Last Saturday was a great way to kick off the 2016 season, but it was rough for me in terms of spread betting: My picks were only 3-6. Nonetheless, I’m back with more of my thoughts on this week’s slate of games because, though the matchups don’t look great on paper, there are still more than a few interesting games on tap.
#5 Michigan (-35.5) over UCF
Is it smart to side with a team that is favored by five touchdowns? Generally speaking, no. But one thing you can count on with Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines is that they will beat up on bad teams at home. Against teams ranked 50 or below in ESPN’s Football Power Index at home since 2015, Michigan is 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 30. Sure, winning by that exact amount won’t get the job done in this situation, but considering that UCF was 0-12 last year and are ranked comparably in FPI to Hawaii, a team that Michigan just beat 63-3, I like the Wolverines to cover.
Pittsburgh (-5) over Penn State
I like the Panthers for a couple of reasons. First, by siding with Pitt, I’ll be on the same side as the House: Penn State is receiving 78% of the action on this game, which is actually a bad sign for them because home teams that are public underdogs–like Pitt will be on Saturday–have historically been very profitable. Also, I believe there’s a notoriety bias with Penn State because they are a more famous program than Pitt–that leads the average better to take them simply because they are Penn State and they are normally better than a team like Pittsburgh. That’s not the case here: Pitt is ranked higher in ESPN’s FPI index, so I’ll take them to win and cover on Saturday.
Wake Forest (+5) over Duke
The Blue Devils are receiving an enormous amount of public support in this game. Yet despite the fact that 81% of bettors have taken them with the spread, the line has actually dropped from -7 to -5. In theory, if four out of every five people are taking Duke to win, then the spread should be moving in the opposite direction. So what’s happening here? Simple: More money has been wagered on Wake Forest, which is likely an indication that the sharp bettors –a.k.a the guys that do this for a living–see value on the Demon Decons. I’ll sign with the ones that know best.
Kentucky (+16.5) over Florida
64% of bettors are taking Kentucky, but that won’t deter me from picking them to cover in the Swamp tomorrow. The Wildcats are coming off a home loss to Southern Miss. But that actually makes them more enticing because it has probably led to a higher spread for this matchup. As for the Gators, I correctly called that they would not cover a 36.5 point spread against UMass last weekend. However, I didn’t expect them to only grind out a 24-7 win against the 115th best team in the country. Kentucky should give them even more trouble.
Western Kentucky (+28.5) over #1 Alabama
I know, I know…Alabama is coming off a 52-6 beatdown of a Top 20 team. But this is a classic trap game, at least in terms of the spread. The Crimson Tide are likely feeling very good about themselves after last week’s win and they have their SEC opener against Ole Miss, a team that they have lost to each of the past two years, next week. I bet they’ll overlook a sneaky-good Western Kentucky team that is ranked 51st in FPI and finished 12-2 last season.
#15 TCU (-7.5) over Arkansas
The Horned Frogs looked shaky last week against South Dakota State. Yet the same could be said for Arkansas in their opener against Louisiana Tech, a game in which they needed a late touchdown to pull ahead. I’m confident that the TCU offense leads them to a two touchdown victory at home.
Mississippi State (-7.5) over South Carolina
I’m buying low on Mississippi State. They’re coming off a horrible loss to South Alabama at home, which made me wonder how other teams coming off huge upset losses in Week One fared in their following game. I didn’t have any hard data to look at, but I thought back to three games in particular: Kansas State’s loss to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State in 2013, Virginia Tech’s loss to James Madison in 2010, and Ole Miss’s loss to Jacksonville State, which also occurred in 2010. All three of those teams rebounded with big wins the following week, each by more than two touchdowns. I think the same thing happens here with the Bulldogs, who will come out extra-motivated in their SEC opener against the mediocre Gamecocks.
Washington State (+10.5) over Boise State
They’re coming off a three-point loss to Eastern Washington, but Washington State is another team I like to rebound in Week 2. The Cougars have a great quarterback by the name of Luke Falk who threw 38 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions last season, so I think they’ll put up points against Boise State. But the main reason I like them to cover this 10.5 point spread is because the sharp money is on their side. Despite nearly 70% of bettors backing Boise State, the spread has dropped from -12 to -10.5. Again, if there is reverse line movement like this, I’m almost always going to side with the sharp money.
Game of the Week
#17 Tennessee (-11) over Virginia Tech
Not exactly a stellar matchup for a primetime game on ABC, is it? No matter. I like the Vols in this one even though they nearly lost to Appalachian State last Thursday when they were -3,000 on the moneyline. I’d like to think that Tennessee will come out with an edge after nearly getting embarrassed and I also don’t trust Virginia Tech, who ESPN’s FPI only has ranked as the 52nd best team in the country.
Dobbs photo courtesy of Roy K. Miller/ICON Sportswire