7:18 PM EDT, September 20, 2013
The announcement that ESPN would be taking its rollicking GameDay show to North Dakota State this week should have been a tip-off to make weekend getaway plans.
The network packages these excursions as wholesome, public service peeks into the subdivisions of football people don't get to see. And they certainly can offer up delicious slices of Americana.
It also means ESPN got stuck with a lousy slate of games.
Sometimes it just works out that way. Kansas State and Texas looked good on paper only a month ago. But that was before Kansas State lost to — North Dakota State! — and Texas went into a tackling tailspin.
Arizona State at Stanford is the first big showdown in the Pac-12 Conference, but that game is on Fox.
Tennessee at Florida has brand appeal but actually is quicksand, and you could sell Auburn at Louisiana State almost any year — except the one after Auburn finished 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference.
So we're left with ESPN celebrating the North Dakota State Bison, a lower-division powerhouse, and some of the most lopsided games ever put up for proposition.
According to pregame.com, three teams this weekend will set school records for point spreads.
UCLA is a 42-point favorite over New Mexico State, surpassing the school's 1992 record of 41 over Cal State Fullerton. Titan bettors cleaned up as Fullerton succumbed by 23, but lost the end bet when the school dropped football.
Ohio State is a 50-point home favorite over Florida A&M, and that exceeds the 44-point spread the Buckeyes took into a 2010 game against Eastern Michigan. Jim Tressel's team came through with a 73-20 blowout.
This weekend's whopper, though, is Miami giving 60 points in some betting quarters to visiting Savannah State. It eclipses the 59-point spread Miami had over Temple in 1993. Miami won, 42-7.
Savannah State (1-2) comes honestly by its odds with losses of 77-9 to Georgia Southern and 66-3 to Troy. Savannah's lone win was a 27-20 squeaker over Fort Valley State, which is a Division II school from Georgia.
Miami is coming off a bye week that followed a win over Florida that pushed the Hurricanes to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll. Miami should win by 60, but that didn't stop its coach from preaching how important and dangerous games like this can be.
"Hopefully we'll play fast and be aggressive and come out with a good frame of mind," Miami Coach Al Golden said. "I want us to fix the things we've been working on."
If you can't fix them against Savannah, they can't be fixed.
Golden isn't the only coach trying to drum up artificial fear.
Florida State is a 40-point favorite over Bethune-Cookman, but all Coach Jimbo Fisher can see is the shocking newspaper headline that would haunt his coaching legacy. "People try to make a name off you," he said.
Think about poor Lloyd Carr, who has to live with that Michigan loss to Appalachian State the rest of his life.
Fisher is trying to convince his team that Bethune-Cookman is another one of those giant-killer lower-division schools. And while that's technically true, the win was over bottom-feeder Florida International, which recently got shut out by Central Florida, 38-0.
"We have our hands full," Fisher warned. "This is a very good ballclub and we need to play our A game."
Alabama's Nick Saban is also struggling to keep his team engaged after it was established as a 39 1/2 -point home favorite over Colorado State.
"I think this is a good team, a very challenging team," he said as eyeballs rolled in the interview room.
If those train wrecks don't interest you, try Washington (49 points over Idaho State), Vanderbilt (311/2 over Massachusetts), Baylor (30 over Louisiana Monroe) or Washington State (31 over Idaho).
The weekend’s most important cover, though, belongs to No. 7 Louisville, a 42-point favorite over visiting Florida International, the team that lost to Bethune-Cookman.
Louisville's weak schedule requires the Cardinals to pummel and humiliate all fodder that stands in their way. One 25-point slip-up of a win could wreck any chance of Louisville getting to the Bowl Championship Series title game.
This dull weekend really can only be made exciting by one of these underdogs pulling off the impossible.
If it happens, we know what the odds were.
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