When the expectations have all but left and the fate of a season has been decided, something strange happens. Well, sometimes.
Comfort, in many instances, sets in. The agony of losing gives way for something different.
In college football, this happens the moment a head coach is fired. And at a time when jobs are being lost earlier than ever, the interim coaches are having a say on the season and your wagers. There is no greater wild card in the sport.
This person, handed a program in disarray, can go one of two ways. He can lose with pride and look for a new gig in a few months, which happens plenty. Or, he can find a magical football elixir and inflict chaos on others.
Some can turn this gig into a full-time job. Heck, Ed Orgeron did that twice and turned his second chance into a national title at LSU. Last year, Washington State’s Jake Dickert ultimately turned his solid stretch into a permanent position.
In short, it happens.
This weekend, the interim coaches ruled. Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Arizona State, Wisconsin all won football games (Colorado was off). Three of those four teams (Georgia Tech, Arizona State and Wisconsin) covered the spread.
What does this mean? For years I’ve been asked about how we should view an interim coach, and what the impact is from a gambling perspective.
Before the sport flipped on its axis, it used to be an exercise reserved for the bowl season.
But now? It happens often. It doesn’t stop. And the trend of firing coaches at any time will only gain momentum.
Not all interim coaches will win and cover games. Each situation is completely unique. But it is fascinating to see this collection of teams come together all at once.
How should you gamble on or against these teams moving forward? When you figure that one out, let us know.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Chip Kelly is finally having his moment. It’s not just quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is now 18-1 to win the Heisman. The UCLA defense played very well in the win (and cover) over Utah, and the pressure up front has really provided a lift for this team. After a bye, UCLA heads to Oregon, Kelly’s old stomping grounds, to play one of the biggest football games the program has seen in some time. Oh, and if UCLA and USC are still rolling when they play in November, it’s going to get incredibly weird and electric.
2. We need to talk about how bad Oklahoma is again. I know, I know. This was a topic last week. But after losing 49-0 to Texas, it’s hard not to dive into this once more. Not having starting QB Dillion Gabriel didn’t help, although this game was a much bigger disaster than one player. Texas finished with 35 first downs, and the Longhorns essentially sat on the football for a full quarter (if not more). Steve Sarkisian’s team closed as a 7.5-point favorite, and if you backed Texas you essentially enjoyed one of the more stress-free covers you’ll have all year. Just a nightmare start for Brent Venables.
3. Speaking of Oklahoma, let’s talk about the Dabo coaching tree for a moment, shall we? Swinney’s long-time assistants now have jobs, and it hasn’t been all that much fun for this group. We already discussed Venables, and that is one we’ll continue to monitor. Tony Elliott, Clemson’s former OC, is in his first year with Virginia. The Cavaliers have two wins (Richmond and Old Dominion, and they just got waxed by Louisville as a small favorite). Jeff Scott, now with South Florida, is 1-5 this season. The Bulls did play tough against Cincinnati as nearly four-touchdown underdogs Saturday, but Scott is still firmly on the hot seat. These coaches were part of one of the most successful staffs in the history of college football, but things are different now.
4. Kansas lost, but this team is much more than a good story. In a game that featured a slew of circus catches and touchdowns, TCU ultimately won by seven. (For many, this game was a push on the spread.) The fact that Kansas pushed a good team to the brink without starting QB Jalon Daniels, who left in the first half, is another testament to how far this program has come in a short period of time. Heck, Jason Bean, KU’s backup QB, threw for four touchdowns. What a season and story.
5. Texas A&M nearly did it again against Alabama, and now we must figure out what it means. The Aggies easily covered the 24.5-point spread, and they had a chance to win it outright at the end. While many, assuming this writer, thought Nick Saban would unleash on Jimbo Fisher, that was not the case. Four Alabama turnovers certainly hurt, and QB Jalen Milroe looked somewhat overmatched. It’s clear Saban needs Bryce Young back quickly with Tennessee on deck. More on that game in a moment.
6. Week 7 might be one of the greatest slates of games we’ve had in a while. There are a slew of meaningful games stretching from coast to coast, and it will absolutely reshape the College Football Playoff and Heisman pictures. I cannot wait; let’s dive in.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. No. 3 Alabama (-7.5, 65.5) at No. 6 Tennessee
For the first time in a long time, this rivalry has serious juice. College football is better when it does. The status of Young, of course, will be an enormous factor when betting this game, and I don’t expect we’ll hear much from Saban leading up to kickoff. My guess? Alabama kept out Young against A&M to heal for this week, but we’ll see. For Tennessee, what a win Saturday. Despite many, including myself, betting LSU, the Vols rolled the Tigers in their own building. Tennessee is unbeaten and has only lost one game against the spread. As for this week, I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach. Given how Milroe struggled on Saturday, we just need to know more about Young before diving in.
2. No. 10 Penn State at No. 5 Michigan (-7, 51.5)
I’m going to level with you. I don’t know how good Michigan is, and this certainly feels like a game that will help us find out. The Wolverines struggled against Indiana for much of the matchup, although the offense turned it on late. (Jim Harbaugh’s team still failed to cover the 23.5-point spread.) Penn State had a bye after a “meh” win against Northwestern. After covering the spread in the first three games of the year, the Nittany Lions failed to cover the number in the last two. Home field certainly will be a factor here for Michigan, although points might be tough to come by. The Under is looking good early.
3. No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 13 TCU (-3, 68)
The Horned Frogs were pressed to the brink by Kansas, which was playing with its backup QB. That result will be telling one way or another in a few weeks, although it doesn’t get any easier for TCU. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, used a massive third quarter to push past a frisky Texas Tech. The Pokes barely missed covering the 11-point spread, although the surge was still awfully impressive. Having to get on the road a week later is tricky, however, and TCU is every bit the obstacle the oddsmakers have made them out to be. Early frog lean.
4. No. 7 USC at No. 20 Utah (-3.5, 60.5)
When you consider that the season began with College Football Playoff aspirations for Utah, the start is disappointing to say the least. The fact that the Utes allowed 502 yards and 42 points last week is a concern, and USC must be licking its chops. Still, few teams in college football seem to thrive at home more than Utah, something we’ve already seen this year. On the other side, USC covered the 12-point spread against Washington State, although the offense wasn’t sharp for the third week in a row. Enter a game and spread that is likely to generate plenty of opinions. As for me, I think Utah’s monstrous home-field advantage does its magic once again.
5. No. 4 Clemson (-4.5, 51.5) at Florida State
There’s a bit of mystery surrounding both teams, although the trajectories feel very different at the moment. Clemson is unbeaten, and the Tigers have covered their last two games. The offense isn’t dazzling (No. 19 nationally) but probably a bit better than the ranking indicates. Florida State has actually covered the spread in four of the past five games, although losses to Wake Forest and NC State certainly hurt. The team has talent on both sides and largely competes. The biggest question in this matchup is whether FSU has the athletes to keep up. And, more directly, can the Seminoles’ offense do enough early on to throw Clemson off balance on the road? I want to say yes, although this is a conflicting game and line.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
No. 16 Mississippi State (-6.5, 47.5) at No. 22 Kentucky
Without Will Levis last week, Kentucky didn’t look quite right. His status will certainly be worth monitoring against a team playing as well as Mississippi State. Mike Leach is cooking right now.
No. 15 NC State at No. 18 Syracuse (-5, 44)
Sticking with the theme of injured QBs, NC State’s Devin Leary left Saturday’s game with a bum shoulder. It didn’t look good, and obviously we need more before betting on this one. Frankly, the line seems pretty telling.
LSU at Florida (-3, 48)
Neither team is ranked, and LSU collapsed in pretty much every way against Tennessee last week. Florida wasn’t exactly overwhelming against Missouri, either. The Under, more than anything, feels right.