This is the biggest week of the college football season, and here in the desert, we mean business. Big business.
For the past three weeks, oddsmakers at the South Point have told me they’ve taken in a bigger handle on college football than the NFL. Think about that. That might be the biggest upset this season.
“That’s what most people thought only because the NFL for a thousand years has been king,” South Point senior oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said.
Gaughan Gaming’s Vinny Magliulo backed that up, saying “every game is a big game in college, and there’s so many big games, especially now at this point in the year.”
But Vaccaro and Magliulo also think other factors are contributing to this recent trend.
“Let’s not get into the political side of this, but the NFL is pushing people away to some degree with all this nonsense they’re going through,” Vaccaro said. “College just keeps going forward.”
Added Magliulo: “There’s also the impact of six (NFL) teams being on a bye. Two of them this week happen to be very public teams that people love to bet — the Patriots and Steelers. On Saturday, you’ve got like a dozen or 15 really good college games.”
No doubt about it. This is Showdown Saturday. With the table formally set Tuesday by the first College Football Playoff rankings, we have a pretty good idea which games are important, which ones are elimination ones and which ones have more at stake than meets the eye.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Ranked No. 4 by the playoff committee, Clemson is still very much alive for a national semifinal, and the Tigers will be a 7½-point favorite Saturday visiting North Carolina State. Undefeated Miami is no better than No. 10, and it’s a 2½-point home underdog against No. 13 Virginia Tech. Wake Forest is a 14-point underdog visiting No. 3 Notre Dame.
Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin are on the outside looking in at the top four. The sixth-ranked Buckeyes are a 17½-point favorite at Iowa. That could be a tricky place to cover the spread, especially with rain in the forecast. I’ll take the points.
Fifth-ranked Oklahoma is a 3-point underdog at No. 11 Oklahoma State, Saturday’s most important game in the championship chase. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield also has a chance to take a big step forward in his pursuit of the Heisman Trophy.
If Oklahoma loses, No. 8 Texas Christian has a chance to pounce with a win at home against Texas. But beware of the Longhorns, who are getting 6½ points. Coach Tom Herman is tough on favorites. Including his two seasons at Houston, Herman has beaten the spread in his past eight games as an underdog.
Although it appears to be out of the national picture, No. 15 Iowa State is alive for a shot at the Big 12 championship. The Cyclones are 2-point underdogs at West Virginia.
You have to look deep to find the first Pac-12 team in the new rankings. Washington is No. 12, and it will be a 21-point favorite at home against Oregon. The Huskies’ nonconference wins over Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State clearly have not impressed the committee, so the Pac-12 sits clearly on the elimination bubble.
There should not be any drama for No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama. Both are at home, with the Bulldogs 24-point favorites against South Carolina and the Tide laying 21½ against Louisiana State.
One thing to remember now that the playoff rankings are out is there will be movement. In the first three years of this system, the initial top four never have stayed in place all the way through the naming of the semifinalists.
It’s clear the colleges have made our football weekends more meaningful. And if the playoffs are expanded to eight or 16 teams in the Bowl Subdivision, the NFL will have major competition.
Right now, the colleges concede December to the NFL. But if the playoffs expand, college football won’t concede anything. And the weeks when the colleges draw more betting dollars to the counters than the NFL won’t be such a surprise.
Brent Musburger’s betting column appears Saturday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His show on the Vegas Stats & Information Network can be heard on SiriusXM 204 and livestreamed at reviewjournal.com/vegas-stats-information-network.