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Games of the Year

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Published July 2, Updated July 15

Gamblers already knew Florida was the favorite to win its third national title in four seasons since Las Vegas Sports Consultants tabbed the Gators as the 2/1 ‘chalk’ when releasing future numbers a few weeks ago. When the Golden Nugget came out with its Games of the Year earlier this week, we saw further evidence of how much respect the oddsmakers have for Urban Meyer’s team.

UF is listed as a double-digit favorite for all 12 of its regular-season games in 2009. I had raised that possibility a number of times during the spring and summer, but felt like the Gators’ trip to Baton Rouge could be the lone exception.

However, the Golden Nugget has installed UF as an 11-point favorite at LSU. Now certainly, this number could fall into single digits between now and the time the Gators arrive on the Bayou, but for now it’s clear that Florida’s schedule is extremely manageable, particularly for SEC standards.

We’ve touched on this a few times already this summer. UF, through no fault of its own due to the rotation of non-divisional SEC foes, will not play Alabama, Auburn or Ole Miss during the regular season. Instead, the Gators face Arkansas, Mississippi St. and its annual opponent from the SEC West, LSU.

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Other UF games in the Golden Nugget’s Games of the Year include the conference opener against Tennessee. The build-up for this SEC East showdown has been simmering for months since UT head coach inaccurately called Meyer a “cheater” back on national signing day. The sports book has the Gators as huge 27-point favorites.

In the last 10 head-to-head meetings between UF and UT, the number has only been double digits once. Of course, that was the Vols’ epic 34-32 win at Florida (UT’s first win at Swamp since 1971) as 17 ½-point underdogs in 2001. That was Steve Spurrier’s last home game as head coach at Florida and sent UT to the SEC Championship Game because the game was pushed back to December due to the 9/11 tragedy.

(Quick side notes pertaining to UF-UT 2001 matchup: For starters, it is the most painful defeat in UF’s glorious football history. After the thrilling win in Gainesville, the Vols were destined to face Miami at the Rose Bowl if they could beat LSU at the Georgia Dome. However, the Tigers captured a 31-20 win as 6 ½-point underdogs. If UF and UT had played in September as originally scheduled, Florida most certainly would’ve prevailed because John Henderson and Donte Stallworth wouldn’t have been in uniform due to early-season injuries. Henderson dominated the game, delivering a number of crushing blows to Rex Grossman that completely disrupted the rhythm of UF’s vaunted aerial attack.)

Dating back to 1999, Tennessee has only been a double-digit underdog five times. The Vols took the cash in all five of those spots, winning outright three times (at UF in ’01, at Miami in ’03 and at UGA in ’04).

The Golden Nugget also has Florida favored by 16 over Georgia, by 17 at South Carolina and by 20 for a home game against FSU. During Mark Richt’s eight seasons at UGA, the Dawgs have only been double-digit puppies to the Gators twice. Georgia lost both games outright, but hooked up its backers with spread covers.

There are a bunch of intriguing Week 1 games with numbers, including Boise St. as a four-point home ‘chalk’ vs. Oregon. Remember, the Ducks will be looking to avenge a defeat to the Broncos from last year in Eugene.

Alabama has been marked as a four-point favorite for its lid-lifter against Virginia Tech in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome. The Crimson Tide destroyed Clemson 34-10 at the same venue to open the 2008 campaign.

Georgia will go to Stillwater for its opener, starting the season on the road for only the second time in a decade. The other? A 30-0 win at Clemson in 2003. The Golden Nugget has installed Oklahoma St. as a three-point ‘chalk’ versus the Dawgs.

I’ve been saying for weeks that Notre Dame better be on upset alert for its Week 1 contest against Nevada. Therefore, you can imagine how delighted I was to see the Irish inexplicably listed as a 17-point home favorite against the Wolf Pack.

Chris Ault’s team has one of the most underrated QBs in the country in Kolin Kaepernick, who combined for 3,979 yards both rushing and passing in 2008. Also, he gets sixth-year RB Luke Lippincott, who led the WAC in rushing in 2007, back in the mix after he went down with a season-ending injury early in ’08.

College’s version of Monday Night Football will go down in Tallahassee as the ‘Noles are three-point favorites against Miami.

Looking to Week 2, we notice Ga. Tech as a 4 ½-point home favorite vs. Clemson in a crucial ACC game on a Thursday night. Also, USC is a 6 ½-point ‘chalk’ for its return trip to Ohio St., while Tennessee will be in revenge mode as a three-point home favorite vs. UCLA.

Glancing deeper into September, we see Va. Tech as a six-point home favorite against Nebraska. The Hokies won a 35-30 decision in Lincoln last year as seven-point underdogs. Like the Cornhuskers, Auburn will be seeking redemption when it hosts West Virginia as a four-point favorite. The Mountaineers thumped the Tigers 34-17 in Morgantown last season.

One game that caught VegasInsider.com handicapper Christian Alexander’s eyes is Missouri’s trip out West to face Nevada on Sept. 25. The Tigers are five-point road favorites for this Friday night matchup.

Alexander said, “I'm drooling over this one. I have LOVED Mizzou over the past few years but with QB Chase Daniel, the electric WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman all gone - along with many others - the cupboard in Columbia is pretty bare this fall and let's face it - this team has ALWAYS been light on "D". Venturing to a hornet's nest in Reno on a Friday is not going be pretty. Nevada is LOADED on offense with QB Colin Kaepernick poised to run up some big numbers this season. The Wolfpack will win this one outright and it might not even be that close."

Oklahoma hasn’t had much success in bowl games recently and perhaps that’s why it is taking on some heavy hitters in non-conference play this season. The Sooners are listed as 10-point favorites for an Oct. 3 trip to Miami to take on the Hurricanes. Two weeks later, OU will be a three-point ‘dog against Texas in Dallas.

Speaking of the Longhorns, who I think will advance to the BCS Championship Game but lose to Florida, they are seven-point road favorites on Oct. 31 at Oklahoma St.

As usual, it would be ignorant to dismiss USC as a potential player in the BCS race. The Trojans are 8 ½-point favorites at California and 10-point ‘chalk’ at Notre Dame in a pair of road testers in October.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--The last time a college football team was favored by double digits in each of its regular-season games was USC in 2005. But the Trojans were single-digit ‘chalk’ in the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena that year, losing 41-38 to Texas as seven-point favorites in one of the greatest games in NCAAFB history.

--In a game that most believe will be for the Big Ten title, Penn St. is a three-point home favorite vs. Ohio St. Alexander is real bullish on the Nittany Lions in this spot. “I think Penn State is the class of the Big Ten and this team has proven to be VERY tough at home over the past few years.”

--Notre Dame is 4-6 ATS as a double-digit favorite during Charlie Weis’ tenure.

--A few other notable Week 1 numbers: Illinois -2 ½ vs. Missouri (St. Louis), Oklahoma -21 vs. BYU (Arlington) and LSU -16 at Washington.

--November Notables: Alabama -6 vs. LSU, Georgia -10 ½ vs. Auburn, Ole Miss -13 vs. Tennessee, FSU -6 ½ at Wake Forest, Ole Miss -6 vs. LSU, Ohio St. -7 at Michigan, Ga. Tech -1 vs. UGA, Clemson pick ‘em at South Carolina and USC -18 vs. UCLA.

--According to VI’s Marc Lawrence (and his always-ready database), Tennessee hasn’t been an underdog of more than 18 points (at USC in 1981) in school history. As previously mentioned, that’ll change for UT’s trip to The Swamp as a 27-point ‘dog.

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

  
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