The week’s best picks: Notre Dame vs. the SEC is a Vegas dream

Dr. Saturday

According to William Hill US, which operates 75 sports books in the state of Nevada, Alabama would be a 10-point favorite over Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game. Georgia would be a 4-point favorite over the Irish.

So ... how many teams from the SEC would be favored or considered even on a neutral field against Notre Dame, which is the No. 1 team in every poll?

According to Jimmy Vaccaro, who has 37 years of experience as an oddsmaker in Las Vegas, that number is five.

LSU? Vaccaro thinks they'd be a 1- or 2-point favorite over Notre Dame. Texas A&M? Small favorite over the Irish. Florida? Probably about a pick 'em.

Vaccaro, the director of public relations for William Hill US, said Alabama would be favored over any team by Las Vegas. Oregon is the consensus No. 2 team in the Las Vegas power rankings, he said. Then it's four SEC teams and Notre Dame, followed by Kansas State and Florida State.

So, according to the people whose opinions on college football are going to be tested by customers' bets, four of the five best teams in college football are from the same conference, and Florida is practically tied for sixth. South Carolina isn't too far behind, either.

That's pretty amazing for one conference to dominate the rest of college football that way.

"It's shows you that's what the SEC is," Vaccaro said. "They're all good teams, and there's not much distance between them.

"I've never seen five or six teams from the same conference bunched so closely."

Notre Dame will play the winner of the SEC Championship Game, either Alabama or Georgia, and even though Notre Dame is generally not considered as strong as either SEC team, Vaccaro said the sports books love the Irish. They're great for business.

Because of the Irish's national following, Vaccaro said the sports books have gotten a high volume of bets on Notre Dame this season. He said for every four betting tickets on the Notre Dame-USC game last week, three were on the Irish. The big-money bettors generally took USC, which evened out the action (and those bettors came up empty when Lane Kiffin couldn't manage a goal-to-go situation late in the game and USC, a 4.5-point underdog, lost 22-13). Vaccaro said he expects the same thing to happen in the BCS Championship Game. He figures there will be about 30 percent more tickets for Notre Dame than Alabama or Georgia - although the big bets might come in on the SEC.

"Notre Dame is the flavor of the month," Vaccaro said.

Vaccaro said a game between Notre Dame and a big-name SEC team will be almost like a Super Bowl for the sports books. They will offer more proposition bets based on the interest in the game, and get plenty of action. The chaos at the top of the BCS standings a couple weeks ago was a great thing for Las Vegas.

"Kansas State and Oregon are great teams, but they wouldn't draw as much peripheral action as Notre Dame will," Vaccaro said.

With that, here's this week's picks:

Kent State (+7.5) over Northern Illinois: The danger in taking Kent State is it's the obvious play. Kent State, which has a real chance to get into the BCS with a win, has gotten way more attention than Northern Illinois this week, even though NIU is probably the stronger team. So public perception is with Kent State, especially getting more than a touchdown. But the square play isn't always the wrong play. Kent State is a good team with some impressive wins (including one at Rutgers) and if nothing else, it can keep this one close.

Georgia (+7.5) over Alabama: Alabama is a great team, but the Bulldogs' talent level is as good as any team in the nation, including the Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs are on a great run, have an offense that has scored 40 points in a majority of its games, and the once suspect defense is on a nice roll too, giving up 14 or fewer points in five straight games. Even though the Bulldogs are getting more than a touchdown, it shouldn't be a huge shock if they win this straight up.

Nebraska (-3) over Wisconsin: The Badgers are getting some buzz as a strong underdog this week, but that doesn't make much sense. Since quarterback Joel Stave suffered a season-ending injury, Wisconsin is 1-3. All season, the Badgers have looked mostly mediocre in the games Stave didn't start. Wisconsin was leading Nebraska 20-3 early in their meeting on Sept. 29, but was also outscored 27-7 over the final two-and-a-half quarters. Nebraska also outgained Wisconsin 440-295 that night. Running back Rex Burkhead is back for the Cornhuskers, and gave them a nice boost last week against Iowa. Nebraska is simply the better team, and a field goal isn't too much to give.

Boise State (-8) over Nevada: Boise State has plenty to play for this week. With a win, the Broncos get a share of the Mountain West championship and keep their slim hopes at a BCS berth alive (if Kent State loses tonight). The Broncos are once again a pretty good offensive team, and have scored 40, 45 and 49 points in their last three road games - and covered the spread in each one. Nevada is allowing 33 points a game, has lost three of its last four after a good start, and the Broncos should roll.

UConn (+5) over Cincinnati: Playing the motivation angle has worked pretty well the past few weeks, and it worked very well last week. UConn is one of two teams playing to get bowl eligible this week. And the Huskies have played well the last couple weeks, with wins against Pitt and at Louisville. Cincinnati has been solid too, and has a chance to get a share of the Big East title (although Louisville has already clinched the automatic BCS spot). But given the stakes for UConn, it should have enough energy to at least keep this home game close.

Last week: 4-1
Season: 30-22-3

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