Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Illinois is easier to trust than Indiana, plus other best bets for college football and soccer

I am tired. It happens to me at the beginning of every college football season. While I work year-round, the amount of work I do from mid-August to late January is at least double what I have to do the rest of the year, and I get smacked in the face with it every time.

As Week 1 of the college football season began Thursday night, I found myself brewing a pot of coffee. I’d been working all week to prepare for the games, and I was exhausted, struggling to keep my eyes open as I stared at seven hours’ worth of games coming my way. Thankfully, the coffee worked, or at least the adrenaline of having so much football to watch did.

And now there are only four more nights of games to go before we reset and do it all again next week. With NFL games to boot! Don’t worry, this is not a complaint. I’m more excited than you can imagine. But sometimes excited people need naps too.

Anyway, I hope you like betting on sports, because I have a lot of sports for you to bet on this weekend.

All times Eastern, and all odds via Caesars Sportsbook


🔥 The Hot Ticket

Illinois at Indiana, 8 p.m. | TV: FS1

Latest Odds: Illinois Fighting Illini +1

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  • Key Trend: The Illini are 4-1 ATS in their last five Big Ten games and have covered four straight on the road.
  • The Pick: Illinois +1 (-110)

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I don’t understand why Illinois is a road underdog in a Big Ten game. Believe me, I’m one of the few people in the world who truly cares about Illini football, so nobody should understand better than I do why the Illini would be road dogs here (it’s a program that has gone to only six bowl games since 2001), but this line is wrong.

Illinois went 5-7 last year and should’ve done better. It finished last season with one of the best defenses in the conference and opened this season with a 38-6 win over Wyoming.

Then there’s Indiana. The Hoosiers were a Cinderella story (a Hoosiers story?) of the 2020 COVID season, going 6-2 and 6-1 in conference play. They followed it up with a 2-10 record last season and went 0-9 in the Big Ten. The team lost its two biggest weapons in the passing game, and we don’t even know who the starting QB is. My guess is it’ll be Missouri transfer Conor Bazelak. He averaged only 6.8 yards per attempt and had 11 interceptions with 16 touchdowns. In SEC play, he averaged 5.9 YPA with 9 interceptions to 8 touchdowns. He’s not likely to light the world on fire.

 It’s a lot easier to trust the Illini right now. I think Illinois wins this game more often than not, but I’ll grab the point to be safe.

Here’s what SportsLine is saying about the game: The Projection Model doesn’t see much value on the spread, but it loves what it’s seeing on the total.


💰 The Picks

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USATSI

🏈 College Football

No. 11 Oregon at No. 3 Georgia, Saturday, 3:30 p.m | TV: ABC

Latest Odds: Under 54

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The Pick: Under 54 (-110) — The defending national champions open their title defense against the man who helped run their defense last year. Dan Lanning was the defensive coordinator of one of the most impressive units I’ve ever seen, and he’s now getting his first crack at running a program at Oregon. I expect the Georgia defense will remain one of the best in the country, even with the players it lost.

The problem Georgia faces here is that Oregon has a lot of talent on defense, too. Mario Cristobal might’ve left for Miami, but he did not leave the cupboards empty. His recruiting prowess in Eugene was his biggest selling point to Miami — that, and the whole being a Hurricane himself thing — and I believe this Oregon defense will give the Georgia offense trouble. I’m also skeptical that an Oregon offense likely led by Auburn transfer Bo Nix will find life easy. In other words, it’s difficult for me to imagine this one becoming a shootout.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Ohio State, Saturday, 7:30 p.m | TV: ABC

Latest Odds: Ohio State Buckeyes -17

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The Pick: Ohio State -17 (-110) — There will be four teams in the College Football Playoff, and there are probably somewhere between 10 and 12 teams that have a realistic chance to be one of the four when the dust settles. Both of these programs are in that group. However, I believe there are only two teams in the country capable of winning the national title. Ohio State is one of them. Notre Dame is not.

That’s not a knock on Notre Dame. The Irish can certainly make the playoff. It’s more of a statement about how much better than everybody else (except Alabama) I expect Ohio State will be. The Buckeyes have a Heisman favorite in QB C.J. Stroud, a potential top-five pick at receiver in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, like 15 other future NFL receivers, and one of the country’s best running backs, TreVeyon Henderson. The one hole it had last season was a talented but predictable defense, which hurt it against other talented teams. The arrival of new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will solve that.

This is an Ohio State team that will put up at least 40 points per week. Can a Notre Dame team with a new QB and a lack of a proven receiving threat on the exterior do that? Maybe! Michael Mayer is an excellent asset in the passing game, but you need game-breakers to keep up with the Buckeyes, and I’m not convinced the Irish have them yet.

Boise State at Oregon State, Saturday, 10:30 p.m | TV: ESPN

Latest Odds: Boise State Broncos +2.5

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The Pick: Boise State +2.5 (-110) — It’s me, the person who seems to be unreasonably high on Boise State heading into the season. Boise State was our original Group of Five darling, but in recent years it has been replaced by other programs like UCF and Cincinnati. They’ve almost been forgotten, but while Andy Avalos’ first season didn’t hit the heights Boise fans are accustomed to reaching, I believe Year 2 will see the Broncos again competing for a conference title.

The first evidence of that will come Saturday night when they hit the road to face an Oregon State team I’ve been high on over the last few seasons. However, the Beavers’ defensive dam has been too leaky. The Beavs ranked 89th nationally in defensive success rate last season and 100th in defensive EPA, allowing opponents to score on 40.1% of their possessions (102nd). It’s hard to trust teams as a favorite when they play poorly on defense.

⚽ Soccer

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Getty Images

Fiorentina vs. Juventus, Saturday, 9 a.m | TV: CBS Sports Network

The Pick: Under 2.5 (-140) — 
For the last few years, I’ve tried to convince more American soccer fans to follow Serie A because it’s been an exciting, high-scoring league. I’ve often bet the over in matches in this letter because of it. Well, uh, that hasn’t been the case so far this season. It’s still early, but Serie A matches have averaged only 2.35 goals per match. That’s just ahead of Spain’s La Liga (2.33) to avoid being the lowest average of Europe’s five major leagues (Ligue 1 is at a ridiculous 3.47). These two teams are partially to blame.

Juve has allowed only one goal in its first four matches as Max Allegri has his team playing his ideal brand of soccer: slow and tedious, with the occasional display of brilliance from Dusan Vlahovic. It hasn’t been exciting to watch, but it’s been effective enough. Meanwhile, Fiorentina sent out its B-team to face Udinese earlier this week and lost 1-0. Unfortunately for Fiorentina, it can’t blame the backups because this team has been anemic in attack outside of the 3-2 win over Cremonese to start the season. Those three goals it scored in the opener are the only three goals it scored in Serie A this season.

AC Milan vs. Inter Milan, Saturday, 12 p.m | TV: Paramount+

The Pick: Inter Milan (+160) — 
It’s one of the best rivalries in all sports; it’s the Derby della Madonnina between the last two Serie A champions. Unfortunately for the team currently wearing the scudetto, AC Milan, it has not looked the better of the two in the early going. While it’s very possible Milan was taking it easy against Sassuolo earlier this week to stay fresh for this match, it was still an uninspiring performance in a 0-0 draw. Frankly, even if moving at half-speed, Milan should’ve been more threatening than it was against a Sassuolo side that will likely finish mid-table.

Meanwhile, Inter has looked far more threatening. Yes, it lost to Lazio 3-1 last week, but the xG (expected goals) tells a far different story for that match. Of course, there is some concern, as Inter’s three wins have come against teams that will likely be fighting for survival this year. Still, recent history suggests Inter is the team to back in this rivalry. The rivals have met 11 times since the start of the 2018 season, and Inter has won seven of the matches with two draws. Milan has won only twice.

Manchester United vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 11:30 a.m | TV: USA

The Pick: Over 2.5 (-140) — 
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago Arsenal Overs would likely be a well we often visit this season, and we’re going to it again this weekend. This will be a huge litmus test for both teams, and I expect it’ll be fun to watch. When was the last time anybody could say that about this fixture? Anyway, my thoughts on Arsenal haven’t changed. It’s an exciting team to watch, and it will score a lot of goals. It’s also a team that looks shaky in defense and will give up goals to any team with a pulse.

While it looked different two weeks ago, Manchester United has a pulse. Erik ten Hag has made some necessary changes to the team, and while United’s transfer policy the last couple of weeks reminds me of a stoned teenager in a convenience store, the results have been much better. That said, the xG numbers suggest United might be getting a little lucky defensively, and Arsenal is a team that will make you pay for mistakes.

🔒 SportsLine Pick of the Day: We have a college football game on Sunday night between LSU and Florida State, and SportsLine’s Emory Hunt is 14-5 in his last 19 ATS picks involving the Seminoles. What’s he thinking for Sunday night?

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