Last August during my bachelor party, a couple of my friends watched the BC-UMass game with virtually no rooting interest outside of getting me hammered. They gambled on plays back and forth, giving each other odds on first downs, kickoff yardage, and scoring plays. Whenever someone lost $10 in fake money, he had to buy a round of beers.
By halftime, one of them had purchased roughly 15 beers and, to be honest, the game gets a little hazy after that. I still don't remember Darius Wade actually playing in that game.
Unrelated to that story, last March, I spent the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament renting a house in the backwoods of Vermont with 12 other guys. We competed in drinking games, watched a ton of basketball, and, well, gambled on everything from point spreads to over/unders to who was the best at foosball and flip cup. Needless to say, money traded hands and great times were had by all.
It was through those two experiences that I developed what can only be described as a manifesto. I juggled a couple of axioms across my head through those two events, but in the end, I wound up coming up with some rules to live by when you're making your picks.
Never take a shaky team on the road. Alabama went 12-1 last year and qualified for the first ever College Football Playoff. But they only played five road games and went 1-4 against the spread. Additionally, they only went 2-3 on the road in terms of Over/Under. So when they open up against Wisconsin this year in Arlington, TX, I would shy away from taking the Crimson Tide despite them being 9.5 point favorites.
Always bet on the better coach. Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut, but it's a well-known fact that a team with a really bad coach is usually going to be outfoxed and dominated by a team with a really good coach.
I've made it no secret that I think Frank Beamer's lost his fastball down at Virginia Tech. Last year, the Hokies went 5-7 against the spread, 2-5 at home.
Make a list of teams you'll never bet against, and never bet on them. So I get this disqualifies Boston College for most of us. But when I was looking at the comment section for predictions of BC's overall record this season, I noticed people saying eight or nine wins was expected. I'm not saying it's not possible, but I am saying I disagree. Realistically, I'm more of a pessimistic person anyway, but I can't stop thinking that the majority of people picked BC to nine wins because they irrationally trust Steve Addazio.
That means when betting, they're always going to think BC is going to play a team tough, regardless of what the point spread says. Looking at an eight or nine point spread against Florida State is enticing because they think BC is going to win outright. But remember how close the margin for error is. One bad play here or there, and the theory of "well they played tough and lost" becomes "they didn't cover the spread."
It's not a good idea to irrationally bet for BC.
Anyway, those are three major rules. There are other, more minor rules I'll reference throughout the season, but for now, there you go.
Remember that point spreads are nothing more than giant popularity contests. The point spread is seldom an indication of who people think will actually win the game. Instead, it's an indication of how people think a team will play against another team. When there's heavier action on one team, the point spread will swing their way to encourage more people to bet on the oppponent. When the action swings back, the point spread will venture closer to zero.
Eventually, it'll settle into a happy medium. That's why you'll see a team favored by 13 to start the week, but the spread will open up to 17 by the end of the week or shrink to something like eight or nine. Either that or it'll fluctuate.
Now on with the picks. As a reminder, you may find different odds than the ones I'm using because different websites will offer different lines based upon the action and analysis.
North Carolina (+3) vs. South Carolina
North Carolina's defense has to be better than last year. It HAS TO BE. There is no conceivable way it can give up as many points as it did last year.
South Carolina, meanwhile, lost a lot of close games last year. They went 2-3 during the regular season in games decided by a touchdown or less. While they did beat Georgia, they also lost to Kentucky and Tennessee. When they played Clemson in the last week of the season, they were throttled.
What gets me excited about the Tar Heels is that they finished 4-2 down the stretch with some marquee wins. They beat Georgia Tech, Pitt, and Duke. That belies the fact they gave up 70, 50, and 50 to ECU, Clemson, and Notre Dame, respectively. So they got better—after they were abysmal.
I'm going with the Tar Heels here in what amounts to a pick 'em.
Kent State at Illinois (-14)
I should have an asterisk on my rule of gambling on a good coach against a bad coach: when you're dealing with terrible coaching situations, just pick the team with better talent.
Illinois fired head coach Tim Beckman eight days before the start of the season because he essentially made the injury report out on an Etch-A-Sketch and expected to not get caught. Prior to his firing, the line had Illinois installed as 16-point favorites. By the time the night ended, the line rolled back to 14.
But here's the kicker. When the Illini take the field, they're playing a Kent State team that lost their two games to power conference teams last year by a combined 111-13 score. A week after coughing up 66 to Ohio State, they gave up 45 to Virginia. I don't care about what the coaching situation is at that point. Take the Illini, take the points, and give consideration to an over/under that's deceptively low at 55.
Texas at #11 Notre Dame (-9.5)
Remember Rule #3 listed above? It says to make a list of teams you'll never bet against and avoid like all hell picking them. The same goes for teams you absolutely can't stand.
I want to take Texas in this game so badly I can taste it. The Longhorns went 7-5 against the spread last year and were (more importantly) 4-1 with points on the road. After dipping back to a 6-6 regular season in '14, I just have the vibe that UT is better than they indicate. At the same time, I don't think Notre Dame is as good as people are making them out to be.
But there's a part of me that's betting against Notre Dame because I want to bet against Notre Dame. That's a dangerous position to be in. You never bet with emotion. And on paper, the Fighting Irish are playing at home, bringing back everyone except their starting quarterback, who may as well have been their starter last year.
Even if I didn't want to pick this game, I'll toss this one to my wife, who for whatever reason has won two of the last three March Madness pools I've been in and correctly picked both Ohio State and Oregon to win in the College Football Playoff last year (and correctly picked the spreads...yeah, I have no idea either). She picks Notre Dame because of their defense. Good enough for me.
Florida Atlantic (+7) at Tulsa
Since nobody really pays attention to the non-power conference games, you can really find some solid picks and money lines in games amongst really crappy teams. Last year, Florida Atlantic went 3-9 overall but finished 7-5 against the spread. Tulsa, meanwhile, finished 2-10 overall.
In 2014, FAU hosted the Golden Hurricane after losing to Nebraska (55-7) and Alabama (41-0). They promptly destroyed Tulsa, 50-21, before 14,112 fans at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida.
Throughout the remainder of the year, Tulsa picked up only one more victory (a 38-28 victory over arguably the worst FBS program when they beat SMU at home). FAU, meanwhile, won twice more, including a victory over bowl-bound Western Kentucky.
That the teams are separated by a touchdown—with Tulsa installed as the favorite—makes positively no sense. Take the Owls and take them hard.
Lock of the Week
#4 Baylor (-34.5) at SMU
Let's take one of the fastest, highest-scoring offenses in college football and send them down the road to Dallas, where they can play one of the worst teams in college football. Not only am I taking the points here, but I'm seriously considering taking the over (75). The only thing preventing me from taking the over is that Baylor may need to drop 70 points to even bring it remotely close to that number.
Whoever scheduled this game is an evil, evil human being.