Bet The Farm: Week 1 (0-0)

With estimated billions spent annually wagering on college basketball, and college football a more popular sport yet (perhaps not for gamblers, but screw facts, just go with me here), there is no shortage of interest in sports betting. In particular, Stanford fans are more likely than most to come up with a system to methodically win at these games.

(See -- or several of my fellow Stanford ‘08ers who paid their tuition and then some via online poker. One Evan bought his Mom a $1.5 million house in Palo Alto – and I can barely remember Mother's Day.) So it is not at all in self-interest and solely in my duty as an employee of this site that I kick off a weekly betting column that will look at the Venn diagram that is college football, Vegas and their intersection.

I've weekly made picks on the spread on the weekend's three biggest games, and I'll continue to do that in this space. Those picks, by the way, went 27-12 last year and similarly well three seasons ago, and have thus served as my inspiration to start this column and undertake my current offline efforts to devise a methodical system to win at college football betting all my own. (Tomorrow: meet with stats professor.) But the beauty of sports betting is that while the house has no shortage of edges, you the bettor do have one edge: you can cherry pick whatever games you like. So I'll gander across the Pac-10 and national college football and talk about whatever games I think there's some value. Plus, of course, Survivor Pool and Boot Pool, gotta spill the beans on those. Here goes…

The Big Three

Oregon (+3) at Boise State

Georgia (+5) at Oklahoma State

Virginia Tech (+6.5) vs. Alabama (Atlanta)

Normally, the way I've won on these is betting the consensus best teams in the country (this year: USC, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida) to cover big against whichever upstart of the year (Texas Tech, Mississippi, Alabama, et cetera) has cracked the top-15. Florida went 12-1 against the spread last year, so this has proven a pretty fruitful strategy, and just going .500 on the rest of the games was more than enough.

This season, I obviously can't count on a 12-1 performance from the Gators on the field, let alone on the spread, so I've got to do better here. First then, let's go with the Broncos tonight. Oregon returns just nine total starters and one on the offensive line. Boise State has 11 and three, respectively. Plus these games mean more to the little schools and I'm simply not buying Oregon this year.

Similarly, Georgia returns 15 starters and Oklahoma State 13. I don't know why everyone has decided that Oklahoma State is going to be good this year and Georgia down, but I'm not sipping that Kool-Aid. I like Georgia straight up – the Pokes are replacing four starting linemen (offensive and defensive combined), the Bulldogs just one.

Alabama lost its last two by double digits, versus Florida in the SEC Title Game and against Utah in the Sugar Bowl, and so they may be underrated. They return nine on defense, and the SEC shows solidarity – Atlanta will be a home venue to them. (Plus, they beat Clemson at the same Georgia Dome last year.)

VT, however, makes it hard by returning 16 starters. VT won the ACC Title and a BCS bowl game, but the best team they beat last season was Cincinnati, Boston College or Maryland, your choice, none of them appealing. Last time VT played a solid SEC team was in 2007. Final score: LSU 48, Virginia Tech 7. Toughest pick, but I'm rolling with the Tide.


They say to never pick games you're emotionally invested in for a reason, so win or lose, I'm not counting these toward my tally throughout the season, and this is strictly for fun. Having said that, how can you not like the Card at -16.5 to Washington State? Stanford will work Luck in gradually and run, run, run the ball, and good luck to Washington State stopping that, after last year's 344 yards on 55 carries. Stanford can halve its ground yards and halve its 58 total points and I still am feeling pretty comfortable here. In fact, I'm feeling so comfortable here I'm going to make an exception to the rule: this game will count, win or lose. We know so little about any of these teams, how in the world can you assume Washington State will be 31 points better than last season? I'm sticking with inertia.

Cherry picking

Light week, nothing really jumps out at me. But the beat goes on so here goes… I like Penn State – 26.5 against Akron. Nittany Lions always win embarrassingly big out of conference. I like Alabama and VT to combine to score more than 38.5 points because 38.5 points really aren't a lot and we know next to nothing about what these teams will look like this year, so that's a pretty safe bet. Good weather too in a dome. I'll also take Arizona -13.5 against Central Michigan because Arizona's going to be pretty good and Central Michigan simply isn't. Finally, let's take Navy +21.5 against Ohio State, because Navy will run, run, run the clock and Ohio State hasn't cracked 35 in the past five years against a Division I-A school out-of-conference – they don't run up scores. Navy just needs 14; I think they can do it. And of course, we are taking Stanford – 16.5.

By the way, I'm feeling good with my halves here. I have Navy just over 21, Arizona just under 14, Stanford just under 17, Penn State just under 27 and Alabama just under 7. One of these has to hit on the number, right?

Survivor Pool

I will lay out my entire season's survivor pool strategy next week, but this week, we're going with Oregon State against Portland State. Oregon State should finish in the middle of the Pac-10, so they're not that attractive to pick for or against, because they usually could pull an upset or be upset. This is a safe game for them, so better to save the USCs and Washington States of this world for when we need them.


Okay, so I'm definitely least sure about Boise State and Oregon, so we'll go with Boise on a one, and seeing as I'm picking an outright underdog in Georgia, I suppose that should be my two. Illinois, Colorado and Cal are my three, four and five respectively, as my world won't stop spinning should any of them lose, especially Illinois to Missouri. At six, I have UCLA, the flakiest team of the heavy favorites, and Stanford at seven, because the Card simply don't have the talent up and down the roster of our remaining choices, LSU, Oklahoma and USC. I happen to know USC's a 35-point favorite so they're my ten, and we'll give Oklahoma the nine and LSU the eight with the Sooners at home against BYU and LSU on the road.

Stay tuned next week as we unveil more picks and review how we did this week in "Bet the Farm."

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