After several weeks of tasty appetizers, we finally get to the meat of the college football season. This weekend has it all. We have four different games between Top 25 teams. We have playoff contenders like Florida, Iowa, and Ohio State facing difficult in-conference road tests. We have Cincinnati trying to prove it belongs on the national stage with a Top 10 matchup in South Bend. This slate of games provides an opportunity to separate the true contenders from mere bowl participants. From a betting perspective, it comes down to who you trust the most based on the data points you have been given.
With no pressing gambling questions on your minds this week, I have decided to explore a sports betting strategy that is frequently used by sharps and the public: betting on underdogs playing at home. If you listen to any sports betting podcasts or television shows, you are likely to encounter several analysts who openly use this type of “system play.” The idea certainly makes sense in theory; you would expect teams to overperform expectations when they get to play in front of a friendly crowd and do not have to travel.
However, home underdogs have historically performed no better than any other betting categorization. This is because sportsbooks typically build in a 2.5 to 3 point “home field advantage” into their algorithms.
Still, there has been decent value in betting on home underdogs so far this season. Through the first four weeks, these teams are 37-24-3 against the spread. Will this trend continue or eventually revert to the mean? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Virginia Week 5 Forecast
- Virginia at Miami -5.
- Under 62.
In the last two games, the Virginia defense has faced 21 drives that were not interrupted by the end of a half. During those drives, the defense has:
- Allowed points on 17 possessions (12 touchdowns, 5 field goals)
- Forced 1 interception
- Forced 3 punts (all at the end of the Wake Forest game)
UVA’s defense has also been susceptible to explosive plays. Wake Forest had six plays of 25+ yards on Friday night; UNC had eight the week prior. As dynamic as the Virginia offense has looked at times this season, it is not talented enough to overcome these types of defensive performances.
Miami’s offense is not quite as potent as North Carolina or Wake Forest, but it does have individual players that provide difficult matchups. Cam’Ron Harris has been the primary running back for the Hurricanes this season, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. He will likely share time with Jaylan Knighton who returns from a four-game suspension to start the season. The wide receiving corps also has weapons, highlighted by the experienced Charleston Rambo. Miami’s offense is most successful when it is able blend a bruising running game with quick passes that test the individual tackling skills of the secondary. Virginia has been plagued by missed tackles this season.
However, the Hurricanes also have significant questions entering this game. Multiple offensive starters are listed as questionable with injuries, including dynamic quarterback D’Eriq King. King sat out of last week’s game against Central Connecticut State with a shoulder injury. He was replaced by Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia, who collectively threw for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns. While this duo may be competent, it is nowhere near as scary as having to defend against King’s athleticism.
After watching two straight games of defensive ineptitude, I cannot in good conscience recommend betting on Virginia in this game. The Cavaliers’ recent struggles on the road and long-standing difficulties winning in the state of Florida do not offer reassurance. If King cannot play for Miami, that will at least give Virginia a puncher’s chance. Still, I predict a 37-24 loss. At least it will be over on Thursday night so you can enjoy a stress-free line-up of Saturday games.
Week 5 Best Selections
- Record to date: 9-11-1
Following a 2-2-1 week, I am still clawing my way back to profit. Still, that’s an improvement from the previous two weeks, a clear omen that the course corrections are paying off. For this “Separation Saturday”, I’ll try to create some distance from the mistakes of the past.
Penn State -12.5 vs. Indiana
If you believe in sports clichés like “extra motivation” and “redemption”, you will love the Nittany Lions this week. Penn State lost a heartbreaker at Indiana last season on a controversial two-point conversion in overtime. It was the Hoosiers’ first victory over a Top 10 team in 33 years. Indiana has regressed considerably since that game, while Penn State has thrived. James Franklin’s team has won eight straight games and has one of the better passing attacks in the Big Ten. Indiana is ranked 90th in points per game and will have a difficult time keeping pace.
Louisiana Tech +21 at NC State
Speaking of clichés, no team is facing a more stereotypical “let down game” than the Wolfpack. After a thrilling overtime victory over Clemson, North Carolina State has snuck into the Top 25 and appears to be a serious contender for the ACC Atlantic crown. However, the Wolfpack would do well not to sleep on Louisiana Tech. In Week 1, the Bulldogs led Mississippi State for most of the game before losing by a single point. By contrast, NC State lost in Starkville the following week by two touchdowns. Louisiana Tech’s other loss was a two-point defeat against a talented SMU squad. Even without the potential for a let-down, this is way too many points to give a well-coached team that has scored at least 35 points in three of its four games.
Army -7 at Ball State
I’m sticking with Army for the second week in a row. The Black Knights are 4-0 thanks to the nation’s 2nd ranked rushing attack, averaging 344 yards per game. In Ball State, they face a defense that ranks 112th in points allowed and 92nd in yards allowed. Given these trends, Army should win the game if it can avoid turning the ball over and giving a middling Cardinals offense the short field. Fortunately, Army excels at protecting the football; the Black Knights have only one turnover in four games.
USC -7 at Colorado
Given all the upheaval that has taken place at USC this season, it is difficult to know what you are getting from the Trojans each week. However, I know exactly what I am getting with Colorado’s offense. The Buffaloes have scored two offensive touchdowns in the last three weeks. Quarterback Brandon Lewis averages only 4.3 yards per completion and has thrown for only 313 yards through four games. This offense is simply not skilled enough to compete with USC. If the Trojans can match their season average of 32 points, they will win easily.
Western Kentucky at Michigan State Under 64
Have you ever been up against a stressful deadline at work and just barely get the deliverable completed in time? There’s a feeling of euphoric fatigue associated with those moments. It’s like catching a beautiful flu. The Spartans are in this exact state following a narrow overtime win against Nebraska last week. I would not expect crisp offensive execution following that game. On the other sideline, the Hilltoppers have offensive firepower but have yet to face a defensive front as talented as Michigan State. No team has scored more than 21 points in a game this season against the Spartans. I think the total for this game will be in the 50s, not the 60s.
Specialty Bet of the Week
- Record to date: 2-2
Iowa spoiled the teaser magic with a plodding victory at home against Colorado State. As a result, I am setting aside teasers for now and trying another tactic. So far, there have been many teams that have not lived up to preseason hype (looking at you, Clemson). We have seen several unexpected upsets and close calls among ranked teams. The three teams with the best resumes to date sit atop the Top 25 standings: Alabama, Georgia, and Oregon. These are the teams I trust the most right now to win games.
So, the plan this week is to combine these teams in a money-line parlay. This means that we are betting on each team to win its respective game, regardless of the score. If all three teams win, the parlay wins.
Alabama (-625) vs. Mississippi: Lane Kiffin makes his triumphant return to Tuscaloosa with Heisman front-runner Matt Corral in tow. However, Nick Saban is 23-0 when coaching against his former assistants.
Georgia (-1100) vs. Arkansas: The Razorbacks are one of the best surprises of the college football season. Unfortunately, they enter this high-profile game banged up. Starting quarterback KJ Jefferson and wideout Treylon Burks were both injured last week against Texas A&M. Without these players at full strength, scoring against the Georgia defense will be incredibly difficult.
Oregon (-310) at Stanford: Stanford has dramatically improved since switching quarterbacks after an opening loss to Kansas State. Still, this team lost at home against UCLA and surrendered 23 points to Vanderbilt. The Ducks should light up the scoreboard in Palo Alto.
The cumulative parlay odds are -148, meaning that a bet of $100 would net a profit of $67.37. It is not as high of a payout as other bets, but barring seismic upsets, you walk away with money.
Random Facts to Impress Your Fellow Tailgaters
One of the biggest upsets of the college football season occurred last week in Minneapolis. Bowling Green, a 31-point underdog, defeated Minnesota 14-10 despite accruing only 194 yards of offense. The shocking upset broke a streak of 120 straight contests where a favorite of at least 30 points won the game. To rub salt in the wound, Minnesota paid Bowling Green $1.45 million to play the game.
The SabreBetrics column is written by a Virginia graduate and long-time fan of The Sabre. The opinions expressed in this article are not directly associated with TheSabre.com and are intended for recreational use only.