As I Tweeted (@teddy_covers
) this past Sunday, it’s all NFL from here on out for the rest of 2012 – the time for leisurely Sunday’s has come and gone. With my writing focus turning to the NFL as well, I thought this week’s column should be about something else. And with the opening weekend of college football in the books, I figured a random college football observations column made perfect sense at this juncture. So here goes!
There’s an old sports betting adage about not overreacting to the results of a single game. In the middle of the season, I agree 100% – after a team’s mo. is clearly defined. But in Week 1, I think it’s just as important not to underreact either!
When Houston loses at home 30-13 to Texas State as 34.5-point favorites, that’s a meaningful result. It’s meaningful when Oklahoma can’t move the football for extended stretches against UTEP, punting eight times on 13 drives. It’s meaningful when San Jose State outscores Stanford 17-6 after the first quarter and outgains the Cardinal for the full 60 minutes of football. And it’s meaningful when Maryland gets shut out for the first 50 minutes at home against FCS William & Mary. The betting markets are going to take all of these events seriously. Don’t get caught with your pants down trying to support a team that simply isn’t the squad they were supposed to be.
The betting markets always catch up, sooner or later. Last year, teams that were ranked in the top 5 opened up the season on an enormously profitable 20-4-1 ATS run to open the season. Bettors simply couldn’t drive the prices on these teams high enough, and every coach in the bunch was conscious about extending margins.
So what happened this year? USC, Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma and Oregon were the top 5 teams in the preseason, followed by Georgia at #6 in both polls. USC was favored by 43.5 by kickoff against Hawaii. LSU was 42-point chalk against North Texas. Oklahoma was in the -30 range at UTEP. Oregon closed as 38-point favorites against Arkansas State. And Georgia was also a 38 point favorite against Buffalo. Not one of those teams covered the inflated pointspread. Alabama, laying “only” 13.5 against #8 Michigan, was the only top ranked team to cover.
Alabama might be the most public team out there; the single most dominant football program in the country since Nick Saban took the head coaching job six years ago. Everybody knows it – the Crimson Tide isn’t going to sneak up on anybody, linesmakers included. And yet the ultimate ‘public’ team has been a cash cow for ‘square’ bettors and a nightmare for wiseguys trying to ‘fade the steam’ and take advantage of what they perceive to be a few extra points of value by betting against ‘Bama. The numbers don’t lie. Against the spread, Alabama is 9-5, 9-4, 8-5 and 9-4 over the past four years, to go along with their 1-0 record so far this season.
You got to know your coaches! West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen has proven himself to be quite a bully. With a senior QB in contention for the Heisman Trophy and a preseason ranking outside the Top 10, don’t expect the Mountaineers to lay off the gas pedal very often this year. Up 55-20 in the fourth quarter, Geno Smith (still in the game) was throwing (and completing) 50 yard bombs downfield against their in-state little brother Marshall. Getting the ball back for the last time with 54 seconds left to play, up by five TDs, did Holgorsen take a knee? Not a chance! Backup QB Paul Millard was getting his opportunity to throw deep.
On the other end of the spectrum is Louisville’s Charlie Strong. The Cardinals didn’t win a game by more than 17 points last year. They dominated in-state little brother (yes, Kentucky is the little brother in football) for two and half quarters, taking a 32-7 lead against the Wildcats. Instead of running up the score, going for the jugular, Strong took his foot off the gas pedal. He put his backup QB in the game before the third quarter was through, and basically spent the fourth running clock. The Cardinals still covered, winning by 18 as 14-point favorites. But with the Big East down and Louisville a clear co-favorite in the conference, some of the pointspreads they are going to be asked to lay this year could be rather prohibitive.
You know when I knew that Penn State was in serious trouble this year? No, not when Ohio U scored three unanswered second half touchdowns to beat them by double digits in Happy Valley. And no, not when Penn State showed truly awful body language and a complete lack of leadership after falling behind – in sharp contrast, say to a team like Syracuse or Colorado State or Arkansas State, all of whom fought back after falling behind in the second half.
It was when new head coach Bill O’Brien sent starting linebacker Gerald Hodges out to return kickoffs and punts. Starting safety, ok. Cornerback, wide receiver, or running back; ok. But if you’re sending a linebacker out to return kicks, it speaks volumes about your lack of team speed at the skill positions and in the secondary, even if he’s the fastest linebacker in football. It’s worth noting that the Nittany Lions did not sell out their opener for the second year in a row.
The first week of the college football season is always a special teams disaster, and 2012 was no exception. As a bettor, I tend to expect the bigger, faster, stronger team – usually the favorite – to have the special teams edge, but that’s not always the case. Marshall blocked a West Virginia punt. UCLA had three extra points blocked, then eschewed the field goal with the game (and the pointspread) on the line in the fourth quarter. Jim Mora Jr. went for it on fourth down in Rice territory twice in the fourth quarter, despite the fact that the Bruins were leading by eleven. The end result? A UCLA touchdown, increasing the margin into pointspread covering territory.
Sometimes, sharp money just isn’t that sharp. No, I’m not talking about the wiseguys who were betting SMU plus the points hand over fist against Baylor on Sunday. Let me use a great example that Rob Veno brought up in the college football live betting discussion in the posting forum this past weekend.
In the 24 hours before kickoff, sharp money poured in on the Orange, driving Syracuse from the dog to the favorite. Bettors appeared to like the ‘Cuse because of their new fast paced, uptempo, pass first offense led by senior QB Ryan Nassib. Nassib ended up throwing 65 times for 470 yards and four touchdowns. Yet we didn’t see a drop of wiseguy money pounding the Over in that ballgame, despite the fact that Northwestern was breaking in three new defensive backs and the Wildcats run an uptempo system of their own. Obviously the 42-41 final clearly showed that the sharp side was the Over!