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MSU vs. OSU: Two Bad Bets Collide Saturday in Columbus 1

Posted on November 19, 2015 by Jim Hurley
The 2015 season has been filled with smiles on the field, but challenges off for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The 2015 season has been filled with smiles on the field, but challenges off for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Ohio State and Michigan State are indisputably successful on the football field. The record is a combined 19-1 as they prepare for their Saturday showdown in Columbus (3:30 PM ET, ABC) and it would be a perfect 20-0 if not for a terrible officiating blunder that cost Michigan State a win at Nebraska. But the Spartans and Buckeyes haven’t been so good to their backers at the betting window—a combined 7-13 against the spread (ATS).

Michigan State is the slightly bigger offender, going 3-7 ATS to Ohio State’s 4-6. But for Saturday’s game that can be cancelled out by the fact the Buckeyes have been atrocious bet at home, failing to cover in five of six home games.

It might sound harsh to call this game a battle of the overrateds, but ATS numbers like that make it difficult to dispute. The spread reflects how the teams are ‘rated’ by opinion that is informed (though not infallible) and coldly objective and these two haven’t measured up.

Maybe expectations were unreasonably high—when you see Ohio State (-13) against a team one point away from being undefeated themselves, it’s enough to make you wonder if these programs simply haven’t been bet past the capacity of any normal college football team to deliver. It happened to Alabama and Florida State last year, who covered a combined five spreads in the 2014 regular season, and it’s happening in Columbus and East Lansing in 2015.

Figuring out the reasons why are going to be crucial, because even beyond Saturday, both are going to play in significant games that will be fun to watch—meaning they’ll be fun to bet. Ohio State has its trip to Michigan. Michigan State has a less-marquee, though still very interesting game with Penn State. The odds say either the Buckeyes or Spartans will be in the Big Ten Championship Game and then we could have one of them in the College Football Playoff and the other in the Rose Bowl. Read the rest of this entry →

Can the Houston Cougars Stay Undefeated? 3

Posted on November 13, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Greg Ward Jr. has led Houston to a perfect record both by passing and running.

Greg Ward Jr. has led Houston to a perfect record both by passing and running.

The Houston Cougars have quietly kept winning games all year long. They’re now 9-0 and poised to make a move at the getting an automatic bid to one of the six major bowl games played on December 31-January 1. From the perspective of sports bettors, Houston has been good to us, covering the spread in six of their nine games. Now they get to play some spotlight games that will be fun to watch and fun to wager on. The first one is Saturday night at home against Memphis (7 PM ET, ESPN2).

Houston has flirted with some national prominence in the past, and always on the strength of a prolific quarterback and a high-scoring offense akin to what we say in the Big 12. In recent years we’ve seen it with Case Keenum. Some of us can turn back the clock and remember when it was David Klingler or Heisman Trophy-winning Andre Ware blowing out the scoreboard lights. But this Cougar team is different.

Now it’s about running the football in Houston and both quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and running back Kenneth Farrow are adept carrying the ball. The Cougars have consistently dominated rushing yardage totals throughout the season. Their first big win, a 34-31 upset at Louisville on September 12 as a (+13) underdog was keyed by a 226-70 advantage on the ground.

The pattern has held throughout this magical season under first-year head coach Tom Herman. Houston rolls up the yardage on the ground and for the most part, they’ve done good job defending the run. There have been some trouble spots—SMU got them for 151 yards, but the Cougars control the trenches.

A byproduct of this is that Houston consistently wins the turnover battle. Running the ball is the safest way to travel, and when you can do it while your opponents can’t, it stands to reason that they’ll be the ones making the most mistakes.

This emphasis on the run doesn’t mean the Cougars can’t throw the ball though. Ward has a 70 percent completion rate and that has not come at the expense of big plays. The Houston quarterback generates an outstanding 9.1 yards-per-attempt, with his primary target of wide receiver Demarcus Ayers. This is going to be an important part of Houston’s game going forward. In two weeks they play Navy on Black Friday, and no one is going to beat the Midshipmen in a battle of ground games. The Cougars can bring some versatility to the table.

Houston’s ability to run and stop the run while still keeping an open offense has led to them not only being a good ATS bet, but being outstanding on the road. The Cougars have played four road games and covered all of them. That includes games like Louisville where they were a hefty underdog. It includes games like Tulane and Central Florida when the Cougars gave three touchdowns. You name the ATS situation, they’ve met the challenge. Read the rest of this entry →

The Season Starts Now For The Big 12 0

Posted on November 05, 2015 by Jim Hurley
The next month will determine if Gary Patterson and TCU are playoff bound or left out as they were in 2014.

The next month will determine if Gary Patterson and TCU are playoff bound or left out as they were in 2014.

The Big 12 football season is finally ready to start for real. The conference has four teams ranked in the top 15 by the College Football Playoff selection committee and none of them have played each other. Baylor (#6), TCU (#8) and Oklahoma State (#14) are all undefeated. Oklahoma (#15) only has one loss. The conference backloaded its schedule to have all the biggest games in November, and it starts on Saturday with TCU-Oklahoma State (3:30 PM ET, Fox). Here’s a primer on how to bet the Big 12’s best teams…

BAYLOR: Even with their undefeated record, the Bears are only 4-3 ATS, suggesting that oddsmakers had caught up with them. Even though Baylor has yet to be challenged and scored at least eight touchdowns in six of their seven games, the prohibitive pointspreads have served their purpose and made each game a more or less even betting proposition.

But that hasn’t been true for the Over/Under. Even as linesmakers jack the totals up on Baylor’s game to unprecedented levels—witness the total of 89 posted for the October 3 game with Texas Tech—and it still doesn’t matter. The Bears and Red Raiders went over in that game, a 63-35 final and Baylor is 5-2 to the Over so far this season.

Now comes the injury to quarterback Seth Russell that throws a monkey wrench into everything. Baylor is still a (-17) favorite at Kansas State on Thursday night. Stiff, to be sure, but the Wildcats have yet to win a league game. And what if freshman QB Jarrett Stidham comes through? We’ve seen Ohio State last year and Notre Dame this year absorb injuries to starting quarterbacks and move on as though nothing had changed.

The Baylor program itself has smoothly transitioned from RG3 to Bryce Petty and then to Russell in recent years. If the same sort of transition happens with Stidham, the Bears are suddenly offering value—they’ve already won every game this season by more than 17 points. And the totals line for the Kansas State game is at 67.5, the lowest on any Baylor game this season. Read the rest of this entry →

Florida & Georgia Meet in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party 1

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Treon Harris has played well since moving into the starting lineup for the Florida Gators. His toughest test will come against Georgia.

Treon Harris has played well since moving into the starting lineup for the Florida Gators. His toughest test will come against Georgia.

After two seasons in mediocrity, the Florida Gators are ready to make a splash onto the national stage again. Florida is 6-1 overall and getting ready to for its annual rivalry game with Georgia on Saturday afternoon (3:30 PM ET, CBS). The Gators have blown out Ole Miss, played competitively in a night game at LSU and are in control of their destiny in the SEC East.

If Florida wins this game, they’re all but certain to be in the conference championship game come December. And if they keep winning out, they’re all but certain to get a ticket to the College Football Playoff. It’s a welcome case of a program climbing off the mat.

Following their Sugar Bowl season in 2012, Florida came crashing to earth. They had a losing season in 2013 and only qualified for the Birmingham Bowl in 2014. It got head coach Wil Muschamp fired and it cost Florida’s backers in Las Vegas some money, as the Gators went 10-13 against the spread (ATS).

No one ever disputed Muschamp’s ability to coach defense. It was offensive ineptitude that did him in and that was reflected in the totals line. In the awful 2013 season, Florida was 4-8 straight-up and also played just four games to the Over that season. This season, even with the defense still being strong and ranking #19 in the country, Florida has gone to the Over four times in seven.

The improved offense comes in spite of quarterback Will Grier being suspended for the balance of the season. Grier was posting solid numbers, with a 66% completion rate, 7.48 yards-per-attempt and a 10/3 TD-INT ratio. When he was suspended, Florida was written off a serious SEC title threat. Read the rest of this entry →

The Best Bets In College Football 1

Posted on October 21, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Central Michigan may have only a 3-4 overall record, but they are undefeated against the spread so far in 2015.

Central Michigan may have only a 3-4 overall record, but they are 6-0-1 against the spread so far in 2015.

Guess who the best bet in college football has been so far in the 2015 season. They’re a program that’s never been to a major bowl game. They have serious problems on offense. There’s only a couple marginal NFL prospects on defense. Heck, they don’t even have a winning record. Meet the Central Michigan Chippewas. Their 6-0-1 against the spread (ATS), making them the only team in major college football not to lose a bet for their backers in Las Vegas.

Central Michigan is 3-4 overall. Their quarterback, Cooper Rush, plays a high-percentage game, completing 68.5% of his passes with a 16/6 TD-INT ratio. Rush only gets 8.02 yards-per-attempt, a nice average. But there is no running game to speak of—the team’s leading rusher has just 228 yards. The result is an offense that’s 131st in the country in scoring in spite of playing almost half their games against fellow Mid-American Conference members, a league noted for its wide-open styles.

That’s what makes Central Michigan so interesting from a handicapping perspective. ATS records have a strong tendency to find their way back to the middle as bettors adjust and the oddsmakers shift the line. But Central Michigan’s low public profile and the fact they won’t play any signature games the rest of the season means the betting public is not going to be in action…which means they might continue to slide under the radar.

This coming week is going to be a test case of Central Michigan’s continued ATS viability. They have to go on the road as a favorite—more than a touchdown no less, giving (-7.5) at Ball State. It’s not against good competition, as Ball State is 2-5, but quietly covering a game like this would be a good sign that the Chippewas will continue to be a good bet.

Central Michigan might be the only unbeaten ATS team, but there are five others who have only lost one game against the number. Here’s the rundown…

Notre Dame (6-1 ATS, 6-1 overall): We move from a low profile school to the school with perhaps the highest brand-name recognition. Because of that, Notre Dame usually isn’t a good bet. But years of subpar performances and a collapse at the end of last year’s regular season finally took the wind out of the Irish’s sails. Read the rest of this entry →

Ohio State and Michigan State Are Beating Opponents, But Not The Spread 1

Posted on October 15, 2015 by Jim Hurley
After earning the starting quarterback job, Cardale Jones has been inconsistent so far this season.

After earning the starting quarterback job, Cardale Jones has been inconsistent so far this season.

Ohio State and Michigan State have stayed undefeated so far this season, but neither one has played to expectations. In fact, that might be the understatement of the year. If you bet both the Buckeyes and Spartans in every game this year, you would be 1-11 against the spread (ATS)! Michigan State hasn’t covered the number yet this year. Ohio State’s only cover came in the first game of the season against Virginia Tech, and had Tech’s quarterback not gotten hurt, they might be sporting an ATS goose egg of their own.

Now, each team will be in the national spotlight this week. Michigan State’s visit to Michigan (3:30 PM ET, ESPN) will be the platform for ESPN’s Gameday. And the ABC prime-time game will be Ohio State’s home game with Penn State, kicking off at 8 PM ET. Will the Buckeyes and Spartans see their ATS fortunes change?

We’ll begin with Michigan State, whose problems seem deeper and whom has already suffered in public esteem. The Spartans, after rising as high as #2 in the polls a couple weeks ago, has been dropped to #7 without actually losing a game. For handicappers, the more noteworthy development is that Michigan State has lost regard in the betting markets.

They opened as a six-point underdog to Michigan and that line was quickly bet up to (+8). It’s an astonishing reversal in perception of both teams that’s taken place in a very short period of time. Read the rest of this entry →

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      Earl Morrall

      In a career that started in 1956 and ended in 1976, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month was never really a leading man, but he seemed to be part of the supporting cast for many huge moments in NFL history.

      The second overall pick in the 1956 NFL Draft out of Michigan State, Earl Morrall joined a San Francisco 49ers team that already included the famous “Million Dollar Backfield” of Y.A. Tittle, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Perry and John Henry Johnson.

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