This Weekend's Best Bets: College Football Is Here

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Dinur
207 days. That's how long I've been waiting.

When the piece of cheese sitting at the end of the summer-long maze is redemption, the clock ticks slowly. The pages get ripped off the calendar at a glacial speed. August couldn't get here soon enough. Because here's the thing -- I sucked at giving you picks last year. Absolutely terrible.

44-70-4, to be exact.

That was my record. It was a brutal 2013 campaign. The only thing at all appropriate about my 2013 handicapping was that I am based out of Houston, where 2-14 on the field is the equivalent of 44-70-4 when handicapping.

So let's hope that 2014's theme is redemption. Redemption for me, and redemption for Toro! And a trickle of cash for all of us! (Except you, Toro.)

Let's hit some college games for the first weekend, shall we?

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Gambling! Five College Football Season Win Total Bets You Should Play

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Monica
Each week in this space, I plan to give you, the faithful HoustonPress.com news blog reader, six picks against the spread for the upcoming football weekend.

I would encourage you to read them even if you don't plan to wager as they serve the dual purpose of conveying football predictions as well as force-feeding you references to Breaking Bad, Star Wars, and adult film stars. However, perhaps there are some of you who would like to have some action out there, but aren't up for the game to game grind of weekly wagering.

You want a long-term investment, a way to enjoy the thrill of gambling while still getting analogies comparing Nick Saban to a combination of Walter White, Darth Vader, and Peter North.

Well, my friend, may I interest you in the magic of the Season Win Total Bet?

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2014 Heisman Odds: Three Sleepers Who Are Off the Board

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Ready for Heisman season?
How do we know the college football season is almost here?

Well, not all that long ago, it would have been because the best of the preview magazines were hitting the stands -- Athlon, Lindy's, Street & Smith's. When you saw the cover with the best player of whichever the hottest team in your region was, you knew that it was almost time. (This still applies today, but magazines have slid to the back burner.)

Certainly, in 2014, we know the season is almost here when a new network-that-owes-its-existence-to-college-football launches. A few years ago, it was the Big Ten Network. A couple years after that, it was the Longhorn Network. The Pac-12 Network closely followed LHN, and finally, just a few days ago, the most highly anticipated of all of them -- the SEC Network -- launched as an adjunct to ESPN's family of networks.

Me, I prefer to see the proliferation of prop bets on the board in Vegas as the sign that college football is almost here.


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Kliff Kingsbury Organized the Best ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Yet (VIDEO)

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Screen shot from the TechAthletics YouTube page
I mean...just look at that hair.
Everybody's doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

You can't make it through three posts on your Facebook newsfeed without stumbling across one of your high school friends dumping the ice cold bucket of water over his or her head. And to be clear, I have no problem with this. It builds awareness for a great cause (raising funds for research to find a cure for ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease).

And according to reports, the Ice Bucket Challenge is working. Donations are reportedly up tenfold from this same time period a year ago (late July through mid August), from $1.7 million to $11.4 million.

As a show, we did ours on Friday out at our remote show at Fat Boy's Bar and Grill. Nothing extravagant, other than Ted Johnson removing his shirt, which began a mini photo session and meet-and-greet with all of the females in the patio area. (Oddly enough, no one asked Rich Lord and me to remove our shirts.)

Some have taken the IBC as an opportunity to simultaneously raise funds and show off their creative side.

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Embattled Will Muschamp Hand Delivers Season Tickets To Florida Couple (VIDEO)

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Screen shot from YouTube video posted by the Florida Gators

When you go 11-2 as a head football coach in the SEC, you're the toast of the town.

When you go 4-8 as a head football coach in the SEC, the FOR SALE signs show up on your lawn and the message board vitriol (Do people still go to message boards?) is amped up to FULL.

Will Muschamp has been both of those things.

Unfortunately for the embattled head coach of the Florida Gators, the 4-8 season is the most recent one, and perhaps even more ominous, it was in his third year as Gators head coach, which in college football is generally the year that a program can ascertain which direction the compass is pointed.

After the worst season the program has endured since the late 70's, Muschamp got a stay of execution this past offseason, the Florida administration giving him (presumably) one more crack at making this work.

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These Aren't Your Father's Rice Owls

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The Rice Owls hope to soar again this season
The Rice Owls had one of those special seasons last year. A 10-4 record. A conference championship. A second straight bowl game. The defensive unit improved greatly. The offense found ways to score points, usually behind a pounding running game. That was 2013. Players graduate, assistant coaches take new jobs, and 2013 suddenly doesn't matter anymore.

The Owls kicked off practice last week, sights set on for the seasoner opener at Notre Dame before heading off to Texas A&M. Despite being the defending conference champ, the Owls are only picked to finish second in the C-USA West Division. So as the team practices and players look for their roles, here are a few things to which fans should be paying attention.

SPEEDING UP THE OFFENSE

The Owls have operated out of a no-huddle offense for several seasons. Yet there's been nothing more frustrating than watching the Owls rush to the line scrimmage, but instead of snapping the ball, looking over again and again to the sideline as the play clocked ticked toward zero. But things are going to change.


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Florida State Asking Fans To #AskJameis On Twitter Did Not Go Well

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Be careful what you #ask.
Late last week, in a federal court in California, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken confirmed everything any normal thinking person already knew about amateurism in collegiate athletics.

It's a sham. It's a big lie.

Division I basketball recruits and FBS football players are having the gravy sopped off of them by a fat cat aristocracy that for decades has refused to allow those players to share in the fruits of their labor. In a 99-page ruling in favor of a group of plaintiffs led by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon, Judge Wilken issued an injunction that will prevent the NCAA "from enforcing any rules or bylaws that would prohibit its member schools and conferences from offering their FBS football or Division I basketball recruits a limited share of the revenues generated from the use of their names, images, and likenesses in addition to a full grant-in-aid."

That's good. So now when an athletics department goes to market its best players as though they are a brand (Hint: They are a brand. Always have been.), there is only slight hypocrisy, not out-and-out hypocrisy.

And I would hate for college athletics departments to stop marketing players, because then we wouldn't get this social media gem that Florida State gave us on Sunday.

#AskJameis.

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Michigan State Should Really Proofread Their Locker Room Signage

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Back to English class, Spartans.
Anybody who writes words for a living (or even as a hobby) makes mistakes.

Best efforts, constant proofreading, there are all sorts of checks and balances to ensure that words conveyed on a page (or an epitaph or a statue or a billboard...or a sign in a locker room) are spelled correctly and used properly, and convey thoughts accurately.

But even the best of us fail sometimes.

Hell, I fully expect to find at least two or three mistakes in this very post even after it's published on the site. I'm not perfect.

However, I would like to think that we hold our institutions of higher learning to some sort of higher standard.

Looking right at you, Michigan State!!

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This Kobe-Michael Video Mashup Is Amazing and Creepy (VIDEO)

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Seriously creepy mashup.
From the time he entered the NBA as a teenager, Kobe Bryant wanted to be Michael Jordan, with every fiber of his being. He made this very clear from a young age, not so much by saying the words "I would like to be Michael Jordan" but by seemingly mimicking every single Michael Jordan bodily move.

Every basketball move, every idiosyncrasy, hell, even the way he moved his lips in interviews, Kobe channeled Michael.

At age 18, when he did it while averaging around 8 points per game as a rookie, it was kind of cute. At age 20, when he did it while averaging like 15 points per game and not winning any titles, it was creepy. By age 24, when Kobe was knee-deep in his first run of consecutive titles (the Shaq-aided ones), it was kind of annoying.

Now, through the power of YouTube and the benefit of a nearly complete career arc for thirtysomething Kobe, there can be only one adjective to describe the Kobe-MJ similarities.

Eerie.

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The Cougars Are Ready to Play Some Football

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Stephen Pinchback/Houston Athletics Communications
UH's John O'Korn just moments before unleashing a TD pass in last season's game versus Southern
The Houston Cougars of 2013 were a bit different than the more recent iterations of the Cougar football team. The offense still scored lots and lots of points behind a flashy quarterback and a quick moving offense. But there was a noted focus on the improved, physical running game. And where once the defense tried to stay out of the way of the offense, last year's Cougars featured an outstanding defensive unit that was one of the country's best.

The Cougars finished 8-5 last season, but there were a lot of close losses, a lot of games lost because of mental mistakes, missed blocks, or missed tackles. This year's team returns many of last season's key players on both sides of the ball, and with practice starting up last weekend, the coaches are eager to get work and get the team ready to start the season on August 29 against UTSA.

So as the Cougars get into practice, readying for that first game, here are some early keys for the start of the season.

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