We were 4-5 last week, bringing our season record to 39-32 (55%). We were doing well last weekend, until a certain unnamed economics correspondent who lives in Jackson Hole and writes a daily column for TheStreet.com (and who was in Las Vegas last weekend) proclaimed that the Central Florida-Auburn game was "over" after the third quarter, when Central Florida was ahead 10-7 and we were getting +11 points. As it turned out, Auburn scored three touchdowns in the last four minutes of the game, beating Central Florida 28-10. As Yogi Berra once astutely noted, "It ain't over until it's over."
This week, one of our plays is on the marquee matchup of the week,
. Our play is based on a number of factors, the most important being our visualization of the matchups in this game. We acknowledge that we are only an adequate matchup handicapper. There are many handicappers out there who are far better at handicapping particular game matchups. That is why we scour the Internet for other betting-oriented publications for analysis on particular matchups. Many individuals focus on a particular conference and know everything there is to know about all the teams in that conference. Those are the people whose analysis you want to pay attention to when doing your own handicapping.
Nebraska is an 8 1/2 point favorite over Kansas State in a game that has important
Bowl Championship Series
implications. Here is their matchup chart:
We start off by noting that Nebraska has played a tougher schedule than Kansas State, because the average opponent's power rating is 72 for K. State and 81 for Nebraska. Admittedly this is a somewhat subjective figure, but it is corroborated by the respected sports-betting publications. KSU is exceptional at pass defense, but that will not help it significantly this week (as it did against its toughest opponent to date --
) because Nebraska is primarily a running team (60% of its offense). Kansas State's rushing defense is good (3.1 yards per carry), but not great. The Wildcats have faced only one good rushing team this year,
, and Darrell Davis ran for 152 yards on 26 carries in that game. Nebraska rushes for an average of 5 yards per carry. We think Nebraska will be able to run on Kansas State.
On offense, Kansas State is a good rushing team, averaging 4 yards per carry. But Nebraska is an exceptional run-stuffing team, permitting an average of only 2.1 yards per carry. Kansas State's best runner, Frank Murphy, it seems is not fully recovered from an injury suffered a few weeks ago. He played against
last week but could manage only 3 yards on seven carries.
Kansas State is a bad passing team because it has mediocre quarterbacks, Jonathon Beasley and Adam Helm. They are completing only 47% of their passes despite playing against weak opposition. Nebraska has a good pass defense, which permits only 44% completions. Thus, we think that Nebraska will control the mediocre passing attack of the Wildcats.
The Kansas State punting game is also inferior to Nebraska's. While the Wildcats' punts average only 33.6 net yards per punt, the Cornhuskers' average is 38.1. K. State does have a spectacular field-goal kicker in Jamie Rheem, who has converted on 16 of his 17 field-goal opportunities this season, while Josh Brown has scored only nine field goals this season for Nebraska.
Kansas State has been winning with defense all year. That defense stops the other team, keeping its defense on the field so much that it breaks down in the third and fourth quarters. This will not happen with the Cornhuskers. Nebraska also has revenge going for it this year, having lost to the Wildcats last year 40-30. Kansas State lost a boatload of talent last year, returning only nine of last year's 22 starters and only 37 of last year's 63 lettermen. In contrast, Nebraska has returned 58 of 79 lettermen. A road team suits up only 60 players, while the home team can suit up an unlimited number of players.
Why is this important this week? Because it will be almost 80 degrees in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday. Depth will be important and the Cornhuskers have a huge edge in that department. Nebraska has covered the spread against Kansas State for the past five years (last year they were 11-point underdogs). This week, we think the bullies of Kansas State, who pour it on and pad their statistics against weak teams, will get their comeuppance.
We are "steppin' out" this week and making a substantial play on Nebraska. In fact, because we are picking fewer than our usual number of plays this week, we'll take Nebraska -- 8 1/2 as a "double play" that will count for two games when we calculate our weekly and final season record for this column. Notice, however, that I do not call this game the "lock of the year" or any other such misnomer. Because there is no such thing. While I'm willing to double my normal bet on this game, I will not ruin a profitable season by "betting the house." The pointspread on this game will go to 10 or 11 by game time, so I urge betting early on this one if you agree with my analysis.
This Week's Other Plays
Boston College (minus 3) Over West Virginia
lost two tough games in the last two weeks to
. It hung tough in both but could not get over the hump. It's now 3-6 straightup (SU) and no longer has much to play for. It also has a number of injuries, including one to their starting QB, Mark Bulger, who is listed as questionable this week. The Mountaineers do have a bye next week before their final season rivalry game with
is coming off of a bye week and is 6-2 SU. It's looking at getting into a major bowl game and will be properly focused for this effort, particularly because it will be a big underdog in its last two games with the Fighting Irish and
. If it loses this game it will likely be 6-5 and may not get into any bowl game. The only caution with this bet is that the Eagles are only 2-10 against the spread (ATS) against West Virginia in their last 12 games, although they are 1-1 ATS while being coached by Tom O'Brien. We think West Virginia will suffer an inevitable letdown and we only need to win by more than a field goal to cash the bet. We think the Eagles are properly motivated to get us the ATS victory.
Arkansas (plus 9) Over Tennessee
Everyone is on the Tennessee bandwagon. Not so fast my friend: Until last week, when
was down 14-0 on the road at Ole Miss before the fans' seats were warm, the Razorbacks were competitive in every game this year. Its QB, Clint Stoermer, is one of the top 10 QBs in the country, and it has some quality receivers. The Hogs are 10-0 SU and 9-1 ATS at home under coach McNutt. Last year the Vols rallied for an improbable comeback to defeat Arkansas 28-24, in a game that launched
on the road to the national title. The Hogs remember that game well, and will put forth a spirited effort this week in front of a rabid home crowd. We think Arkansas can pull the SU upset this week and will bet a little on the "money line," taking 3-1 odds. We'll also make our regular size bet on the Hogs plus the points.
Iowa (plus 32) Over Wisconsin
It will be a windy and warm day in Madison on Saturday. Ron Dayne will have his rushing record by halftime (he needs 98 yards) and
coach Alvarez will rest him for most of the second half. The wind will prevent the Badgers from doing too much passing and this is simply too large a spread when Wisconsin has no motivation to "pour it on." Besides, coach Alvarez normally eschews running up big scores. Additionally, former starting QB, senior Scott Kavanaugh, will see plenty of playing time in the final home game of the regular season for the Badgers.
has some offensive potential with sophomore QB Mullen and RB Betts and we think it will put enough points on the scoreboard against a disinterested Wisconsin team in the second half to stay within this big number.
Kansas (plus 7) Over Oklahoma State
Kansas has been a different team since junior-college transfer QB Dylen Smith took over the starting role. We think its shutout of
, its close game two weeks ago against Nebraska, and its blowout of
were no flukes and that this team's running and passing attack can keep it in the game against
. The Cowboys have a quarterback controversy on their hands, and a head coach who is under fire by the media and the alumni. They have lost five of their last six games and we think these teams are moving in different directions. Our only hesitation is the Jayhawks' lack of road success under coach Terry Allen, an amazing 0-11 ATS. We're willing to gamble that the KU confidence factor is now high enough that it can go on the road and compete.
Minnesota (minus 14) Over Indiana
The knee-jerk reaction in this game is to bet against the Gophers because of the emotional letdown factor resulting from their last-second victory over 2nd-rated
last week. We think, however, that the pointspread already reflects that letdown factor. We also think this Gopher team is just beginning to realize how good it really is and will be properly focused to avenge a 20-19 loss to the Hoosiers last year in a game that prevented
from having a winning season. Only 11 points separate this team from an undefeated season. They lost to
by 3 and
is a poor defensive team and will not be able to stop Thomas Hamner, who will gain more than 150 yards in this game. Indiana has only one offensive weapon, QB Antwaan Randle-El, and the stifling Minnesota defense should be able to keep Randle-El in check. Indiana has a big intrastate game against Purdue next week and is 2-14-3 ATS in the last 19 years preceding its season finale against Purdue. Indiana does have a chance to go to a bowl game if it wins its last two games, but we don't think they will be able to put up enough points to do so against a solid Gopher defense. Minnesota may be attractive as a Jan. 1 bowl team, and with the bowl scouts present, we think it will put forth a good effort here.
Tulsa (minus 8 1/2) Over UL-Monroe
is playing with renewed vigor since its coaching change. Golden Hurricane QB Josh Blankenship is a highly recruited freshman from the Tulsa area, whom all the "locals" are excited about. UL Monroe has been a poor road team this year, getting beat by an average of 40 points. While Tulsa is no powerhouse, we think its chemistry and motivation is sufficient to beat a weak team like UL Monroe. The Golden Hurricane are already thinking about next season and "interim" head coach Henderson would certainly like to be considered for the permanent job. If Tulsa wins out, it's likely he'll get the job. At this time of year motivation is extremely important to pointspread victories, and we think the Golden Hurricane will be properly motivated to get a big victory.
Fresno State (minus 3) Over Hawaii
QB Billy Volek is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, although hardly any non-hardcore college football fans know of him. He has thrown 24 touchdowns and only three interceptions this year. This game is critical for the
championship hopes of the Bulldogs and despite the Rainbow Warriors' improvement this year, they have lost home games to both
Texas Christian University
, teams that Fresno State has been able to defeat. Under head coach June Jones,
has turned its fortunes around and its run-and-gun offense put 62 points on the board against
San Jose State
last week -- while its defense gave up 42 points. Fresno State is finally getting healthy and will not let the usual distractions of the Islands get to them. We see this game as a shootout, with the Bulldogs having more bullets.
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, and welcomes your feedback at