A happy return to you, my fellow degenerate. Welcome back to Edge Sorting, the weekly gambling column here at HERO Sports that focuses on college football games that don't have the full attention of bookmakers.
Thanksgiving is such a cool week for gambling in America. Many of us are given paid time off work to watch our favorite rivalry matchups, eat way too much food, catch 10+ hours of non-standard Thursday NFL football, and reconnect with friends and family. And did I mention all the sports?
In honor of the upcoming slate, I'm providing you with an extra helping of handicapping for this extended Thanksgiving weekend, starting with Thursday games and going all the way through Sunday. Normally, Edge Sorting offers five standard college football picks, plus one kicker; today, I'm handing out a massive 13-game card to keep you busy throughout the holiday.
So, here we go. Get away from your family and plant yourself on the couch! We got four days of football ahead of us. On to the Week 14 picks!
[divider]MORE FBS: "Tom Herman is Shaka Smart, and Shaka Smart is Tom Herman."
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WEDNESDAY NIGHT: COLLEGE HOOPS
George Mason (+5.5) v. New Mexico State (7:30 p.m. EST, @Cayman Islands Classic)
Samford (+4.5) at South Dakota State (8 p.m. EST, ESPN3)
Many people might not be expecting this column until Thursday, since that it's usual publication time, so I'm starting us easy on Wednesday night with some light hoops action. Readers of this column (and High Motor subscribers) probably know me as a football guy, but in truth, basketball has always been my first love. In that spirit, I've identified two Wednesday night games where I'm not terribly impressed with the favorites thus far in the 2019-20 season. New Mexico State and South Dakota State were both 2018 mid-major darlings, with the Aggies playing Auburn tight in the NCAA tournament last March, and the Jackrabbits posting a great regular season before being upset by rival North Dakota State in the Summit League tournament. Either way, I think there's value on the dogs in these games. I'm not 100 percent sure yet what Samford is, but with the massive attrition SDSU suffered following the 2018 season, I'm willing to take a small flyer on their cover here; as for Mason, it's a decent A-10 team catching five and the hook at a neutral site against a New Mexico State team that's looked flat-out lethargic throughout the first month of the season. Let's ride with the dogs as we ease into a long weekend of action. If you're looking to get some skin in the game early, this is a safe, relatively sharp place to start.
Pick: George Mason +5.5
Pick: Samford +4.5
THURSDAY: THANKSGIVING NFL
Handicapping the sides in this game is a major Rorschach test. Neither team has really notched any head-turning wins all season. The Cowboys are 4-0 against NFC East opponents and 1-5 against all other teams, with the sole win coming against the Dolphins in September. Buffalo (8-3) is in excellent playoff position, but their resume isn't much better. A 20-3 win over the Broncos last weekend is arguably its most impressive win of the season.
I generally don't like to bet games where I can make a compelling case either way, so I don't necessarily want anything to do with a side here — though it should be noted that Buffalo is 4-0-1 ATS on the road this season. Instead, I want to back the under in a game that I think could be defensively minded. We have two run-first defenses playing on a short week, which I think could result in even more conservative game plans than usual. This feels like a 20-17 type of game, so I'm going to recommend a play on the under here; to sweeten the pot, I'm going to combo it with the Dallas Moneyline. I don't necessarily want to bet against a number here, but I don't believe Buffalo will win this game outright. The addition of the straight-up winner on this Total/ML parlay gives me +160 odds, which I think is a great bet to watch for after unbuttoning my jeans with dinner.
Pick: Dallas ML/Under 47 +160
FRIDAY: EARLY COLLEGE RIVALRY KICKOFF
Virginia Tech (-3) at Virginia (12 p.m. EST, ABC)
After last year's debacle, this was finally the year that UVA fans would earn the Commonwealth Cup back from its extended stay in Blacksburg. If you can believe it, Virginia has lost this game 15 years in a row, and after starting the season going in completely opposite directions, every UVA fan I know was ecstatic. Whatever happens with the rest of the season, at least we know the Hokies will finally, at long last, have to give up the Cup.
That was two months ago. Now, Virginia Tech has won six of its last seven games, cracked the Playoff Top 25, and swung the line on this game from UVA -1 to Virginia Tech -3. Everybody inside the state of Virginia thinks Tech is going to win this game. About 70 percent of bettors to, do.
All that certainty makes me a little nervous about a bet I felt great about just a few weeks ago, so I'm actually going to skip the side here and bet something I feel a little more confident in: an ugly first half. This rivalry is bitter, and that often manifests itself in some brutal, low-scoring openings. Virginia Tech's defense is playing really well these days, and even though UVA is dealing with some injuries, I still think that unit is going to lay the lumber on the visiting Hokies early on Friday afternoon, at least for a half. And speaking of kickoff — don't you kind of have to like an under play on a Friday noon kickoff? Give me the first half under, which, by the way, is sitting at an awfully suspicious-looking 23.5.
Pick: Virginia/Virginia Tech 1H Under 23.5
Texas Tech (+10) at Texas (12 p.m. EST, FOX)
Since the beginning of Big 12 play, Texas has been favored in five of those games. It's 1-4 ATS in those contests, with the loan win & cover coming in Morgantown against my lowly Mountaineers. In every sense of the word, the Longhorns continue to be overvalued. Texas Tech doesn't have to win here, but 10 points is plenty to play with, and against this defense, the backdoor cover is always going to be on the table. Roll with the Red Raiders.
Pick: Texas Tech +10
Missouri might not play in any SEC championship games any time soon, but the Tigers have very quietly turned themselves into an under machine in 2019. Since the shootout in Laramie back on August 31, Missouri has paid out 9 of 10 unders. Here, its anemic offense goes on the road to border rival Arkansas, whose offense doesn't have much to play for, and wouldn't be all that effective even if it did. I'm kind of amazed the total is as high as it is. It feels like I'm getting three or four free points just for being willing to bet an ugly game. Missouri keeps the under train rolling.
Pick: Arkansas/Missouri Under 53
SATURDAY: MORE COLLEGE RIVALRY
Clemson (-28) at South Carolina (12 p.m. EST, ESPN)
By this point in the season, you guys know I love unders. Not only do I dig them out of the Earth like a pig searching for truffles, but we've actually hit them at a fairly professional clip this season, too. I'll tabulate all the percentages here in a couple weeks when we wrap for Bowl season, but I'm pretty confident our total plays have hit at a clip north of 60 percent. Not too shabby.
Anyway, here's another under I like. Clemson has been totally lights out since escaping from Chapel Hill weeks and weeks ago, and this is a game where I expect the trend to continue. I expect a typical, low-scoring rivalry game that Clemson pulls away from in the second half; when you throw in South Carolina's tilt toward the under (7-3) in 2019, I don't know how you bet any other way in this game. The spread is intimidating both ways, and the over is just a dart in the hopes that Clemson's offense rings up 40+ in a road rivalry game. After we win those Friday unders, you can roll your profit margin into this one. Unders for everyone!
Pick: Clemson/South Carolina Under 51.5
Louisville (+3) at Kentucky (12 p.m. EST, SECN)
I'm admittedly higher on Louisville than most, but I feel like the books are making you pay an SEC premium to bet Kentucky here. Unless UK gets to draft new players from the SEC, I don't care that the Cats play in a better conference. Louisville looks like the better team, and has played really well over the last month of the season. Give me the better squad catching a full three points in a close rivalry contest.
Pick: Louisville +3
Alabama, which has not yet beaten a team ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25, must lay points, on the road, against its archrival, in a game where its star quarterback will not play.
Aside from the script "A" that's on the side of the helmet, what part of that makes sense to you?
Pick: Auburn +3.5
Iowa State (-4.5) at Kansas State (7 p.m. EST, FS1)
First of all, how do you not love a rivalry named "Farmageddon?" It's one of the best in sports. Period.
When it comes to actually handicapping this game, there's only one way to go. The public is down on Kansas State right now because of a ridiculous, inexplicable home loss to West Virginia, which explains why the 60% of the public is laying points on a road team that has the same 7-4 record as the home team. The truth is that Klieman & Co. have covered five of their last six, with the obvious loss being the outright one to West Virginia. K-State has been an underdog in four of its last six games; it won three of them (Texas Tech, Oklahoma, TCU) outright.
Both recent history and actual game analysis say Kansas State stands as good a chance as any dog this weekend to score an outright win, but even if it doesn't, the spread here offers us plenty of room to get the cover in a low-scoring loss. K-State is a very sharp side this weekend, and I expect the pros to come in on this late.
Pick: Kansas State +4.5
FCS GAME OF THE WEEK
Illinois State (-2.5) at Southeast Missouri State (2 p.m. EST, ESPN3)
This is the game I said you should absolutely mash on the latest episode of High Motor. Illinois State quarterback Brady Davis is done for the year with an ACL injury. Star runningback James Robinson looks like he's wearing down, and the team can't lean on No. 2 RB Jeff Proctor at all, because he went down for the year in the same game that Davis did. Illinois State was in line for a playoff seed until suffering these injuries in a Nov. 16 game against cellar dweller Missouri State; all the team had to do was find a way to finish the season with a win, on the road, against a sub .500 Youngstown State team.
The Redbirds lost 21-3. The offense looked two full steps below one-dimensional.
Illinois State is not going to beat Southeast Missouri State in this weekend's first-round FCS Playoff game. SEMO is a very good team that's built tough, like a Missouri Valley team, and will be able to clog Illinois State at the line of scrimmage, not unlike what a much more dysfunctional Youngstown State team did last weekend. SEMO is going to win. This is a lock.
SEMO is catching points here, which is just baffling to me, and an example of how FCS point spreads don't receive nearly the attention that big-time FBS lines do. This is a major opportunity for bettors like me who are paying attention. Whatever the FCS max bet is, I'm hitting it at all of my books. This is a freebie.
Pick: Southeast Missouri State +2.5
SUNDAY: NFL UNDERDOGS
San Francisco (+6) at Baltimore
I've bet against Lamar Jackson a couple of times now over the last few weeks, and he has absolutely obliterated me. Still, NFL bettors have no choice but to go against him here. Lamar is in absolute God Mode right now, but San Francisco is a much better roster and a potential No. 1 seed in the playoffs. What's more, the 49ers are not a good matchup for Baltimore — this is a case of strength vs strength, with San Fran's defensive front against Baltimore's powerful run game, but I definitely give the edge to the Niners. I believe they'll be able to limit Baltimore's run game with minimal personnel, then devote extra resources from the linebacker spot to containing Lamar, where other teams might need more up front to yuk up Baltimore's run gaps. You just can't give me this many points with a Super Bowl contender.
The public is blind-betting the Ravens every week right now, and I totally understand why, but this is where you have to get off the train. It's clear to me that books are overcorrecting on the Ravens to stop the bleeding with Lamar. If you give me too many points, I'm going to take you up on it every time.
Pick: San Francisco +6
Pittsburgh (+2.5) at Cleveland
I think bookmakers see QB No. 3 Devlin Hodges coming into the game and think that Pittsburgh doesn't have a solution under center for the remainder of the 2019 season. I disagree with this assessment — at worst, Hodges is a replacement-level talent that's equal to what Mason Rudolph was giving them. But I actually think Hodges, a former Walter Payton award-winner, really could be the long-term solution at quarterback for the Steelers. If I'm correct in my assumption, this means the Steelers are being undervalued here as a short road dog. Add in the revenge factor here, and I do think the Steelers could be a sneaky good play this weekend.
Pick: Pittsburgh +2.5
[divider] Week 13 Rewind: New Mexico's Garbage Time TD Robs Us of Awesome 5-1 Week
Last Week's Record: 4-2
2019 Official Picks Record: 41-40-1[divider]
Okay. Mega picks column is officially wrapped. Bet judiciously, fine folk of the Internet! Remember to get to the Thanksgiving table early, so you can snag a chair with a good angle into the next room where the TV is.
There's one more thing that's important to remember this week, and I think the sentiment speaks for itself…
If the Lions don't lose on Thanksgiving, the terrorists win.
— Chase Kiddy (@chaseakiddy) November 28, 2013
Good luck in Week 14, and don't forget… fortune favors the bold!