Kramer: A bettor's guide to Week 12 in college football

By Adam Kramer  (VSiN.com) 

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First, some numbers. If you’re going to launch into a discussion about the Heisman Trophy, it has to start there.

On his way to a historic, Heisman-winning season, Joe Burrow’s first six games for LSU in 2019 looked like this: 2,262 total yards, 27 touchdowns and three interceptions.

That’s the kind of pace Burrow set last year on his way to an overwhelming victory. And through six games in 2020, Florida quarterback Kyle Trask has an eerily similar output: 2,247 yards, 28 touchdowns and three interceptions.

He has posted these numbers against better competition than Burrow faced early. And with each week, the former long shot to win the Heisman looks more and more like a potential winner.

Trask opened the offseason at 60-1 to win the Heisman at Westgate. By early August, he had been bet down to 25-1. Since then, the odds have crashed each week as Trask’s statistical performance and national notoriety have improved. Less than a month ago, however, Trask could still be had at 18-1. Then 7-1. And now, after his six-touchdown performance against Arkansas, the value is all but gone. Some places even have him as a Heisman favorite or co-favorite. 

Unlike Burrow, Trask has a loss. The Gators fell to Texas A&M in October. Trask threw for four touchdowns in that game; he has thrown four or more in every game this year. And although the buzz surrounding the Heisman has been focused on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, players very much in the mix, Trask is an intriguing case as the sport nears its homestretch. 

Burrow came from off the pace to win the Heisman. His odds were as high as 200-1 -- tickets that were well publicized after he won in December.

If Trask is to follow suit, he will have to keep up the pace. Given the competition, that seems likely. Florida will play Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU to close the year.

The Gators are then likely to match up against Alabama in the SEC championship game. This more than any game remaining will likely decide Trask’s fate. A win over Nick Saban and fellow Heisman front-runner Mac Jones would aid his efforts a great deal.

In the meantime, those holding on to Trask tickets they’ve been sitting on since the beginning of the year will hope the trend will continue. And while the value in betting the Gators’ QB is long gone, there’s no reason to believe his performance will slow.

The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations

1. Pop-up football games. Expect more of them. We saw Cal-UCLA schedule a game for Sunday morning on a few days’ notice. With cancellations and postponements blanketing college football, athletic directors around the country are already making these contingency plans. It wouldn’t be shocking to see more of these games appear in the weeks ahead. Keep that head on a swivel.

2. This topic surfaced last week during a handful of radio appearances, but I wanted to expand on it. The College Football Playoff has shown no desire to move its schedule -- a move that would provide teams flexibility in scheduling down the stretch. Playoff teams will be revealed Dec. 20. The semifinals will take place Jan. 1. The national championship will be played Jan. 11. As postponements and cancellations mount, I’m curious if the playoff, which clearly is concerned about ratings and does not want to compete with the NFL, will budge. It should. Frankly, given the way teams and conferences have adjusted, it’s bizarre it hasn’t budged. Then again, this is college football. It loves money. It hates change.

3. Will Muschamp is out at South Carolina. The Gamecocks were 500-1 to win the national championship at Westgate at the start of the offseason and 1,000-1 to win when the season began. The timing of the firing is the only thing a tad surprising, although after allowing 159 points over the last three games, perhaps it’s not that big a surprise. Still, Muschamp’s buyout is more than $13 million, and athletic departments are struggling now that COVID-19 has depleted budgets. Two immediate thoughts emerge. Could Hugh Freeze find his way back into the SEC? And how many other teams will make a move on a coach despite being financially limited? We’ll find out soon.

4. Tulsa is fun. Down 21-0 to SMU, largely due to a pick-six and an early fumble, the Golden Hurricane responded as a 2-point underdog. Tulsa outscored SMU 28-3 in the final two-plus quarters to win the game outright. Now ranked in the top 25, they face a fascinating close to the season: Tulane, Houston and then Cincinnati. While we’ll highlight more Group of Five teams below, don’t forget about this one. 

5. The player you should watch this week that you likely haven’t seen much of? Iowa State running back Breece Hall. The sophomore is the only 1,000-yard rusher in college football, is averaging nearly 150 rushing yards per game and will hope to continue his quality start against Kansas State. The Cyclones are 11-point favorites, and Hall is largely why. Although betting a non-quarterback to win the Heisman feels unwise, it’ll be fascinating to see where he winds up on 2021 Heisman futures. Tons of talent. Really fun player.

The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend

1. Ohio State (-20, 66.5) vs. Indiana: A month ago, I did not expect Ohio State and Indiana to be the marquee game of the weekend. And though the point spread would say otherwise, this is unquestionably the weekend’s most meaningful matchup. Ohio State will be nearly a three-touchdown favorite against a team that is unbeaten and 4-0 against the spread. It is worth noting, however, that Indiana’s four wins have come against teams with a combined record of 3-13. That is not to say the Hoosiers are unworthy of the praise or a top-10 ranking. Through the first month, they have been one of the sport’s best stories. But they have not faced an opponent with the speed and athleticism of Ohio State. (To be clear, very few have, and this is hard to simulate.) While Justin Fields has more touchdowns than incompletions, the Buckeyes’ defense hasn’t exactly been lights out. The total has crept up, and I can see why.

2. Oklahoma (-7, 59.5) vs. Oklahoma State: Let’s talk about Bedlam. It’s one of the best rivalry names in all of sports, but the results have not given off rivalry vibes. The Sooners are 89-18-7 in this series. (Shout-out to those seven ties.) More recently, the Pokes have won this game only twice since 2003. Nine of those Oklahoma victories were decided by double digits. Although this matchup regularly produces a ton of points — an average of 76.9 over the last 10 meetings — this game could have a different feel. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are No. 1 and No. 3 in scoring defense in the Big 12. After a rough start, the Sooners appear to be finding a rhythm. Granted, that rhythm was found against Kansas and Texas Tech. Which version of Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, will we see? And can Oklahoma State’s defense play the kind of game it has been searching for a century? The Pokes might be lively here.

3. Wisconsin (-7.5, 44.5) at Northwestern: Through two games, Wisconsin has outscored its opponents 94-18. Between those two wins, the Badgers had consecutive games canceled due to a COVID outbreak. While there was some mystery to how the Badgers would respond — and perhaps more specifically who would be available — Wisconsin absolutely obliterated Michigan at the Big House as a touchdown favorite. What’s perhaps most challenging to understand heading into this week is whether Saturday’s blowout was a product of Wisconsin being elite, Michigan being that bad or a balance of the two. Regardless, Northwestern presents an interesting obstacle. The Wildcats have won their last four games by a combined 16 points. Still, despite the run of close outcomes, they are 4-0 and 3-0-1 against the spread. This feels like a classic Big Ten game, although I could see more points than anticipated. Maybe that’s just optimism bleeding into analysis from one Midwesterner.

4. Cincinnati (-6, 63) at Central Florida: I am giddy about this football game. Giddy. It’s a combination of factors that tap into my football giddiness. It starts with contrasting styles. Central Florida has the No. 1 passing offense in the country. Cincinnati has the No. 3 scoring defense. This trend of contrasting styles bleeds into this season. The Bearcats are 8-0 and 6-2 ATS. The Knights are 5-2 but have covered the spread only twice in seven games. This spread opened at pick-’em, although Cincinnati was quickly bet up in the first 24 hours. The total, which opened at 67.5, was quickly bet down — a sign that some are likely expecting the Cincinnati defense to factor significantly. While the Bearcats have the reputation of being a defensively focused team, they have averaged 46 points per game over the last month. Even with the line movement, this feels like an opportunity for Cincinnati to show the football world just how good it can be.

5. Coastal Carolina (-5.5, 48) vs. Appalachian State: So maybe this doesn’t have the same buzz as the game mentioned above, although it should be darn close. Appalachian State, after all, is a Group of Five team that has been regularly dominant over the last five years. Coastal Carolina, meanwhile, has quickly become one of the sport’s most fascinating stories. Like Cincy-UCF, these two have vastly different results against the spread. The Chanticleers are 7-0 and 5-1-1 ATS. The Mountaineers are 6-1, although they’ve covered only once. Statically, however, they’re neck and neck. App State averages 36.6 points and allows 16.2; Coastal Carolina averages 36.7 and allows 15.1. Both teams have dodged close calls. Both have the firepower to win this game outright. I like the underdog some here.

Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note

USC (-3, 57.5) at Utah: Will this game be played? That’s an important question after Utah’s last two games were canceled due to COVID. And if so, what will Utah’s roster look like? USC is walking a tightrope, although the Trojans are still unbeaten. The Utes should be up for this, but be sure to see who’s available first.

North Carolina State (-3.5, 67.5) vs. Liberty: While Hugh Freeze is suddenly very much in the conversation as head-coaching positions open, the Wolfpack are a fascinating matchup and a worthy favorite. I get the buzz for Freeze, but NC State can play and really score. 

Clemson (-34.5, 66.5) at Florida State: I include this game only to showcase just how different the trajectory of these programs is. There is a canyon between them. The Seminoles are getting nearly five touchdowns at home. I have nothing to add, other than I will be tuning in just to see if the game is as lopsided as the spread would indicate. 

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