. Those numbers have trended downward over the years, dipping to 23-44-3 since 1998 and 12-25-1 since 2003. Bottomline, you could have bet against the Irish in every spot as a home chalk and turned a profit in 14 of the last 17 seasons.
And in the other corner, one of the pluckiest road dog coach/program combo with USF and head man Skip Holtz. The Bulls are 12-6 ATS as a road dog since jumping to the BCS league level and Holtz, in his career as a FBS head coach, is 20-8 ATS when taking his team is catching points on the road. USF has outright upset wins on the Plains against Auburn, in Tallahasee against the Noles and in Coral Gables against Da U highlighting their out of conference resumes in three of the last four years. I think they can stay within double digits against the Irish. I’ve had countless different flirtations with the road dog coach du jour over the last dozen years and right now the flame is burning hot with Holtz. And, when I’m hot and heavy with my latest road dog coach, I’m practically doubling down every time out. We had a rough start in his debut season in Tampa losing heartbreaking covers at Florida and West Virginia, mostly because BJ Daniels threw those games away. But, we stuck with our man, knowing those were going to be the toughest teams they would be a road dog against. The patience paid off as the Bulls swept their final four marks in the road dog spot, including the upset at Miami and the win in the bowl game over Clemson. We’ll see if this crush manages another year, but in looking at their schedule, this opener might be the only time this season we can dance with Holtz to our favorite tune. The Bulls will play the same solid defense as they did a year ago, one which knew how to force three and outs, didnt give up a ton of yards and was really good at minimizing the big play. They have good playmakers at the skill positions, depth on the defensive line and are coming together as a special teams beast under Holtz. As long as BJ Daniels doesnt crap down his leg–and, hey that’s why they call it gambling–I think the Bulls will get in at least under this number.
We’ll break this game down once or twice more on the blog before next Saturday, but another quick word on the Irish. Why is it that so many fans get so pissed and up in arms about over hyped Irish squads? My first question is who exactly is overrating them anyway? They havent been ranked in the preseason polls in three of the last four prior seasons. Can you be hyped if you’re not preseason ranked? I dont know. And even if Notre Dame is over hyped every August, dont whine about it, take advantage of it. The public buzz leads to inflated lines in Notre Dame’s favor in the early going. Notre Dame is just 5-14-1 ATS in their first four games of the season over the last five years. This year, they’re being asked to cover -10 vs USF, -3.5 at Michigan and -7.5 vs Michigan State in games already listed within that first four game windown. Go ahead and bet against Notre Dame in each one, there’s a great chance you’ll earn a profit.
Fresno State +10 at Cal
I told everybody months ago the intention of being on Fresno in this opener agasint Cal. We didnt know the line then, but speculated that maybe the Bulldogs would be getting a field goal or so. So seeing them listed as +10 made me fall out of my chair. No question, it screams too good to be true. But we ignore those cliched safeguards in this situation, especially when it’s Fresno State we’re talking about. The Bulldogs may be a flaky team, the California version of Clemson to a certain extent. But unlike the ACC Tigers, the Bulldogs can be counted on to succeed–at least against the number and thats all that really counts around here–in certain situations, like when they’re playing a ‘Big Boy’ from a BCS league. Thats just what Pat Hall does. He coaches his team up against the teams from the power conferences. His Fresno teams are 27-13 ATS against any team from one of the six BCS conferences and we’ve been betting and winning on him in these spots for years now. Beyond mere historical precedence, here are some other on field factors that has me taking this bushel of points and the Bulldogs:
Both teams are breaking in new QBs, but I love both Fresno’s higher eventual ceiling with Derek Carr as well as their ability to hit the ground running in 2011 than I do with Cal and their new signal caller Zach Maynard. We’re reading a lot of preseason tea leaves with this analysis, but it seems like the Fresno coaches are already expecting a big offense leap with the highly touted Carr taking over while the Cal coaches are optimistically hoping they wont miss a beat as Maynard learns the ropes. Remember, I am not reading between these lines and proclaiming Fresno will win because Carr is the better QB. No, we’re saying they will stay within double digits because of better QB play.
I dont trust Cal’s defensive front right now. They will be doing one of two things in the early going: Playing a ton of true freshmen who just arrived on campus or undersized upperclassmen. While practice reports laud the younger players dominating efforts, I am dubious this translates immediately in game situations. Is it even a good thing when new arrivals are bossing your practice like that? Well coming off a 5-7 season, maybe it isnt that bad. But, I wonder if this youth movement will be ready for a Fresno team that treats games against Pac 10 teams with the import of a Rose Bowl. I think they’re going to have trouble stopping the physical, power running game that Hill loves to employ. He’ll have his boys fired up to beat up on a local Pac-10 team and the Bulldog experienced offensive line will get enough push, allowing for at least a 100-yard day out of Robbie Rouse. I love underdogs who are going to outrush their opponent or bring a tailback who might surpass the century mark. We have a shot in this one. As for Cal, they’re replacing their top tailback from a year ago Shane Vereen, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards in 2010, and so far in the early going the replacements have had fumble issues in practice. I like hearing that.
Cal was terrible away from Berkley a year ago. And while this is a home game, like all their home contests this year, it wont be played on campus, but instead at San Fran’s ATT&T Park while their own local stadium undergoes expansion and renovation this season. Since this isnt in Berkley, I do wonder if we’ll see the quality Bears we saw a year ago when they played in Strawberry Canyon. But, since its an off campus site, it does open the door for a lot of Fresno fans. And, they have travelled extremely well to west coast road games in the past. I expect the same here. While Cal might have more fans in the end, this is going to look more like a nuetral setting than a true home game. Edge there goes to Fresno.
Cal has the better punter, but the rest of the special teams edge, like field goal kicking and the return games, I factor in favor of Fresno. Again, this isnt me saying it enough for Fresno to win, but better kicking and the hidden return yards during the game will enable the Bulldogs to saty within the point spread the whole game.
But in the end, its what the JCB does: Take Fresno and the points whenever they’re playing a BCS team. So, stop worrying and Book It! already. Two picks on the card already. Fresno +10 and USF +10. I feel at home with tickets in my pocket.