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Spread Options: Week 1

By Tom Fornelli | College Football Writer
Can Denard do enough to help Michigan upset Alabama? (US Presswire)

Every Monday Eye On College Football Blogger Tom Fornelli will take a look at the betting lines for five of the coming weekend's most important games. By looking at recent trends for both schools involved, along with their head coaches, he'll try to get an early read on what the best bet is for you to make, or if it's a game you should just stay away from.

We're only a few days away from the college football season kicking off, and for many people the start of football season also means the start of gambling season. Now, while there has never been and never will be a perfect system for gambling on sports -- Las Vegas is not in the business of losing money -- it is important to try and have as much information as possible at your disposal before making a bet.

So in Spread Options this week, I'll go over the recent trends in five of the weekend's biggest games. After going over the numbers I'll then try and help you decide which bet, if any, you're better off making for that game if you're so inclined.

So shall we get to it?

Game One: Vanderbilt vs. South Carolina (-7), Over/Under 46
Thursday 8/30 - 7pm (All times Eastern) ESPN

2011 Against The Spread
Overall: 9-4Overall: 6-6-1
Home: 5-1Road: 1-2-1
Home Dog: 3-0Road Fav: 1-1-1
vs. SEC: 5-3vs. SEC: 4-3-1
Over/Under: 7-4-1Over/Under 5-7

Under Current Head Coaches
Overall: 9-4Overall: 45-38-3
Home: 5-1Road: 19-12
Home Dog: 3-0Road Fav: 7-3-1
vs. SEC: 5-3vs. SEC: 30-24-3

Last Five Meetings (* at Vandy)
2011: South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 3
2010: South Carolina 21, Vanderbilt 7*
2009: South Carolina 14, Vanderbilt 10
2008: Vanderbilt 24, South Carolina 17*
2007: Vanderbilt 17, South Carolina 6

So as we can see by looking at South Carolina's and Vanderbilt's history last season, Vanderbilt performed very well against the spread at home last season, going 7-0. Now, while South Carolina was pretty average against the spread in 2011, under Spurrier the Gamecocks have proven to play well on the road and are even 7-3-1 covering the spread as road favorites.

Which means that there's plenty of reasons to choose either side of this line. Though, I must say, Spurrier has a much longer track record with South Carolina than James Franklin does at Vanderbilt.

VERDICT: I don't recommend betting the line in this game, but if you're dead set on it I suggest waiting on it to see if it moves in either direction. If the number gets smaller I'd lean toward South Carolina, bigger go to Vanderbilt.

The bet I do recommend making is the over/under. It's set at 46 in this matchup, but if you look at the last five meetings between these two the total has never been higher than 41, and that was in 2008. The other four meetings never eclipsed 28 points, so based on recent history, the under seems like the safest bet here.

Game Two: Michigan State (-7) vs. Boise State, Over/Under 45.5
Friday 8/31 - 8pm ESPN

2011 Against The Spread
Overall: 10-4Overall: 5-8
Home: 5-2Road: 3-2
Home Fav: 4-2Road Dog: 0-0
vs. NonCon: 3-2vs. NonCon: 4-2
Over/Under: 7-6Over/Under 8-5

Under Current Head Coaches
Overall: 35-27-3Overall: 44-31
Home: 17-15-2Road: 20-13
Home Fav: 14-13-1Road Dog: 2-1
vs. NonCon: 12-11-1vs. NonCon: 19-9

Unfortunately since this is the first meeting between these schools, we don't have any information to go on there. Complicating matters is that both teams have new quarterbacks under center. The easy inclination is to lean Michigan State since the game is in East Lansing and Boise State no longer has Kellen Moore, but the Spartans lost Kirk Cousins and their top four receivers, so there are question marks everywhere.

Further complicating things is Michigan State's history under Mark Dantonio at home against the spread. There's nothing in that data that inspires a lot of confidence. As for Boise State, the Broncos have done well on the road under Chris Petersen, but this is the first time they've been a road underdog since 2008. We're just not used to seeing Boise play schools like Michigan State at a non-neutral site.

So should we just go for the over/under? You might think so, as both of these schools had outstanding defenses last season, and when you combine it with the turnover on offense, it seems logical there won't be many points in this game. However, while Michigan State had eight returning starters on defense, Boise State has only two, and they're both cornerbacks. Considering Michigan State is likely to pound the ball with Le'Veon Bell, that probably won't do Boise any favors.

VERDICT: My official verdict is that this is a game you should stay away from. We just don't know enough about these two teams just yet, and without a history between them, there isn't enough solid ground to stand on.

Game Three: Notre Dame (-16.5) vs. Navy, Over/Under 57
Saturday 9/1 - 9am CBS - Dublin, Ireland

2011 Against The Spread
Overall: 5-8Overall: 6-6
Neutral: 1-1Neutral: 0-1
Favorite: 4-6Underdog: 3-1
Over/Under: 4-8-1Over/Under: 6-6

Under Current Head Coaches
Overall: 12-12-2Overall: 25-24-1
Neutral: 3-2Neutral: 4-5
Favorite: 6-8-2Underdog: 12-6

Last Five Meetings (* at ND)
2011: Notre Dame 56 Navy 14*
2010: Navy 35 Notre Dame 17
2009: Navy 23 Notre Dame 21*
2008: Notre Dame 27 Navy 21
2007: Navy 46 Notre Dame 44*

Hey, if you're going to get up early on Saturday morning to watch this game, you may as well have money on it, right?

As for where to put the money, it's hard to know for certain. I mean, teams don't travel to Ireland every season for a football game, so it's hard to know how the travel will affect the players. As far as the history of these teams, Notre Dame destroyed Navy last season in South Bend, but that doesn't change the fact that Navy has won three of the last five meetings, including two of three in South Bend.

Also, under Brian Kelly, the Irish just haven't been very good against the spread, particularly when favored. Meanwhile, Navy has performed pretty well as an underdog, going 3-1 in 2011 and 12-6 under Ken Niumatololo.

Notre Dame has problems in the secondary, but that's not really an area Navy can exploit. Notre Dame has more question marks on offense as well, with the suspensions of Cierre Wood and Tommy Rees. That means Everett Golson is making his first collegiate start at quarterback.

VERDICT: The line in this game is tricky. It opened at Notre Dame -14 and has since moved to Notre Dame -16.5. By the time Saturday rolls around that number could be even larger. If it is, you may want to seriously consider putting money down on Navy to cover given its track record as an underdog. That being said, I think the safer bet is the under as Notre Dame's front seven should keep the Navy offense in check, and with a new quarterback under center along with Cierre Wood suspended, the Irish offense might have problems of its own.

Game Four: Clemson (-3 1/2) vs. Auburn, Over/Under 56 1/2
Saturday 9/1 - 7pm ESPN - Atlanta, Georgia

2011 Against The Spread
Overall: 8-6Overall: 5-8
Neutral: 1-1Neutral: 1-0
Favorite: 6-4Underdog: 3-5
NonCon: 2-3NonCon: 1-4
Over/Under: 7-7Over/Under: 7-6
Under Current Head Coaches
Overall: 21-19Overall: 21-18
Neutral: 2-3Neutral: 3-1
Favorite: 14-12Underdog: 7-7
NonCon: 5-9NonCon: 5-9
Meetings Since 2007 (* in Atlanta)
2011: Clemson 38 Auburn 24
2010: Auburn 27 Clemson 24
2007: Auburn 23 Clemson 20

Though this game is being played in the Georgia Dome, it's not the first time these teams have met in Atlanta. The last time came in 2007 in the Chick Fil A Bowl, and this season it's the Chick Fil A Kickoff.

The moral of the story is that chicken will bring these schools together.

As for where to bet, the numbers are a bit misleading. You see that Auburn is 21-18 against the spread under Gene Chizik, but a lot of those wins came in Auburn's national championship season of 2010. Take away that season and that record drops to 11-14.

Which is suddenly pushing things in Clemson's favor. There's also the fact Clemson returns every key player from an offense that put up points in bunches last season (save for Sammy Watkins, who is suspended), while Auburn has a new quarterback in Kiehl Frazier and also won't have Michael Dyer this season.

VERDICT: Of the five games in Spread Options this week, this is the one I feel safest on. I would take Clemson -3 1/2 points. Auburn returns a lot of starters on defense, yes, but it was not a good defense in 2011. Combine that with a new quarterback and I'm just don't think Auburn can keep the pace with Clemson.

Game Five: Alabama (-12 1/2) vs. Michigan, Over/Under 45
Saturday 9/1 - 8pm ABC - Arlington, Texas

2011 Against The Spread
Overall: 9-4Overall: 7-4-1
Neutral: 1-0Neutral: 0-0-1
Favorite: 8-4Underdog: 2-1
NonCon: 2-2NonCon: 2-1-1
Over/Under: 6-7Over/Under 5-8
Under Current Head Coaches
Overall: 38-26-1Overall: 7-4-1
Neutral: 7-3Neutral: 0-0-1
Favorite: 29-22Underdog: 2-1
NonCon: 14-8NonCon: 2-1-1

For the first time these two iconic college football programs meet in the regular season. It's a pretty amazing game to kick off a season, but how should you bet it?

The general public seems to be leaning toward Alabama, as the line opened with the Tide as 11-point favorites and it's since increased to 12 1/2 points. It's not hard to see why, either, given Alabama's most recent national championship, the SEC's dominance of the sport, and the Big Ten's trouble with SEC teams in recent seasons.

What Michigan does have going for it, however, is Denard Robinson. There hasn't been a dual-threat quarterback in the SEC as dangerous as Robinson since Cam Newton, and he had some success against Alabama. With so many new starters on Alabama's defense, Robinson could prove to be quite problematic.

VERDICT: As dangerous as Denard is, I still think the best bet here is Alabama -12 1/2. First of all, the Tide have a history of success against the spread under Nick Saban. Secondly, odds are that Michigan won't have running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, and though the Tide have new starters on defense, the majority are in the secondary.

Denard's strength is not his passing game.

Finally, I can just envision Alabama's offensive line wearing down the Michigan defense, allowing the Tide to pull away late. While I think Michigan's offense can find some success against Alabama, I just don't think the Wolverines will be able to do it consistently.

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