I am proud to report that my college football picks on this very blog are on a near double-digit winning streak. If that sounds too good to be true, consider that I also lost my first 3 picks of the season in a row – mostly in embarrassing fashion.
My recommended bet for Alabama vs Louisville in Week 1 was Under (62.5) points. It fell victim to some extraordinarily high-octane garbage time in which the Crimson Tide continued to pass the ball in the 4th quarter and ran their point total above the 50 mark. Odds-makers knew something I didn’t know – that my analysis of the Kentuckians wasn’t nearly brave enough.
It was a good old-fashioned double-cross. I knew that Louisville was likely to look bad this season, given that a below-average and morally dubious head coach (Bobby Petrino) no longer has anyone named Lamar Jackson to single-handedly engineer scoring drives for him while he stands on the sideline chewing sunflower seeds.
I was correct – but I was too correct. Louisville is so weakened by the loss of Jackson that Nick Saban didn’t worry about blowing the lead at any point, any more than a champion racehorse worries about swatting a bug away with its tail. Saban wanted to watch his 2 competing quarterbacks throw passes throughout all 4 quarters, and kept the Alabama offense running wide-open to accommodate them. No disrespect to the Louisville student-athletes, but it was a practice game for the Tide.
Unfortunately, even that wasn’t the worst blunder I made in Week 1.
I was wrong about Alabama’s tactics and wrong about Louisville’s level of competitiveness against the SEC.
But boy, was I completely, utterly, magnificently wrong about the Boise State Broncos.
Boise State: Defying Expectations Since Blue Turf was Invented
It’s not that I don’t believe in Boise State as a New Year’s Six contender in 2018-19.
In the LegitGamblingSites.com Mountain West overview, I touted the Broncos as a strong win-total pick to prevail in more than 10 games based on their manageable schedule and MWC dominance. Brett Rypien is another in a long line of excellent and poised QBs for the Blue. Alexander Mattison is an extremely effective #1 running back when healthy, and Boise’s defense is extremely strong at cornerback and elsewhere.
But when looking at the odds for Boise at Troy in Week 1, I felt that the Trojans’ moneyline under-valued their real chances. I knew that the Broncos were more likely to prevail, but I felt that it would be a close contest with opportunities for each side to take over. Troy went 11-2 in 2017 and played well at Boise State in last season’s debut before knocking off LSU a few weeks later. In some ways, the program can be seen as a potential “Boise State of the South,” though the Sun Belt mid-major’s geography can sometimes lend itself to harder OOC schedules than the more-heralded team from Idaho must deal with.
The visitors sliced, diced and pasted the Trojans in a 56-20 blow-out. Rypien threw for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns, Kaleb Barker was intercepted by senior Boise LB Tony Lashley, and Troy was held to less than 3 yards per carry on the ground.
Boise State followed-up the win with a 62-7 gutting of UConn in Week 2. Oh well, it looks like that win-total prediction might be working out just great…assuming the Broncos can get past Oklahoma State this weekend.
Boise State at Oklahoma State: Potential Shoot-out in Stillwater
We learned a lot about Boise State while watching the squad clobber an excellent Group-of-5 team on the road in Alabama. There has been no such opportunity to vibe how the OSU Cowboys will look against top competition in ’18.
Last week’s romp over South Alabama was a trademark Cowboy win over an average mid-major program. Oklahoma State gave up 2 touchdowns in the 1st half, but it ultimately didn’t matter, because Mike Gundy’s breathless and athletic offense posted over 600 yards and 50 points on the day.
I’m not here to question Gundy’s choice of out-of-conference opponents. I’ve argued for years that simply having a good program tends to make a schedule look weak. If a Power-5 school like California or Vanderbilt plays Western Kentucky or Coastal Carolina in September and ekes-out a close win, the media’s reaction is “hey, fair play to the Chanticleers for hanging in there.” If Clemson plays either of those schools and wins by 75 points, the reaction is “wow, what a joke.”
Everybody has to schedule somebody – the better teams put an icing on the cupcake while the lesser ones occasionally choke on an almond.
It could be argued, however, that the Stillwater scrappers’ opening effort against Missouri State rang a few alarm bells.
The Bears are not an FCS stronghold – they’re closer to the bottom of the heap along with Southeast Missouri State. Missouri’s FCS programs are comparable to Eastern and Western Michigan of the FBS. Proud, hard-working, not national contenders. But on 9/1 the thrash-for-cash visitors threatened to make things interesting before and after halftime.
Big 12 videographers actually edited the MO State rally out of their highlight reel (lame), but check out this alternate reel and watch how the momentum briefly swings in favor of a completely-outmatched “patsy” and against Oklahoma State:
Without glancing at post-game interviews, I’m sure that Cowboy players and coaches talked about having “taken Missouri State too lightly” in the 3rd quarter, and promised that “it won’t happen again.” But in the big picture? Defensive lapses do happen over and over again at OSU.
Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Play Defense
Will there ever be a truly outstanding, consistent defense in Stillwater? Short answer: Nope.
The hype this August was the same as ever. “Look out now,” said Cowboy partisans. “We always have a great offense, but this year there’s gonna be a defense too!”
They had the names and measurables to back it up, of course. Calvin Bundage, an NFL-prospect linebacker who led his freshman class in tackles 2 seasons ago, received a good deal of the praise. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has drawn up a blitz-friendly 4-2-5 alignment (4 linemen, 2 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs) similar to what has been called the “Big Nickel” when employed by NFL teams. Like any formation, if the right players are doing the right things, it’s worth a dime.
But whether it’s Gundy’s up-tempo offense which produces opposing possessions almost as prolifically as it does points, a recruiting base that is slanted toward the offensive side (as many are in the YouTube era), or plain old lack of institutional focus, Oklahoma State remains a team that is trying to win games 55-31 instead of 28-14.
Of course Missouri State’s offense looked sharp against the Cowboys. Almost any offense has the potential to look sharp against them. Last year’s bid for a major bowl appearance was derailed by Kansas State, a slow-moving attack that scored 45 points while beating OSU. In 2016, Central Michigan put up 30 points in a Week 2 upset victory over Oklahoma State…in Stillwater.
It gets even worse against the best teams. Oklahoma had to be disappointed to only score 38 points when the in-state rivals met in 2016. The Sooners scored 120 points against the Cowboys in 2015’s and 2017’s games combined.
OSU’s brand of Nintendo-ball can cook a lot of cupcakes. But it’s toast when the big boys rise and shine.
How Boise State Will Approach the Contest
Veteran readers can tell I’m already feeling Boise State on the moneyline or ATS. Oklahoma State is only a (-3) favorite at home on Saturday, while Boise’s ML is (+120) at Bovada Sportsbook after opening at a consensus (+135).
But what about the O/U total of (64) points? If this contest turns into a patented Stillwater auto-race on the gridiron, Rypien and Cowboy QB Taylor Cornelius can blow that out in a jiffy with help of burly OLs and speedy, athletic WRs and tailbacks playing in a venue that has housed plenty of wild shoot-outs.
However, Boise State can also make a case as having the best defense of any mid-major. If the Broncos choose to play a ball-control style with Mattison getting 20+ carries, and the visiting defense can find Cornelius in the pocket, “under” bettors could find themselves winning some easy money. After all, remember that O/U lines tend to be skewed “over” by at least ½ to a full point on average, thanks to recreational bettors who enjoy cheering for both offenses at once.
3 of Boise State’s last 4 regular-season games against above-average P5 programs have been reasonably high-scoring. Boise matched Washington State with 75 points over 8 quarters in the schools’ 2 meetings in 2016 and 2017 (the Broncos went 1-1 against Mike Leach’s team, which plays a brand of football similar to that of Gundy’s squad at OK State). The lone exception was a 16-13 victory over ex-BSU head coach Chris Petersen’s defense-minded Washington Huskies.
More importantly, Saturday’s guests are usually careful not to de-emphasize their own strengths when taking on the Power-5. For the Boise Blue to make a time-of-possession advantage their #1 plank of the game plan would mean Rypien handing-off for most of the day, and head coach Bryan Harsin doesn’t want that. He’ll want his star QB getting into a solid rhythm in the 1st half.
As hectic as things might get if both offenses are cranked into high gear, Harsin would undoubtedly prefer a hectic 44-37 win over a cautious 21-20 loss.
Boise State at Oklahoma State: Prediction and Best Bets
Of the pair of teams in the match-up, only Boise State has played a quality FBS opponent. The Broncos embarrassed them, even while playing multiple time zones away from home.
Boise is the moneyline pick. For an entertaining if slightly less-solid wager, look strongly at the O/U, and consider increasing units if the line happens to dip to (63 ½).