College Football Picks: Stanford Cardinal 2013-14 Preview

Steve -

Thursday, August 15, 2013 1:54 PM UTC

Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 1:54 PM UTC

How close to perfect does this team have to be before people take notice? Academics aside, we examine Stanford’s 2013-2014 betting prospects.

For the past three years, Stanford finished the college football season ranked in the top-7. The Cardinal regularly ranks in the top-10 for their football players’ graduation rate. For bettors, Stanford has been profitable against-the-spread (ATS) for each of the past five seasons. What does this mean for your college football picks this season?

Are you prepared for the upcoming college football season?

No Respect for The Farm

Despite going 43-10 straight-up (SU) over the past four seasons, Stanford was only in the preseason top-25 for two of those years, and they cracked the preseason top-20 just once. We have concluded that either the media or college football odds makers (or both) simply have not bought the idea of Stanford performing at an elite level in football on a consistent basis. Over the past four years, the Cardinal have been beating the spread an amazing 69.23% of the time. Using the closing betting line, Stanford has won all four of their Bowl games ATS. Over that span of four years, the majority of the public betting was on the Stanford side for 81.13% of their games. It appears the public figured out that Stanford was a great bet, but apparently the odds makers did not.

Even after finishing 2010 going 12-1 SU, winning 66.67% of their games ATS, earning a final AP ranking of #4, returning a Nobel-caliber quarterback named Andrew Luck, and entering 2011 as the #7 team in the Preseason AP Poll, odds makers still failed to treat Stanford like a college football powerhouse. That year, the Cardinal were favorites of one touchdown or less, at Home, for as many games as ALL of the other AP top-7 teams COMBINED (in their Home games). Despite the media finally capitulating to Stanford’s power (as evidenced by ranking them in the Preseason AP Poll), odds makers were still in denial as the Cardinal went 12-1 (92.31%) ATS in games played away from Stanford Stadium from 2011-2013. (The Cardinal side was the minority betting side in just 2 of those 13 games.)

The Oddsmakers’ Response

Stanford’s ATS success was so extreme and their case so unique that we felt compelled to ask some prominent odds makers what they were thinking when it came to setting Stanford’s betting line. We questioned Adam Burns, Sportsbook Manager at Burns essentially agreed with our assessment that odds makers were “...consistently offside on Stanford” throughout the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Burns felt that odds makers dealt with the Cardinal much better during the 2012 season because their “...action on Stanford was far more balanced.” What Burns said next should be quite illuminating for bettors: “Stanford’s Week 3 win against USC was a big game for us.” For the sportsbooks, getting the majority of the public betting on the wrong side (USC’s side) helped win back a ton of money. Stanford only got 22% of the public betting on that game (where the Cardinal were 9.5-point underdogs) when they beat USC outright and easily covered the spread. The ‘handle’ for the sportsbooks on the USC-Stanford game was more than that on the Stanford-Cal, Arizona-Stanford, Stanford-Colorado, and Washington State-Stanford games, COMBINED. So the sportsbooks found a way to win with Stanford WHILE Stanford was still beating the spread. In the end, the sportsbooks do not care if the Cardinal continue to be an exceptional ATS team as long as the books get bettors on the wrong side- maybe even just a couple of times each season, if the handle is large enough. Of Stanford’s 53 games played from 2009-2013, they were the minority betting side just seven times (including 2012’s USC game), and Stanford won all seven of those games ATS!

Stanford’s Betting Trends and Related College Football Picks

  • When opponents held the Cardinal under 5 yards per play in 2012, Stanford was just 1-4 ATS.
  • When the Cardinal allowed at least 300 passing yards in a game, they were 6-5 (54.55%) ATS from 2009-2012. Remove those 11 games and Stanford was 73.17% ATS over that four-year span.
  • Over the past three years, there have been 13 cases of ‘reverse line movement’ in games involving Stanford. That line movement was correct just twice, 15.38% of the time, so the sharps were pretty dull when they got to The Farm.

2014 BCS National Championship Futures Betting

As this is being written, Bovada has Stanford at 16-to-1, while Pinnacle has them at +2031 (better than 20-to-1) to win the 2014 BCS National Championship, giving them the 6th shortest odds on Bovada’s board. In a previous article, we outlined our 60% Rule, where all BCS National Champions had at least three of the following five criteria before starting their championship seasons:

1) An upperclassman quarterback:

Stanford fails to meet the first criterion of the 60% Rule because quarterback Kevin Hogan is a redshirt sophomore by eligibility, even though he is a junior by academic standing. Attempting just one pass through the first eight games of 2012, Hogan took over the quarterback spot during the Colorado game and managed to complete 71.7% of his passes while helping the Cardinal to victories over four successive ranked teams en route to Stanford’s first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years.

2) A top-20 scoring defense one year prior:

The Cardinal did not, however, get to 12-2 SU in 2012 on the play of their 86th–ranked total offense. Their 11th-ranked scoring defense allowed just 17.2 points per game- Stanford’s lowest mark in the BCS era. The second criterion of the 60% Rule, which 12 out of 15 champions (80%) met, is having a top-20 scoring defense the previous season. Of the 15 BCS Champions, 13 (86.67%) had top-10 scoring defenses the year they won it all. Stanford definitely meets that measure. The 2013 defensive squad looks to be as good as ever. They return 14 of their 16 leading tacklers, 8 of their top-9 tackles-for-loss (TFL) leaders (Stanford ranked #1 in TFL in 2012), and 4 of their 5 sack leaders (Stanford was also #1 in sacks in 2012). On paper, there appears to be a defense on The Farm that is ready to make a championship run.

3) A preseason top-10 ranking:

We are fairly certain that the Cardinal will meet the third criterion when they enter the season as a top-10 team in the yet-to-be-released Preseason AP Poll. Out of five prominent preseason publications, Stanford is in the top-10 in four of them, and by pre-AP Poll consensus, they are #7.

4) Membership in the Southeastern Conference (the SEC):

The fourth criterion- membership in the Southeastern Conference- is definitely not the case for these defending Pac-12 Champions, but Stanford is built like an SEC team. The SEC is reputed to be a “line of scrimmage league.” Stanford would fit in quite well, having allowed just 44 sacks the last four years, while their defense sacked opposing QB’s 153 times in that span. Comparing Stanford to the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Cardinal ran the ball an average of 40.36 times per game while the Tide ran 39.74 times per game. Over the past three seasons, Stanford is +27 in turnover margin, while Alabama is +33. For the past two years, both Stanford and Alabama were in the top-5 for rushing defense. While they may look the part, Stanford still gets no credit for SEC membership when applying the 60% Rule.

5) A head coach who had been at the school for two to four years:

As for the final criterion- having a head coach acting in that role for two to four years- Stanford’s David Shaw hits the bull’s-eye by entering his third year as the head honcho on The Farm. In total, Stanford meets three out of the five predictive criteria for the 60% Rule, making them qualified candidates for the 2014 BCS National Championship.

Schedule Notes

By preseason consensus of five major publications, Stanford has to face at least three top-25 teams in 2013: Oregon, Notre Dame, and USC. Three others are right on the cusp of the top-25: Arizona State, Oregon State, and UCLA. If Washington is added into the mix (since they were one of two teams to defeat the Cardinal in 2012), Stanford has seven games of particular concern during the 2013 regular season. Five of those seven games are at Home for the Cardinal. As for the elephant in the North Division of the Pac-12, Oregon, Stanford gets them at Home after a bye week on a frenzied college football Thursday night. Besides, the Cardinal have beaten the Ducks (SU) in two of the last four meetings, including last year’s contest in Eugene.

Preseason Conclusions

Stanford just keeps beating the spread while sportsbooks only care about the house take. Until we see evidence to the contrary, even a highly-ranked Stanford can be a good bet ATS for your sports picks. Avoiding those games where Stanford faces elite defenses and prolific passing teams will help to keep Stanford bettors profitable. As for a 2014 BCS National Championship futures bet, Stanford qualifies vis-à-vis the 60% Rule, and at 20-to-1, we believe there is value in such a wager. Bet on The Farm (but just don’t bet the farm).

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