Welcome to The Old College Try. Each week, I’ll be here, attempting to grow a starting bankroll of $1,000 by making picks on NCAA football games. To see previous weeks’ picks, click the links below. All lines accurate as of Wednesday, 10/9. Featured image from TheSpun.com
Well, I’m writing this while grieving yet another early playoff exit from the local baseball team whose name shall not be mentioned. So, in an effort to distract ourselves from the soul-crushing depression caused by sports, let’s turn our attention to… other sports? And let’s increase the stakes by putting money on them? Yeah, that seems healthy. Ok, so back to football gambling and we’ll do our best to focus on the bright side: last week’s 4-2 record increased the bankroll by about $100 to a total of $421.64.
Since a horrendous week 2, the picks have been on a bit of a hot streak, resulting in a 14-9 record (60.9%). Our season record is up to 16-17, so with a little luck this week we could jump up above 50% for the year.
In the interest of brevity, we are skipping “What We Learned” and moving right into our best bets. For those that are interested in a CliffsNotes version: UCF fans might actually shut up this year, LSU played defense for the first time, and Bo Nix is bad. Now, let’s go find some week 7 winners.
The Public Pick of the Week
Alabama -16.5 at Texas A&M (-110)
Bet: $75 to win $68.18
I think a lot of sharps will probably be against me here, and I’m willing to accept that I’ll likely be on the public side. If you bet on Alabama, you usually are. Still, I feel strongly enough about the favorite in this one to go against the wise guys out in Vegas.
First of all, I have no faith in Kellen Mond. The quarterback’s performance against Clemson early in 2018 sent his stock soaring, and the market still hasn’t really corrected to reflect his performance since that game. He is frequently inaccurate, and often leaves balls high over the middle of the field. Those throws can be dangerous against athletic defenses.
This is a great chance for the Alabama defense to get back on track, and going up against A&M should keep the players a little bit more motivated than previous SEC matchups with South Carolina and Ole Miss. In addition, A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher tends to play at a slow tempo. Alabama (like most defenses) sometimes struggles with teams that push the tempo, especially teams with the ability to spread the field. A&M’s slower pace, along with Mond’s typical inaccuracy, makes this Aggie team’s offensive style play right into Alabama’s hands.
There are reasons to doubt the Tide here – an unproven linebacker corps, a hostile road environment, and a big number to cover – but it’s not enough to scare me away from Alabama this week. I fully expect Tua and company to score quick and score often, and I don’t think the Aggies will be able to keep up. Bama by three touchdowns.
The Rivalry Game Underdog of the Week
Texas +11.5 vs Oklahoma (-110)
Bet: $60 to win $54.55
The Red River Shootout always seems to have a large spread, and it always seems to end with a single digit margin of victory. In fact, you would have to go back to 2013 to find the last Red River Shootout that was decided by more than 10 points. And then you have Tom Herman. It’s a stat that always gets thrown around for Texas games, but it’s worth repeating here: Herman is 13-3 against the spread as an underdog and 5-0 as a double digit dog in his career. Give me that trend, a double-digit spread, and a historic, hard-fought rivalry? I guess I have to bet on the dog.
So why is the spread so big? Well, Oklahoma has looked like a titan this season, and Texas has certainly looked mortal. In addition, Texas has several injuries in the secondary – never a good sign when you’re going up against a Lincoln Riley offense. Still, the Longhorns should get a couple of safeties back this week, along with star wide receiver Collin Johnson.
Yes, I think Oklahoma is probably the better team here, and I certainly don’t believe in Texas as a true contender. However, I do trust Sam Ehlinger and his big receivers on the outside to score enough to keep the lead in the single digits. Texas has been tested and hung tough with potential Playoff contender LSU, and Oklahoma really hasn’t been challenged yet this year. I think Jalen Hurts and the Oklahoma offense will be able to pull this one out, but it’s going to be a close one.
The “Too Many Horses” Talent Mismatch of the Week
Penn State -3.5 at Iowa
Bet: $60 to win $54.55
This is a tough one for me, and I went back and forth on whether to include it all week. Iowa City is a tough place to play, and the Hawkeyes have looked like a very solid team this year, despite a loss to Michigan in a very ugly game last week. In the end, this pick boils down to a talent discrepancy on the offensive side of the ball.
Iowa struggled to move the ball at all against Michigan last week, and I haven’t seen anything this year that makes me think that the Michigan defense is any better than the one that the Nittany Lions are bringing to this game. Penn State’s offense, on the other hand, is a whole lot better than Michigan’s, and I think they will be able to score enough here.
I think this will be a hard fought game, and I think the home field advantage will be enough to keep the Hawkeyes in the game. I don’t think they have the weapons to match Penn State, though, and I think James Franklin’s squad will win by a touchdown or more.
The Dumpster Dive of the Week
Tennessee +7 vs Mississippi State (-110)
Bet: $60 to win $54.55
I’m going to hold my nose and take the points with the home dog on this one. Yeah, it’s pretty terrifying to bet on Tennessee right now – with one win over lowly Chattanooga, this team has looked about as bad as you can look in the early parts of the season.
Still, Tennessee showed some signs of life in their game against Georgia last week, and I think they can keep making progress by keeping it close – if not winning outright – this week against a pretty mediocre Mississippi State team.
Freshman quarterback Brandon Maurer unlocked a new gear for the Volunteer offense last week, completing touchdown passes to Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway in the first half. Coming off of back to back games against dominant defenses in Florida and Georgia, Mississippi State’s vastly inferior unit will be a chance to for Maurer to show that he’s for real. With their backs against the wall at home, and with only a precious few opportunities to win left on their schedule, I expect Tennessee to come out swinging early in this game.
The Aflac Injured List Game of the Week
Maryland -3 at Purdue (-110)
Bet: $60 to win $54.55
Back to back weeks picking Maryland. That certainly comes as a surprise. Back in weeks one and two, with the Terrapins blowing out teams in consecutive games, I fully expected to be the low person on this team throughout the season. But suffering a blowout on Penn State has caused the pendulum of public perception to swing back drastically on this team – a bit too far, I think.
Purdue will likely be playing without its best player (WR Rondale Moore), starting quarterback, a few of its best defensive players, and multiple running backs due to injury. Now, when Alabama or Clemson or Oklahoma loses some key contributors, that’s one thing. Those programs have 4- and 5-star depth at almost every position, so replacing even a superstar may only set your team back by a win or two. At lower tier Power Five teams like Purdue, though? Good luck replacing star talent at multiple positions. These teams just don’t have the depth to recover from catastrophic losses like the ones that Purdue has suffered this year. Losing quarterback Elijah Singular alone would be tough, but with Moore and the other contributors out, Purdue’s offense looks like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Now, Maryland has had its injuries as well, and quarterback Josh Jackson will be out for this game. I’m not concerned. Jackson isn’t exactly Tua Tagovailoa, and Maryland does most of their damage on the ground with their running backs. In the same way that I didn’t believe Rutgers had the defense to stop Maryland’s ground game last week, I think Purdue’s defense is too banged up to stand up to the Terps in this one.
The Fraudulent Undefeated Team Fade of the Week
Louisville +7 at Wake Forest (-115)
Bet: $60 to win $52.17
Well, we played a heavy public side, now to fade the public in a Saturday night ACC showdown. Louisville games have been a favorite of the column this year, so I won’t spend time here detailing how Scott Satterfield has improved the program for the third time. So instead, let’s focus on the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest comes into this game undefeated with a fairly high-profile win against North Carolina. In the fairly barren ACC Coastal, Deacon fans are probably already excited about going into the Clemson game in week 12 undefeated.
So yes, Wake Forest enters the game ranked and with a better record, but if you dive into the stats you can make an argument that Louisville has been the better team. While playing against a tougher schedule according to Jeff Sagarin’s ratings (and also common sense), Louisville is ranked 69th in defensive yards per play and 18th in offensive yards per play. Wake Forest is 73rd in defensive yards per play and 38th offensively.
So you’re telling me you’ll I can take the team who has been better so far this year, with the better coach, and you’re going to give me a full touchdown? Yeah, I think I’ll take the Cardinals in this one.
Can We Bet on the Dawgs This Week?
Look, guys, this segment is bound to get a bit repetitive. It’s going to be hard for Vegas to adjust the numbers appropriately when Georgia is playing against non-Florida (and maybe Missouri) SEC East opponents. Yes, the cover last week against Tennessee was a close one – but UGA started about as slowly as possible (down 14-10 in the second quarter?) and still managed to cover a 24-point spread. So far, UGA has been a 23-point favorite at Vanderbilt and a 24-point favorite at Tennessee and covered in both games. This week, for a home game against South Carolina, it looks like the bookmakers just threw up their hands and said “I guess we’ll go with 24 again.”
Well, unless the number runs up above 27 I won’t try to stop you from betting it. Georgia is a lot better than South Carolina, and the Dawgs are playing at home with nothing big to look forward (they play Kentucky at home next week). In fact, I’ll probably bet on the Dawgs personally. But for the purposes of the column, no money on Georgia this week.
That wraps up another week of the Old College Try. Thanks for reading, and best of luck with all of your bets this weekend. Let me know what you’re taking, and whether you’re following or fading these picks, either here in the comments or on twitter (@slapnslide).
Bets: Risking $375 to win $338.55