It’s only human for college football players to look ahead on the schedule.
There were quite a few games to choose from this week, but here’s our top five college football teams that might be peeking ahead.
A quick note: Since we started this feature a couple weeks ago, it’s 10-7-1 against the spread, but now that we mentioned that it’ll probably come crashing back down to earth. So proceed carefully. The overall purpose of this now-recurring column is to make sure you’re identifying tough schedule spots as part of your college football handicapping.
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This week: vs. Minnesota (-16.5)
Next week: vs. Michigan State
Why they might get caught peeking ahead: Given the complete ineptitude among the other three bowl-eligible teams in the Big Ten Leaders division, the Badgers are all but assured a spot in the conference title game and could have trouble getting “up” for some of these lower-profile games. Wisconsin and Michigan State had two classic matchups in 2011, one that ended with one of the great Hail Mary’s in college football history and another in the Big Ten Championship. The two schools aren’t as good as they were last season, but this will still be a big meeting, and Minnesota is just bad enough for the Badgers to be napping.
4. MISSISSIPPI STATE
This week: vs. Middle Tennessee (-19)
Next week: at No. 1 Alabama
Why they might get caught peeking ahead: The Bulldogs will likely be underdogs of close to three touchdowns for their trip to Tuscaloosa next weekend, but it’d be foolish to assume the players aren’t looking past Middle Tennessee. Mississippi State is undefeated, ranked 12th in the BCS standings, and would press its way into the national-title discussions with an upset win at Alabama. Excitement in Starkville is at somewhere near an all-time high, but the Bulldogs first have to beat a 4-2 Sun Belt team as hugh favorites.
This week: vs. Kansas (-35)
Next week: vs. No. 5 Notre Dame
Why they might get caught peeking ahead: You could probably include Notre Dame on this list as well, but a home game against a sneaky-tough BYU team should be enough to hold the Irish’s attention. The Sooners are in your classic “sandwich game” scenario, however, coming off an exhilarating blowout victory over rival Texas and looking forward to the chance to knock off a Top 5 team. In between, Oklahoma has to lollygag its way through the Kansas Jayhawks, one of the worst FBS teams in the country.
This week: Cincinnati (-5) at Toledo; Louisville (-5.5) vs. South Florida
Next week: No. 21 Cincinnati at No. 16 Louisville
Why they might get caught peeking ahead: Sure, it’s the Big East, but Cincinnati-Louisville on a Friday night at Papa John’s Stadium is about as big a game as you can ask for in the Big East. Those two teams, along with Rutgers, are the unbeatens remaining in college football’s weakest power conference, making this a defacto elimination game for the Big East title. But before that, both teams have to get past tricky tests as favorites of less than a touchdown. Bettors appear to have hopped on this angle a little early, bringing each spread down from about 7 points.
This week: at Kentucky (-26)
Next week: vs. No. 2 Florida
Why they might get caught peeking ahead: A couple weeks ago we said, “In SEC play, you can pretty much just pencil in any team that’s playing Kentucky on this list every week.” The problem with this theory? It means you have to bet on Kentucky. The Wildcats are just 1-6 ATS this season, the only cover (and win) coming at home against Kent State on Sept. 8. Still, there’s a huge chance the Bulldogs start thinking about their showdown with second-ranked Florida that could vault them back into the national championship picture. The question, though, is whether it’ll matter against such a god-awful team.
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Honorable mentions: Notre Dame (vs. BYU, at Oklahoma); Nebraska (at Northwestern, vs. Michigan)