The Big 12 football season is finally ready to start for real. The conference has four teams ranked in the top 15 by the College Football Playoff selection committee and none of them have played each other. Baylor (#6), TCU (#8) and Oklahoma State (#14) are all undefeated. Oklahoma (#15) only has one loss. The conference backloaded its schedule to have all the biggest games in November, and it starts on Saturday with TCU-Oklahoma State (3:30 PM ET, Fox). Here’s a primer on how to bet the Big 12’s best teams…
BAYLOR: Even with their undefeated record, the Bears are only 4-3 ATS, suggesting that oddsmakers had caught up with them. Even though Baylor has yet to be challenged and scored at least eight touchdowns in six of their seven games, the prohibitive pointspreads have served their purpose and made each game a more or less even betting proposition.
But that hasn’t been true for the Over/Under. Even as linesmakers jack the totals up on Baylor’s game to unprecedented levels—witness the total of 89 posted for the October 3 game with Texas Tech—and it still doesn’t matter. The Bears and Red Raiders went over in that game, a 63-35 final and Baylor is 5-2 to the Over so far this season.
Now comes the injury to quarterback Seth Russell that throws a monkey wrench into everything. Baylor is still a (-17) favorite at Kansas State on Thursday night. Stiff, to be sure, but the Wildcats have yet to win a league game. And what if freshman QB Jarrett Stidham comes through? We’ve seen Ohio State last year and Notre Dame this year absorb injuries to starting quarterbacks and move on as though nothing had changed.
The Baylor program itself has smoothly transitioned from RG3 to Bryce Petty and then to Russell in recent years. If the same sort of transition happens with Stidham, the Bears are suddenly offering value—they’ve already won every game this season by more than 17 points. And the totals line for the Kansas State game is at 67.5, the lowest on any Baylor game this season.
TCU: Oddsmakers have the Horned Frogs nailed. TCU is 4-4 ATS and 4-4 on the Over/Under line. But there are some trends that have started to pop in October and are worth keeping an eye on.
It was on September 26 that TCU won that wild 55-52 game at Texas Tech that came down the final seconds. It was a non-cover win as a (-5) favorite and easily over the totals line of 83. Since then, TCU has covered three of four games, all against conference opponents. Three of the four games have also gone to the Under.
Moreover, there’s a precise correlation—the three ATS covers were also the unders. The outlier in this was a 52-45 win over Kansas State as (-9) favorite on a totals line of 61.5. TCU is still only 53rd in the country on defense, but they came up with solid defensive performances against Texas, Iowa State and West Virginia.
Now the Horned Frogs have to show they can defend real offenses, but if you’re a totals player that looks for Unders, the Big 12 at least offers you a lot of cushion—the Over/Under on Saturday’s game with Oklahoma State is up at 76, and TCU is a modest (-5) road favorite. For handicappers who believe the Horned Frogs are one of the best four in the country, the numbers remain ripe for the twin trends of ATS covers and Unders to continue.
OKLAHOMA STATE: On the surface, the Cowboys are the least impressive of the three unbeaten teams in this conference. They’re 4-3-1 ATS in spite of facing lower expectation than Baylor or TCU, both preseason favorites, have dealt with. Oklahoma State didn’t cover manageable spreads against Central Michigan, Central Arkansas or Kansas State, and the Cowboys pushed against lowly Texas in a 30-27 as a short (-3) favorite.
The unimpressive showings kept the value in play though and those that stuck with Oklahoma State got rewarded in October. It seems hard to believe now but less than a month ago, the Cowboys were getting (+4.5) at West Virginia, a game they pulled it out in overtime, 33-26. Then the offense, led by quarterback Mason Rudolph got cranking and they’ve dropped 128 points over the last two weeks on Kansas and Texas Tech, getting outright wins, ATS covers and Overs in the process.
A key question for evaluating Oklahoma State will be to determine if there is a linkage between playing games to the Over and getting the cover. Those elements have linked up in three of four OSU covers this season. The skeptical side of this theory says that the Oklahoma State offense is one-dimensional—the running game is easily the worst of any of the four conference contenders. And the defense is actually better than one might realize, particularly anyone who watched that 70-53 win over Texas Tech. The Cowboy defense ranks 46th in the country, higher than either Baylor or TCU.
OKLAHOMA: An ugly 24-17 loss to Texas as a (-16) favorite on October 10 got OU thrown off of most people’s lists of serious contenders for the Big 12 title or the College Football Playoff. We’ll just point out here that whatever you think of the Sooners in the bigger picture, they have offered surprisingly good value at the betting window.
I say “surprisingly” because normally when a brand name program plays a bit below expectations, the results look even worse in the ATS totals. But Oklahoma has covered six of its eight games this year. They did get a break in a September 12 trip to Tennessee when they rallied from behind to force overtime and eventually won as a (-2.5) favorite. But otherwise, Bob Stoops’ team is not only beating the spread, but doing it with ease.
In the four games surrounding the Texas debacle, Oklahoma won and covered each time and beat the number by an average of 25 points per game! That’s nearly a four-touchdown cover. Whether OU is good enough to be a Playoff team is something I’ll leave for others to argue about. What I care about is their value as a betting proposition and they lowered expectations have turned the Sooners into a good bet in 2015.
The best month for college football is here and nowhere does there promise to be as many big games as there will be in the Big 12. I know you’ll have fun watching them. And I hope this information helps you make your watching a little more profitable in the process.
Jim Hurley has been a successful public handicapper since 1985, when he began a Network that emphasized a team approach to handicapping. Hurley consults with statistical analysts, personnel experts and Vegas insiders to narrow the NFL and college cards down to the most bettable games each and every week. Visit him online at www.winningedge.com.