Second-ranked Oregon takes on Arizona State tonight in a battle of undefeated teams in Pac-12 play.
It also appears to be a battle of “sharps versus squares,” as SportsInsights tells us that roughly three-quarters of bettors are backing the Ducks as road favorites, yet the line has nosedived from 10.5 to 7.5.
Currently, Oregon is a 7.5-point favorite with an over/under of 69 at BetOnline.
In a game like this, it seems natural that you’d take either the underdog (Arizona State) and the ‘under,’ or you’d side with the favorite (Oregon) and the ‘over.’
Basically, if you like the Ducks, you think the offense will have little trouble with the Sun Devils’ highly rated defense, the game will spiral out of control with the fast pace of play, and the game will soar over the total as Oregon covers. If you like Arizona State, however, you probably believe in their ability to shut down the Oregon offense and play “keep away” with a steady diet of runs that will eat up some clock.
Here’s a closer look at both of those lines of thinking.
THE CASE FOR ARIZONA STATE AND THE ‘UNDER’
- The Sun Devils are 5-1 ATS, covering the spread by a nation-best 16.7 points per game. The Ducks, on the other hand, are only 2-4 ATS.
- You see the names “Oregon” and “Arizona State” and naturally think, “Yep, this is just another Pac-12 shootout.” But is this an overinflated total? These two teams historically light up the scoreboard on offense and pay little attention to defense, but that’s changed this year.
- The Sun Devils are ranked eighth nationally in total defense (279.8), 11th in scoring defense (15.8) and third in opponent yards per play (3.7), trailing only Alabama and LSU in the final category. The Ducks rank 54th, 29th and 22nd in those respective categories.
- Both teams are high-powered offensively, but they also both call a higher percentage of rushing plays than passing plays.
- Arizona State coach Todd Graham, who labels himself as much more of a defensive guy despite his offensive reputation, appears to be treating this as the biggest game of his career. “My whole life I’ve dreamed of an opportunity like this,” he told the Arizona Republic. Graham also told the crowd to “try to break the windows” of the stadium when the Ducks have the ball.
- Oregon, still starting redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota at quarterback, has played only one road game this season, and that was against Pac-12 punching bag Washington State.
THE CASE FOR OREGON AND THE ‘OVER’
- The Ducks’ poor ATS record is probably a bit misleading. In three of the four ATS losses, they were covering the spread at some point in the game before inserting backups and surrendering “backdoor covers” against far weaker opponents.
- The combined record of Arizona State’s five previous FBS opponents is 11-22, and Oregon’s five previous FBS opponents are 16-17. So neither team has really been tested at all yet, meaning statistics carry a little less relevance.
- Thursday games generally favor the home team, but the Ducks had a bye last weekend, giving them 10 full days to prepare for this matchup.
- Arizona State will try to keep Oregon’s offense off the field by running the ball consistently, but the Sun Devils rank only 80th in the country in rushing yards per attempt (3.9) going against mostly weaker opponents.
- Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who has lost only once as a road favorite since taking over in 2009, tends not to treat any one game as any bigger than others. He just demands a 100 percent effort in every game. “Every week is rival week for us,” Kelly told reporters following the win over Washington. “That form has worked for us every time, so maybe more people should do it like us. I don’t care who you play, there is no reason to focus on one game more than another.
We’d love to side with Oregon in this matchup, but we’ve been bitten one too many times by the Sun Devils already this season (and their fans have let us hear about it). Instead, the value here is probably on the ‘under’ more than either side. Mariota could always get rattled in his first true road test, but the Ducks defense should be stout enough to slow down Arizona State’s run-based attack.