Stretching the ‘Game of the Year’ label to its breaking point

Is there anything in college football more aggravating than the overuse of the term “Game of the Year”? I mean, aside from ESPN’s East Coast bias and Steve Spurrier’s inability to cover the spread in a bowl game.

As soon as the calendar flips to November, it seems like there’s a “Game of the Year” every week. Even more maddening, these things rarely live up to the hype. This week, though, it looks like we’ve got a true “Game of the Year” on our hands, as a consensus Top 5 team coming off a bye hits the road for a conference battle under the lights against an opponent whose stadium will resemble a sea of red. I speak, of course, of … Boise State at UNLV.

What, you thought I was referring to No. 1 LSU at No. 2 Alabama? Nah, I’ll leave that for the rest of the nation’s talking heads to pick apart. (The only topic this week that will be overanalyzed more than Tigers vs. Crimson Tide is Kardashian vs. Humphries. How easy was that “under,” by the way?)

Me? I’m much more interested in this Boise State-UNLV matchup, namely if the Rebels, a 41-point home underdog, even bother to show up at Sam Boyd Stadium. Consider all that’s working against the home team in this contest:

Boise State, ranked No. 5, is coming off its closest call of the season, a 37-26 home win over Air Force as a 30-point favorite. That game was Oct. 22, meaning coach Chris Petersen has had two weeks to prep his team for UNLV.

The Broncos’ margin of victory in their four road contests has gone from 14 (Georgia) to 25 (Toledo) to 50 (both Fresno State and Colorado State). That’s right: Boise State won its last two road games by a combined total of 100 points.

The Rebels have combined for 78 points in their two wins but just 54 points in their six losses. Boise State has scored 195 points in its four road games, including 57 and 63 in the last two.

Finally, as if a flat effort against Air Force and an uphill battle against the BCS cartel wasn’t motivation enough for Boise State, there’s this: UNLV inexplicably tabbed this as its homecoming game (move over, giant Ferris wheel folks; we’ve got a new clubhouse leader for Worst Community Decision of 2011).

So can UNLV cover the biggest spread on this week’s card? Considering all that I just detailed, my Magic Eight Ball says “Very Doubtful.” However, because the Broncos are in a look-ahead spot (games against TCU and San Diego State on deck), because Petersen seems like a compassionate guy, and because I got back-doored the last time I played against UNLV as a huge underdog (thanks, Wisconsin), I can’t recommend laying the big wood, either.

Rather, the best bet is Boise State in the first half ($550 to win $500), with a projected number of -24½. (And here’s a fun side bet if you can find a buddy dumb enough—or drunk enough—to take it: Boise State to score more first-half points than LSU and Alabama combine for in their entire game.)

On to the rest of this week’s picks …

$330 (to win $300) on Raiders -8 vs. Broncos: The Raiders’ All-Pro kicker has a tweaked hamstring. Their star running back is questionable with a foot injury. Their starting quarterback is out indefinitely with a broken collarbone, and his replacement came off his couch two weeks ago to throw three second-half interceptions in a 28-0 home loss to Kansas City. And I’m laying more than a touchdown with Oakland. Ladies and gentlemen, the Tim Tebow Era! (I’m not saying the Chosen One has accuracy issues, but the NFL this week mandated that “watch for objects flying into the stands” warnings be posted at all stadiums in which Tebow plays.)

For what it’s worth, the Raiders have won and covered four straight in this rivalry, and six of the last eight meetings were double-digit blowouts.

$110 (to win $100) on North Carolina -3½ at North Carolina State: UNC has the better quarterback, the better defense, momentum and quadruple revenge working in its favor (the Tar Heels have lost four straight in this rivalry, three by a combined total of nine points). As for N.C. State, its four wins have come against two I-AA opponents (Liberty and South Alabama) and two teams (Virginia and Central Michigan) with a combined 8-9 record.

BEST OF THE REST (NFL): Packers -6 at Chargers ($110); Cowboys -12 vs. Seahawks ($66); Giants +8½ at Patriots ($55); Buccaneers-Saints OVER 51 ($44).

BEST OF THE REST (COLLEGE): LSU-Alabama UNDER 42 ($88); Michigan -4 at Iowa ($55); Oregon-Washington OVER 74 ($55); Oregon State +21 vs. Stanford ($44); Wyoming +19 vs. TCU ($44).

LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: 7-5 (+$759); Bankroll: $7,574.