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Will Florida State Ever Lose Another Regular Season Game? 1

Posted on October 08, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Everett Golson has been making strides in the offense of Jimbo Fisher.

Everett Golson has been making strides in the offense of Jimbo Fisher.

The last time the Florida State Seminoles played a really big game they were in the College Football Playoff and getting crushed by Oregon, 59-20 in the Rose Bowl on January 1. Since then, they’ve stayed in the news for off-the-field incidents and getting a transfer quarterback, Everett Golson from Notre Dame. Amidst all that it can be easy to forget that FSU hasn’t actually lost a regular season game since 2012. They face their first real test of 2015 when Miami comes to Tallahassee on Saturday night to renew a great rivalry (8 PM ET, ABC).

Florida State’s undefeated regular season last year was marked by so many near-misses that it became a storyline as to whether the defending national champs would actually be excluded from the Playoff in spite of their perfect record. Given that, it won’t surprise you to learn that the Seminoles were an atrocious bet—in spite of going 13-0 in the regular season, they only covered the Vegas number three times. And this season has started with signs that it might be more of the same.

The Seminoles are 4-0, and have covered twice, so maybe they won’t be quite the same moneyburner they were in 2014, but the early signs aren’t good. One of the ATS covers was a season-opening 59-16 win over Texas State as a (-27.5) favorite. The games against more legitimate competition haven’t gone quite so smoothly…

*A 34-14 home win over South Florida was a non-cover as a (-27.5) favorite
*A 14-0 win at Boston College was enough to cover a relatively short (-9.5) line
*A surprisingly close 24-16 game at Wake Forest decisively missed the (-19) number.

Now Florida State is giving (-9) to a Miami team that comes in 3-1, and the Seminoles might have to go with a third-string running back. Dalvin Cook, easily the team’s best offensive playmaker left the Wake game early with a hamstring injury and backup Mario Pender is already out.

That’s going to shift the burden to Golson. So far he’s avoided the turnovers that cost him his job at Notre Dame and led to the transfer—no interceptions thus far and while the schedule obviously hasn’t been very good, the Boston College defense is very good. But the mistake-free Golson has come at a price—the big plays he often made in South Bend have also disappeared. Read the rest of this entry →

Saturday Will Tell If Clemson and Georgia Are Contenders Or Pretenders 1

Posted on October 01, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Saturday's game against Notre DDame wiill tell if Dabo Swinney and Clemson have a chance at reaching the College Football Playoffs.

Saturday’s game against Notre Dame will tell if Dabo Swinney and Clemson have a chance at reaching the College Football Playoffs.

Georgia and Clemson are long-time rivals on the field, but they have one thing in common off the field and at the betting window—they have a tendency to play below expectations. Whether it’s aggravating their own fan bases with a crushing loss just when a corner seems to have been turned, or playing just well enough to win, but not cover the number, the Bulldogs and Tigers have a knack for pulling the rug out from under you.

Now, both programs in the national spotlight on Saturday, each undefeated and each with showcase home games. Georgia hosts Alabama (3:30 PM ET, CBS) and Clemson will get a visit from Notre Dame (8 PM ET, ABC) in the day’s two best games that you can watch back-to-back. Will the home teams finally meet their moment?

Let’s begin by giving some context of the last two seasons, because I want to make clear I’m not implying these programs can’t play good football. They can. Clemson is 19-5 over the last two regular seasons and has bowl victories over Ohio State and Oklahoma. Georgia is 17-7 in that same timeframe, and if we go back one year earlier to 2012, the Bulldogs were one play away from winning the SEC title and likely converting that into a national championship.

But each team has been consistently been overrated by the oddsmakers. In the same two-year period where Clemson was winning 19 regular season games on the field, their bettors in Las Vegas only cashed 11 pointspread winners—against 13 losers. With Georgia, that 17-7 straight-up record becomes 10-13-1 when we measure it against Vegas expectations. That’s the roundabout way of saying that Clemson and Georgia have spent two years being bad bets.

Now each team steps onto a big national stage for this first Saturday of October. Over the first month of the season, there’s reason for cautious optimism with Georgia, but guarded skepticism with Clemson.

Clemson is 1-2 against the spread thus far. On a recent Thursday night appearance against Louisville, the Tigers barely survived a very young Cardinal team 20-17, failing to cover as a five-point favorite. Sophomore quarterback DeShaun Watson is talented, but has his inconsistencies. He threw two interceptions against the Cards and failed to generate much in the way of a downfield passing attack.

The rush defense was exposed in an earlier game against Appalachian State, giving up over 200 yards on the ground and allowing 4.5 yards per carry. With Notre Dame and its physical offensive line leading the way for C.J. Prosise, that’s a problem. Read the rest of this entry →

PAC-12 Looks To Shine On National Stage 1

Posted on September 24, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins will look to remain undefeated against Arizona.

Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins will look to remain undefeated against Arizona.

The Pac-12 South takes center stage on Saturday night, when ABC’s main nationally televised game will be UCLA-Arizona at 8 PM ET with Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit in the booth in Tucson. And there’s a late-night special across the state in Tempe when USC visits Arizona State (10:30 PM ET, ESPN). We’ll take a look at some keys for all four teams, from what to know when wagering on them, to what to watch for on the field.

The winner of this division title might well be in position to make the College Football Playoff when the conference championship games arrive the first Saturday in December, and these games will really start to sort it out. UCLA is favored by (-3.5) over Arizona, while USC is a (-5.5) road favorite at Arizona State.

UCLA: The Bruins are the most highly regarded team in the Pac-12 South right now, ranked #9 in the AP poll. That high regard has created problems for UCLA backers in Las Vegas though. Last season the Bruins were a miserable 4-8 against the spread (ATS) during the regular season and even though they’re 2-1 this year, it’s a very hairy 2-1.

The season opener was a 34-16 win over Virginia, a narrow cover as a (-18.5) favorite. Another close cover followed at UNLV, where UCLA won 37-3 while giving (-32.5). The Bruins came in as an (-11) favorite over BYU, and were picked to win and cover by ESPN Gameday’s Chris Fallica (“The Bear”) but had to rally just to pull out a 24-23 non-cover win. So the oddsmakers have either had UCLA’s games priced almost on the number or overestimate their strength.

What the Bruins do exceptionally well is run the football, something that’s been the case ever since Jim Mora Jr. took over as head coach. Paul Perkins saved the day against BYU with a 219-yard performance. He covered for a weak performance by freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, who has been prematurely announced as a Heisman contender.

After a strong outing in his debut against Virginia, Rosen was erratic against UNLV and awful against BYU. There’s nothing wrong that for a talented and developing freshman, but if the media is going to continue to talk about Rosen as though he’s ready for the NFL, it’s going to drive more people to bet on UCLA, which in turn will feed the issue of unreasonably high pointspreads for them to face.

If you’re uncomfortable with UCLA’s ATS history, but hesitant about going against them, the totals line is always another angle. A clear pattern emerges here. UCLA played 8 of its 12 regular season games last year to the Under, and all three games this season have gone Under. The total on Saturday night’s game with Arizona is 66. Read the rest of this entry →

Is the SEC West Really College Football’s Stongest Division? 2

Posted on September 17, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers barely escaped an upset bid by Jacksonville State.

Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers barely escaped an upset bid by Jacksonville State.

The SEC West is college football’s showcase division and it’s in the Saturday spotlight with two big games for us to watch. It starts in mid-afternoon with Auburn-LSU (3:30 PM ET, CBS) and then concludes with Ole Miss-Alabama in prime time (9:15 PM ET, ESPN). Here are some early thoughts about these four teams from a handicapping perspective, pertaining to both Saturday specifically and the long-term…

AUBURN: The scare the Tigers got against Jacksonville State on Saturday, needing overtime to pull out a 27-20 win as (-39) favorite has cost Auburn a lot of stock nationally. In fact, the Tigers have been overpriced lately anyway. What do I mean by lately? Like ever since they finished off the 2013 national championship game, a cover against Florida State.

Last season, Auburn was priced like a national championship contender and couldn’t meet that bar. The Tigers were 4-8 against the number and now they’ve started 0-2 ATS this season, even while winning both games outright.

I’m willing to give Gus Malzahn’s team a pass for the Jacksonville State near-disaster. It was right in between the season opener against Louisville in the Georgia Dome and the LSU game on Saturday, the proverbial “sandwich” spot. My concerns lie with what happened in the Louisville game itself.

Auburn jumped out to a 24-0 lead and then had to hold off a late Cardinal charge to hold on 31-24. Louisville is an extremely young team and the Tigers failed to cover the (-10) line. They had serious problems defending Louisville’s versatile quarterback Lamar Jackson, who ran for 106 yards. Auburn’s own quarterback, Jeremy Johnson, threw three interceptions.

That’s not a formula for winning games against SEC opponents that have quarterbacks who can move. However, before turning this into a pile-on-Auburn segment, we also have to point out the positives. Peyton Barber is running the football effectively, going for 115 yards in the Louisville game and again getting 100-plus as one of the few bright spots against Jacksonville State.

Auburn also played good pass defense against Louisville. Jackson was not able to get anything going in the air. That might not project out to very much against some SEC West opponents, but is relevant against LSU, which has significant problems throwing the ball that we’re about to touch on. Read the rest of this entry →

What Did We Learn About the Big Ten in College Football Week One? 2

Posted on September 10, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Was the performance by Braxton Miller and Ohio State a preview of what to expect throughout 2015?

Was the performance by Braxton Miller and Ohio State a preview of what to expect throughout 2015?

It was towards the tail-end of Ohio State’s 42-24 Labor Day Night win at Virginia Tech that ESPN put up a graphic showing the rest of the Buckeyes’ schedule and the % chance they had of losing each individual game the rest of the season. The worst rating that got was a 77% chance of winning against Michigan State.

There’s been plenty of talk about what that means for the College Football Playoff (e.g., that Ohio State is a lock). What I want to do is look at what this might tell us for handicapping the rest of the Big Ten, particularly with Michigan State being in the spotlight this Saturday night at home against Oregon (8 PM ET, ABC).

Put simply, is the Big Ten still prime “go-against” territory for handicappers in non-conference play? Let’s look at the record. In Week 1, the 13 Big Ten teams not located in Columbus went 7-6 ATS (against the spread). That sounds good enough—in handicapping any number over 52.4% is enough to beat the house advantage and that record clocks in at 53.8%. But digging deeper showed some problems.

Here’s a breakdown of the games in three categories—notable wins, notable losses, and games that we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from…

NOTABLE WINS

  • Northwestern (+10) Stanford 16-6
  • Illinois (-13) Kent 52-3
  • Minnesota (+16) TCU 17-23

 

NOTABLE LOSSES

  • Penn State (-6) Temple 10-27
  • Nebraska (-5) BYU 28-33—note that even had BYU’s desperation pass to win the game failed, the Cornhuskers would only have won 28-27 and thus failed to cover.
  • Indiana (-20.5) Southern Illinois 48-47
  • Purdue (+7) Marshall 31-41
  • Michigan (+5) Utah 17-24
  • Michigan State (-16.5) Western Michigan 37-24

 

WAIT AND SEE

  • Wisconsin (+12) Alabama 17-35
  • Iowa (-10) Illinois State 31-14
  • Maryland (-21.5) Richmond 50-21
  • Rutgers (-35) Norfolk State 63-13

In these “wait and see” games, the Big Ten went 3-1 against the spread. But the competition faced by Iowa, Maryland and Rutgers is not comparable to what any of these teams would face against even a midlevel opponent from a Power 5 conference. It’s not that there’s anything wrong what the three Big Ten teams did, just that we can’t take anything from it. On the flip side, it’s tough to be too hard on Wisconsin for ending up in Alabama’s way last Saturday night in Dallas. Read the rest of this entry →

College Football Spotlight: Alabama-Wisconsin is Intriguing Opening Weekend Matchup 1

Posted on September 03, 2015 by Jim Hurley
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will be opening the 2015 season with a tough neutral site matchup.

Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will be opening the 2015 season with a tough neutral site matchup.

Alabama begins its push for another berth in the College Football Playoff on Saturday night against Wisconsin in a neutral-site game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington (8 PM ET, ABC). The question those of us who handicap teams in Las Vegas have to ask ourselves is this—will the Tide offer better value than last season, when they were a money-burner?

To the average fan, it was business as usual in ‘Bama, as Nick Saban’s team went 11-1 in the regular season and then won the SEC Championship Game before ending up in the way of Urban Meyer’s freight train out of Columbus on New Year’s Night in New Orleans in the Playoff semi-final. But for those who wagered on the Tide, it was a different story—5-7-1 against the Vegas number.

That 5-7-1 ATS record (with one game against Western Carolina off the board) was actually better than it appeared. Tide backers got a big break in the road game at LSU. Alabama was a (-6.5) point favorite and only covered because the game went to overtime in a 20-13 final. Another cover, as (-10) favorite against Auburn came by a single point, 55-44. None of the ATS losses were as close.

What this boils down is that Alabama was overrated in 2014. Before Tide fans rise up in rebellion, remember that the term “overrated” is a criticism of the betting market (the collective wisdom of oddsmakers and the wagering public that ultimately creates the posted line) rather than the football team itself. When you look at those lines ‘Bama was facing—giving nearly a touchdown on the road at Baton Rouge at night, giving double digits to Auburn—you can make a pretty good argument that they simply weren’t reasonable.

But that’s what happens with highly successful dynastic programs. The public wants to bet them. Las Vegas keeps pushing the number higher. Eventually it becomes unsustainable. The question here is whether this was a one-time phenomena, or if Alabama is now a prime go-against team?

Expectations are modestly down this year, which Alabama “only” ranked third in the nation, behind Ohio State and TCU. The Crimson Tide are “only” a (-11) favorite against Wisconsin, as opposed to the (-22) they gave up to West Virginia in last year’s neutral site opener—a 33-23 non-cover win.

But there also personnel challenges, most notably a quarterback situation that remains completely up in the air. You can say the same is true at Ohio State, but we don’t yet know if Alabama’s uncertainty will be due to the same embarrassment of riches that exists in Columbus, or if there’s really going to be some problems at the game’s most important position. Read the rest of this entry →

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