Tony Miller and his staff at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas released more than 100 Games of the Year lines on Thursday. The summer ritual generates droves of gamblers, who can make a maximum of three bets with $1,000 limits before moving to the back of the line.
From 2007-2015, Miller’s crew was the first Vegas shop to post these numbers. Chris Andrews and the gang at South Point produced the first college spreads over the last three years. However, Andrews has recently been battling a health issue that didn’t allow him and his staff enough time to get the lines out this quickly.
Let’s start with the two programs that have created quite a bit of separation between themselves and the rest of the pack in recent years. Not too long ago, it would be huge news if a team was a double-digit favorite in each game. These days? Not so much for Clemson and Alabama.
In fact, the Tigers opened as favorites of 17.5 points or more in seven different games. The reigning national champs return seven starters on offense and four on defense. Trevor Lawrence is back after a sensational true freshman season that saw him throw 30 touchdown passes compared to only four interceptions.
Lawrence has one of the nation’s premier running backs in Travis Etienne, who will run behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers give Clemson a dynamic set of wide receivers.
After barely escaping College Station with a 28-26 win in Week 2 last season, Dabo Swinney’s squad hosts the Aggies on Sept. 8. This is the spot in which the Tigers are “merely” laying 17.5 points.
Clemson has produced a 17-1 straight-up record in 18 ACC games the last two years, winning 15 of those games by double-digit margins. Other than a 38-31 win at North Carolina State in 2017, the only ACC foe that’s been extremely competitive against the Tigers has been Syracuse.
Dino Babers’ team beat Clemson outright in ’17 and led nearly the entire game in Death Valley last year. The Tigers had to rally from a 23-13 fourth-quarter deficit to capture a 27-23 victory.
For this year’s trip to the Carrier Dome, the Nugget opened Clemson as an 18-point road “chalk.” This is the second-shortest number for the Tigers and the only one that I believe is too rich. They are favored by 27 points at North Carolina, 25 vs. Florida State, 32 at Louisville, 24 at N.C. State and 23.5 at South Carolina.
Alabama is favored by at least 13 points in its seven lined Games of the Year. Nick Saban’s club opened -18 at South Carolina. The Crimson Tide hasn’t been to Williams-Brice Stadium since 2010, when Steve Spurrier “coached up” mercurial QB Stephen Garcia enough to produce a career-best performance in a 35-21 win over the nation’s top-ranked team and defending national champion.
During Will Muschamp’s tenure with the Gamecocks, they’ve compiled a 4-4 against-the-spread record with three outright victories in eight games as a home underdog. South Carolina has been a double-digit home underdog twice on Muschamp’s watch, going 2-0 ATS with one outright win over Tennessee (24-21) in 2017.
The rest of Alabama’s numbers look like this: -34 vs. Ole Miss, -14 at Texas A&M, -31 vs. Tennessee, -16 vs. LSU, -20 at Mississippi State and -13 at Auburn.
Week 1 features a doubleheader on Sunday. Don’t expect the sort of theatrics like we saw in the Sunday primetime slot two years ago. That’s when UCLA QB Josh Rosen orchestrated an epic comeback win over Texas A&M, rallying the Bruins back from a 44-10 deficit late in the third quarter in a 45-44 triumph.
We point that out only because this year’s games have huge numbers. Oklahoma opened as a 27-point home favorite vs. Houston, while Notre Dame is laying 18 at Louisville. The Sooners will be looking to avenge a season-opening loss to the Cougars in 2016.
In Week 2, Michigan is a 17.5-point home “chalk” vs. Army. Remember, the Black Knights gave Oklahoma an enormous scare last season in a 28-21 overtime loss as 29-point underdogs in Norman.
LSU is listed as a two-point road favorite at Texas on Sept. 7, leaving Tom Herman in a home underdog role. He is 2-0-1 ATS in three home ‘dog spots since arriving in Austin. The Longhorns are 8-2-1 ATS with five outright wins in 11 games as underdogs during Herman’s tenure.
Let’s skip ahead to Week 4 when Notre Dame visits Athens. Georgia opened as a 9.5-point home favorite versus the Fighting Irish, who dropped a 20-19 decision to the Bulldogs in South Bend two years ago. In an SEC tilt on Sept. 21, Texas A&M is favored by 3.5 points vs. Auburn at Kyle Field. If you’re like me and often look to fade a team when its QB is making his first career road start, this will represent such a spot to go against Gus Malzahn’s bunch.
The Washington-Stanford rivalry has been crucial in the Pac-12 North race since the league split into two divisions. In fact, one of the two schools have represented the division in six of the seven Pac-12 Championship Games. This year’s encounter in Week 5 will go down in Palo Alto, and it opened as a pick ‘em.
Other Oct. 5 games of note include Florida -7 vs. Auburn, Georgia -18 at Tennessee, Texas -7 at West Virginia and Michigan -12 vs. Iowa.
In Week 6, Kirby Smart’s squad is a 20-point home favorite vs. South Carolina. Also, LSU is installed as a four-point home “chalk” against the Gators, who have hosted the Tigers in back-to-back seasons due to Joe Alleva’s unfathomable ineptitude. The Red River Rivalry also falls on Oct. 12, with the Sooners listed as 6.5-point favorites vs. Texas.
Michigan will travel to Happy Valley on Oct. 19 to challenge Penn State as a 4.5-point favorite. Since James Franklin took over at PSU, he’s led the Nittany Lions to a 3-2 spread record in five games as home underdogs.
One of the bigger line moves Thursday at the Nugget came in LSU’s Oct. 26 home game vs. Auburn. The betting shop opened Ed Orgeron’s team as a 9.5-point home favorite, only to eventually adjust by three points and jump a key number to -6.5. LSU has won back-to-back nail-biters over Auburn, which last won in this rivalry in 2016. Les Miles was fired the next day after committing incredibly ignorant clock-management mistakes for the umpteenth time. If AU comes to Baton Rouge struggling and goes down in this spot, a pink slip could be waiting for Malzahn when he gets back to The Plains.
Other notable Week 8 numbers include Syracuse -1.5 at Florida State, Ohio State -13 vs. Wisconsin, Michigan -6 vs. Notre Dame, Oregon -6 vs. Washington State and Iowa -3 at Northwestern.
FSU won’t be a home ‘dog the following week when Manny Diaz leads Miami into Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles opened as 1.5-point favorites against the Hurricanes. The marquee game on Nov. 2 will likely go a long way towards deciding the SEC East. Georgia is a 3.5-point favorite vs. UF in Jacksonville.
On Nov. 9 in a crucial Big Ten West showdown, Wisconsin is a 2.5-point home favorite against Iowa at Camp Randall. The Hawkeyes have one of the Big Ten’s best QBs in Nate Stanley, who threw for 2,852 yards with a 26/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2018. The Badgers have one of the nation’s premier RBs in Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 2,194 yards and 16 TDs last year.
Notable Nov. 16 numbers include Michigan -13 vs. Michigan State, LSU -14.5 at Ole Miss, Washington State -6.5 vs. Stanford and Georgia -7.5 at Auburn. During Malzahn’s tenure, the Tigers are 6-2 ATS in eight games as home underdogs.
Rivalry Week starts on Thanksgiving Day with Mississippi State facing Ole Miss as a 13.5-point home “chalk” in the Egg Bowl. Then on Friday, Washington is a nine-point favorite to Washington State in the Apple Cup, while Nebraska hosts Iowa in a pick ‘em affair.
Michigan has lost 14 of the past 15 meetings against its bitter rival in Ohio State. Nevertheless, the Wolverines are favored by 3.5 at home against the Buckeyes, who hung 62 on Michigan at The ‘Shoe last year.
Other Nov. 30 showdowns include Florida -14 vs. FSU, Notre Dame -5.5 at Stanford, Oklahoma -10 at Oklahoma State and LSU -7.5 vs. Texas A&M. The Tigers will be looking to avenge last year’s 74-72 loss to the Aggies in seven overtimes.