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Running the Football-Betting Marathon

Last week we were 2-2 again, bringing the season record to 4-4. This week, the coaching staff ( Kansas and the editors) is letting me make more than four selections.

Each selection represents a game I have personally (and legally) wagered on in Las Vegas. Many readers have emailed me asking that I pick games involving top 10 teams. The name of the game, however, is to select winners and make money -- not simply to be in the action. Thus, my picks are not based on whether a team is playing on TV or whether it's rated in the top 10. I will select a game only when I believe I have an advantage over the bookmaker.

Money Management

This is the fifth week of college football and the third week of pro football, so the relative strengths and weaknesses of teams have become more apparent. Opinions on games become stronger -- and that brings us to this week's handicapping lesson.

Money-management is crucial. It's what separates those who can make a living by betting on football from those who have left Las Vegas without any cash in their pocket. At the beginning of the football season, decide how much you can afford to lose. That's your "bankroll," whether it's $200, $2,000 or $20,000. A single game should never consume more than 5% of the bankroll.

The successful sports bettor generally reduces his bet when he's on a losing streak; some also ante up when things are going well. That means that you never "double up" when you're on a losing streak, even if you feel strongly about a particular game. Remember, the football season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the object is to be standing tall when you cross the finish line in January.

This Week's Picks

  • Iowa State (plus 16) over Kansas State

    This line is about 6 points too high. K-State is good this year but nowhere close to where it was last season. Iowa State, on the other hand, has rolled to a 3-0 record, including a 7-point victory over Iowa and last week's 24-0 whitewash at UNLV.

    But mostly I like the Cyclones because of what the Wildcats did to the Cyclones last year. Already ahead 45-7, KSU had its quarterback run in a meaningless 11-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left on the clock instead of taking a knee. Such lack of sportsmanship will stick in the craw of the Iowa State coaching staff. The Cyclones' confidence is sky high, and they have solid running backs in Davis and Haywoo, who have enabled ISU to average 354 yards rushing.

    A rabid sellout crowd in Ames will also give the Cyclones a major advantage that will be certain to rattle first-year K-State QB Beasley, who has completed less than 50% of his passes against two of the worst Division I teams -- Temple and UTEP.

  • Wyoming (plus 9 1/2) over Air Force

    Air Force continues to win. The flyboys are now on an 11-game winning streak and are 9-1 against the spread, or ATS. But Wyoming coach Dana Dimel has done a great job of designing a defense to stop the option that the Falcons run so effectively. Last year Air Force won 10-3 as a 6-point favorite, and the year before the Falcons won 14-3. The Cowboys under Dimel are an especially tough road underdog, having gone 4-0 ATS last year, just missing the cover against Tennessee in their first game this season.

    Wyoming's experienced QB, Stoner, was a high school star in Colorado Springs, so the game is a homecoming for him. Dimel has had two weeks to prepare for this game and I expect a bunch of gadget plays by Wyoming in this Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.

  • San Jose State (minus 4) over Tulsa

    This is more of a play against Tulsa than on San Jose State. As we noted in the last selection, Texas A&M scored 62 points against Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane was held to 13 points. Did A&M run up the score? Sure looks that way -- but the box score tells another story. The Aggies had two redshirt freshmen playing QB much of the second half, and their leading rusher was a freshman who had 13 carries for 54 yards in his first college game. The last touchdown scored by A&M was by a walk-on freshman. What this all means is that Tulsa is not a very good team and doesn't have a lot of heart.

    This game is being played at night in San Jose on a field that the Golden Hurricane have never played on before. San Jose State has a great runner in Deonce Whittaker, who has averaged 168 yards per game rushing in the Spartans' first three games. While SJS got killed by Colorado in Boulder, that was to be expected -- particularly after the Buffaloes had been embarrassed the week before by Colorado State. San Jose tuned up for this game with a 38-3 rout of Division I-AA St. Marys. We think Tulsa may be packing it in for the season early and the Spartans will pour it on.

  • Arizona (minus 13) over Washington StateFour weeks ago the pointspread on this game would have been 24, but Arizona has now been massacred by Penn State, and inexplicably embarrassed by Stanford last week. We know WSU stinks -- it blew a 14-0 lead last week and permitted Idaho's third-string QB to rally the Vandals to a 28-17 victory -- but we look at the talent level on this Arizona team and just scratch our heads. Keith Smith and Ortiz Jenkins are the best 1-2 QB punch in the country and Dennis Northcutt is a future NFL first-round draft choice.

    The Cats also have a good running back in Trung Canidate. The Wildcats returned 16 starters this year and were expected to be in the national championship picture. They have a bye next week and we expect Coach Tomey to focus the team this week. He had them practicing at 7 a.m. last Sunday after the Stanford debacle. The road team is 7-2-1 ATS in the last 10 meetings between these teams and WSU has failed to cover the spread in their last six games in Pullman.

    Michigan State (minus 6 1/2) over Illinois

    Illinois has been a moneymaker this year, going 3-0 both straight-up and ATS. The line on this game opened at 8 and has now moved down to less than a touchdown. The move demonstrates that both the public and the oddsmakers have given the Illini much more respect than in past years.

    Last week, Illinois gave up 450 passing yards to Louisville while pulling out a 41-36 victory. The Illini QB, Kurt Kittner, completed 17 of 24 for 244 yards, including four TDs.

    MSU, however, has been outstanding this season, beating Oregon and Notre Dame (last week) and annihilating Eastern Michigan. Last year, the Spartans' QB, Bill Burke, passed for more than 250 yards in a 32-point victory over the Fighting Illini, and he appears ready to have a big season this year if he can stay away from the injury bugaboo that has kept him out of the lineup in prior years.

    MSU is 4-0 straight up against Illinois since Nick Saban has been the Spartans' coach. The Lansing newspapers report that MSU believes that it can contend for the national title. I think the team will be focused for this game as a result of Illini's undefeated record. If both teams play to their potential, the Spartans win the game by two touchdowns.

  • Wake Forest (plus 7) over North Carolina State

    This is NCS's fifth game in five weeks. The injuries for the Wolfpack are starting to mount and, although QB Barnette is still playing, he looks to be suffering from minor injuries. Without departed first-round draft pick WR Tory Holt, Barnette has completed only 38% of his passes and has five interceptions. The Wolfpack played with heart last week against No. 1 Florida State, but could not cover the spread as a 28-point underdog.

    Wake Forest, on the other hand, has underachieved, getting blown out by Virginia last week after handily defeating Army. This is the Demon Deacons' first home game and they should show up emotionally -- since well-liked head coach Caldwell is under pressure to win this season. LB Dustin Lyman, a starter last year, returns to the lineup for Wake Forest. If the Deacons can prevent the Wolfpack special teams from making big plays, they should keep the game close and have a good shot at winning outright.

  • Wisconsin (plus 3 1/2) over Michigan

    How does Wisconsin lose to Cincinnati? By looking ahead to the Michigan game. Last year Michigan ruined the Badgers' undefeated season by beating them 27-20 in Ann Arbor. Wisconsin is better defensively this year, having returned eight defensive starters. The Badgers are 10-7 ATS as home underdogs under Head Coach Barry Alvarez and are 7-1 ATS in their last eight Big Ten openers. Michigan is 0-7-1 ATS in their last eight regular-season road games. This is a revenge play and is also based on the disparate point-spread records. There is no doubt that Michigan has superior personnel overall -- including at the critical QB position, where Badger QB Kavanaugh will simply be asked not to lose the game. Ron Dayne will atone for his late fumble last week and get himself back into the Heisman picture. Because of his bum knee, Alvarez will be coaching this game from the press box and we think the old Notre Dame defensive coordinator will have his team sky-high for this revenge tussle.

  • Alabama-Birmingham (plus 7) over Houston

    This is the Conference USA home opener for UAB and head coach Watson Brown. The Blazers had a bye last week after puttin on credible road performances at Missouri and Virginia Tech, covering the spread in both games. Houston is an improved team this year, having returned 19 starters from last year. Two weeks ago the Cougars were bombed by Alabama on the same field. Houston has rarely been a road favorite, but when it has been, it's 1-5 ATS since 1992. After blowing out Louisiana-Lafayette (nee Southwest Louisiana) last week, the Cougars don't appear likely to be sufficiently focused for this game. With the extra week to prepare, Brown will have a number of surprises in store for Houston, which should allow the Blazers to get the cover.

  • Texas A&M (minus 10 1/2) over Southern Mississippi

    Southern Mississippi played an outstanding game last week against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, before succumbing 20-13. This will certainly serve to focus Texas A&M on this game. The Aggies are 50-4-1 straight up in College Station in the 1990s. While Southern Miss is one of the premier road teams in the country (18-11 ATS since 1992), the Aggies are 6-0 straight up in this series and have covered the spread in the last four games against the Golden Eagles. A&M finally has a balanced attack with a QB (McCown) who can throw the ball downfield. This gives the Aggies the ability to put significant points on the board, something they showed last week in scoring 62 against an overmatched Tulsa team. This line has been coming down from the opening number of 13, due in large part to the Southern Miss performance last week. We don't think the Golden Eagles can get up for a second consecutive road game against one of the contenders for a national title. Jerry Kelly is a mediocre QB and was picked off four times last week by the Cornhuskers. More of the same this week.

  • BYU (minus 6 1/2) over Virginia

    BYU is on national TV again this week. ESPN appears to be a good luck charm for the Cougars, who are 2-0 straight up and ATS after their nationally televised trouncings of Washington and Colorado State. Kevin Feterik appears to be the real deal and the Virginia defense is already banged up and appears to be a notch down from prior outstanding editions. Virginia's head coach, George Welsh, is one coach whom BYU mentor LaVell Edwards has never beaten -- a fact noted in Wednesday's Desert News. Why this game was scheduled is the $64,000 question (or is it the $1,000,000 question?) -- but we can't imagine that Virginia will be "up" for this tilt after traveling almost 2,000 miles to the thin air of Provo, despite the fact that they are historically a good road underdog -- compiling a 26-17 ATS record in their last 43 games in that role. The extra two days of preparation that BYU has for this game will also help Edwards get his first victory over a Welsh-coached team. The scare that BYU received from Washington should insure that BYU will not let up when it gets a lead. The Cougars also are now in the national title hunt and we know that to move up in the polls you must not only win, but win impressively. This is a bad spot for a good Virginia team and we think the Cavaliers will save their best efforts for ACC foes.

    Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years.
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