Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and what to drink while doing it. Here, the boys are talking about the strange kind of hope and pressure a new season brings, betting with or against ridiculous week-one spreads and shouts out to TJ Duckett and Charles M. Schultz.
Ladies and Gentleman, the man who’s currently scalping somewhere around South Bend and looking for Charles S. Dutton to let him on the field pre-game…Kyle Magin:
It’s Friday before the first weekend of college football and I can’t contain myself. I’m participating in a trending #hashtag on Twitter (#gameweek). I asked my girlfriend if I could wear my now-15 year old MSU TJ Duckett jersey to an event last weekend (she said no.) Today I perused the weekend’s betting lines like a little kid trying to figure out which slide to take on first at the waterpark. It’s a minor miracle that I was able to attire myself and get to my place of employment without incident.
I’ve assigned my excitement to a few different things:
50 percent: The return of college football. I really love the sport. It’s a place where you get those long bombs that only result from laughably disparate talent matchups. In the NFL, you might see a NO-HE-DIDN’T-WAIT-YES-HE-DID play once or twice a game. Turn on any random Big 12 matchup on an October Saturday and watch it happen five times a game. College football is a heavyweight brawl, a sure improvement skill-wise from a high school pillowfight and an entertaining alternative to the spit-and-polish choreography that is NFL gameplay. Throw in crowds who are soaked in the sunshine and good vibes of a campus on an autumn Saturday and I’m hopelessly, madly in love.
20 percent: Live action. AJ, I’ll be in Kalamazoo, MI for the Michigan State season opener at Western Michigan. This game is oozing sex appeal: a top-5 Spartan squad visits WMU for the first time in forever and the Broncos have pieces, if not a whole team, that’ll provide a shitload of excitement for at least the first half. Throw in that chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that in-state kids incubate after not being pursued by the big school and we may get a few fireworks. On Saturday, I’ll be in South Bend for Longhorns-Fighting Irish. It seems like these two have been orbiting each other forever–the home of the sport versus its birthplace, the new money hey-we-own-our-own-network versus the old money NBC-beams-us-coast-to-coast-every-weekend and the nearly 20-year cooling period after a pair of electric matchups in the mid-90s. A lot of burnt orange is headed into the capitol of college football this weekend and I can’t wait to see what happens.
20 percent: Playoff anticipation. AJ, the playoffs have done exactly what we asked them to, which is to make an already insane 14-week sprint even crazier (and, you know, sort out a proper champion). There’s not one weekend without playoff implications and it gets going from the jump: ND-UT, Alabama-Wisconsin, even UCLA-Virginia.
10 percent: Gambling. Summer is such a walk through the wilderness for me. I adore baseball but betting on it still remains about as understandable as a drunk speaking Mandarin. The NBA and NHL playoffs never seem to have compelling lines–such is the give-and-take of a 7 game series. But BYU +7? I can work with that. College football allows you to dance with the book on some serious down-ballot action: If you’ve kept tabs on the Mountain West’s night matchup all week or dug in on an early-morning MAC showdown, you’ve put in about as much work as the book has. While this is still gambling and the house will still probably beat you more often than not, you can find little battlefields on which to match wits and the whole thing is alluring.
Alright AJ, I can’t wait to get to these lines, but let’s hear it from you.
And a great, big welcome home (just like the Burners say) to you too.
For me, and I mentioned this briefly on last week’s podcast, I approach this column with equal parts nervous energy, seriousness and trepidation. I think taking something you love and are a fraction better at than the guy next to you at Buffalo Wild Wings (choosing beers/picking winners) and advertising it as the gospel comes with natural trepidation. For me, if you’ll allow the digression, it’s a little bit how I used to feel when I read the morning funnies, Peanuts, especially. It’s like all I thought about was how long can this guy keep it up—daily. I used to get scared every time I opened the paper. Like one day maybe Charlie Brown would have a nervous breakdown and just walk off the panel and leave me with a blank square (<— this since has become my fantasy of how every great comic strip should end.)
Two things happened in my adult life to sort of at once ebb and confirm that fear:
- Newspapers (especially newspapers with comics) pretty much ceased to exist. -and-
- I read David Michaelis’ bio Schultz and Peanuts revealed how dark and sad Charles M. Schultz really was and how the Peanuts gang were a kind of therapy puppets…who kept him from disappearing from the final panel.
Lamentably, that’s a little bit of what college football does for me. It’s kind of this consistent-with-the-seasons salve where I can both rant against a conjured baddie (the NCAA) and shake my fist about the still unknown harm that’s being done to truly talented young men: Gladiators sent with unreasonably thin armor and no immediate or long-term payout weekly into unwinnable battle. As a fan, I watch myself age as they stay ageless and glorious and that itself is alarmingly still rejuvenating. As a bettor, I’m almost (almost) able to justify the time and energy spent casting a critical, not cynical, eye on the matchups using the same argument I use against other fake stuff that’s designed to make us feel good about what we do: like carbon credits.
In other words, if there’s an empty seat on that Maui flight, I might as well fill it because it’s going there anyway.
I understand that living like that is kind of status-quo shrug, instead of a rebellion against it. But maybe my admission is the real acting out. Also, I have this sort of suspicion that sport is going to change—at least the amateur aspect of it. And college football betting still has that feel to me of an up-and-coming neighborhood. Maybe the bewitching little bistro/wine bar just opened and is one off Saturday away from shuttering. Maybe it’s still surrounded by a money-laundering dry cleaner and an empty storefront where some guy sells wind up toy robots that break before you get them home. There’s a flicker of promise, of hope, of profiting from the pleasure of it all. Winning money to buy tangible goods off an intangible game is a feeling better than when everyone’s gone to bed and Point Break is just starting on Encore. It’s the guiltiest of all avocations and often mixed with alcohol.
Kyle, your win percentage was a hair over .720 last season. I started out a a sub-four-minute mile pace just above .800 and finished a respectable .682. That means you and I combined wagered and won well more than two thirds of our bets.
We fucked the shit out of Vegas. A statement a tad ominous and deliberate, but how often can you say that and not be referring to those little stripper fliers you stuff your pockets with as you walk diagonally down Las Vegas Boulevard sipping piña colada from a giant plastic cowboy hat?
It’s a win line that should guarantee return readers—but for my 1,200-word existential intros. That’s the rub. It’s less a struggle for credibility (in my view) and more a…well, here’s a different way of vetting and betting games—but you have to earn your way in (or just keep scrolling—your call kind reader).
The truth is, weekly, we’re talking about calling the correct direction of a .5-point swing to the left or the right. Heads or tails using intel from the last 3,800 coin flips. That’s all. We can be as obtuse and provocative and dodgy and real and quick with allusions as we want, but there you have it. Can the guy be on the right side of a half a point?
Can he do it by kickoff?
If your answer is yes. If it’s your turn to grab that empty seat, fill that empty panel—if you believe he can…read on.
BTW Kyle, You had me at TJ Duckett.
Duckett last took a college snap about 14 years ago, which makes me feel pretty mortal. At 30, I’ve finally moved beyond the point where even the odd Chris Weinke/Brandon Weeden is a few years younger than me. I know I should move on to worrying about college football’s many, many, many sins (which I probably will by next week) but as long as we’ve still got one foot in summer I’m going to pretend it’s welcome weekend and get trashed on lines with reckless abandon. In that spirit, let’s get TO THE PICKS:
Michigan State -18 @ Western Michigan
I waffled on this one. 18 is a hell of a large number to cover, especially on the road against an improving in-state team with the aforementioned chip on its shoulder. However! MSU Senior QB Connor Cook, a three-year starter, is working behind what is essentially a brick wall for an offensive line. In the Spartans’ Cotton Bowl matchup against Baylor, junior LT Jack Conklin held his own against known Orc and Bears defensive end Shawn Oakman. Given the time Cook will have, he should be able to find his skill position players downfield against a somewhat inexperienced Bronco defensive backfield. Western QB Zach Terrell similarly has an experienced OL and will be picking on a Spartan defense that graduated a lot of talent in the offseason. That said, Spartan DE Shilique Calhoun is still coming off the corner, and given an entire game he can wreak havoc. Take the Spartans by the big digits.
Washington at Boise St. -12
Boise returns pretty much its entire offense from a squad that scored nearly 40 points a game last season, and even though new trigger man Ryan Finley has little experience, he’ll be buoyed by a full complement of linemen to protect him and receivers to locate. They should find space against a Washington team that’s breaking in almost a whole new front 7. AJ, it’s amazing to me that this game stayed scheduled after Chris Peterson took over in Seattle last year. He goes into the Smurf Turf as the man who abandoned Idaho for literal greener pastures in Puget sound, with a team decimated by graduation. The Broncos faithful are likely licking their lips, and they should be. Boise is a ridiculous place to play for a home opener–the Broncos are 5-0 in their last five home openers. The prime-time cameras, lights, blue turf and a defense that buttons up the rushing game like they do (142 rushing yards allowed last season) can make a contest extremely uncomfortable for visitors. Add into the fact that there’s not a hell of a lot else going on in Boise and you’re bound to see the crowd do their part to get the Huskies down early and keep them down.
Texas +10 at Notre Dame
Texas actually shows some signs of not being godawful miserable, which is sort of a win these days in Austin. QB Tyrone Swoopes returns as starter, for whatever that’s worth after a 6-7 campaign that saw the team score a meager 17 points in its last two combined games. But he does have an almost intact offensive line to play behind and will play opposite a defense that can keep opposing passing games in check (they gave up just 184.2 yards per game through the air last season). Most of that defensive backfield is back and will get to sight their games in against Malik Zaire, Notre Dame’s wunderkind QB who was wildly inconsistent at the end of last season. The Irish return almost their entire mediocre defense from last season and I’d expect them to hold Texas pretty well in check on Saturday. This one will be a meatgrinder but I imagine both defenses keep the struggle within a single score in South Bend.
BYU +7 at Nebraska
Cougars’ QB Taysom Hill is sort of a low-rent Wolverine from X-Men. The sixth-year senior likely fought in every American war and helped found the religion along with his university’s namesake, served the longest-ever LDS mission but he heals remarkably poorly for someone who has taken so many bullets from opposing defenses, thus necessitating two medical redshirts. Like I said, a low-rent Wolverine. Be that as it may, I expect old Taysom to employ some of his spry wiliness against a Nebraska defense that folds like a chair in the red zone (opponents scored 82 percent of the time they got inside the 20 last season). The real matchup in this game is new Huskers’ headman Mike Riley’s offense–including a brand-new line and a brand-new system–against a completely re-vamped Cougars D. I think the Huskers eventually find an offensive rhythm but Hill—who has guarded the grail since the crusades–keeps his squad in the fight right down to the bitter end.
Alright AJ, in the most consistent and obvious yet most vexing question posed in the history of this site, WHO YA GOT?
There are three week one rules I live by:
- Try to avoid the HUGE spread games on week one. If only because when I do take whomever’s playing Bama and the 42 points either a) Bama covers or b) the games get taken off the board so whomever’s trying to get some is left disappointed. And it’s no fun to start a season with blue balls.
- …On the other hand, Vegas is as shaky as you are this week. They have NO idea, especially on the college level. They know coaches, returners and can gauge cheerleader hotness based on strength of schedule…but that’s about it. So…if there IS a time to take advantage of gaping double-digit plays—it’s now.
- Run with the dogs opening weekend.
In other words, one and two cancel each other out…leaving us with number 3—so I’m leaving it to the dogs or whoever (<– current favorite song) this week:
UC Davis +26 @ Nevada
Kind of a no-brainer (if you can find this one.) Nevada may not even score 26 against the Ags, who will be well outmatched but have a stingy defense—especially secondary—anchored by safeties Keleen Culberson (73 tackles) and Zach Jones (59 tackles). Nevada QB Tyler Stewart hasn’t started a game in two seasons and will be shaking the rust and jitters off week one. Look for the Wolfpack to slowplay and rely mostly on the ground game. The over/under is 59½ so probably take the U as well.
Washington +12 @ Boise State
I recall the line opening at +13 but a lot of the thumbnail faces are calling for the U-Dub to hand Boise a Week 1 L at home. Kyle, I hate to roll counter to you, but I think BSU isn’t fully formed and UDub is a sneaky contender in the Pac-12 North. I’d stay away from the Huskies and the moneyline on principle this season, but make no mistake, this game should go the distance. Again, Boise State is a is a known quantity and didn’t lose a lot of skill players from last year’s 12-2 mini rebuild year. They’ve also got a 14-game win streak on the line Saturday at Albertsons Stadium and they own the Pac-12 in early season there. Remember the LeGarrette Blount TKO on the Smurf Turf a few years back? Plus, as you mentioned, BSU gets to rack an early win against the former HC and kingmaker Peterson. BSU’s sideline troller Bryan Harsin might not have Peterson’s alleged killer instinct (or, let’s face it, staff) and Peterson is doubly incentivized to knock the mouthguard out of his former employer upon his return—so look for UDub to go up early in spite of mistakes on the offensive side. Agreed with you that BSU’s line is Idaho’s finest front, but still not super sold on playcaller Ryan Finley. If he throws a pick or two in the first half against UDub’s sneaky secondary, it could be a long night for the Broncos.
Virginia +14½ @ UCLA
This line opened at 20 but UCLA lost starting CB Ishmael Adams for (allegedly) getting drunk and fucking with an Uber driver. Adams, who returned an int for six against the Cavs last year, is out but the Bruins have plenty of juice on either side of the ball to tease the home crowd into visions of Pac-12 South dominance. Fourth-year coach Jim Mora is not known to run up the score, but he also knows folks are looking to
Westwood Pasadena for a possible playoff contender. Look for this game—at least the first half—to be marred with mistakes, starting under center. Virginia QB Matt Johns is making only his fourth start and Messiah-in-waiting true freshman Josh Rosen is debuting for the Bruins. UCLA’s defense is a threat to score 20-plus and if Rosen manages the game like he should, even with a mistake or two, UCLA should coast to a win—but that win should remain single-digits.
UNLV +16 @ Northern Illinois
Nobody knows ANYTHING about UNLV. This is, you know, ironic for a team from Vegas. But you know who knows the least about UNLV? (…and I’m just guessing here, but bear with me)…Northern Illinois. Why odds-makers have the Huskies of NIU as a double-digit favorite must be that once or twice a year bookmakers’ unicorn (the game everyone…everyone wins on). The Rebs have undergone a much-publicized overhaul in the off-season. Coaching staff to uniforms, the goal is to have a professional-grade football program congruous with the NHL dropping a puck in the city of 250,000 scratched hotel tables in 2017. For today, UNLV quarterback Blake Decker is a known quantity and notorious for sacrificing his body for an extra half-yard. No more. Under center, Huskies QB Drew Hare is fast outside the pocket but the Rebs are much improved at linebacker and secondary. Not to mention DE Sonny Sanitoa who will pack his 9½ sacks from the previous two seasons in his carry on. UNLV isn’t there yet but respectability on the road at NIU is a good place to start.
Michigan State -18 @ Western Michigan
Washington @ Boise St. -12
Texas +10 @ Notre Dame
BYU +7 @ Nebraska
UC Davis +26 @ Nevada
Washington +12 @ Boise State
Virginia +14½ @ UCLA
UNLV +16 @ Northern Illinois
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