It’s no fun rooting for Goliath.
I mean, yeah, sure, it’s always fun if you win. But especially when you’re betting college football, there’s a guilt associated with sitting down in front of your television, flicking on the remote, and hoping that one set of 20-year-olds, who have been privileged and praised as the best athletes in the world their entire lives, will pound the living hell out of another set of 20-year-olds, who’ve shown pluck and determination just to get where they are today.
Think about it. Do you really want to be that guy? The sycophantic little weasel in high school who trailed after the ever-popular, ultra-advantaged jock? The stiff who does the jock’s homework, who polishes the jock’s car, who hopes the jock will discard one of the B-list coeds in time for you to pick up some sloppy seconds? I mean, when you think about it, rooting for college football studs is like rooting for Microsoft to devour another mom-and-pop software company. It’s like rooting for the Yankees.
But sometimes, we’ve got no choice.
Ohio State is big, brawny, powerful and on a collision course with Michigan in three weeks. There’s little chance either team will lose between now and then, at which point it will likely be #1 against #2 in the Horseshoe in Columbus, the Game of the Year, between two sets of spoiled kids you wouldn’t want anywhere near your daughter. The only question now is whether these titans of the Big 10 will cover what will be no-doubt-immense point spreads over the next few games. For instance, this week the Buckeyes host the 3-5 Minnesota Golden Gophers, a team that hasn’t won a Big Ten game (they’re 0-4), and who last week struggled to beat I-AA North Dakota State at home, 10-9 (and had to block a 42-yard field-goal attempt at the gun to do so). These are not the Gophers of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney; those backs’ early departures left the extremely cool-named Amir Pinnix as the primary guy, and he’s having a fine season (93.4 yards per game, 5.2 yards per carry, six TDs). But he’s not Barber, and he’s definitely not Maroney. Note that many of Minnesota’s team and individual stats were padded by 44-0 and 62-0 wins against Kent State and Temple, respectively; this is a team that got torched by California, 42-17, and lost at Wisconsin last week, 48-12.
Into the breach step the Buckeyes, with a national-best 15-game winning streak, an obvious Heisman frontrunner in QB Troy Smith, and a home-field advantage like almost none other. Ohio State is very good on offense; they score nearly 35 points a game, rack up more than 410 yards a game, and can rush or pass, whichever you please. Defense (and particularly linebacking) was where the Buckeyes were supposed to struggle, because of the departures of A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, but Ohio State is a top-20 defensive team nationally stopping the run, and they’re top-40 stopping the pass. They allowed only seven points to then-#2 Texas in Austin, and haven’t given up more than 17 points to anyone. Skill guys like WRs Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez make headlines, but LBs James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman and CB Malcolm Jenkins are as responsible for this Ohio State run as anyone.
Most problematic in this trip to Columbus for the Gophers is their defense. They’re giving up 167 yards per game on the ground, and 4.3 yards per carry, which is sweet music to OSU RB Antonio Pittman’s ears. Frankly, Minnesota hasn’t been that much better against the pass, allowing a whopping 223 yards per game via the air. That’s a lot of yards. Let’s see: OSU averages 410 yards per game on offense, Minnesota allows 390 yards per game on defense. Yeah, that doesn’t sound so good for David against Goliath.
Are 27 points a lot to give? You betcha. But Ohio State has made mincemeat of Big 10 opponents over the past couple seasons: they’re 15-2 against the spread in their last 17 conference games. They’re 21-5 ATS overall. They’re 13-3 ATS at home. They’re 8-1 ATS in games as a double-digit favorite. Minnesota is 1-4-1 ATS in their last six overall, 1-4 ATS on the road, 0-5-1 ATS as an underdog, and 0-5 ATS as a double-digit underdog. Minnesota coach Glen Mason is an OSU alum, and he loves getting his troops motivated for this game; as recently as 2000, the Gophers went into Columbus and shocked the Buckeyes, 29-17. (That was the year that got John Cooper fired.) Still, the last time Minnesota came to the Horseshoe, they lost 34-3. That sounds about right this time, too; the Gophers simply don’t have enough on defense. I’m taking Ohio State (-27) against Minnesota, and I’ll grit my teeth rooting for Goliath.
Last Week: It was close, but Texas A&M went into Stillwater and did what we needed them to do. Down seven with 3:24 left, the Aggies drove the length of the field and scored on a two-yard pass with three seconds left in regulation to tie the game, scored in overtime, then blocked an Oklahoma State extra point to win by one. A&M was a 3.5-point underdog, so that couldn’t have worked out much better. That last-minute drive in regulation and brilliant special-teams maneuver created a precarious cover that puts us at 5-3 against the spread so far this season.
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