Five things I learned during the opening weekend of the college football season:
1) There won’t be a post-national-championship hangover in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (where Nick Saban appears to have a prolific offense to go with his stingy defense).
2) The hype is justified at USC (where the only thing standing between the Trojans and the BCS title game is the arrogance of coach Lane Kiffin, who called for three 2-point conversions in the first half against Hawaii … and went 0-for-3).
3) It won’t be long until the folks in State College, Pa., will be begging for the death penalty at Penn State (where the Nittany Lions lost 24-14 to Ohio—that’s Ohio, not Ohio State).
4) The light at the end of the tunnel might not be the front of an oncoming train at UNLV (the Rebels actually resembled a competent football team—I saw several hard-hitting tackles with my own two eyes!—during most of a heartbreaking 30-27 triple-overtime home loss to Minnesota).
5) Nobody fumbles away prosperity quite like yours truly (who started the season with six straight winners on Aug. 30 and 31… only to kick off September by dropping six of eight selections). The only thing that saved a profitable week was Hawaii (plus-40) barely holding on for the cover in its 49-10 loss at USC.
Of course, considering the shape my bankroll is in, I’ll take all the positive results I can get and move on to this week. (Note: All point spreads are as of Sept. 4.)
$240 on Bills +3 (-120) at Jets: Four months ago, shortly after the sportsbooks posted lines for Week 1 of the NFL, I offered seven recommendations (see May 10 issue). This was one of them. At the time, Buffalo was a 5½-point underdog. Now, after watching the Jets go through a preseason that featured more Tim Tebow stories (roughly 2.3 million) than wins (zero) and touchdowns (one, led by the third-string quarterback), bettors have jumped all over the Bills, pushing this line down to a field goal. While all the value has been sucked out of this number, I still believe Buffalo is the smart play—and I say that even after the Bills, like the Jets, had a winless preseason.
Simply put, whether it was Tebow or Mark Sanchez under center, New York’s offense this summer was more painful to watch than Caddyshack II (the Jets produced a league-low 31 preseason points). I’m sure the revamped Bills defense viewed the ugliness and can’t wait for this game to kick off. Note that Buffalo has covered in six of its last seven season openers, while the Jets went 2-6 against the spread over the second half of last season.
$110 on Wisconsin -8 at Oregon State: Other than Cal’s outright home loss to Nevada (as an 11-point favorite), there really weren’t any shocking upsets in Week 1. There were, however, shocking results, chief among them: Wisconsin 26, Northern Iowa 21. The Badgers squandered second-half leads of 19-0 and 26-7 and had to hold on late. That said, Northern Iowa is one of the top teams in Division I-AA. More importantly, I’d bet Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth that the Badgers spent more time this summer preparing for a rare early-season road game at Oregon State than they did Northern Iowa.
Watch as the real Badgers show up in Corvallis this weekend and manhandle an Oregon State squad that A) went 3-9 last season (including a 29-28 home overtime loss to Sacramento State in the season opener, followed the next week by a 35-0 loss at Wisconsin), and B) has been an early-season bet-against team for years (the Beavers are 7-22-1 ATS in their last 30 September contests).
$110 on Rams +7 at Lions: Another one of my Week 1 recommendations from four months ago, and another unfavorable line move, as St. Louis opened as a 9½-point underdog and is now only catching a touchdown. I still like the Rams in this one, especially after seeing a healthy Sam Bradford taking snaps for St. Louis last month. Plus, as noted previously, the Lions simply were not as good as last year’s win-loss record implied (they were on the right side of several miracle comebacks, and they went 5-7 following a 5-0 start). Also, Detroit closed 3-8-1 ATS last year, including 1-4 ATS when laying more than a field goal.
BEST OF THE REST: College: Nevada -1 vs. South Florida ($77); Vanderbilt -3½ at Northwestern ($55); Air Force +21 at Michigan ($44); Washington +23½ at LSU ($44). NFL: Browns +8½ vs. Eagles ($66); Falcons -3 (Even) at Chiefs ($50); Raiders +1 vs. Chargers ($44); Steelers +1½ at Broncos ($44); Redskins-Saints OVER 50 ($44).
Aug. 23 Results: 6-0 (+$510); Aug. 30 Results: 2-6 (-$177); Bankroll: $4,099.