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, 11/20.
Previous Weeks: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 |12
A 3-3 Week 12 brings us to 36-28 on the season, so the picks are still sitting at a solid 56%. A .500 week is never ideal, but if that’s a bad week, I’ll definitely take it. The three losses were a bit of a mixed bag, with both bad beats and bad bets. On one hand, I felt robbed when UNC managed to blow my +4 bet despite game going into overtime against Pitt.
But on the other hand, Michigan nearly hit the 44.5 total by itself and destroyed my under, so…
So after a 3-3 week, we are down a total of $9 to $881.64. With a sparse slate looming in unlucky Week 13, we had to look all over the board – and all over the country – to fill out a card of our 6 best bets. This week, we’ve got unders, we’ve got moneyline dogs, we’ve got plays in both the Mountain West and the AAC. Oh, and we’re taking Louisville again.
The “Back to the Well” Louisville Pick of the Week
Louisville -10 vs Syracuse
Bet: $70 to win $63.64
Just looking at the score from Syracuse’s game last week, you might think they figured it all out. And hell, 49-6 over Duke? I don’t blame you. But take a closer look at the box score, and that 49 point explosion doesn’t seem quite so impressive. Syracuse only threw for 109 yards, and although they had a great day running the ball—286 yards on the ground is nothing to sneeze at—it’s very rare that a team manages to score 49 points while managing less than 400 yards.
So how did Syracuse do it? Well, there were two big factors. First, Syracuse had two interceptions, including a pick-6, and recovered a fumble in the game, which allowed them to get the ball in plus field position. And that other thing?
Well, Syracuse was incredibly fortunate with regard to when they managed to gain yards. In baseball, there’s something that advanced statistics guys call “cluster luck” – it has to do with the way hits are timed and whether or not a team is able to create rallies, or multiple hit innings. It helps to have cluster luck because two teams playing each other may both have 9 hits in a game. However, if one team has one hit in each of the nine innings, and the other team has 9 hits in one inning, that second team is probably going to win the game. The reason it’s called “cluster luck” and not “cluster skill,” though, is that teams, for the most part, can’t control when their hits come.
Football teams, similarly, can’t entirely control when their successful plays occur inside of a game. That’s why explosive plays are such a big factor for teams scoring points – they reduce the number of successful plays you need to score on a drive. In the game against Duke, Syracuse managed to score a touchdown on every single drive in which they managed to gain at least 20 yards. That stat right there is a fantastic example of (likely non-repeatable) cluster luck in football.
All of this is to say that while Syracuse definitely should have won last week over a Duke team that has been really bad lately, the score also should have been a whole lot closer. It feels like people are overreacting to the huge margin of victory, and I like to fade overreactions like this. I think Louisville will be able to shut down the Syracuse run game on Saturday, and I think they beat the Orange by two touchdowns or more on Senior Night.
The Pirate Pick of the Week
East Carolina -14 at UConn (-120)
Bet: $70 to win $58.33
With two Jack Sparrow gifs in the column already, it’s a Pirate’s life for us this week. And, being in a seafaring sort of mood, how could we resist supporting the team with the only pirate mascot in all of the FBS (I’m like 98% sure here).
East Carolina’s defense may not be any good, but their offense has some serious powder in the canons. In their last two games, they’ve dropped 43 on Cincinatti and 51 on SMU. Now, neither of those team are good defensively, but East Carolina nearly played each of them to a draw, and they are both Top 25 teams according to the playoff committee.
UConn is… not. In fact, the Huskies from Connecticut are currently sitting at 129th out of 130 FBS teams in yards per play allowed. And offensively, they aren’t much better. Even with a weak defense, ECU should be able to string together a couple of stops and pull out a multi-touchdown victory. Grab an eyepatch and a bottle of rum, because we’re Pirates for the weekend.
The Late Night Extra Juice Chaser of the Week
San Diego State Moneyline at Hawaii
Bet: $60 to win $78
There will be 20-22 mph winds One of these teams likes to throw the ball all over the field, and one keeps it on the ground and plays great defense. Which one is more suited to play in gale-force winds?
Yeah, I’d take the running team too. Hawaii has been garbage against the spread when playing at home for several years now, and I think San Diego State has the ability to contain their offense (with a little help from Mother Nature).
Now, plenty of sharp money has been coming in on Hawaii all week, so you need to know what we are going up against before we take this bet. Still, I think San Diego State has a better than 50% chance of winning this game. With +130 odds, I’m happy to take a shot on SDSU. If you don’t feel great about taking the Aztec Warriors but still want to make a play on the weather in this one, I think the under is a pretty solid as well.
Cavalier Attitude Point-Laying of the Week
Virginia -16.5 vs Liberty
Bet: $70 to win $63.64
Virginia may not be the most reliable on the offensive side of the ball, but they have one of the most consistently disruptive defenses in college football. They’re 11th in the country in sack percentage, and they’re getting contributions from all over the field as 6 different players on this Cavalier team have at least 3 sacks. Liberty has a below average offensive line, and they throw the ball a lot. Virginia will have plenty of opportunities to impact field position with sacks or interceptions.
The one concern here? Virginia plays rival Virginia Tech next week, and there’s definitely the potential for the Cavaliers to look ahead to that game. Still, I’m comfortable laying the points with a strong defensive team in UVA, and I think Bryce Perkins and co. can manage enough on offense to cover 17.
The “That Has to Be Too Many Points, Right?” Under of the Week
Washington State at Oregon State Under 76.5 (-110)
Bet: $70 to win $63.64
Whew, I can already feel the sweat on this one. Don’t get me wrong, both of these offenses are solid and I hate to rely on a stop from either of the defenses. But, I mean, come on. 76.5 points. SEVENTY SIX AND A HALF POINTS.
That’s 11 touchdowns. Both offenses need to play spectacular games for a total to hit 77 points. Or the defenses need to score multiple touchdowns. Either way, with just a couple of punts (or even a handful of field goals) we should be able to cash this under. There’s a decent chance I end up regretting this pick and repeating “It was the right side” to myself ad nauseam as Mike Leach’s team kicks the extra point after their 8th touchdown. But hey, you gotta live by your principles, and in this house we bet unders.
Can We Bet on the Dawgs?
Sadly, I wouldn’t recommend it this week. Georgia is the better team (I’ve repeated this phrase enough to feel a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day) but the Aggies have a solid defense and Georgia’s offense hasn’t shown us enough to lay nearly two touchdowns here. So we can’t bet on the Dawgs to cover. The total, on the other hand…
Texas A&M at Georgia Under 44.5
Bet: $60 to win $54.55
We’ve got 10-11 mile per hour crosswinds and some rain expected in Athens, and both teams have better defenses than offenses. Kellen Mond is a bit of a concern with his ability to take off and run the ball, but I trust the Georgia defense to contain the Aggies’ running game and force them to throw the ball. I just don’t know if I can trust the Georgia offense to put up a lot of points.
I hope I’m wrong here, and I hope Georgia wins this one 49-0. But if we’re talking about my expectations based off of what we’ve seen thus far, I think it’s more likely that the game finishes 27-14. Either way, Georgia needs to buckle down and take care of business this week so they can focus on their matchup with LSU in the SEC Championship and a chance to make the playoffs – er, I mean focus on Georgia Tech next week. Yeah, gonna need a lot of focus for Georgia Tech.
Thanks for reading the penultimate regular season post of The Old College Try! Of course, we’ll be back for one more round of picks next week, and then will likely have a slightly different layout and set of rules (TBD!) for conference championships and bowl season. Hit me up @slapnslide on twitter to let me know what you like this week – and whether you’re fading or tailing these picks. Best of luck on all of your gambling endeavors this weekend.
Total Bets: Risking $400 to win $381.80