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Craven's Corner: Backing Notre Dame, Texas A&M in pivotal matchups

Notre Dame wide receiver Javon McKinley reacts after a third quarter catch in the Fighting Irish's 47-40 win over Clemson in early November. The teams meet again on Saturday for the ACC championship game.

Perfect. Flawless. Undefeated. Those words describe last week's edition of Craven’s Corner. A 6-0 record against the spread pushes our season record to 57-41-3. We're 6-1 on college football and 5-1 on the NFL in December.

We’ll concentrate on the important college games and a few enticing NFL matchups this week.

A quick refresher: Betting looks difficult, but it’s easy to grasp. A negative number denotes the favorite. The number after the negative represents how much money you’d need to bet to win $100. So, a -265 favorite would require a $265 bet to win you $100. Conversely, a positive number is the underdog. The number following the positive represents how much money you’d make on a $100 bet. So, a +265 bet means $100 earns you $265.

As for point spreads, the team with the negative number is a favorite. For example, Oklahoma was a -2.5 point favorite over Texas in October. The Sooners needed to win by at least 3 points to cash. Texas needed to lose by 2.5 points or fewer.

We’re using BetMGM.com as our general sports book. Remember that lines fluctuate based on bets and are subject to change before kickoff.

College football

Ohio State -20 over Northwestern: The Buckeyes won a national title the last time Ohio State made the College Football Playoffs under suspicious circumstances. A lot of onlookers, especially the ones in College Station, don’t believe Ohio State deserves a berth. Ryan Day’s squad will want to run up the score in a win over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship in order to quiet some of that noise. Give me Ohio State by four touchdowns. 

Oklahoma -5.5 over Iowa State: It's hard to beat a team twice in one season. It's even harder to upset a team twice in one season. Oklahoma was a different squad when Iowa State won their early-season matchup. Since then, the Sooners have vastly improved on defense and quarterback Spencer Rattler is taking care of the football. Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy is too inconsistent in big moments to trust the Cyclones in the Big 12 championship game. Experience wins out as the Sooners win by a touchdown. 

Texas A&M -13.5 over Tennessee: A&M needs to impress in a win over Tennessee and receive some help to reach the College Football Playoffs for the first time. The Aggies are hoping for a slip-up by Ohio State or a second loss by Clemson to Notre Dame. The problem for A&M is that the nation knows what happened earlier in the season when Alabama humbled Jimbo Fisher’s program. Still, A&M will play well against Tennessee, and Fisher won’t hesitate to add some style points on the margin if possible. 

Notre Dame +10.5 over Clemson: The assumption is that Clemson will race past Notre Dame with quarterback Trevor Lawrence set to play in the rematch. I hate trusting assumptions. As we’ve done throughout the year, we’ll zig when others zag. The motivation is easy to find for Notre Dame. A win means a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. They can also play the underdog card for the second time this season with everyone backing Clemson.

NFL

Bills -6 over Broncos: We will back the Bills until proven otherwise. Buffalo is on its way to claiming an AFC East title. Quarterback Josh Allen is emerging as a star. He’s thrown for the sixth most yards and touchdowns in the NFL. His QBR of 76 is also third best in football. Denver is 3-4 since the beginning of November. 

Chiefs -2.5 over Saints: Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the league. It's still amazing that Kliff Kingsbury was able to fail upwards into a head coaching job in the NFL despite never competing for anything of significance with Mahomes as his starter in college. Luckily for Mahomes, he is now coached by an actual offensive genius. My rule is to take Kansas City anytime the Chiefs are favored by fewer than three points. 

Browns -4.5 over Giants: Baker Mayfield is quietly playing at a Pro Bowl level. The former Heisman winner from Lake Travis is starting to look like a No. 1 overall pick. He has thrown for 2,785 yards and 23 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. He’s ninth in the league with a 72.1 QBR. Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett won’t be calling plays this week because he’s sidelined with COVID-19.