Kickoff of football puts bankroll back in action

The commercial touting ESPN’s upcoming Monday Night Football doubleheader ended with the following graphic: “Only Eight More Days to Go!” That’s when the wife let out a cry as audible as, well, a Peyton Manning audible.

Noooooooooo!” she shrieked. “I only have eight days left?”

To which I replied: “Not exactly. College football starts in four days!”

Much like USC coach Lane Kiffin “tries” to stay on right side of the NCAA law, I tried to contain my glee. I don’t think she bought it. So I opted against fanning the flames with a sarcastic comment like, “Look on the bright side: There is rarely any football on Tuesdays or Wednesdays!” (Hey, it’s taken 16 years of marriage, but I’ve learned a thing or two, like when to shut up!)

Needless to say, the big screen will be working overtime over Labor Day weekend, with 35 college football games on the betting board from Sept. 2-6. Then, 72 hours later, the NFL season kicks off with a rematch of the NFC Championship Game between the Saints and Vikings. It’s enough to make a grown man cry—and a wife consult a divorce attorney!

There’s a lot to like for opening weekend (with my bankroll at $5,605), but I’m going with the following five plays, which come on the heels of four opening-night (Sept. 2) games that I released last week (see below):

$440 (to win $400) on Missouri (-12½) vs. Illinois: This border rivalry has been as lopsided as snake vs. rodent in recent years, as Missouri has won and covered five straight meetings with the Illini going back to 2002. The teams have opened the season on a neutral field in St. Louis the last three years, and the Tigers’ margin of victory has grown each time, from 40-34 to 52-42 to 37-9. If you read last week’s column, you know I’m bullish on Missouri, which returns a strong-armed quarterback in junior Blaine Gabbert, its top five rushers and eight defensive starters.

On the other sideline, Ron Zook is just 21-39 with one winning season in five years as Illinois’ coach, and he could be looking for a new gig after this season. That’s because Illinois is breaking in a new quarterback (and a freshman at that), and the Illini defense last year ranked 91st or worse in points allowed, total yards allowed and passing yards allowed.

Illinois has failed to cover in 11 of its last 15 games overall, seven of its last eight out of conference and four of five in September, while Missouri is 13-5 against the spread in its last 18 nonconference contests, 5-1 ATS in its last six against the Big Ten and 9-2 ATS in its last 11 in September.

$220 (to win $200) on Oregon State (+13) vs. TCU: With a 26-3 record since the end of the 2007 season, TCU has stamped itself as a legitimate Top 10 program. And with 16 starters returning, I wouldn’t bet against the Horned Frogs finishing with their second straight unbeaten regular season.

However, I will bet against them in this contest—played at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas—because this point spread is out of whack. The Beavers will be supremely motivated for this game for two reasons: 1) It’s against the sixth-ranked team in the country, and 2) the last time it faced a Mountain West Conference opponent was in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, where BYU pounded the Beavers, 44-20. Oregon State wants redemption in a big way.

The Beavers have covered the spread in 30 of their last 46 games, going 11-2 ATS in their last 13 as an underdog.

BEST OF THE REST: Oklahoma State (-15½) vs. Washington State ($55); Washington-BYU OVER 56 points ($55); Boise State-Virginia Tech UNDER 50 points ($55).

LAST WEEK’S PENDING PLAYS: USC (-21) at Hawaii ($330); Northern Illinois (+3½) at Iowa State ($110); Ohio State (-29) vs. Marshall ($55); Utah (-3½) vs. Pitt ($55).

Matt Jacob is a former local sports writer who has been in the sports handicapping business for more than four years. For his weekly column, Vegas Seven has granted Matt a “$7,000” bankroll. If he blows it all, we’ll fire him and replace him with a monkey.

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