Betting Stuff is a regular sports gambling column here at Saturday Down South with a focus on college football wagering (though don’t be surprised to see some non-college football insights from time to time). Did you know that sports betting is now legal in Tennessee? You can view the best Tennessee sportsbook apps here.

Chalk dusting

It’s been difficult to rule out underdogs this season. Issues related to player availability, limited practice time, and extended layoffs have clouded projections across the country. Underdogs, as a whole, were the early beneficiaries of the “new normal,” posting ATS winning percentages north of 60% in the first 6 weeks of the season. Since then, college football has returned to the mean a bit and favorites have regularly been boat-racing their overmatched opponents. Let’s just take a quick look at the top of the polls and the teams’ ATS records:

  • Alabama 7-2
  • Notre Dame 5-5
  • Clemson 4-6
  • Ohio State 3-2
  • Texas A&M 4-4
  • Florida 5-4
  • Iowa State 6-4
  • Cincinnati 5-3

If you blindly bet the CFP top 8 all season, you’d be 39-32 ATS (54.9%, +3.8 units). Sportsbooks usually make handsome profits by setting lines that punish square gamblers for putting their faith in top teams. This season, only Clemson has a losing ATS record and Alabama has rewarded bettors with a 78% win rate, along with a matching 7-2 ATS record in first halves.

Conversely, sportsbooks generally make their bones when truly lousy teams cover spreads. College football still has 9 winless teams, but what is really interesting is their collective record against the spread:

  • Vanderbilt 4-4
  • UMass 2-2
  • Arizona State 1-1
  • Northern Illinois 2-3
  • FIU 1-4
  • Bowling Green 1-4
  • Arizona 1-3
  • Kansas 1-8
  • UNLV 0-4-1

These teams are a collective 0-47 straight up and 13-33-1 against the spread. As I noted above, this should be sportsbooks’ moneymaker and the worst of the worst are sporting a 28.2% record against the spread. I know that the term “unprecedented” has been beaten to death this year, but that kind of ineptitude against the spread is shocking.

Weekend watchlist

With college hoops now overtaking most of ESPN’s weekly schedule, I thought it was high time to incorporate multiple college basketball picks in addition to my college football plays. This will serve as a hybrid best bets/watchlist menu starting on Fridays and ending on Sundays. This week we kick things off with the battle for the Territory Cup out in the desert.

Friday night

Football: Arizona State-11 @ Arizona (55)

Arizona is one of the winless teams I mentioned. The Wildcats’ 0-4 SU / 1-3 ATS records accurately match their on-field product. The U-of-A defense can’t defend worth a lick (470 ypg, 113th) and is doing a lousy job generating any kind of defensive pressure (109th in Havoc Rating). Arizona State is still very much a work-in-progress offensively, particularly on the perimeter, but they are building around Jayden Daniels. If Sparky can put up 35 points, covering this spread will be a breeze because the Wildcats are somehow even worse offensively than they are defensively.

I would consider playing the alternate line in this game all the way to the edge of 3-touchdowns. The Sun Devils-20.5 would pay out at +250.

Pick: ASU-11 / ASU-20.5 (+250) LEAN


Football: Alabama-32 @ Arkansas (68.5)

The two best teams in the SEC (against the spread) meet in Fayetteville this weekend. Alabama, fresh off a blowout win over LSU, has already locked up a trip to the SEC title game. This game screams lookahead letdown for the Crimson Tide. Meanwhile, Arkansas, 7-2 ATS on the season, has already exceeded every expectation by simply playing competitively in virtually every game. They kept their games against Georgia and Florida within 30 points and I expect them to do the same here against Alabama. It does help that the Hogs are coming off of their best offensive performance in years. Freshman KJ Jefferson went off in relief of injured starter Feleipe Franks, tallying 306 yards and 4 total touchdowns in his second career start.

Whether it’s Franks or Jefferson as the Hogs’ QB1, I think they can score in the 20s against an Alabama defense that has taken some drives off this season. If you’re looking for a sneaky play in this spot as well, I recommend considering Arkansas 1st quarter moneyline. The Razorbacks could be a 6:1 or better payout to win the first 15 minutes.

Pick: Arkansas+32

Football: USC-3 @ UCLA (62.5)

The Trojans have taken a ton of heat this season for their slow starts, but they remain undefeated and No. 15 in the College Football Playoff pecking order. UCLA has exceeded expectations, evidenced by the Bruins’ 4-1 ATS record. But I just think USC’s struggles and UCLA’s improvement have both been exaggerated a bit. The Trojans have the best receiving corps in the Pac-12 and a quarterback more than capable of distributing the football. And while we’re on the topic of air yards, UCLA is still an ideal opponent to pass against. The Bruins are surrendering nearly 2 30+ yard passes per game and have relied on an excellent pass rush to cover up for their issues in the secondary. I like USC’s front to neutralize the Bruin’s front 4, providing Kedon Slovis with enough time to carve up the Blue and Gold in Pasadena.

Pick: USC-3


Basketball: Richmond @ WVU-5.5 (144.5)

The Spiders are the prototypical mid-major that scares the heck out of Power Conference opponents. Richmond’s 5 starters all average double figures, and they returned nearly their entire rotation from last season. That kind of balance and continuity helped them dispatch Kentucky with ease (76-64) and provides them with confidence traveling to a nationally ranked WVU on Sunday. The Mountaineers have a clear frontcourt advantage over just about everyone that they play, but Richmond’s Nathan Cayo and Grant Golden are arguably the best mid-major 1-2 punch going right now. Golden, in particular, is an exceptional passer for a big.

Cayo and Golden are averaging 32 points and 9.5 rebounds per game on 68.4% shooting from the floor. When this number is officially offered, anything above 4 points is a value play on Richmond. If I can get it above 5, this game will be my favorite CBB play of the weekend.

Pick: Richmond+5.5

Basketball: Texas @ Baylor-7 (142.5)

Teams historically struggle after winning the Maui Tournament and Texas was no exception, dropping their next game to Villanova on the 40 Acres. The issue for the Longhorns is scoring and that’s a bad place to be against a Bears team that just tightened the screws on a dynamic Illinois offense. If Baylor can rein in Ayo Dosunmu, then it’s easy to envision BU making life really difficult for Texas in this spot. Without the benefit of a lookahead line, I set this number at 7 but would play it all the way up to 9.5. For whatever reason, Baylor still does not garner the kind of national following that generally inflates point spreads for top-5 ranked teams. The Bears have comfortably covered in all of their games this season and I don’t see that trend stopping as they open Big 12 play.

Pick: Baylor-7 (up to 9.5)

Shut it down

In a year in which seemingly 40% of games are canceled on a given weekend, I have no problem shutting down the NCAA ’14/Best Bets section of Betting Stuff. Preseason ratings clearly gave the old video game simulation a leg up in the early going, but roster uncertainty has proven too volatile to predict. After a 65% start, the series has hit an uncontrolled dive in recent weeks and I’m quite literally pulling the plug.

CBB system

One thing I monitor in the early going of the basketball season is the play of cash-strapped programs during nonconference play. Conferences like the CAA, MAAC, MEAC, MVC, NEC, Southland, SWAC and WAC often send their teams to games via bus, so long road trips can inspire … less than ideal play.

Those 8 conferences are a combined 92-112 ATS (45%) and when traveling 500 miles or more, their ATS win percentage drops to 38.7%. Translation: Fade the teams you’ve never heard of when facing a long road trip.