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The first weekend of college football went well for the Las Vegas sports books and in the process, kind of served as a preseason of sorts to next week’s big weekend. The busy and intense atmosphere got all the supervisors and ticket writers into their game-face mode in preparation for a week that will be twice as busy when the NFL games are slated to play.

“Despite not having a lot of premier games and a bunch of huge favorites, we wrote relatively the same amount as we did last year,” said Bob Scucci, Boyd Gaming’s Director of Race and Sports. “Overall we were a small winner despite paying out a $50 10 team parlay that paid $40,000.”

Scucci’s report of flat numbers at his book were similar to other accounts for books around the city – other than the 10-teamer popping at his Orleans Hotel and Casino – which is a great sign heading into this weekend.

There were four games that moved back and forth around the number last week that had possible middle opportunities, but Scucci said only one of them was a losing decision for the house.

“We had a lot of LSU money early before the Carolina suspensions and kept getting money after we re-opened the game from -4 ½ all the way up to -9½ until closing at -7½. The limited action after the announcements on both sides didn’t hurt as much as everything we had taken earlier before the suspensions.”

“Where we got lucky was the UNLV game which landed on 20 when most had laid Wisconsin at -21,” Scucci continued. “Most people like to play the favorites anyway, but we also had an increase in handle for that game because of huge Wisconsin crowds staying at our places. It was a big decision for us and we’re very fortunate to win that game, which was also helped by the game getting over the total of 55.”

There is no doubt the Wisconsin bettors had the right side. Wisconsin out-gained the Rebels 475 yards to 217 in their 41-21 win and if it weren’t for a couple of freak UNLV plays in the first half, the game likely would have been a lopsided blowout; but that’s why they play the games and that’s why the books put spreads on the game.

The other games that landed on or around the numbers began with Thursday night’s Utah game that landed on “3” and Saturday with Notre Dame hitting “11.” Most books straddled the number in the Utah game taking money at both plus 3½ with Pittsburgh and laying minus 2½ with the Utes. The Notre Dame game didn’t go past 11, but books did get sided with Purdue money pushing the number to -10½ where some Irish money came in. Neither game was good for the house.

The two high profile teams coming in with new quarterbacks were Florida and Texas, both huge favorites, and failed to come close to covering. The Gators were bet up from 36-point favorites to -39 by kickoff and were outplayed, or rather out-hustled, by Miami-Ohio despite winning 34-12. John Brantley looked uneasy throwing for only 113 yards and the rest of the team didn’t help him much either as they committed three turnovers. Texas’ Garrett Gilbert didn’t fare much better throwing for 172 yards and no scores in a 34-17 win over Rice in a line that jumped up two points from the opener to close at -31½.

Even though the Miami-Ohio State and Penn State-Alabama games have the most intrigue, I’m anxious to watch the Michigan-Notre Dame game just to see if Rich Rodriguez has turned the corner with the Wolverines while Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish look to change everything about themselves from the former regime. The loser of this game will take a lot of heat because alumni and fans everywhere want positive results and restored glory.

The Michigan win over Connecticut last week was more impressive than Notre Dame’s over Purdue, but I can’t help feeling that Notre Dame is the side in this one with dynamic back Armando Allen and Coach Kelly’s apparent commitment to the run. I think that the Notre Dame kids have seen – and believe – there is a new day dawning with all the changes Kelly has implemented, while the Michigan kids have seen that supposed day with Rodriguez and realize it might not be time to pull open the shades.

Here’s my selections for this weeks’ big games: Ohio State 31 Miami 14, Notre Dame 26 Michigan 16, Alabama 34 Penn State 17.

Herbstreit Smarts

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit may be the smartest and well-versed college football analyst on TV. If you listen to his weekly upset selections, bettors could fare very well on money line wagers over the year. He doesn’t just throw things out there like silly Lee Corso, he actually studies all facets of each team’s game, breaks it all down and comes up with sound reasons like a handicapper does.

Last week he stated that he thought Ohio State would win the National Championship and its quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, would win the Heisman trophy. Some may think he’s biased because of being a former Buckeye quarterback, but that’s hardly the case. In fact many in Columbus, where he still lives today, believe that he tries to be hard on the Buckeyes just to prove that he isn’t biased.

This is the first time that Herbstreit actually picked Ohio State to win it all since 1998, a year they were No. 1 all season until blowing a 15-point lead in a late season home game to Michigan State. They would eventually finish 11-1 and finish the season No. 2 in both polls.

This year’s schedule is much more favorable than 1998’s, which featured two tough ranked non-conference teams. Should they get by Miami this week, the road games at Wisconsin (Oct. 16) and Iowa (Nov. 20) would appear to be the most troublesome.

Unlike the other major conferences, the Big 10 doesn’t have a championship game – until next year – which lessens the risk of them losing until the BCS title game.

Currently at Lucky’s sports books, the Buckeyes are favored at 9-2 odds to win the BCS title and 5-9 to win the Big-10.


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