09/05/2013 2:50PM

Dave Tuley: South Carolina looks good as upsetter


LAS VEGAS – Last week’s college football menu was appetizing, but now we move onto the main course with the NFL kicking off this weekend.

There is no clear-cut Super Bowl favorite this year. For a while this spring and summer, the Broncos, 49ers, and Patriots were vying for favoritism in the future books around Vegas. As we headed into Thursday night’s opener with the defending champion Ravens visiting the Broncos, the Broncos were a lukewarm 5-1 favorite at the LVH SuperBook with the 49ers and Seahawks (ironically from the same division) at 6-1, the Packers at 9-1, the Patriots drifting up to 10-1 after all the chaos surrounding them with the Aaron Hernandez murder case, and the Texans at 12-1.

The next tier of teams are the Falcons at 16-1, the Saints at 18-1, the Steelers and Cowboys at 20-1, the Giants, Bengals, and Bears at 25-1, and the Ravens, Colts, and Redskins at 30-1.

As to be expected from the above odds, the closest divisional race is expected to be in the NFC West between the 49ers (even money) and Seahawks (11-10, just above even). As recently as June, the Bengals were the third choice in the AFC North, but now they’re the 8-5 co-favorite with the Steelers while the Ravens are 5-2. The Falcons are 6-5 to win the NFC South but expected to be challenged by the Saints at 9-5. The NFC East is wide open, with the Cowboys being the 2-1 favorite but followed closely by the Giants (11-5, or +220 express as a money line), the Redskins (9-4, or +225) and the “longshot” is the Eagles (17-4, or +425).

The rest of the divisions have pretty clear-cut faves, with the Patriots 2-7 in the AFC East, Texans 2-5 in the AFC South, Broncos 4-17 in the AFC West, and the Packers 5-9 in the NFC North.

But as I wrote in last week’s NCAA preview: as much as I love to discuss all these future-type bets, the biggest thrill of the season is the action on a game-to-game and week-to-week basis, so let the games begin.

Back to the betting board

I started out the college season last week with a 2-0 mark in this space as Northern Illinois rallied to pull out a 30-27 upset of Iowa as a 3-point underdog and Toledo +24 covered in a 24-3 loss to Florida. Let’s take a look at two college games this Saturday as well as two NFL games on Sunday.

South Carolina +3 at Georgia

Georgia was considered by many to be the main (or only) challenger to Alabama in the SEC this year. Their 38-35 loss to the ACC’s Clemson doesn’t eliminate them from that possibility, but usually teams with high expectations that suffer an early loss have a hard time getting back up the following week. And they don’t get a cupcake on their schedule, as they face South Carolina, which beat (and covered the 11-point spread against) North Carolina, 27-10, in last Thursday’s opener despite not playing their best game. South Carolina matches up well enough with Georgia (and playing indoors should help the Gamecocks’ defense, which was visibly worn out in the humidity opening night) and coach Steve Spurrier also has a few extra days to prepare. I’m hoping to grab +3.5, but also like the outright upset in the +140 range.

PLAY: South Carolina for 1 unit.

Western Kentucky +13.5at Tennessee

We normally don’t want to read too much into a football team’s win over Kentucky (a “basketball school”), but the Hilltoppers showed me enough in their 35-26 upset as 6-point underdogs that they can keep up with a better team in Tennessee, which beat Austin Peay 45-0 in their opener but didn’t cover the 49-point spread. All-purpose back Antonio Andrews makes the offense go, and Brandon Doughty did great in first-year coach Bobby Petrino’s offense. This is another case where I think the number is just too high. And Petrino inherited a program that has been one of the best bets in college football the past few years. They had a 14-game against-the-spread streak that started with the last nine games of 2011 and into the first five games last year. And here’s a little-known fact: They’ve covered their last 13 games as underdogs as all their recent covers have come after everyone got on the bandwagon when they were favored.

PLAY: Western Ky. for 1 unit.

Bills +9.5 vs. Patriots

Let’s start with the top game on the NFL betting board on Sunday. I was hoping this line would stay at 10 (and maybe it’ll go back up), as I love double-digit home dogs in the NFL, but dogs in the 7.5-9.5 range were 16-6 ATS (72.7%) last year so I’m not going to let that scare me off. This isn’t as much a bet on the Bills with rookie quarterback EJ Manual returning for his first NFL start, but more a bet against the Patriots. I think they’re over the off-the-field issues, but they still have a new corps of receivers, and they didn’t look in sync during the preseason. It’s a lot to expect them to put it all together and cover a big number on the road.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Falcons +3 at Saints

Yes, the Saints have head coach Sean Payton back and they’re expected to put up a ton of points, but the Falcons’ offense is just as loaded with Steven Jackson being an upgrade in the running game to go with the already potent passing attack with Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White, Julio Jones, and the unretired Tony Gonzalez. But the big difference is the Falcons have a defense that can make a stand now and then. Rob Ryan was supposed to fix the leaky Saints’ D, but they’ve also lost Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma. Drew Brees will certainly win some shootouts this year, but I’m banking on him coming up short in the opener.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.