Hell of an offseason in college football, huh? To recap: USC had its punishment from the Reggie Bush saga upheld (and somewhere in Seattle, Pete Carroll wipes his brow, probably with the same cloth he uses to polish his “Slimeball of the Decade” award).
Then came the scandal at Ohio State, where coach Jim Tressel’s holier-than-thou reputation got obliterated because, much like a 7-year-old caught red-handed, he couldn’t stop lying … and more importantly couldn’t stop covering up those lies (and somewhere Richard Nixon rolled over in his grave and screamed “Forty years later and people still haven’t learned!”).
Then again, Tressel’s program looked cleaner than Rosie O’Donnell’s dinner plate when compared with Miami, which apparently was so desperate to recapture its title as college football’s top renegade program that it went out and broke every rule in the NCAA’s book over an eight-year period. (How long before a photo of Hurricanes players in a hot tub with a known game-fixer shows up in the Miami Herald?)
Shady recruiting tactics at Oregon and LSU, major violations at North Carolina, the still-unsettled Cam Newton saga at Auburn—apparently the cliché “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” really is true.
Thankfully for those involved in the sport (and those who like to wager on it), attention finally shifts from off-the-field hijinks to on-the-field action this weekend, as the 2011 season kicks off with a full slate of Labor Day weekend games. The marquee attraction, ironically, features two of the aforementioned programs under NCAA scrutiny, as No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 LSU hook up at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 3.
Several LSU players, including starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, have already been suspended, and additional benchings could come before kickoff. For that reason, I’m not touching either “side” (for the record, LSU is anywhere from a 1- to 3-point favorite). However, I will take a shot with the total, playing the game “under” 55 points.
The logic behind that decision: LSU’s defense, which has allowed less than 20 points per game in six of the last seven years, will be dominant once again; Oregon’s defense (18.7 ppg) was very underrated last year and won’t have to deal with the mobile Jefferson; and the last time we saw the Ducks’ high-powered offense, it struggled to put up 19 points in the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn (which, like LSU, comes from the Southeastern Conference). In fact, Oregon’s three biggest games since the start of the 2009 season were against Boise State, Ohio State and Auburn, with the Ducks averaging just 14.7 ppg. And all three games stayed way under the total.
This being the first game out of the chute for both squads—and a critical one at that, as the loser will probably be out of the national championship hunt—I’m looking for a 24-20 type of contest. With my bankroll at $7,086, give me $220 (to win $200) on Oregon-LSU “under” the total.
Here are the rest of my best bets for the opening weekend of college football, plus a bonus play on the NFL’s season opener (Saints vs. Packers on Sept. 8).
$110 (to win $100) on USC (-21) vs. Minnesota: The Trojans are still in “timeout” for another year (no bowl game again, can’t play in the inaugural Pac-12 title game), but their roster numbers are back on the rise, they’re loaded with talent and they have an NFL-caliber quarterback in third-year starter Matt Barkley. Conversely, Minnesota has a new head coach (its third since October), a new QB (who was the team’s second-leading receiver last year) and no hope of competing against a faster, more physical opponent that will be looking to make a season-opening statement.
$110 (to win $100) on Notre Dame (-10½) vs. South Florida: Earlier this summer, I mentioned how I was bullish on the 2011 Irish, so now it’s time to put my money where my opinion is. Yes, South Florida has proven dangerous recently (beating Miami, Florida State, West Virginia and Clemson the last two years), but the Bulls always have struggled to score against strong defenses, and Notre Dame’s unit is much improved this year. Also, note that second-year Irish coach Brian Kelly went 3-0 against South Florida when he was at Cincinnati, winning by an average of 12 ppg.
BEST OF THE REST: Packers-Saints OVER 47 ($55); Boise State -3½ vs. Georgia in Atlanta ($55); Notre Dame-South Florida UNDER 47 ($44); BYU -3 at Ole Miss ($44); San Jose State +28 at Stanford ($44).
LAST WEEK’S PENDING PLAYS: Wisconsin -35½ vs. UNLV ($330); TCU -6½ at Baylor ($77); Mississippi State -27½ at Memphis ($55).