Could there be a connection between my football-picking prowess and the fall of the market? Last year, during the bull market, I hit 55% of my picks in this column. This year, in the midst of a bear market, my 2-5-1 record last week brought my record in the regular season to 5-9-1.
The results from last week's selections offer fodder for this week's handicapping lesson. It is a widely accepted tenet of handicapping that for every 100 games, approximately half are decided by factors that cannot be predicted, while solid handicapping will pay off in the other half. Thus, every week you are going to have games where you make a wise choice, but still lose the bet. The best example of this was last Sunday's
The "smart" side was the 49ers, getting 4 1/2 points. Once a game goes into overtime, it is decided by a field goal approximately 80% of the time. And if those percentages had held, bettors who selected the 49ers would have cashed their tickets. But both teams missed field goal attempts in overtime, and the Raiders ended up winning by six points on a touchdown pass. Definitely a bad break for 49ers' bettors.
My selections last week also were affected by unusual events. I believe I correctly analyzed the
game as one that was going to go down to the wire. The game went into two overtimes. I had Pittsburgh, plus 7 points. Under about 90% of the possible scenarios, I would have won.
On that day, however, both teams missed field goals in the first overtime, and Syracuse had the ball first and scored on a 40-yard pass and kicked the extra point in the second. When Pittsburgh could not score, I ended up with a push, or tie, rather than a victory. Those bettors who waited until later in the week to wager lost, since the line had changed to 6 1/2 points by Saturday.
This is why I keep repeating the mantra that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
This Week's College Selections
Texas Tech (plus 20) over Nebraska
Last week, I lost by betting against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers rallied from a 14-13 halftime deficit to beat
, 49-27. The spread was 16 points, and Nebraska covered by punching in a touchdown with a minute left in the game.
But I still do not believe that Nebraska is as dominating a team as it has been in the past. Texas Tech has a very strong home-field advantage and has won its last nine home games. The Red Raiders can pass. Last week, the Cornhuskers allowed Iowa State to throw for 346 yards, and I can see Texas Tech putting up similar numbers. Nebraska may wear down the Red Raiders with its relentless rushing attack, but I am willing to take that risk when I am getting almost three touchdowns.
Illinois (minus 11) over Iowa
This line has been coming down since it opened on Sunday at 15. Iowa has found a freshman quarterback,
, who can successfully throw downfield. Iowa was able to beat
last week at home with Beutjer leading the way, but asking him to repeat his performance on the road is a different kettle of fish. Illinois is still smarting from its blowout loss at
two weeks ago, and had a bye week to stew over that loss. The Fighting Illini are capable of putting a lot of points on the board with
at quarterback, and I expect them to put a major hurt on the Hawkeyes, who may still be celebrating last week's upset victory.
Northwestern (plus 4) over Purdue
I will ride with Northwestern as long as it continues its hot streak, particularly in the role of home underdog. Northwestern has an outstanding runner in
, who gained 292 yards last week, and a serviceable quarterback in
. The Wildcats' defense leaves something to be desired, but Northwestern has traditionally been able to hold Purdue's offense in check, allowing 21 and 31 points the last two times they played. The over-under on this game is 65, so it will be a high-scoring game.
South Carolina (minus 4 1/2) over Arkansas
Arkansas has big problems running the ball because of injuries to its top two running backs. Last year the Hogs beat South Carolina by 48-14 and ran up the score, much to the dismay of Gamecocks Coach
. This year, South Carolina, which is 4-0 against the spread, has the weapons to pay back the Hogs. Its balanced attack will keep an overworked Arkansas defense on the field. South Carolina has the tools and the motivation to put a hurtin' on the Hogs.
Texas A& M (minus 25) over Baylor
Baylor is one of the worst-coached teams in college football. Last week, Texas A&M lost at home to
, and the Aggies will take their frustrations out on the Bears. Baylor cannot score and cannot defend and will not put more than 10 points on the board. The Aggies' rushing attack, led by
, will wear down a Baylor team that is headed south. I expect Texas A&M to run up the score if it gets the chance.
Kansas State (minus 9 1/2) over Oklahoma
This is the marquee game of the week. I don't think anyone knows how good Kansas State may be. The line on this game is less than double digits because of Oklahoma's strong performance against
last week. Kansas State has played five games, the last two against competitive teams, Colorado and
. The Wildcats won both easily.
I am focusing this week on one of the cupcakes crushed by Kansas State earlier this season.
is a team that most handicappers believed to be lousy. Last week, Ball State beat
Miami of Ohio
as a 28-point underdog. Most notable was the fact that the game was no fluke, because Ball State beat Miami in every statistical category.
I am going to take a stand this week by concluding that Kansas State is the best team in the country, at least on its home field. If that is the case, the Wildcats will beat Oklahoma by more than two touchdowns. Oklahoma may also be celebrating its blowout of the Longhorns, and may find itself down 21-0 before its offense kicks into gear. I am going with the Wildcats, who are 34-13-2 against the spread at home under Coach
Baltimore Ravens (plus 3 1/2) over Washington Redskins
Many handicappers are focusing on the fact that this is the Ravens' third straight road game -- a situation that makes it less likely that a team will cover the spread. In reality, the Ravens will be sleeping in their own beds this weekend and on Sunday morning will simply bus down to Landover, Md., where the Redskins play their home games. It is always a proper move to take the Ravens when getting more than a field goal because of their exceptional defense. This will be a low-scoring game and I expect the final margin to be less than three points. The Redskins have injuries on their offensive line and the Ravens' offense is inconsistent from week to week. I foresee a 17-14 type of game.
Six-Point Teaser-- Pittsburgh Steelers (minus 1 1/2) over Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans (Pick) over Jacksonville Jaguars
This is our first teaser of the year. For those of you who are new readers, a teaser is a bet that requires you to win both selections. However, you are permitted to move the spread 6 points in either direction on both games. Thus, because the Steelers are 7 1/2-point favorites over the Bengals, I have chosen to subtract 6 points from that line and believe that the Steelers will beat the Bengals by at least 1 1/2. The Bengals are simply a bad team and the Steelers have turned things around in the last two weeks. The Tennessee pick reflects the strength of the Titans in games at
, where Tennessee has never lost. The Jaguars are in disarray, and I don't think they will be able to get it together in the face of a hostile
Monday Night Football
Should instant replay review be allowed in college games in the same manner as the NFL?
Yes, it works in the NFL and should be used in college games.
No, it could only be done in nationally televised games, and that wouldn't be fair.
I don't like the NFL's instant-replay policy. Why put it in college?
I don't give a darn.
Barry Lieberman was a litigator with the U.S. Department of Justice for nine years and is currently the general counsel for a company that operates four hotel/casinos in Las Vegas. He has been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years and successfully concluded last football season by winning on 55% of his college and pro selections posted on TheStreet.com. He welcomes your feedback at