As if wagering on college football in 2020 wasn’t difficult enough, a wild new variable appears.
With COVID-19 testing and contact tracing impacting programs across the country, getting to Saturday with games intact feels like a victory. The sport has now seen triple-digit postponements and cancellations, which should come as no surprise if you’ve been paying attention the last month. (The surprise might be that the number isn’t higher.)
As this mutated season persists, however, another element should be accounted for.
They are back, and that term will be used in excess in the days and weeks ahead.
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell — likely top-10 picks in next year’s NFL draft — opted out before the season began. And they were not alone.
But now, as COVID disrupts schedules and seasons start to unwind, a new wave of opt-outs is underway, and more will likely follow in the days and weeks ahead.
LSU wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., one of the Tigers’ best players this year, opted out Sunday after his team’s loss (and unlikely cover) against Texas A&M. Texas offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi and Florida State defensive back Asante Samuel Jr. also announced their seasons and college careers were ending. Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman did the same last week. And Tuesday, Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd waved goodbye to CFB.
There will be more. Potentially a lot more.
The loss of a player like Marshall for the LSU offense as it goes up against mighty Alabama is enormous. (More on that game and the cartoonish 28.5-point spread in a bit.)
Whether it’s for one week or a bowl game, there are now more moving parts to consider when you’re making a wager. More roster research. More variables. More unknown. More. More. More.
Throw it in the pile that is 2020, where the only constant is change.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. It has been a full year since Kansas football covered a game against the spread. The Jayhawks, 23-point underdogs against TCU last weekend, lost 59-23. Kansas is 0-8 against the spread this year and winless heading into the home stretch. I like Les Miles. I thought his quirkiness was a nice change of pace for a while. But at this point, it’s pretty clear what needs to happen next. The Jayhawks close with regular-season games at Texas Tech, where they are nearly four-touchdown underdogs, and at home against Texas. Can we get the elusive 0-10 against the spread? Stay tuned.
2. Steve Sarkisian is going to get another shot as a head coach at a major-college program. In fact, he has had some conversations already, though he’s in a position as the offensive coordinator at Alabama to be selective. With Nick Saban out due to a positive COVID test, Sarkisian led Alabama to a win and cover as a 24.5-point favorite in the Iron Bowl over Auburn. A Google search will remind you just how things ended at USC, which will be a factor. But he is a brilliant offensive mind who appears to be in a great place personally. While it’ll be interesting to see which jobs come open at a time when so many programs are financially limited, Sarkisian should be considered for any major position that opens. That said, he won’t be in a rush to leave. He recruited Bryce Young, Alabama’s uber-talented freshman QB, and could thrive in his current role for years to come if he so chooses.
3. Let’s stay on Alabama for one more. DeVonta Smith has blossomed into the best wide receiver in college football and one of the best, if not the best, ever at Alabama. I did a profile on their wideouts last year, and Smith was particularly striking despite being the least hyped at the time. I know we don’t give the Heisman to non-quarterbacks and Mac Jones will win the award before Smith does. But with the injury to wideout Jaylen Waddle, Smith is certainly worthy of consideration. And if you’re a fan of an NFL team in desperate need of a star wideout in next year’s draft, look no further.
4. The College Football Playoff committee is exhausting. I have other words for the way this group treats Group of Five teams, but I also like writing for this website. To debut BYU at No. 14 in the College Football Playoff rankings last week tells me a few things. And for this team to be ranked at No. 13 as we start December is frankly embarrassing. Maybe they’re just obsessed with analytics and schedules. Maybe the games are on too late. Maybe they truly hate teams outside the five major conferences. Regardless, it’s absurd.
5. On the topic of the College Football Playoff, I have no idea how the committee will handle Ohio State. After a COVID outbreak, the Buckeyes will miss out on the Big Ten championship game if one of their next two games -- Michigan or Michigan State -- is canceled. Could Ohio State make the playoff without being named conference champ? And if the Buckeyes do miss out, could they play Wisconsin (already omitted from title-game consideration) in a game that same weekend? The name brand will help plenty, and it already is with Ohio State currently ranked No. 4, but this is one to watch.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. BYU (-10, 61.5) at Coastal Carolina: Normally, it takes two college football programs somewhere in the neighborhood of five to 20 years to schedule a matchup of significance. But in 2020, the normal time period has been condensed to roughly 48 hours. It’s one of the few positive sports developments to emerge from the madness.
With Liberty unable to play due to COVID, BYU will make the trek cross-country on short notice. Before rumors of positive tests swung Coastal Carolina to a double-digit favorite against Liberty, the line hovered around the touchdown. With this new matchup, the home team will now be getting 10 points. Quite a shift. In terms of resumes, this is about as clean as a football game gets. Both teams are currently 9-0; BYU is 8-1 against the spread, and Coastal lags just behind at 7-1-1. While the existence of this game is unquestionably a win for the sport -- a win it could certainly use considering the way postponements have become the story -- the end result might say otherwise. BYU is bigger, faster and has the advantage at quarterback. Coastal has been great, but an upset and perhaps even a cover will not come easy.
2. Wisconsin (-14.5, 45.5) vs. Indiana: Plenty of intrigue, and it starts with the line movement. Wisconsin opened as a 14-point favorite Sunday, though that line was immediately bet down to 9.5 and then back up to 14.5 when it was learned that Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is out for this game and the season with a knee injury. Enter backup Jack Tuttle, who was one of the most coveted pro-style QBs in the class of 2017. He committed to Utah before transferring to Indiana. When he filled in last weekend, he completed all five throws for 31 yards. As for Wisconsin, what do we have in store as a bounce-back? The loss to Northwestern two weeks ago as a 7.5-point favorite was suboptimal. And now, the Badgers are ineligible to compete in the Big Ten Championship Game, at least as it stands today, because they have had too many cancellations. Indiana’s loss at quarterback is massive, but it just feels like it might be a few too many points.
3. Alabama (-28.5, 69.5) at LSU: This game is in Baton Rouge. Just a reminder, because this is a spread that just looks, well, off. That said, it’s not off. It’s just a staggering number to see for a rivalry that has captured the attention of college football across the last decade. The loss of Marshall at wide receiver is a crushing blow to an LSU offense that struggled to do much of anything last week against Texas A&M. The weather had something to do with it. (Also, LSU did somewhat miraculously cover the 15.5-point spread.) But the output was not rough, and the question is: Just how lopsided will this get? The good news for LSU is it has Derek Stingley Jr., the best cornerback in college football, to counter wide receiver DeVonta Smith. That is also good news for all of us from an entertainment standpoint. The bad news is basically everything else. Alabama is 8-0 and 6-2 against the spread. The Tide is averaging nearly 50 points per game and will likely enter this wanting a little payback after LSU’s win last year. It’s a lot of points, but the gap between these teams is simply massive.
4. Texas A&M (-6.5, 49.5) at Auburn: While the Iron Bowl didn’t go particularly well, Auburn is still getting a fair amount of respect from the oddsmakers. Texas A&M opened as only a 4-point favorite, and the line was quickly bet up. Still, given the Aggies’ rapid rise after nearly losing the opener to Vanderbilt — one of the season’s most bizarre results — the line is closer than many would likely expect it to be. A&M’s offense wasn’t particularly crisp last week in the rain, which could be a product of the rain or a sign that maybe not all of the team’s warts are gone just yet. The total says a lot about the kind of game we might get. Auburn has hit the Over in only one of eight games this season, which is likely the kind of game the Tigers need to pull the upset or even keep this close. As unlikely as that might seem for those who watched Saturday, this one has an odd vibe. A close, ugly football game is likely in order. And, yes, maybe an upset.
5. Iowa State (-7.5, 48.5) vs. West Virginia: The significance of this game for Iowa State cannot be overstated. The Cyclones are a win from securing a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game after beating Texas 23-20 as 1.5-point favorites. West Virginia’s much-anticipated matchup against Oklahoma was called off due to COVID, though the Mountaineers have been largely impressive in 2020 as well. They’re 5-3 (5-2-1 ATS), and they’ve been competitive in pretty much every game. West Virginia also has a top-20 rushing defense, which is vital against a running back the caliber of Breece Hall. Iowa State will likely get plenty of public support given its performance over the last month. But West Virginia might be up for the challenge, if it can muster enough offense to keep pace.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
Appalachian State (-2.5, 53.5) vs. Louisiana: Really good game. In fact, you could make a compelling argument it should be included in the top five. Louisiana is 8-1. App State is 7-2. Neither team has been great against the spread, and both have hit the Over only three times this year. I like the Mountaineers and the Under.
Oklahoma State (-2.5, 51) vs. Kansas State: The last time Oklahoma State covered the spread was Oct. 24. If you’ve watched the Cowboys over the last month, that feels about right. Although TCU is 4-4, the Horned Frogs have covered three of the last four games. They might be ripe for a mild upset.