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Washington a live home underdog

When former Southern California assistant Steve Sarkisian took over a once-proud Washington football program, only the most optimistic Huskies supporters probably expected considerable progress on the heels of last season’s 0-12 debacle.

At 3-4 just past the season’s halfway point, the Huskies have competed at a high level all season and easily could have a winning record despite facing arguably the nation’s most difficult schedule.

Under the wing of Sarkisian, who starred for Brigham Young at quarterback, Washington QB Jake Locker has moved up the NFL Draft boards and almost certainly will be one of the first names called in the spring.

Locker has passed for 1,702 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, and he’s also a running threat with 223 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

Oregon (5-1) enters today’s game at Washington ranked No. 11 in the season’s inaugural Bowl Championship Series standings. The Ducks have won five straight after a season-opening flop at Boise State.

The Huskies, however, have been live home underdogs this season, going 3-0 against the spread in the role with outright wins over USC and Arizona.

Oregon clearly has been the more impressive team, but it has USC on deck at Autzen Stadium, and, quite simply, the 10-point line is too high. Take Washington and the points.

Six more plays for today (home team in CAPS):

UNR (-15) over Idaho — The Vandals are one of the season’s feel-good stories, entering this Western Athletic Conference showdown with a 6-1 straight-up record (7-0 against the spread) after years of ineptitude. The Wolf Pack averaged 48 points against Idaho the past four seasons and normally are strong as a home favorite.

Arkansas (+61/2) over MISSISSIPPI — The Razorbacks are showing steady improvement and have bested the point spread by 26, 23 and 22 points in their past three games. The Rebels have struggled against the more talented opponents on their schedule.

BRIGHAM YOUNG (+21/2) over Texas Christian — Despite all the BCS talk, the Horned Frogs are not at the same level as last year. TCU has won road games against Virginia and Clemson, but Provo is a tougher environment, and BYU will be primed after last season’s 32-7 loss to the Horned Frogs.

Southern Methodist (+17) over HOUSTON — The Mustangs are one of the nation’s most improved teams and could be 5-1 if not for blowing double-digit leads against Washington State and Navy. SMU has competed gamely when getting 101/2 points or more, having gone 11-3-2 in its past 16 games in that role.

STANFORD (-61/2) over Arizona State — Stanford is a different team at home with nine straight covers in Palo Alto, and the Sun Devils are a different team on the road (6-16 ATS as a conference road underdog since 2001). The Cardinal should snap a two-game losing streak with a touchdown-plus victory.

TROY (-201/2) over North Texas — Troy has been the class of the Sun Belt Conference in recent years and should wreak havoc on Mean Green backup quarterback Nathan Tune, who will start in place of injured Riley Dodge.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season: 12-22-1

Texas-based handicapper Paul Stone of Vegassportsauthority.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal this season.

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