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Week One College Football Spreads: A Primer for the Office Pool Loser

August 20, 2014



                                                                                                            photo courtesy of



by Lisa Horne


Las Vegas oddsmakers usually get it right. That's why there are so many pretty hotels in Las Vegas. With so many pretty women serving up free drinks to gamblers. Who are surrounded by millions of pretty lights and swimming pools in the middle of a desert.  


Vegas owns you, my friend. You cannot break Vegas.  Respect its winning ways but try to find a crack in its formula, if you can. Because you have run out of time.


The 2014 office football pool has made its grand entrance. Are you in?


For those of you who partake in this annual ritual, Pigskin Grind has some advice: skip the pool's $100 entry fee and bet the hundy on that secretary who knows nothing about football. She will win your office pool. The unknowing usually do.


Most of you believe your manhood is directly related to how well you do in your office pool. We women folk find that strange. 


At office parties, you always introduce us to "the guy who won last year's football pool." His confidence rivals  that of Maverick in Top Gun—before Goose was killed, of course. Why can't you have his luck, eh?


Some people are luckier than others. Some people place bets based on their emotional attachment or hatred of a team. Some people just pick the right teams.  Or the right website.


Obligatory disclaimer: Pigskin Grind is not a tout service.


We do understand football match-ups, the most important factor in deciding which teams to pick in a pool. Before we get to the teams we like, let's go over some basics. You need to look like a pro here.   


A spread (or line) is not a handicap. If a Team A is giving seven points to Team B, that doesn't mean that Team B carries a seven-point handicap. Professional golfers have handicaps which don't go up or down during a week. They remain consistent—football lines do not. 


The line is a number that oddsmakers determine will generate an equal amount of action on both sides. If the favorite gets too much action, the line is raised to encourage less action on the favorite and more on the underdog.


A key injury can move the line. So can a suspension, news of an investigation of the program or an unexpected change in a team's roster (including coaching staff). Vegas usually compensates for these changes by moving the line up or down or taking the game off the board (no bets taken).


The formula for a line is not exactly known but Pigskin Grind believes it is based on a team's current scoring offense and defense averages vs its opponent's scoring offense and defense averages.


For example, if Team A's offense averages 38 points a game and Team B's averages 26 points, Team A has a 12-point difference in its favor. If Team A's defense gives up 14 points per game and Team B's gives up 33, Team A has a 19-point difference in its favor. Adding 19 and 12 gives you 31 points in Team A's favor. If the game is at home, on the road or at a neutral venue, a few more points could be added or subtracted for an opening line.


The first few weeks of football will have some curious lines. Since no team has played a game, there are no stats on which to rely. Nobody knows anything.


Pigskin Grind thinks it does know something. We'll even keep track of our picks throughout the season.


We think Vegas has under/overvalued a team in the following five games:  


Alabama -27 v West Virginia in Arlington, Texas


This game should feel like a home game for Alabama fans because they travel well. West Virginia fans may be hesitant to make the trip after last year's 4-8 season. If the Mountaineers run an up-tempo offense, Alabama could be in trouble—it does not defend well against that offense. Head coach Dana Holgorsen is considered an offensive genius so the Mountaineers should score some points. There is some concern that head coach Nick Saban has not named his starting quarterback. A 40-17 score seems about right but that means Alabama won't cover the spread.


Take West Virginia and the 27 points.



Washington State -8 v Rutgers in Seattle on August 28


Last year Rutgers finished dead last in the AAC in pass defense.  Washington State finished second from last in the Pac-12. But WSU has a great passing offense (2nd in Pac-12) while Rutgers does not (7th in AAC). Quarterback Connor Halliday will be even better this year and for that reason, so will the entire team. Other factor: traveling from East to West, coast-to-coast will be tough on the Jersey boys.


Lay the 8 points and take Washington State.



Arizona -23.5 v UNLV on August 29


Last year Arizona played UNLV and won by 45 points. At UNLV. The Wildcats lost quarterback B.J. Denker and running back Ka' Deem Carey but in head coach Rich Rodriguez's defense, he has been in this position before. He just reloads. The NCAA sanctioned the Rebels with a postseason ban and a four-hours-a-week reduction in practice time due to not reaching the minimum Academic Progress Rate. Losing four hours a week is monumental. The Rebels might be the team to bet against every week.


Lay the 23.5 points and take Arizona.



Florida -35 v Idaho on August 30


Florida State spanked 80 points on the Idaho Vandals last year. I suppose playing in the Sun Belt (again!) in 2013 means the Vandals will have an easier schedule than their previous conference layover in the WAC and as an Independent. Idaho has won two games since November 6, 2012. Like UNLV, the school did not meet the minimum APR and will lose four-hours-per-week in practice time. Idaho will not be eligible for post season play.  The Vandals will be a head case.


Lay the 35 points and take the Florida Gators, who learned their lesson from Georgia Southern last year.




Washington -15.5 at Hawai'i on August 30


The Huskies should win this game but… by more than two touchdowns? Let's review here. No quarterback Keith Price. No running back Bishop Sankey, who led the league in rushing. No head coach Steve Sarkisian. New coaching staff under Chris Petersen. Flying five-plus hours to a tropical paradise with a ton of distractions. The Huskies are 1-11 in true road openers, per Phil Steele. Quarterback Cyler Miles has been suspended for this game.


Take the points and Hawai'i.


Those are the five games that we feel are the best picks for the office pool loser as of August 20. Not all lines have posted. Keep in mind, the line may also fluctuate between now and the actual kickoff.  


Pigskin Grind is not a tout service and does not condone gambling. These lines and selections are published for entertainment purposes only and their accuracy is not guaranteed. 





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