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College Capper: Handicapping Week 9

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

Thanks to a favorable schedule, the 2010 college football playoff is playing out like, well, a playoff. For the second consecutive week, multiple teams with national championship aspirations, LSU and Oklahoma, were eliminated. LSU however is one of the few teams that could sneak back into the picture if it were to win out, but to do so, it needs to win this week against Alabama, another team on the short list that could climb back up the rankings with one loss. All of which makes for yet another intriguing week of playoff football.

In addition to the “one-loss bowl”, two undefeated teams have their work cut out for them. Missouri, fresh off a monumental victory over Oklahoma, now must head west to face the Cornhuskers, who righted the ship last week with a shootout win over Oklahoma State. More on that game later.

The other match-up to watch is Michigan State at Iowa. Opponents of the Big-Ten will be rooting for the Hawkeyes here as this looks like the only possible spot for the Spartans to slip up the rest of the way. The funny thing is, we could potentially have an undefeated Big-Ten team end up behind Boise State. MSU’s schedule after this week is weaker than that of Boise’s and unless they make the leap over Boise this week, I think the Spartans could be stuck behind the Broncos and to be honest, I’d be fine with that.

The avoid list:

Texas: Good thing the ‘Horns are still on this list. Wow, I know Texas is fielding a below average team this year, but to lose at home to Iowa State, fresh off a 52-0 loss, is downright pathetic. Much like the Georgia Bulldogs though, this team will not completely collapse. The ‘Horns will play well in spots, which makes them almost impossible to predict for the remainder of the year.

Georgia: Another impressive win for the Dogs, now a real test as they face the Gators this week. Okay, considering the current state of the Gators, this might not be the best litmus test, but considering the recent competition of the Bulldogs, this will be the best indicator yet if they’ve in fact improved since an awful opening stretch.

On the radar:

USC: Whatever happens this week, the Trojans are bound to be stuck on this list after their game against the Ducks this week. I could see this game go about 10 different ways, which is precisely why they are still on this list.

Weekly recap:

Record: 6-7

Record YTD: 49-52-1

Units: +0.3

Units YTD: -9.7

Best Win: South Florida: You know me; love those ‘dogs that win outright. In addition to the outright win, this pick was especially satisfying because it was not the popular side heading into the match-up.

Worst Loss: Northwestern: If you had this game, you understand. Northwestern lead for nearly the entire game, most of the time by double-digits, yet in the end the ‘Cats somehow lost by eight. The funny thing is, as soon as they gave up the lead, with around two minutes left in the game, I felt something strange was about to happen. Sure enough, a turnover and a short drive resulted in an eight-point margin for the Spartans.

Take a note:

I’m calling a mid-season audible here and ditching my “take a note” section for two new sections called, “weekly rant” and “capper angle”. The “rant” section will detail something that bothered me and most likely you from the previous week, while the “angle” section will deal with a tip that might help you while handicapping the upcoming games.

Weekly Rant:

College football is without a doubt, the home of the trick or gadget plays, so how in this day and age can any coach or team fall for a fake punt anymore? It’s one thing to defense a fake punt only to have the opposing team execute it to perfection, it’s another thing to completely fall for the fake and put up absolutely no defense at all. I’m looking at you Iowa. Consider the situation as well; Wisconsin was trailing by six with just over six minutes left, sure it’s not a typical situation to pull off a fake, especially inside its own territory, but if you are Iowa, what are you trying to do on your end? There was no rush, so obviously the ‘Hawks were playing mainly for the return, but why? Even if your returner if forced into a fair catch, then you are getting the ball around your own 30, not exactly a horrible spot, so why wouldn’t you play a punt safe defense? Or at minimum, have at least two of three players, you know, actually keep an eye on the punter to see if he is indeed going to kick the ball? The result was the entire Hawkeye team turning around at the snap of the ball and running back towards their end of the field. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin punter strolled and I mean strolled through the line of scrimmage on his way to a 17-yard gain.

Capper Angle:
This week I want to focus on the heavy favorite and motivation to cover. In college football there are plenty of chances throughout the season to jump on a heavy favorite, I’m talking about 21+ points. The question you have to ask yourself is, “are they motivated to cover this line?” The line is usually set on the basis of talent discrepancy, but as you well know, talent is not the only factor that plays into a result. In fact, if talent is the only reason a line is set so high, then maybe it’s a good idea to pass.

A few examples from last week. Oregon, favored at home by 22 over UCLA. In this case, the talent discrepancy probably didn’t dictate this line as much as the motivation by Oregon to cover this number. Oregon had the national spotlight and there was no way the Ducks were going to come out flat here, or take their foot off the gas in the end for that matter. All of which made them a good play last week.

Another team that was motivated to cover last week, but for a different reason, was Ohio State. OSU was coming off a loss (plus), and had last year’s upset at Purdue still on their collective minds. Perfect spot to lay the points.

On the flip side were the Texas Longhorns. Texas was coming off an upset win on the road the week prior and had long since been out of the national title race, which meant style points were no longer a factor. Were they motivated to win? Sure, but beyond that, there was no reason to think they’d take ISU to the woodshed, other than ISU’s ineptitude in the preceding weeks that is. The lesson here is, the burden to cover is on the favorite, more specifically, just because the opponent is bad, doesn’t mean they are going to get blown out. It takes a motivated favorite to turn a game into a blowout.

Week Nine:

Thursday Night:

Florida State at North Carolina State: This game comes down to one player, Russell Wilson. We’ve seen the good Wilson and the bad Wilson and the fate of the Wolfpack lies in which one shows up. Considering Wilson and his teammates have had two weeks to stew about their inexplicable loss to East Carolina two weeks ago, I think we see the good Wilson this week. Add to that, the status of FSU QB Christian Ponder is up in the air and I think we’ve got our side.

Side: NC State +3.5 (1)


West Virginia at Connecticut: Speaking of inexplicable losses, West Virginia comes in this week off a home loss to Syracuse. Motivation will not be an issue this week, but what will be is the team on the opposite sideline. The Huskies came into the 2010 season as the Big East favorite, but an opening loss to Michigan sent them into a downward spiral of which they’ve yet to pull out of. However, a win this Friday night could get them back on track and much like Rutgers a few weeks back, you can expect the home team in this situation to come up with a huge effort.

Side: UConn +6.5 (1)


Michigan State at Iowa: Why do the lines in these games always have to be around six points? Just like last week, I like Iowa to win, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable with laying almost a touchdown. With that said, I am going to look at the total here. The Hawkeyes nearly won last Saturday, but even if they had, I doubt that Kirk Ferentz would have been happy with the performance of his defense. Expect a classic Big Ten battle this week, with points coming at premium.

Total: Under 50.5 (1)

Northwestern at Indiana: After weeks of battling the upper echelon teams of the Big Ten, these two teams get a break this week and I expect them to have some fun. Both teams have proven capable of putting up points this season and this game should be the antithesis of the Iowa game with lots of passing and lots of points.

Total: Over 58.5 (2)

Auburn at Mississippi: The Auburn Tigers are the new darlings of the nation after their win against LSU last week, but let’s not forget that they’ve had trouble winning on the road this year. They’ve found a way to win each time, but it hasn’t been easy and although Mississippi is underperforming this season, they can make up for that with a win over Auburn this week.

Side: Mississippi +7 (1)

Arizona at UCLA: Arizona is coming off an impressive win last week against Washington and UCLA is coming off an embarrassing loss at Oregon in front of a national TV audience, advantage Bruins. The Pac-10 has been all about bounce-backs this year and UCLA has contributed plenty to that reputation this season. Although the Bruins have looked awful over the past couple games, I expect a solid effort in this spot.

Side: UCLA +9 (1)

Missouri at Nebraska: Again, why does the line have to be so high here? Unlike Iowa however, I think Nebraska has enough to cover a big number this week against Missouri. Missouri finally bested Oklahoma last week and chances are the Tigers are still celebrating. Sure, they’ll say the right things this week, but mentally, they won’t have much left.

Side: Nebraska -7.5 (1)

California at Oregon State: The on again off again Cal Bears head to Corvallis this week and if the pattern holds, they’ll lay an egg this week. Oregon State has suffered some tough losses this year and the Beavers can’t afford to let winnable games, like this one, slip away.

Side: OSU -3 (2)

Utah at Air Force: These two always play tight games and although Utah is proving to be a covering machine this season, I don’t think the Utes cover the number here.

Side: Air Force +7 (1)

Ohio State at Minnesota: Perfect test for the motivation theory. The Buckeyes are coming off a blowout win over Purdue and there’s no reason to light up the Gophers this week. Don’t get me wrong, the talent disparity is huge here, but without motivation to run up the score, I wonder if OSU will be in this one mentally.

Side: Minnesota +25.5 (1)

Oregon at USC: I’m not putting any units on this game, but I am leaning towards USC which is coming off a bye and has the offense to keep up with Oregon. This is the watershed moment for the Ducks however. If they lose, we’ll look back and ask, “What did they really prove over the first eight weeks?”

Side: USC +6.5