College Football Rivalry Week Picks: Stay Away!

Rivalry Week is the last week of college football’s regular season, and it combines post-season implications with deep-seated regional rivalries in a way that only college football can. Fans of these teams enter, not only with hopes and dreams for bowl season, but also decades-old wounds and generations of animus. All this is then placed in the hands of amateur students. It is, and always has been, a recipe for beautiful chaos, and is one of the most dangerous (and exciting) sporting events to bet on.

That’s why my official expert betting advice this week is to stay away. Book yourself a nice suite at LetItGo Manor, draw yourself a warm bath, and let the craziness unfold without worrying about your ROI. Consider it a bye week. You’ve earned it (hopefully literally).

2017 ATS record: 36-30

Georgia (-11.5) at Georgia Tech

Hello, it’s me: the guy who’s willing to take a double-digit road favorite against a triple-option team in a game called “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.”

Georgia Tech won this game last year on a weird blown play with 34 seconds left on the clock, and there is no amount of motivation you can’t ascribe to Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson in these circumstances. Georgia Tech exists to beat exactly this Georgia team in exactly this way, which is why the Bulldogs have a losing record ATS as double-digit favorites since Johnson started at Tech.

No matter what traditional betting logic you apply, laying the points for Georgia here is a bad idea. Betting a road favorite is usually a bad idea. Betting on a team just two weeks off a physical loss to Auburn is usually a bad idea. Betting on a team with the SEC Championship next week is usually a bad idea. Betting on anyone against a triple-option team is usually a bad idea. Betting on an 11.5-point favorite in a rivalry game is a bad idea.

My official pick: no one

Gun to my head: Georgia Tech (+11.5)

Iowa (-3) at Nebraska

Kirk Ferentz’s contract, a gift to us all that seemingly never stops giving, stipulates that if Iowa wins this game, Ferentz’s buyout increases by $2.4 million. That alone should pique your interest, even if Iowa isn’t measurably better than Nebraska (they are) and is putting up some bizarre ATS results this year. The Hawkeyes are 5-2 ATS at home but 0-3-1 on the road, so this game presents a choice between two of the most powerful forces in the sport: do you believe more in home-field advantage in rivalry games, or Kirk Ferentz’s ability to make himself money?

My official pick: no one

Gun to my head: Iowa (-3)

Photo: Zeng8r (CC License)

Alabama (-4.5) at Auburn

Clemson proved that there’s a way to beat Alabama, and it’s to force Jalen Hurts into making big throws. That’s easier said than done, as Alabama’s running game is pretty good, you may have noticed, and their offensive line play isn’t the worst in the SEC. This is all broadly true of Georgia, which was fielding a true freshman quarterback. Everybody on the Georgia schedule had exactly the same game-plan for beating the Bulldogs: limit the run and force Jake Fromm to beat you. But only Auburn could actually do it. Can they do the same thing against Alabama?

In their favor, Alabama’s warehouse of five-star linebackers is almost out of stock, and Tiger QB Jarrett Stidham is the type of exciting, mobile quarterback who has historically given Nick Saban fits. The ghosts of Johnny Manziel, Chad Kelly, Cardale Jones, and Deshaun Watson are all looking at you, Jarrett.

With a tight point spread, this game is a nightmare. In the last four Iron Bowls with a spread of 10 points or fewer, the favorite is just 1-3 ATS, and Nick Saban is himself a career 10-15-1 ATS. You’ll notice that the spreads on this game rarely get out of hand anymore, everyone seems to remember, a little too vividly, a certain field-goal attempt that started with all kinds of hope and promise and ended with “AUBURN’S GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME.” Chris Davis runs a ball back and years later an undefeated national title favorite isn’t favored by a touchdown against a team with a transitive loss to Troy.

My official pick: no one

Gun to my head: Auburn (+4)

Florida  State (-5.5) at Florida

Florida is 2-5 ATS in this game since Jimbo Fisher took over at Florida State, mostly because Jimbo Fisher keeps blowing out the Gators. Florida State’s average margin of victory in this era is a hearty 18.1 points, against an average spread of just 7.3.

This year, the Noles are in disarray, losing quarterback Deondre Francois in the opener and losing that as a plausible excuse somewhere around Week 8. Eager to match their incompetence, Florida fired head coach Jim McElwain and was secretly thrilled to beat UAB last week. Altogether, not a great game.

The real Florida rivalry game this weekend is the War on I-4. Not the Arena Football rivalry, the USF/UCF game that has everything Florida/FSU doesn’t: a ranked team, two great offenses, and serious postseason implications. The winner of that game will likely go to a New Year’s Six bowl! The winner of Florida/FSU might just sneak into the TaxSlayer Bowl.

My official pick: no one

Gun to my head: Florida (+5.5)

Ohio State (-11) at Michigan

Another road favorite in a rivalry week game. Value!

Ohio State has entered this game undefeated three times in one decade, and lost every time. Last year’s game came down to a questionable spot in overtime that ended up costing Michigan the win and maybe a spot in the Playoff. “The Game” just occasionally gets very weird, and the Meyer/Harbaugh era is about as competitive as any of the great periods in this long series.

I worry about which Ohio State, and particularly which JT Barrett, is going to show up in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Is it the team that walloped Michigan State, beat Penn State narrowly, and occasionally looks like the very best team in the country? Or is it the team that gave up 55 points to Iowa and got a flag planted on their field at home? Will it be Heisman-trophy contender JT Barrett, or the JT Barrett that isn’t on anyone’s draft boards after 12 years at the biggest position in the sport?

My official pick: no one.

Gun to my head: Michigan (+11)

Indiana at Purdue (-2.5)

Purdue enters the last week of the season as 2.5-point home favorites to beat Indiana and go to a bowl game, their first since losing to Oklahoma State at the 2012 Heart of Dallas Bowl. Under normal conditions, the Boilermakers would feel pretty good about themselves, but this isn’t a normal game, this is the Battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, an honor Purdue also hasn’t earned since 2012. Purdue is coming off a great win on the road against Iowa, and  — maybe, hopefully — this is the year they put it all together. As a 21.5-point road dog last year, the Boilermakers nearly scored a big win, but fell just short. That won’t cut it this year.

My official pick: no one

Gun to my head: Purdue (-2.5)

Washington State at Washington (-9.5)

Chris Petersen has covered in every one of his three Apple Cups. At home, on the road, Washington covers in this game these days. That hasn’t always been the case: the infinitely weird 2007 season yielded a game where Washington entered as a 6.5-point home favorite, lost 42-35, and began a streak of losses that would extend until September of 2009. The 1-10 Washington State Cougars would make it their life’s work to deny the 0-11 Washington Huskies a single victory in 2008, and they succeeded, at home, in overtime, in a game fondly remembered as the Crapple Cup.

Washington State has had a very up and down year, at times looking fantastic (beating USC at home) and at other times looking completely anaemic (losing 37-3 to Cal). Washington has been mostly what you’d expect, going 9-2 with road losses at Stanford (thoroughly understandable) and Arizona (more understandable than you might think). Washington State’s actually ranked higher than Washington, but it’s not hard to see why Washington is the betting favorite. Still, 9.5 points?

My official pick: no one

Gun to my head: Washington State (+9.5)

Geoff Johnson

MTS co-founder Geoff Johnson is a lifelong Mets fan, something he can't do anything about. He has a great track record when it comes to wagering on baseball – largely because he's more than willing to bet against the Mets. His career profits are impressive, but not quite as good as his handsome friend Frank Lorenzo. He wishes he hadn't let Frank write his profile.