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4th Down & Inches – Docs Sports Handicapping

Fourth Down and Inches (October 15th, 2008)

by Doc – 10/15/2008

I wish I could have started this column out with some good news as far as last week’s selections are concerned. However, that is not the case. We did nail a nice 5-unit winner with Penn State, as they completely destroyed Wisconsin, 48-7. We also had a nice winner with Mississippi State ending Vanderbilt’s perfect season, but those two wins did not come close to covering the disappointing losses that we had.

The two games that I was most upset about was Ohio Sate failing to score an offensive touchdown against Purdue and Illinois losing to Minnesota straight up. The Buckeyes faced one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten and could not muster much of anything on offense behind Terrelle Pryor. Purdue is terrible and Coach Tiller will likely not make a bowl game in his final season. They gave up 38 points to an average Notre Dame team and may not get a victory until their final game of the season against Indiana.

As for Illinois, the writing was on the wall after the first play of the game. The kickoff went out of bounds and on the very first offensive play for Minnesota, the Illini got tagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty. You get the picture of how the game went after that and these kind of things making handicapping a very difficult profession. This seems to happen a lot with Coach Ron Zook and, despite being a great recruiter, he was never able to get Florida over the hump and Illinois has the talent to be contending in the Big Ten but will likely have to settle for a mid-tier bowl game. Granted, he did led them to the Rose Bowl last year but that was a gift from the Rose Bowl Committee in an effort to show they nation that they are still opposed to a playoff system. Illinois did not belong in that game and got pounded by USC, 49-17. Always remember in football that there are no locks or sure bets. Handicapping would be much easier if teams always played up to their potential but one never knows what you will get week in and week out. That being said, it was only one weekend and I am excited to turn the page and love the card this week in the Big Ten.

Just how much of an advantage is it for a team to play at home? In football I have always felt it’s not as important compared to basketball. True, with large crowds the adrenaline may flow but in most cases football players have very little emotional excitement. What really gets my attention is the home team’s record in the Big Ten. Conference play started on Sept. 27 and 15 games have been played going into this week. Of those one would figure that the home teams would have covered at least eight of those 15 games. That is certainly not the case, as the visitor is 11-4 against the spread. Moving over to the SEC Conference, the visitor is 13-4 ATS as well. This is something to keep in mind if you think playing at home is a major plus.

As I look at conference play this week, a couple of games look intriguing. The first is Penn State playing Michigan in Happy Valley. The Lions open as a 23-point favorite and for those of you that do not follow football very close, this may seem like a ton since Penn State is 0-9 against Michigan in their last nine meetings. So should I take at look at the Wolverines? The answer is quick and easy, absolutely no! I was hoping that the oddsmakers would make a mistake and bring this game under 20, but they are sharp and that is not the case. No question Papa Joe will get revenge and Michigan will struggle to reach double-digits in points. Two things will hold me back from using a really big play on this game: the weather may not be very good and the Lions may be looking ahead to Ohio State. That being said, I would not bet a dime on Michigan, as the Lions are the only side I would consider.

Another game in the Big Ten this week is Wisconsin at Iowa. The wheels have fallen off the Badgers, as they will enter this game having lost three straight conference games. I have gone against Bucky for all of those losses and may have to pull the trigger yet again. If that choice is made, it will be more about going against Wisconsin then it is liking Iowa. The fans, media, and coaches have put most if not all of the blame on QB Allan Evridge. However, the opponents have been figuring out that if you stop the Badgers running attack, you stop them. The Badgers have two injured lineman and that does not bode well when facing a tough Iowa front seven. For Wisconsin to have a chance, they will need to make plays in the air and thus it may open up holes for RB Hill and RB Clay.

As for the Hawkeyes, they seemed to have put it together after a slow start and played their best game of the season last week, winning at Indiana, 45-9. The Badgers have won the last two meetings by a combined seven points and this is an important game for Coach Ferentz to keep the faithful happy in Iowa City. The posted total is 43 and, barring some strange scores on defense or special teams, I cannot see this game going over. This is an important game for both teams, but the season is on the line for Wisconsin. In this writer’s opinion, however, the team has already gone into hibernation.

The NFL saw some major upsets this week with the biggest coming in Washington, when the Rams recorded their first victory in 2008 and it came with a new coach, Jim Haslett. When handicapping the NFL, one should always be leery about laying more then a touchdown, but one should also look at how strong the favorite is more then how weak the opponent is. Teams like Washington and Minnesota are not offensive juggernauts and thus they have problems scoring points and it would likely take a perfect game for them to cover a double-digit spread. Every team has talented players and there is no team this year that is as good as the Pats were last season and thus I expect underdogs to come up big during the next few weeks.

We are expecting a big weekend, topped off by our second 6-unit pick of the season. The first one was a winner and this one will hit as well.

Best of Luck,

Doc

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