This has been a good week. Our government shutdown ended, people went back to work, Pearl Jam released a new album, we successfully pawned off Vanilla Ice on the Amish, and Saturday’s Clemson-Florida State match-up has potential to be the game of the year.
So it’s with a heavy heart that I give you the bad news: This week’s lines are really tough. Vegas always gets better as the season goes on, but I think it’s safe to say that the weeks of going 9-1 are over. There wasn’t a single game this week that stood out as a lock. Remember, my locks only win 2/3 of the time, and that’s when I’m confident, so if I can’t find a game to throw my weight behind, you know things are bad. Plus, based on last week’s string of upsets, we’ve officially reached the point of the season where ranked teams start dropping like flies. My point is, if you don’t know what you’re doing, maybe your best course of action would be... to wager lightly.
UCF +12.5 over Louisville – FRIDAY NIGHT GAME
All I'm gonna say about this one is, watch out. Louisville has looked unimpressive whenever they play even a mediocre opponent. UCF is an underrated squad that beat Penn State and kept it very close with South Carolina. QB Blake Bortles is an emerging star, and many have referred to his girlfriend as "The 2013 Katherine Webb," so you know he's a winner. Plus their running back is named Storm Johnson. Teddy Bridgewater better bring his A-game if Louisville is to keep their BCS hopes alive.
Missouri +3.5 over Florida
This is like that “Giant Douche vs. Turd Sandwich” episode of South Park. Both teams are missing their starting quarterbacks, and Florida has had a string of other injuries. At least Tyler Murphy has a few games under his belt for the Gators. I don’t know what to think of Maty Mauk. He has a good pedigree, setting records in Ohio, a state with a plethora of football talent. His brother Ben was a good QB for Cincinnati just a few years back, and as an older brother, trust me, the younger brothers are always better at everything. But this is Mauk’s first game, and Jameis Winston he is not. I predict that Missouri struggles in the first half, with the Gators’ defensive pressure causing Mauk to give up two turnovers. Florida will have a 13-point lead at the half. Mauk will settle down in the second half and lead the Tigers on a semi-comeback that falls just short. Florida 27, Missouri 26. Leaving the SEC East wide open for... Alabama to streamroll them in the championship game.
If you're skeptical of these teams like I am, you might want to consider the over/under of 44 in this game. I know it's the SEC, but there aren't many non-UConn games that go under 44.
Oklahoma -23 over Kansas
This week is forcing me to bet on a bunch of teams that I hate betting on. For example, I don’t trust Oklahoma one bit, but in a bounceback game against the hapless Jayhawks, it’s one of the better week 8 bets I could find. Oklahoma desperately needs a statement win, and I desperately need to replenish my Sportsbook account. This is like one of those TV shows where two opposing sides are forced to work together toward a mutual goal. Basically this game is NBC’s “The Blacklist,” Oklahoma is the hot chick detective, and I’m James Spader. In that both Spader and I are doing it solely for the money.
(And if Oklahoma covers, you will find me sitting in a dark room, rubbing my hands together and doing a James Spader maniacal laugh. Aha… ah HA HA HA!)
Ohio State -18 over Iowa
Part of what makes me America’s Most Trusted Degenerate Gambler is the fact that I actually watch the Big Ten. Anyone can tell you what they think of Alabama and LSU, but it takes a real hero to monitor the likes of Indiana and Illinois. I’ve followed the Big Ten for decades. I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve seen Ohio State under Jim Tressel, and I’ve seen them under Urban Meyer. They’re no longer a Big Ten team. Sure, they belong to the conference, but their style of play and caliber of athletes is SEC-esque. People need to stop thinking about the Buckeyes as some boring Big Ten team and start thinking of them as Florida with a real QB. More good news: OSU is coming off a bye, and they won’t be looking ahead to next week. (Sorry, Penn State.) Meanwhile, Iowa is every Big Ten stereotype multiplied by 100. They aren’t a bad team, per se, but they’re slow and old-fashioned and don’t have the athletes to compete in this modern-day spread-offense world. Ohio State is an iPhone 5C and Iowa is a Coby 4-gig mp3 player. Lay the points and hope that Braxton Miller doesn’t get arrested the night before.
Speaking of Jim Tressel, can someone please give him a job? His tattoo scandal is laughable compared to Manziel and the college football scandals that have occurred since. (Not to mention Sandusky.) Think of it this way. Colorado and Washington have legalized weed, a bunch of other states offer medical marijuana, but there are still people serving ten-year sentences for marijuana possession. So somewhere in America, a guy is getting pounded in the ass because he smoked a joint, while at the same time an Aspen housewife is buying an ounce of Purple Kush for her “glaucoma.” Tressel is the guy in prison watching his scandalous colleagues thrive. That tattoo thing is a 2.5 on the scandal meter and yet Tressel has been put on the blacklist. Not the James Spader blacklist, the go-teach-business-classes-at-a-MAC-school blacklist. Pete Carroll’s headed toward a Super Bowl, Manziel might play in a BCS bowl, and Tressel is putting together the "Akron Monthly" e-mail blast. It makes no sense. Tressel’s a great coach and he deserves a second chance. Are you listening, UConn?
Wisconsin -14 over Illinois
Wisconsin is going to win this game by 14 points exactly. If the line drops to 13.5, I'm in. If it stays at 14.5, I'm out. I will not bet on Illinois under any circumstance. I'll bet on Air Bud to beat LeBron James in a 1-on-1 game before I take the Illini. You want my respect, you can start by thinking of a real nickname. The Illinois Illini is like if I started a team and named them the Connecticut Connectikittens. Except my name is cute and Illinois' name is semi-racist. Yeah, I said it. The only reason Illinois doesn't catch flack like the Washington Redskins is because nobody knows what a Fightin' Illini is. Google it, bitches.
UCLA +6 over Stanford
I've been on the UCLA bandwagon all season and I haven't been burned yet. Unlike the USC bandwagon, which was driven off a bridge, Ted Kennedy-style. (Our thoughts are with the victims and families of USC football during these difficult times.) Now, I'm not saying UCLA will win this game. In fact, I think Stanford pulls off the narrow victory. But Brett Hundley and the Bruins are the real deal. They're loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and won't be pushed around easily. They're going to win the PAC 12 South and compete for a BCS bid. So when you can get them plus 6 points, well, you know what you gotta do.
Speaking of USC...
Notre Dame -3.5 over USC
Last year's Notre Dame-USC match-up was one of the easiest gambling games of the year. Notre Dame was on their way to the National Championship Game, and USC was a mediocre team that just lost its quarterback. The spread was only 5.5 or something like that. They were basically giving away money. My gut feeling about this year's game is that it's a rehash of last year, except both teams are 40% worse. So it's a slightly above-average Notre Dame versus a crappy USC.
The only thing that has me hesitant is USC's coaching change. A few weeks back I promised I would never bet on USC again so long as Lane Kiffin was coach. Now Kiffin is gone, and USC is 1-0 under Ed Oregon*. He's a talented coach who was instrumental during USC's run of greatness, but then struggled with the difficult task of competing in the SEC West. So I'm not sure what kind of difference he'll make. USC has tons of pro talent, and Kiffin was a terrible coach, so it's possible the Trojans can become a formidable team for the remainder of the year. Or, they could give up on the 2013 season, drink 40s and chase tail, and try again in 2014 under coach Del Rio. Either option is possible. I hate both of these teams, so I'm playing it safe and making a small wager on the group that has done more to prove themselves this year.
*I know it's Ed Orgeron, but it's impossible to say his name without it coming out as either "Ed Oregon" or "Ed Oregano." Thus he will be referred to as such for the rest of the season.
Clemson +3 over Florida State
Usually I avoid reading other people’s picks until I’m finished making mine, to avoid clouding my mind with all the static noise. But I had a tough time with this week's lines, so I decided to check out what other people were saying. First off, most “experts” I found writing for major publications pick games straight-up (in other words, not against the spread). Why even bother? That’s like betting on who will win a Mayweather fight, and not having to give odds or pick the round. Hey, congrats, you nailed it when you said Alabama would beat Georgia State by 1 or more points. Now, specific to this game, almost everybody was picking Florida State to win by exactly 3 points. To me, that's reason enough to pick Clemson, because sports analysts are always wrong, except for Kirk Herbstreet, who’s the best. However, when I think about it a little more analytically, this is about as even a match-up as you can get. I decided to go with Clemson, for the following reasons:
-Home field advantage, which is more important in college football than in any other sport.
-Tajh Boyd. Both teams have exceptional quarterbacks, but only Boyd has played in this type of intense, high-stakes game before.
-The much-improved Clemson D. What killed the Tigers last year in Tallahassee was their complete inability to stop EJ Manuel and FSU. This year they should fare better on the defensive front.
-You get 3 points. This is Gambling 101, but you have to recognize certain marker posts when betting. Getting 3 points, for example, is WAY better than getting 2.5 points. Having to cover 7.5 is much tougher than having to cover 7. Conversely, a spread of 11 versus a spread of 11.5 is much less of a difference. In this situation, even if Florida State wins by a field goal, as the analysts have predicted, you push. No harm, no foul. You've heard of defensive driving, well this is defensive gambling.
But... I'm not predicting a push. I'm picking Clemson to win this game outright. Yes, that's right, I'm making the bold decision to pick the #3 team in the country to win a game. You see, I don't think anyone in the ACC is going undefeated. I think Alabama and Oregon meet in the title game. I also think no other "real" team goes undefeated; that excludes Louisville and Fresno State whose combined strength of schedule is a negative 4.
My prediction: Clemson knocks off the Noles this weekend, loses to South Carolina later in the year, and both Clemson and Florida State end up in the BCS.
Will it happen? Can Clemson keep their run alive? Can Florida State go into Death Valley and emerge victorious? Will the Amish ever accept Vanilla Ice? Will the winner of Clemson-FSU make the National Championship Game? Will I be drinking heavily and cursing at my TV?
We’ll find out this Saturday.
Take the Points: @take_the_points
Tom Z: @thefaketomz