Welcome to the second season of The Old College Try. I’ll be here each week, trying to beat the bookie by betting on college football. All lines accurate as of Thursday, 9/10.
Against all odds, football season is back and so is The Old College Try! Another season of football means another chance to watch me lose money and complain about bad beats week in and week out. We finished last season 42-39-1 for a winning percentage of 51.9% but with a net loss on the season.
For the uninitiated, we are keeping a few rules from last year but we’re also changing a few things around. Here are the rules for our second season:
- Minimum of 3 picks each week and a maximum of 8
- Parlays count as one pick
- Parlays will only be played if the account is + 10 units or better– only playing with house money here
- All single game bets will range from 1-3 units. A unit for us will be $100. As the juice on most bets is -110 (have to bet $110 to win $100), that means our bets will mostly be between $110 (to win $100) and $330 (to win $300
- Instead of starting with a bankroll of $1,000 like last year, we’re going to start at $0 and only report gain or loss
- We’ll start with only one unit bets for the first week
- All lines are from Sportsbook.ag (lines for this post are accurate as of 9/10)
While I usually recommend people to hop on lines early in the week to get as much line value as possible, I would avoid that this year. In fact, I wouldn’t take these bets right when you read the column either. I’d wait right up until kickoff to place your bets, because you never know who might test positive for COVID at the last minute and miss the game. As nice as it is to have football back and get away from thinking about real world problems, those real world problems might affect our gambling in very real ways this year.
And even for what we expect to be an abnormal year, it’s an even more abnormal week. Nobody from the SEC is playing and only a few teams from the Big 12 are active. In general, it’s just a little bit… less. We have fewer games this week, fewer lines to pick from, fewer stats to analyze, and therefore you’ll have fewer words to read. Who are we kidding, I still have 2,000 words and about a half dozen gifs. What can I say? Brevity was never my strong suit.
We’ve got gifs from Shane Black’s cinematic masterpiece The Nice Guys guiding us through the column because they’re funny and because I just wrote a post about The Nice Guys (go read that too) and we’re all about #synergy over here at Sideline Warning. Alright, now for the picks:
The “Too Many Horses” Derby Favorite of the Week
Louisville -11.5 vs Western Kentucky
Betting $110 to win $100
Coaching may be more important than ever this year. The ability to adjust on the fly and be flexible in your game plan will be vital if you lose players to COVID on game day. And if you followed us last year, you will know that this is a pro Scott Satterfield space. The job he did last year to turn a miserable 2-10 team into a very solid 8-5 squad was remarkable. The players seem to really respect him (which shouldn’t be hard seeing as he replaced walking cautionary tale Bobby Petrino). There’s a lot of talent on this Louisville squad, and they return 15 starters. Having a full year under their belts should make dealing with a reduced offseason practice schedule a little bit easier.
None of this should be taken as a slight against Western Kentucky or Tyson Helton. The Hilltoppers are a strong C-USA team with a stout defense who ranked 25th in the nation last year in yards per play against, and I think they’ll have a great season. I just don’t think they have enough firepower to stick with Louisville in week 1.
Louisville ranked 20th in the nation in yards per play last year and their trio of skill positions stars on offense (Micale Cunningham, Javian Hawkins, and Tutu Atwell) can match up with anyone in the ACC this year outside of Clemson. I think even a very good Hilltoppers defense will be hard pressed to hold these three in check.
The Louisville defense was a bit leaky in 2019, but it was still a huge improvement over 2018, and I think year two under defensive coordinator Brian Brown will show continued progress.
Not to mention Louisville beat this Western Kentucky team by 14 last year. Let’s not overthink things this early in the season. The Cardinals go up early and roll by at least two touchdowns.
The Brutal Beatdown of the Week
Clemson -32.5 at Wake Forest
Betting $110 to win $100
Speaking of Clemson: surprise, these guys are going to be good again. And Wake Forest is going to be… not good. I hate taking 32.5 point favorites… it’s just not that much fun. But the talent disparity here is gigantic and I expect Clemson to come out and make a statement in the first game of the year.
Yes, Clemson will probably put the second team in at some point and normally you might be concerned for a back door cover. Their second team defense will include the #1 player in the 2020 class, though, along with more top recruits than the Demon Deacons have landed in the last few years. They will make life hell for the Wake Forest offensive line from the first snap to the last, and at some point Wake might just be hoping to get out of the game without injuries.
The “Stick to your Principles” Under of the Week
Syracuse at UNC Under 65.5
Betting $110 to win $100
You know I have a bad taste in my mouth after taking two double digit favorites to kick off the season. The best way to wash that taste out? By going back to my roots and taking an under here.
You could argue that the stats point the other way in this one. Both teams played at a pretty high pace as they were both in the top 10 in plays per game. However, neither team really lit up the scoreboard, with North Carolina ranking 39th and Syracuse ranking 69th in the country in points per game despite going up against mostly mediocre defenses.
Syracuse was just terrible last year. And that’s putting it nicely. They ranked 105th in the nation in yards per play, 102nd in YPP against, and allowed 35 sacks on quarterback Tommy Devito. Somehow, he survived and is back, likely to take another beating this year as their offensive line shows no reason for immediate improvement and their projected starting and backup running backs both appear to have opted out of the season.
I’m not expecting Syracuse to score much on what should be an improved Tar Heel defense. And I wouldn’t fault you for saying that UNC was going to come out and just demolish the Orange. At the same time, though, this was a North Carolina team who had to win their last three straight to make it to 7-6 last year. And yes, those last three wins were dominant performances, but outside of that streak they only won one game by more than a touchdown.
So you’ll forgive me if I’m hesitant to lay 23 points with this Tar Heel team, especially when every talking head in the country has been hyping the team and Mack Brown all offseason. They had a great recruiting class, they have some strong talent in QB Sam Howell, two really solid running backs, and a lot of returning starters. I think UNC has a really bright future ahead of them.
But let’s pump the breaks. I’m not sure that Mack Brown will keep his foot on the gas if the Tar Heels go up early, and I expect them to be up early. I’m going to make UNC show me what type of team they’re going to be this year before trusting them to cover such a big number, but I don’t trust Syracuse to put up any points. So I’ll take the under here and cheer for the clock.
Can We Bet on the Dawgs this Week?
No, dammit. Were you paying attention at all? No SEC teams are playing this week. And yes, that includes the Georgia Bulldogs. And don’t ask me next week, because they aren’t playing then either. You’re going to have to wait until September 26th when the Dawgs take on the Hawgs up in Fayetteville. Calm down. Save some of the bankroll. It’s gonna be ok. Well, as long as the whole season doesn’t shut down before SEC play even starts due to another pandemic or maybe a giant meteor striking the planet. Which, you know, is something that seems totally possible because this is 2020 and nothing would surprise us at this point.
For everybody that stuck with the column through our first season, thanks for coming back! And to everyone reading for the first time, welcome aboard! Let me know what lines you like here in the comments or on twitter (@slapnslide). Here’s to the return of football, some semblance of normalcy, and hoping for a profitable year. Good luck, and see you next week!