Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Strangers in the Field: II

Last year I went to Vegas and made a few bets. I made a little money (emphasis on little). So I decided, why not go back? Enjoy.

Over/Under Win Totals
The premise here is simple. These bets are on teams to either go 'over' or 'under' a baseline win total.

Cincinnati over 7.5 wins -120 ($40 to win $33.35)
You know who had the best offense in the American last season (based on Yards per Play)? It wasn't Houston. It wasn't Memphis. It wasn't South Florida. It wasn't Navy. Obviously based on this bet, it was Cincinnati. The Bearcats limped to a 7-5 regular season and then were embarrassed on Christmas Eve by San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl. The Bearcats primary issues were on defense last season where they finished ninth in the twelve team American in Yards per Play and in regards to turnovers where they committed 23 in eight league games (second worst to UCF's 25). 16 of those were interceptions thrown by Gunner Kiel and Hayden Moore. The defense returns eight starters so there should be improvement on that side of the ball, and if Kiel and Moore can limit their mistakes, the Bearcats could be in for a special season in 2016. The non-conference schedule features a road game at Purdue and a home game against BYU, but an undefeated run outside of American action would not be too surprising. In conference play, the Bearcats get Houston, Memphis, and South Florida at home where they are 15-3 under Tommy Tuberville. If things break right, the Bearcats could find themselves in discussion for the Group of 5's NY6 bowl bid when the calendar turns to November. It wouldn't be the first time Tuberville enjoyed a fantastic season seemingly out of nowhere

Fresno State over 4 wins -115 ($40 to win $34.80)
Tim DeRuyter might be the poster child for why you want to leave a mid-major job too early rather than too late. During his first two years in charge of the Bulldogs, they went 20-6 with a pair of Mountain West titles (one shared). However, since Derek Carr and Davante Adams left following the 2013 season, the Bulldogs are 9-17. Last season, the Bulldogs finished 3-9, which was their lowest win total since 1978! Per Yards per Play, the Bulldogs had the worst offense in the Mountain West last season. However, some of that can be attributed to injuries at the quarterback position where two starters were lost for the season. With better health and improved play at the most important position, the Bulldogs should move closer to the middle of the conference on offense. Another reason for optimism is the non-conference schedule. Over the past two seasons, Fresno State faced, BYU, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Southern Cal, and Utah (twice) in non-conference play. The Bulldogs lost those six games by an average of 37 points! Nebraska is on the schedule again in 2016, but the other three non-conference games are against Sacramento State, Toledo, and Tulsa. Toledo and Tulsa were bowl squads last season, but the Bulldogs at least have hopes of finishing better than 1-3 in non-conference play. I think the Bulldogs will get to four wins, and a surprise bowl season would not surprise me.

Georgia Tech over 6.5 wins +125 ($40 to win $50)
I'll be honest, Paul Johnson is one of my favorite college football coaches. So I am probably a bit biased in making this bet. I love the fact that the triple option is being featured at a BCS/P5 school. And regardless of how Johnson's career ends in Atlanta, there is really no argument the option has worked. His offense has ranked in the top half of the ACC in terms of Yards per Play seven times in his eight seasons. The defense on the other hand, has been the Achilles Heal (Stinger?) for the Yellow Jackets. The defense has finished in the bottom half of the ACC seven times in his eight seasons. Now, he is culpable for their struggles on defense, be it poor recruiting, poor development, or bad hires at coordinator positions, but lets just remember the option can work at the BCS/P5 level. But I digress. The Yellow Jackets finished 3-9 last season, which marked their fewest wins since 1994. However, six of their nine defeats came by eight points or less. When a team loses that many one-score games, they usually improve the following season. Of course, Vegas expects Georgia Tech to improve. In fact, for this bet to cash, the Yellow Jackets have to more than double their 2015 regular season win total. Before bottoming out at 1-7 last season, Paul Johnson had developed a pretty consistent track record in conference play. Here are his conference won/loss records through his first seven seasons. 
If Johnson can guide the Yellow Jackets to a 4-4 league record, I feel pretty confident they will get to seven wins. Georgia and Georgia Southern will present a challenge in non-conference play, but home games against Mercer and Vanderbilt should be wins. Maybe this is the end of the line for Johnson at Georgia Tech. Maybe the quality of coaches in the ACC Coastal (Cutcliffe, Fedora, Fuente, Mendenhall, Narduzzi, and Richt) and his inability to field an above average defense will lead to a second consecutive losing season, but I think Johnson has a rebound in him even if I am a bit biased.

Kansas over 1.5 wins -155 ($40 to win $25.80)
Outside of NC State (see a few lines down) this is probably the wager I am most confident in. Make no mistake, Kansas is bad and should once again be the worst team in the Big 12, but even if they lose all their conference games, the Jayhawks have a good shot at cashing this ticket. They face Rhode Island (not only an FCS team, but a bad one) and Ohio in non-conference home games, so they may hit the over before mid-September. Even if they fall to Ohio, I feel pretty assured Kansas will pull off at least one upset in their last ten games. 

Maryland over 5 wins -120 ($40 to win $33.35)
After four and a half years of the milquetoast Randy Edsall, maybe Ralph Friedgen wasn't so bad eh? To replace Edsall, the Terrapins tabbed Michigan defensive coordinator DJ Durkin. Durkin is under 40, has worked for successful head coaches like Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, and filled out his staff with a few former FBS head coaches (Pete Lembo and Mike London). There is a lot to like here despite the fact that Maryland plays in the tougher Big 10 division and must endure annual clashes with Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State (to say nothing of Penn State). Still, the Terrapins were not as bad as their 1-7 Big 10 record would indicate last season and the non-conference schedule is very soft in 2016. The Terrapins do make the unusual double mid-major road trip when they travel south to Florida to take on FIU and UCF in back-to-back weeks. Even though those games are on the road, the Terrapins should finish non-conference play 3-0 and just need a pair of Big 10 wins to hit the push. Home games against Purdue and Rutgers should do the trick and I wouldn't be surprised if Maryland steals another game somewhere and finishes bowl eligible. 

NC State over 3 wins -120 ($25 to win $20.85)
Out of all the over under totals I saw in Sin City, this one was the most perplexing. Outside of Dave Doeren's first season in 2013, the Wolfpack have won at least five (but never more than eight) regular season games since 2007. Their non-conference schedule is tougher than usual by NC State's typical low standards (the Wolfpack host Notre Dame), but they open with William and Mary, East Carolina, and Old Dominion before the difficulty ratchets up. I could see NC State dropping the road game at East Carolina, but at worst that would leave them needing just a single conference win to push. Even with the loss of quarterback Jacoby Brissett, it is very hard to see NC State going under this number.

New Mexico under 7 wins -145 ($40 to win $27.60)
I know a few lines up I professed my love for the option and New Mexico fits the bill of an exciting option team. Consider that the average New Mexico game since Bob Davie became the coach in 2012 has featured over 63 combined points! Unfortunately, more than 34 of those points have come courtesy of New Mexico's opponent. Hence their 18-32 record (which is of course marked improvement over the previous regime). It says a lot when a defense that ranked tenth in Yards per Play (6.11 per play) represents the high water mark for the team under Davie. 
The Lobos went 5-3 in Mountain West play last season and conservatively assuming a 3-1 non-conference record in 2016 (likely loss is a road game at Rutgers), they would need to do at least that well to hit the over. New Mexico won three games as a double-digit underdog last season and with a conference schedule that includes Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, and Utah State (not to mention a road date with Hawaii), I see a push as best case scenario for the Lobos.

Old Dominion over 5 wins even ($40 to win $40)
If it wasn't for the great success of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt, Old Dominion would be one of the better examples of teams transitioning from FCS (is there a bathroom for that?). In fact, the Monarchs rebooted their program in 2009 after laying dormant since the 1940s. Despite being a newcomer to FBS and football in general, 2015 marked the first losing season for the Monarchs. Despite the losing record, the Monarchs were in position to nab their first ever bowl bid before losing their season finale to FAU 33-31. The Monarchs accomplished this despite losing their all-time leading passer (Taylor Heinicke) after the 2014 season. After a rough start on offense to open 2015 (just over 16 points per game through their first five), the Monarchs scored at least 30 points in six of their last seven games. The offense should remain in the upper half of Conference USA in 2016. Couple that with non-conference games against Hampton and Massachusetts (a cautionary tale for moving up to FBS), and Old Dominion should participate in their first bowl game following the 2016 regular season. 

Games of the Year
Typically betting lines are set on Sunday for games beginning the following week. However, sportsbooks set a few 'Game of the Year' lines for certain games that are months away from occurring. The home team in these games is listed in bold.

September 10th
South Carolina +10.5 Mississippi State -110 ($25 to win $22.75)
South Carolina burned me last year as they tanked while the Ol' Ball Coach slipped into retirement. So naturally, I am on them again. This line just feels a tad too high especially with Mississippi State replacing the best quarterback in school history. Dan Mullen has raised the profile of Mississippi State football, but prior to Dak Prescott becoming one of the best players in college football in 2014, the Bulldogs never ranked higher than fifth in the SEC in Yards per Play under Mullen. 
I think their offense will see a significant decline in 2016, and with what should be an improved defense at South Carolina, this line is about a field goal too high.

September 17th
Ole Miss +6 Alabama -110 ($25 to win $22.75)
Alabama has lost three games over the past two seasons. If you are any type of college football fan, you know Ole Miss has inflicted two of those defeats. Can the Rebels make it three in a row? The last team to beat Alabama in three consecutive seasons was LSU which beat the Tide in five consecutive seasons from 2003 to 2007. Thankfully, Ole Miss does not have to actually win this game to cash the ticket. The Rebels are 5-2 against the line as a home underdog under Hugh Freeze and with this game coming early in the season before Alabama usually gets rolling, I like the Rebels to cover here. 

September 17th
UCLA -1.5 BYU -110 ($25 to win $22.75)
After back-to-back ten win seasons, the Bruins slumped to an 8-5 record in 2015. Despite this drop-off, the Bruins were statistically one of the better teams in the Pac-12. They boasted the best defense in the Pac-12 in Yards per Play despite losing linebacker Myles Jack before conference play even began. There should not be much if any regression on that side of the ball in 2016 with nine starters returning. Oh, and UCLA has one of the better young quarterbacks in the nation. The 'Rosen One' if you will. Plus, UCLA is an amazing 17-6 in true road games under Jim Mora. UCLA enters this game off what should be a glorified scrimmage against UNLV. Meanwhile, BYU will be coming off their 'Holy War' battle with Utah. I don't usually like to play team psychologist, but BYU will probably be emotionally spent and this spread is too low to pass up.

November 5th
NC State +15 Florida State -110 ($25 to win $22.75)
NC State has covered against the Seminoles in each of the last five games in Raleigh. The Wolfpack have also won three of those five games. I don't think they have a very realistic shot to win here, but Florida State will be in prime letdown mode after playing in what will likely be the ACC Atlantic Championship Game the week before against Clemson. I think NC State will keep this within two touchdowns.

November 26th
Georgia Tech +13 Georgia -110 ($25 to win $22.75)
This line is probably inflated after Georgia Tech's 3-9 season in 2015 and as I stated earlier, I think Georgia Tech will be much improved in 2016. Once this game actually kicks off, Georgia will probably be favored, but giving nearly two touchdowns against a quality opponent is too much. 

December 10th
Army +11.5 Navy @ Baltimore -110 ($25 to win $22.75)
Is this the year? Can Army finally end the nearly decade and a half run of dominance by Navy? While the Midshipmen have won 14 in a row against the Cadets, they have not covered in four of the last five. In fact, Army has kept the game within one score in those four games. I would expect more of the same this season as Army has perhaps their best team since 1996 and Navy loses the all-time NCAA touchdown scorer

Conference Champion Bets
I decided to put a few dollars down on a few teams to win their respective leagues.

Cincinnati to win the American +450 ($10 to win $45)
See the earlier write up on the Bearcats. They may end of having to beat league favorite Houston twice, but I thought they were too good a value to pass up.

Eastern Michigan to win the MAC +30000 ($10 to win $3000)
Yes. You read that right. Eastern Michigan has pretty much no chance to win the MAC, but I liked the hire of Chris Creighton in 2014 and I think the Eagles will be much improved in his third season. Their first bowl since 1987 wouldn't shock me, and these odds were too absurd to pass up.

Marshall to win Conference USA +350 ($10 to win $35)
Despite massive attrition on both sides of the ball following their 2014 league title, Marshall still had a chance to play in the Conference USA Championship Game heading into the final weekend of the regular season in 2015. Marshall does return only four starters from one of the best defenses in Conference USA, but the Herd are 20-4 against league foes the past three seasons. The East division of Conference USA may once again come down to Marshall and Western Kentucky over Thanksgiving weekend.

Miscellaneous Bets
This is a college football blog, but there were a few other events I wanted to bet on.

Los Angeles Dodgers to win World Series +150 ($10 to win $150)
Despite the best pitcher of his generation not playing for the last month, the Dodgers have surged and are within striking distance of the Giants in the NL West. If Kershaw can return this season (or postseason), the Dodgers are a threat to win it all.

St Louis Cardinals to win World Series +250 ($10 to win $250)
Despite a rather pedestrian record, St Louis is highly regarded by several advanced metrics. The 538 ELO Ratings rank them seventh in all of MLB. The Simple Rating System over at Baseball Reference has them tied for fourth. They are too far behind to catch the Cubs, so to win the World Series, they will have to start by winning the NL Wild Card Game. Still, these long odds were too good to pass up.

Miami Marlins to win World Series +400 ($10 to win $400)
The Marlins are the anti-Cardinals. They also have a middling record (currently good enough for the second Wild Card in the NL), but are just 18th in the 538 ELO Ratings and tied for 15th in the Simple Rating System. Baseball is a weird game though, particularly with the new Wild Card format. Bad teams have won the World Series before, and with them already sitting in playoff position, I had pull the trigger here. 

Reckless Parlay
I couldn't leave Las Vegas without buying at least one lottery ticket. This is your standard six team parlay. All games must be correct for the parlay to pay out and each game occurs over Labor Day Weekend.
$10 to win $400

Game 1: August 26th 
Hawaii +21 Cal @ Sydney
Yes, college football kicks off about a week earlier than normal. Might as well burn this ticket early.

Game 2: September 1st
Tulane +17 Wake Forest
Can't believe my alma mater is giving this many points. 

Game 3: September 2nd
Army +16 Temple
I think this is the best Army team in quite awhile. Might as well take them getting a lot of points from a team that could be a little overrated. 

Game 4: September 3rd
Georgia Tech -3.5 Boston College @ Dublin
Another college football game in a foreign country. This line is probably half a point too high, but I had to throw a favorite in there somewhere.

Game 5: September 3rd
Wyoming +10.5 Northern Illinois
Wyoming plays their home game at more than 7000 feet above sea level. We'll see if the Huskies have problems adjusting.

Game 6: September 4th
Notre Dame -4.5 Texas
I immediately regretted making this bet after the ticket printed.

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