SabreBetrics: Week 12 Betting Guide – The Final Stretch

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With only two games remaining in the regular season for most college football teams, it is time to make a final push for profitability.

At this point in the year, I put a premium on program stability and recent performances. While one poor performance can be explained away, teams navigating coaching changes or struggling for several weeks in a row should be avoided at all costs. Conversely, I like to bet on teams that have shown sustained performance over the last month, even if they struggled early in the season. Let’s find some games to help us finish the year on a winning note.

Mailbag Question

“After 11 weeks, who should I bet on for the Heisman Trophy?”

Betting on the Heisman Trophy can be very difficult at the beginning of the season. For context, Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler was the consensus preseason favorite with 5-1 odds. He has since been benched in favor of Caleb Williams, a move that dramatically improved the Sooners offense. Similarly, most sportsbooks had Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei as the second most likely candidate, but he has become a Heisman afterthought with the Tigers struggling on offense this season.

With the contenders separated from the pretenders, you can now make a more informed choice about who to select. Here are the top five candidates for the Heisman right now (odds at your sportsbook may vary):

  • Bryce Young, Alabama (+160)
  • C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (+235)
  • Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State (+245)
  • Matt Corral, Mississippi (+655)
  • Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh (+2340)

There’s a compelling statistical case for Kenny Pickett, who has thrown for 3,517 yards and 32 touchdowns. He is also generating buzz as the first quarterback selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, Heisman voters generally reward players on championship level teams, and Pittsburgh has no chance of making it into the College Football Playoff even if they cruise to an ACC title. The same is true for Mississippi and its quarterback Matt Corral. Despite his dual threat abilities, Corral has played injured for the last several weeks and has not put up the same numbers as earlier in the season.

As well as Kenneth Walker III has played for Michigan State, his odds took a hit with the Spartans’ recent loss against Purdue. Additionally, only one running back (Derrick Henry in 2005) has won the Heisman in the last 11 years. Even though Walker III is very deserving of the award, I think he has an uphill climb (though a legendary performance against Ohio State this weekend could change that equation).

That leaves two quarterbacks who both have opportunities for signature “Heisman moments” in the final weeks of the season. I give the edge to Bryce Young for a couple reasons. First, Alabama is solidly in the football playoff, with difficult but winnable games ahead against Arkansas and Auburn. Assuming the Crimson Tide win those games, he will also get the opportunity to face Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Any positive performance in that game will be given extra emphasis because of Georgia’s superior defense.

Secondly, there is a perception that the Buckeyes have superior offensive talent surrounding C.J. Stroud. TreVeyon Henderson has more than 1,000 rushing yards, while the dynamic trio of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Garrett Wilson, and Chris Olave has combined for 2,548 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns. Even though Stroud is the architect of the offense, quarterbacks are sometimes punished by Heisman voters when they have other talented weapons. Remember that Mac Jones lost the Heisman to his own receiver, DeVonta Smith, a season ago.

When betting on the Heisman, you are trying to predict what voters will do, not what they should do. History suggests that Alabama’s most high-profile players are given special attention by Heisman voters. For this reason, I’ll put my chips on Bryce Young.

Virginia Week 12 Forecast

  • Pittsburgh -14.5 vs. Virginia
  • Total: Under 66

Without quarterback Brennan Armstrong, Virginia’s offense sputtered against Notre Dame. Armstrong remains questionable for this important ACC Coastal matchup against Pittsburgh. That uncertainty makes this game difficult to forecast, but it is not an encouraging sign for the Cavaliers.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh is a highly experienced team with strengths that align very closely with UVA’s shortcomings. The aforementioned Kenny Pickett has had a sensational season at quarterback. Saturday will be Pickett’s 47th career start for the Panthers so he is unlikely to be rattled by an important conference game. Pittsburgh’s offense averages nearly 40 points per game, 512 yards per game, and 6.3 yards per play. A talented wide receiving corps led by Jordan Addison will be a difficult test for Virginia’s ailing secondary.

Pittsburgh also has a significant advantage on the offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranks the Panthers as having the fourth best offensive line in the country. Meanwhile, Virginia ranks 122nd nationally in yards allowed per game and 127th in yards allowed per rushing attempt. Teams convert 3rd downs against the Virginia defense at a 44.6% clip. These are not the statistics you want to have leading up to a contest that could decide who advances to the ACC Championship Game.

Virginia’s best chance at winning this game is to outgun Pittsburgh and force field goal attempts rather than touchdowns. With Armstrong at full strength, the Cavaliers would have a puncher’s chance. With Armstrong limited or out entirely, I do not see a path to victory. Prediction: Pittsburgh 44 Virginia 20.

Week 12 Best Selections

  • Record to date: 26-30-2

Last week could have easily been profitable but was instead winless due to an unimaginable streak of bad luck. Arizona State lost by a half point after surrendering a garbage-time touchdown with three seconds left. NC State lost by 3 instead of 2. San Diego State won by 2, narrowly missing out on a cover by a half point. Simply brutal. We are due for a major rebound this week.

San Diego State -10.5 at UNLV

The Rebels are riding high after two consecutive victories over New Mexico and Hawaii. Neither of those of schools have a fraction of the talent that San Diego State has. UNLV relies heavily on Charles Williams, who leads the Mountain West in rushing yards, to guide its offensive attack. However, the Aztecs have one of the nation’s best run defenses, averaging only 2.9 yards per rush. Despite UNLV’s recent success, it is still a 2-8 team facing off against a ranked 9-1 opponent. Give the points and enjoy a Friday evening with Brady Hoke’s defense.

Notre Dame -17 vs. Georgia Tech

In three seasons at Georgia Tech, Geoff Collins has a 3-10 record in true road games. Quarterback Jeff Sims has been banged up all season and was held out of the most recent game against Boston College with an undisclosed injury. The Yellow Jackets’ defense allows near 32 points and 469 yards per game. In sum, there’s not much to like about how Georgia Tech is playing right now. Notre Dame is the superior squad and has beaten its last four opponents by an average of 19.5 points. Take the better team playing at home with the playoffs still within reach.

East Carolina -4 at Navy

My preseason prediction of East Carolina going over 4.5 wins has already come home thanks to a recent three-game winning streak. The Pirates are playing their best football of the season even without stellar quarterback play from Holton Ahlers. Navy’s triple option scheme is always difficult to game plan for, but this iteration of Ken Niumatalolo’s offense is not as potent as those in previous years. The Midshipmen have struggled in the secondary this year, allowing 8.5 yards per pass attempt (111th nationally). This should be a “get right” game for Ahlers and continued momentum for East Carolina.

Wisconsin -9 vs. Nebraska

After early season struggles, the Badgers have looked dominant the last few weeks. After winning at Rutgers by 49 points, Wisconsin notched another easy victory by 28 points against Northwestern last week. The Badgers’ defense ranks first in yards allowed per game (yes, even better than Georgia). The offensive line has also coalesced into an effective unit. Quarterback Graham Mertz has not been sacked in his last three games. Though Nebraska has played admirably against ranked competition this season, I really like what I’m seeing from Wisconsin on both sides of the ball.

SMU +12 at Cincinnati

For weeks, the Bearcats have needed to impress the College Football Playoff committee by overwhelming inferior competition. That has not occurred. In the last four games, Cincinnati managed to beat Navy by one score, led Tulane by two points at the half, used two goal line stands to survive a scare against Tulsa, and allowed USF to score 28 points. Cincinnati failed to cover all four of these games. Now Cincinnati must find a way to slow down a high-octane Mustangs offense that averages 40 points per game. The Bearcats may be able to claw out another victory, I will gladly take the points.

Specialty Bet of the Week

  • Record to date: 3-7-1

For the specialty bet this week, we are looking ahead to conference championships. Currently, Ohio State is a significant favorite (-333) to win the Big 10 Championship game. This makes sense, as the Buckeyes are playing great football and are on pace to make the College Football Playoff if they can finish the season without another loss. However, I think there is more value in taking Wisconsin at +370.

Wisconsin has a clear path to the Big Ten Championship Game with games remaining against Nebraska and Minnesota. Ohio State has a much more difficult path with Michigan State and Michigan still on the schedule. As I mentioned earlier, Wisconsin has an elite defense and is one of the only schools outside of Athens, Georgia that can slow down Ohio State’s offense. Though the Buckeyes are still the most likely team to win the Big 10, there’s decent value with nearly 4 to 1 odds for the Badgers.

For those interested, Virginia is currently listed at +2500 to win the ACC Championship.

Random Facts to Impress Your Fellow Tailgaters

Congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks for their shocking upset victory in Austin last Saturday. The victory ended a couple ignominious streaks for the beleaguered Kansas program. The Jayhawks had previously lost 56 consecutive Big 12 road games dating back to 2008. Additionally, it was Kansas’ first victory as an underdog of at least 24 points after one hundred consecutive losses.

Dating back to 1978, Texas was previously 79-0 as a favorite of at least 24 points. It was a discouraging loss for a program that is mired in a five-game losing streak.

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 and are intended for recreational use only.

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