This professional College Football handicapper shares his free pick for Friday's game between the Oregon Ducks, who are very much in the playoff picture, facing the California Bears.
Don't look now, but the Oregon Ducks have paddled their way right back into the thick of the College Football playoff hunt, just two weeks after the entire Pac-12 was practically given up for dead by many of the hype merchants in the mainstream media.
Oregon gets a chance to continue a run towards the Pac-12 Championship Game and beyond this week as 17 point chalk on the road at the California Bears. The Friday night (10 PM ET) affair in Berkeley gives both teams one less day to prepare for the game which can be seen on FOX Sports 1, and SBR's live College Football odds will have a total just as soon as it's released.
This series is closing in on its 100th anniversary of the first meeting between the Ducks and Bears in 1916. Oregon has won four straight -- covering the last three -- to leave Cal with a very slim 35-34 lead in the rivalry, plus a tie in 1953. The 'under' has actually been the most attractive wager in recent Duck-Bear clashes, cashing six of the past seven encounters. That includes last year's 55-16 Oregon win in Eugene which fell 10½ short of the closing total, the Ducks just managing to cover a 38½ point line.
Oregon Back Up To No. 6 in AP, 7th In Coaches Poll
A top 4 club entering 2014, the Ducks rose to No. 2 in the Week 6 AP rankings after a 5-0 start. But an upset defeat to Arizona in Week 7 sent them plummeting in the polls and had Chicken Little's everywhere screaming the Pac-12 had fallen out of the playoff picture.
A nice 42-30 victory at UCLA helped the Ducks rebound from that setback, and after a slow start last week vs. Washington, Oregon took charge with a strong 45-20 decision over the Huskies. Marcus Mariota and the offense played turnover-free ball for a 2nd-straight week, and an offensive line that was out of synch earlier this season opened big holes for Royce Freeman (169 yds, 4 TD) to record his 2nd-straight 100-yard performance.
Most importantly for college football bettors, it was Oregon's second consecutive ATS win after opening the campaign with four losing tickets in the first five tilts. It also turned out to be the best game of 2014 for Mark Helfrich's defense which surrendered a season-low 317 yards and came away with a couple of turnovers. Then again, that was a pretty poor Washington offense the Ducks were facing, and they'll get a sterner test against a Cal unit that is 19th in the country averaging 496 yards per game, 10th in scoring (41.6 ppg).
Bears Need Upset To Avoid 3rd-Straight Loss
California has the luxury of playing its 3rd-straight home game, and will need a minor miracle to keep it from also being a third consecutive loss. The Bears endured a rather miserable night on offense two weeks ago in a 31-7 loss to Washington, three fumbles accenting that defeat, one of those drops returned the length of the field for a touchdown.
Then came a tough loss last Saturday to UCLA, 36-34, California losing the lead three times in that game as the Bruins booted a late field goal to win it. Golden Bear backers still had enough to cover with the extra 6½ points they were getting, and now stand 5-2 against the spread for the season.
The long-range forecast is calling for a 20% chance of precipitation in Berkeley on Friday, but bettors will want to get an updated weather report before going to the window.
They'll also want to check injury reports as the week progresses; Oregon isn't listing any new bumps and bruises right now while Cal could be thin at receiver with Trevor Davis, who also is part of the return team, doubtful with a concussion and Chris Harper (25 rec, 4 TD) is questionable with the same malady.
This is a tough spot for Oregon with the short week plus games on deck against Stanford at home and Utah on the road. But I also feel the Ducks are catching the Bears at a good time coming off the downer last week vs. UCLA, so let's lay the points on the road favorite for our free Friday College Football pick.
Free College Football Pick: Oregon -17 at Bwin Sportsbook
Season: 35-26-1 (+6.40)