How about we forego the formalities of 10 random thoughts this week?
I spent all weekend poring over the college football season win totals released by Cantor Gaming last week. Here are my 10 favorite plays – in order of liking-ness, no less:
1. Arkansas under 8.5 (+140)
I thought the Razorbacks were overvalued pre-Bobby Petrino’s wild hog ride. Losing the head Hog probably cost Arky a game right there. Adding John L. Smith?
Yeah, that’s going to be a fade.
If the coaching situation isn’t enough to scare you off, look back a year ago at this team. Alabama and LSU smoked the Hogs. They went 3-0 in games decided by less than a touchdown and needed some serious good fortune to beat mediocre Vanderbilt and Texas A&M squads, both of which outgained the Razorbacks.
These piggies are squealing 7-5 to me.
2. West Virginia under 8.5 (+130)
The Mountaineers made mincemeat of Clemson in last season’s Orange Bowl, which left a nice taste in Joe Six-Pack’s PBR-laden palette. That’s no doubt driving up expectations for the fall.
Don’t get caught staring at the shiny objects in Appalachia. Take a gander at how the ‘Eers finished the season in their last four games before the bowl: a home loss to Louisville and narrow wins over thoroughly blah teams in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and South Florida. For the season, WVU went 4-1 in games decided by less than a TD.
On top of that, WVU lost defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to Arizona, leaving new co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson to figure how to fit square pegs recruited for a 3-3-5 stack scheme into the round holes of their 3-4.
With the upgrade in schedule, I see eight wins as a strong year.
3. Oregon over 10.5 (+135)
I generally hate playing totals this high, but I’m bullish on the Ducks this season. While I do have concerns about the loss of Darron Thomas, UO has the good fortune of starting the season with five games in which it should be heavily favored – make that six, depending on what you think of Washington. That should give the new signal caller, either Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota, ample time to grow accustomed to running the Blur.
It’s a down year in the Pac-12. At plus odds, I’d throw something down on Oregon.
4. Michigan under 8.5 (+130)
Brady Hoke has injected some new life into the Wolverines, and it’s showing up in the preseason polls. Personally, I’m a seller.
I just didn’t see much to get excited about last season. Housing Nebraska was nice, but that wasn’t exactly the Big Red Machine that Bo Pelini was rolling out there. Michigan needed the full 60 minutes to beat a pretty mediocre Notre Dame team. The Wolverines also squeaked by the worst Ohio St. team in recent memory in the Big House.
The schedule gets much, much tougher for UM this year with trips to South Bend, Lincoln and Columbus to go along with a neutral site game against none other than Alabama. Good value on the under.
5. South Carolina under 8.5 (Even)
The Gamecocks are garnering talk as a sleeper team for the national title, but I just don’t see it. Connor Shaw would have to take a huge step forward. Marcus Lattimore would have to come back strong from his knee injury. Someone would have to fill Alshon Jeffrey’s shoes at receiver. The secondary has to replace a first-round draft pick in Stephon Gilmore.
That’s a lot of breaks that would have to go the way of the Ol’ Ball Coach. With road trips to LSU, Florida and Clemson, the schedule doesn’t do USC any favors, either.
6. Virginia under 6.5 (Even)
I really like the direction of this program under Mike London. In fact, in his second season, his team could turn out to be better than the one that won 8 games last season.
But a year like the one that the Wahoos enjoyed in 2011 tends to turn around on you. UVa went 5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer. I think a two-game regression this year sounds about right, especially considering the non-conference schedule includes a game at TCU and visits from Penn St. and dangerous Louisiana Tech.
7. Kansas St. over 7.5 (+105)
OK, I’ve talked a ton about teams’ records in close games so far. We’ve come to a team that got every break imaginable last season as the Wildcats rang up an 8-1 record in games decided by seven points or fewer. So this is an easy fade, right?
Um, have you ever met Bill Snyder?
OK, I haven’t either, but I’ve seen his teams overachieve often enough to know that he’s a solid investment. Ten wins won’t happen again, but I’ll take eight all day long when he’s at the wheel.
8. Washington St. over 5.5 (-125)
I put Mike Leach in the Bill Snyder category, albeit a couple notches below. Concerns about how quickly he can get his schemes implemented are fair, but the Dread Pirate is working with a couple nice pieces in quarterback Jeff Tuel and wide receiver Marquess Wilson.
Will the defense be any good? A better question: Will it matter? Wazzu has probably the best Air Raid tactician ever calling plays in a weak conference. Look for the Cougars to try to turn games into track meets.
Leach got Texas Tech to a bowl game in all 10 seasons there. Do you really want to go against the trend?
9. Florida St. over 10.5 (+175)
Who am I kidding? I don’t really like this bet all that well. This is a high total to play with a team that has such a reputation for leaving us all wanting a lot more.
Looking across that roster, though, how can you not love the talent? Really, this comes down to whether or not you think FSU can take two of three from home dates with Clemson and Florida and an away game at Virginia Tech. At these odds, it’s worth a shot.
10. Alabama over 10.5 (+135)
I don’t really like this bet that much. But, again, I put Nick Saban in the same rarefied air as Leach and Snyder, the difference simply being the level of expectations. (Fun fact: ‘Bama is 35-18 against the spread since 2008.)
I’d take the Tide at plus odds to get to 11 wins.
Bonus: It’s Pac-12 Preview Week!
Check here all week for analysis of what’s up on the Left Coast this season.