NCAA 2017: Game On for the Playing Fields and Betting Windows

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David Malinsky

Friday, September 1, 2017 2:12 PM GMT

Friday, Sep. 1, 2017 2:12 PM GMT

NCAA 2017: Now is the time to prove It (all night) on the field. … Will it be another Brown-out in tracking the Cleveland statistics? … Are the Bengals tough enough in the trenches? … It’s pilsner weather around much of the nation right now, so why not drink a good one.

Point Blank – September 1, 2017

I have to admit that no matter how long I have been doing this, there is a unique level of adrenaline when each NCAA season kicks off, the Thursday night action bringing a multitude of talking points into play, many of which will be addressed here in the Monday “What a Bettor Better Know…” edition. We’re going to have some fun this fall, and also make some money, because a volatile market allows for that, and it is that market that comes to the lead today.

With a lot of reading on the way, including doubling up on our NFL team-by-team tour, the jukebox will be in play, as will be the case most Friday’s through the football season – you need some accompaniment to help you glide through. I am going to make these Guitar Friday’s so that we can push the buttons for some extended plays, and for the second straight week I will also make it a bookend – Monday brought some Steve Van Zandt from his 2017 tour to get the week started, so why not close it out with Steve on guitar. It is Bruce Springsteen taking the lead on a classic version of “Prove it All Night”, from Berlin in 2016, but Van Zandt gets to bring it home -

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Now it is not just about the players and coaches out there having to prove it, but for each of us in our own methods. Let’s get to work.

If you’re going to win this season it is not just about tracking the games, you better also be tracking the market

Each season begins with me reading and hearing similar handicapping approaches from across the football landscape – “I think team XXX is going to be much better” or “I think team YYY is going to be much worse”. The money then shows at the windows on or against those teams. And despite how logical the approach appears to be, that money tends to run about 50-50, and when laying 11-10, a 50 percent win rate becomes expensive.

Why does the logic fail? Because what is the first thing that the oddsmakers do when they make their prices? They go through the same exercises. Many times the guys setting the prices don’t go far enough, which was certainly the case in Oklahoma State/Tulsa last night – a guy could have laid -10 when some of the early shops opened, and even when -17 became the common “full market opener” it was short. The Cowboys have a lot of upside this season, and there may be a bandwagon already.

But sometimes the markets run their notions too far, and that is where early-season value can be found. One of the exercises that you can get into the habit of doing is studying baselines, so that those adjustments come into play more clearly, and I will refer to a trusted and impartial source, The Gold Sheet, as a way of sorting through this key avenue.

Let’s use Navy/FAU tonight as a prime example, the Owls under the spotlight as the Lane Kiffin era begins. Yes, the team will be improved in time, via Kiffin’s profile aiding in recruiting. But does anything happen quickly, especially with the seniors having to adjust to playing under their third different HC? One of the lead topics I will get to early in the season will be on how effective Kiffin can be with this class of program – he has coached nothing but A-level types in the college ranks, in addition to the Oakland NFL stint.

Now let’s set the market perspective. Two years ago The Gold Sheet closed with a rating of Navy -18 over FAU on a neutral field, at the end of last season it was -22. If we give the Owls two points for their home field, the current line is calling Navy -12 on a neutral. That is quite an adjustment, and it may well have gone too far, with FAU bringing the potential for sloppiness as the adjustment cycle takes place.

I will go to another one that will make its way into pocket, with #187 Temple (Saturday, 3:30 Eastern) over Notre Dame. As noted in a column earlier this week, I don’t get involved with the opening numbers posted at places like the Golden Nugget and Southpoint in Las Vegas; the daily MLB grind taking priority. But I have a friend that laid Notre Dame -6 when that one first hit the board, and I track the Pinnacle opener at -15. Now you can take Temple +18.5 at some good joints, and there was a +19 to be had at a major store two days ago.

I believe this one has gone too far, and while the Fighting Irish will be much improved, they don’t bring the kind of explosiveness of an Oklahoma State, so I don’t fear getting in front of a runaway train. Why do I like this photo so much? Because it is Brian Kelly holding up more fingers than Notre Dame had wins in 2016.

So now let’s go back to The Gold Sheet closing ratings from 2016 to set some perspective – those numbers would have called for Temple to have been favored by -3 on this same field. In fairness there is some adjustment needed for the Irish injuries at the time, but even if you give them three full points for that, it only takes it to pick’em.

Notre Dame has improved and Temple has had some serious attrition, but has it gone this far? I don’t believe so. Kelly is having to break in new coordinators on both sides of the ball, which works against his team getting out of the gate at a high level of efficiency. And while the Owls took some hits from a veteran cat that went 20-8 over the past two seasons, they are being replaced with some talented young players, Matt Rhule having elevated the recruiting, and Geoff Collins a good fit to keep the momentum of the program going. Those younger Temple players also got the benefit of back-to-back seasons in which they made it to the conference championship game, and a bowl, which meant a lot of extra practice time.

But when I bet Temple it was not about making a case that the Owls are special, or that Notre Dame won’t be improved. It is instead stating that the markets have gone too far in their adjustments. Temple does not have to play all that well to lose by 17 or 18 points, yet each of those outcomes would go into the pocket as a win.

Now let’s add two more NFL teams to the files as the preview cycle continues, looking for the key elements that the serious handicapper should focus on as the new season unfolds -

 

Cleveland 2017: Is this really Season #1 again for Hue Jackson (how many mulligans does the NFL allow)

The 2016 Browns caused a minor headache for the oddsmakers and sports books, who were fortunate that it did not become an all-out migraine. A team that opened the season with more rookies on the roster than any non-expansion team ever not only lacked the natural talent and chemistry to compete, but the season was treated as though the scoreboards didn’t really matter anyway. The focus was properly put on building for the future, because there wasn’t any “there” there in terms of a present.

It could have been gruesome in the marketplace when Cleveland opened 0-14 SU and 2-12 ATS (10 of the losses in double figures), but the sports books had a saving grace – while much of the betting public was putting anti-Browns into their parlays each week, there were wise guys playing on Cleveland to balance that out. To understand that, there are data-bases filled with past models of teams that got off to an awful start and then corrected, this being professional football after all, and those that did not appreciate the 2016 Browns for what they were got burned in looking for regression. It simply was not a traditional NFL team.

But now the conundrum as 2017 begins – is this essentially the same ride on a carnival contraption? Does Jackson have another free pass in terms of the standings, pointing to 2018 as the season in which they will try to compete to win games?

What does that mean to the handicappe - that you read between the lines in terms of what is being said, and the personnel moves that accompany the words, and rely far less on statistics than you traditionally do. As for those 2016 Cleveland stats, they have almost no relevance because of the number of personnel changes.

The Browns begin 2017 with three rookies starting, three listed as second-team, and TE David Njoku soon to work his way up. From that rookie class of 2016 there are eight currently listed as starters in their second campaign. It should not take you long to do the math – half of the Browns starting lineup are players in their first or second NFL seasons.

Of course there is also that little matter of one of the rookies being QB DeShone Kizer, and all of the various issues that brings. Kizer has legit tools, and while the jury is out on Jackson as a HC, there should be confidence in his ability to develop both a QB individually, and an offense to fit around the skills of the QB. But, and I cannot overemphasize the word “but” enough here, how much of this is for development into 2018, as opposed to attempting to maximize the scoreboards each week of this season?

My 2016 Cleveland data-base is blank; I just don’t find anything useful to carry over. I will begin tracking 2017 as though the Browns are playing for real, but will be extremely quick to adjust my weighting down if that turns out to not be the case. A prime thing to watch is the relationship between management and Jackson – does he have to win at least a handful of games to be guaranteed another season, or is this being accepted as yet another experiment.

 

Cincinnati 2017: Are the Bengals tough enough in the trenches

For a lot of years the Bengals had been consistent under Marvin Lewis, both in performance and through purpose. They were tough in the trenches and sound on defense, but ultimately came up short of getting deep into the playoffs because they did not have the upper-end playmakers. That changed in 2015, an offense loaded with talent across the skill positions, which gave Andy Dalton the opportunity to go from being average to being good.

Then came 2016, and the skill cast was altered drastically, not only losing key WRs Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to free agency, but then having injuries take away six games from A.J. Green, eight from Tyler Eifert, and six from Giovanni Bernard. Naturally there was the corresponding drop in productivity, and in the standings.

So now the missing cogs are healthy again, and young talents like John Ross and Joe Mixon have been added to the rotations. Does that mean the Bengals get back to where they were in 2015, and we regard last year as an aberration? Maybe not. There is something that may be changing around the franchise and it leads to the key focus issue for me – are the Bengals tough enough in the trenches?

While the skill position injuries impacted the offense overall, it may not just be a matter of getting the players back – Andy Dalton went from 4.9 in 2015 to 6.8 in sack percentage, and in the Football Outsiders rushing efficiency charts they fell from #7 to #13. It was more than the losses of personnel among the ball-handlers, it was an OL that did not perform well, and may not be any better this season. Meanwhile the defensive front went from #8 in rushing efficiency in 2015 to #20 last year, and also may not be any better.

The Cincinnati offense is rolling the dice a bit at both tackle spots, hoping that Cedric Ogbuehi can get it done for Any Dalton’s blind side (a big step-down from Andrew Whitworth), and that Jake Fisher is ready for full-time duty at RT. Meanwhile Andre Smith is being moved inside to RG, which means the entire right side will be players attempting to go full-time at positions they aren’t necessarily comfortable with.

And then there is the DL, where even with Domato Peko anchoring the inside leverage fell off. Some of that is why they did not hang on to Peko, who is now with the Broncos, and also the anticipation that second-year man Andrew Billings was going to be ready to step in, despite missing his entire rookie season with a torn meniscus. That hasn’t quite happened yet, Billings not clearly winning the job over journeyman Pat Sims, who is in his 10th season.

Yes, the Bengals are going to get a pass rush out of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. But in order to be effective as pass rushers they need some anchors inside, and that also calls on Kevin Minter to be stout in his debut season as the Cincy MLB. The 4.4 yards per rush attempt they allowed in 2016 was #23, and this group may not be better than that one was.

The Bengals are loaded again at the skill positions. But there may be some issues in the running game on both sides of the ball, and there are also questions about those tackles in pass protection. That is where my focus will be going in the early stages of the season, not making the usual assumptions that have been a part of the Lewis era.

 

And for your drinking pleasure…

It is also time to introduce a new feature to Point Blank, a “House of Yards” podcast that will be on the way with Matt Landes; the opening edition to be posted on Monday. Our title focus on two key elements that will be in play – naturally the football connotation as we look for edges inside of the marketplace, but also the classic beer drinking vessel, because despite his young age Matt is remarkably advanced in his understanding of the craft. The west coast of the United States is a phenomenal place to be right now for a young beer aficionado.

Each week on House of Yards there will be a special selection from Matt, and will also be been kind enough to also draw up some tasting notes for the Friday edition of PB. The focus this week went to something refreshing and crisp, with Matt’s home city of Los Angeles going through quite a heat wave, as is the case across much of the nation. Ein Prosit!

Brewery: Modern Times
Beer: Ice
Style: Pilsner
ABV: 4.8%

Some people may think pilsners are dull, and they are, in the same way the Patriots are dull. Much like simply eliminating mistakes has taken New England to new heights, a pilsner done right is an achievement in purity. Modern Times Ice has the aroma and flavor of crackery malt balanced out by a touch of earthy, spicy and floral hop notes. High carbonation rounds it out as a clean, crisp and refreshing beer that lives up to its name as a crushable beverage of choice on a hot summer day.

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

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