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It’s good to be back on the pages of the Moneymaker newsletter for a big season of college football. You can read more of my writing every day at sports-1.
Full disclosure—I wish this was some other team than Tulane in this spot. Still, there are so many situational components here to justify a play against BYU that we’ll give the Green Wave a shot. First of all, this is a classic ‘letdown spot’ with BYU off of one of their biggest upsets in program history and certainly their biggest since the Lavell Edwards era. This leads us to another important concept--no team is as good as they look at their best, or as bad as they look at their worst. This is basically a contrarian guideline--sort of like in the stock market when you should 'sell when everyone else is buying and vice versa'. Consider what the public perception of the spot will be with BYU off the biggest upset of the opening week and Tulane getting throttled by Tulsa--"John Q. Public" won't realize that Tulane lost a lot of practice time as over a dozen key players suffered from 'flu like symptoms' in the week or two prior to the game
It also qualifies as a "Sandwich" spot: This is what really makes this a great situational spot for a play on Tulane. In addition to the 'letdown' after their big upset they have what we call a 'lookahead' spot for BYU on 9/19 as they open their home season against Florida State. So they open their season against OU, Tulane and Florida State--which game do you think is the least significant to BYU? I wouldn't be surprised if running back Harvey Unga sits out this week as well. He’s currently listed as ‘questionable’, but even if he plays it doesn’t really change this handicap. If anything, it might mean that BYU will want to work on their running game which was almost nonexistent against Oklahoma and that works in our favor with long drives eating up the clock.
Bronco Mendenhall (who is just a great coach, BTW, and the first decent guy BYU has had running the program since Lavell Edwards retired) has said that his teams aren't going to run up scores on overmatched opponents "even if it hurts them in the BCS standings". That's not exactly true (last year they beat UCLA and Wyoming on successive weekends by a combined score of 112-0 or thereabouts) but BYU hasn't shown a tendency to blow teams out on the road. Their biggest margin of victory on the road LY was 20 points at Utah State. If they get a margin, look for Max Hall and a number of other starters to sit, leaving the door open for a 'back door cover'.
I really don’t see Tulane pulling the outright upset, but off an emotionally and physically draining game against the Sooners and with the Seminoles on deck I don’t see BYU getting any kind of a margin either. Tulane can put points on the board and though they won’t win a shootout with the Coogs they have an excellent chance at keeping the margin respectable and cashing our ticket. BYU hasn’t been a great ATS team in recent years (10-15 overall L3 years, 4-8 on the road) and in a mindset where they’ve got bigger fish to fry they’ll likely be happy to phone in a win.
South Carolina will live and die by their defense this year and was evidenced in their opening game victory at NC State the Gamecocks have a pretty good stop unit. Georgia is working in a new quarterback, and their offense didn’t look particularly impressive against Oklahoma State either. Most significantly, perhaps, every time these two teams line it up it’s a classic SEC war. Some of the situational records from the series should give you an idea of what we’re talking about—12 of the last 14 head to head matchups have gone UNDER. 5 of the last 7 games in Athens have gone UNDER. The individual teams are also strong ‘UNDER’ sides—the Gamecocks have gone UNDER in 15 of their L24 lined games, 6 of 11 on the road and 7 of 8 in September. The Bulldogs have gone UNDER in 9 of their last 11 at this price range (-3’ to -10). Some interest in the Gamecocks +7, but this is probably a smarter way to play it.
I’m not particularly impressed with this Georgia Tech team, though Paul Johnson is a solid coach. For that reason I was surprised to see money come in on the Yellow Jackets with the line being bet up from the opening -4 to the current price. There’s been some concern over the status of Tigers’ running back CJ Hiller after he left the game last Saturday against Middle Tennessee with either a hamstring pull or a foot injury, depending on which report you read. Hiller maintains that he’s 100% and is ready to go against Tech (the injury reports ‘officially’ list him as ‘probable’). As one of the best running backs in the country, his play is crucial for the Tigers’ success in this game and all year long.
I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong about something, and I’ll gladly affirm that was the case with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. I initially thought he was over his head in his role at the Tigers’ helm but he proved me wrong and has revitalized the program in TigerTown. Swinney took over the team following a 3-3 start and won 4 of the last 6 regular season game including a big in-state rivalry victory over South Carolina. His first game was a loss—against Georgia Tech.
Clemson has the better defense, and since the Tigers joined the ACC this series has been a dead even affair SU at 13-13. The series itself dates back to the Paleolithic era of college football—the two teams have played dating back to 1903 when Clemson won by a 73-0 score under head coach John Heisman (as in the ‘Heisman Trophy’).
The Tigers have covered 9 of their L12 as a road dog in this price range (+3’ to +7) and have covered 10 of 17 overall against Georgia Tech as well as 5 of the L8 in Atlanta. In my opinion, they’re the better team and we’re getting a nice value on the Tigers. Look for Clemson to win outright here.
Big game for Army, as Rich Ellerson makes his home debut off of a nice win at Eastern Michigan. Everyone knows the deal with Army—they’ll run, run, run all game. Early money backed the Cadets, moving the line to Army -2’ after it opened Duke -1. We like Army to pull out a hard fought SU victory as well, but the total looks like the better play here. Duke is far from an offensive juggernaut and only put 16 points on the board last week in a loss to FCS/1-AA Richmond. To be fair, Richmond has a very good program at that level but an inability to put points up versus a lower competitive level of football doesn’t bode well for their ability to do so here. On the other hand, Duke has a decent defense which helps our position on the UNDER even more.
The Blue Devils have gone UNDER in 12 of their L15 September games, and 10 of their L12 on the road. Going back even further, Duke has gone UNDER in 19 of their L25 away games. Army has gone UNDER in 3 of 10 at this price range (-3 to +3) and that is particularly significant here. What that suggests is that a team that is usually a sizable underdog brings a little extra intensity into games where they’ve got the best chance of winning. In what should be a festive atmosphere in West Point, they’ll control the ball, win the game and send this one UNDER.
Jim Murphy is a staff writer and interactive marketing consultant for Sports-1 Sportsbook.

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