NCAA 2017: To Open, Let's Talk Openers

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David Malinsky

Monday, August 28, 2017 2:17 PM GMT

Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 2:17 PM GMT

NCAA 2017: The Time of Your Life is about to begin...The Jacksonville OL only provides a jagged edge for Bortles/Henne…On making Hurricane Harvey both a part of our social and our sporting consciousness…The NL Wild Card chase is getting Fishy...

Point Blank – August 28, 2017

Although the NCAA football weekend brought a smattering of results to file away, including some defenses that are tired not from being worn down, but by not having been conditioned properly yet, this is what would be the usual “Kickoff Monday” in terms of the betting boards, a big card on tap and full limits now up at most shops.

This particular Monday has become different across the years, however, with some of these games having been on the board for months already, which brings some particular issues into play as the tracking is done. I’ll get to that in a moment, as well as continue the NFL team-by-team tour with the various offensive issues being faced in Jacksonville (it isn’t just the QB play). First, it is time to accept that one of your most significant handicapping challenges with the new season ahead isn’t just about knowing the players and coaches, and for many of you reading here for the first time, the betting markets as well, but also having a power rating of yourself.

Teams are allowed to dream big right now; I count a dozen on this week’s NCAA board with legitimate playoff aspirations. You are entitled to dream big as well. Each season brings a special opportunity if you have brought the necessary patience, diligence, and discipline, and a prime focal point in developing the topics for PB each day is to help you to better maximize your talents in those areas. There isn’t a damn thing wrong with dreaming big if you are realistically accepting the demands of the endeavor – those that come close, but fail, at a great challenge, often accomplish far more than those that have succeeded at a lower aim.

Let me add a component to that – in navigating your way across the various currents that come with this territory, there are skills that you will develop that enhance much of what you will do in the other facets of life. Those skills also carry over season-to-season in the challenges that the point spreads bring, for those of you that are football only (and I know that is a big part of the audience). So before attacking this week’s board, I’ll open up the jukebox to address those personal energies that I hope are in the right places for each of you as the new journey begins.

Winning isn’t just about what happens this week, or anything between now and the end of the season. Everything that you do the right way now becomes something to build on long into the future. If you bring integrity to your processes it also isn’t about completing a search, but also where one search leads to greater opportunities. There is much to be found on the periphery of the journey as you proceed if your eyes and spirit are open. There has been a dynamic example of that across the Rock and Roll front this summer, a tour of both hard-driving musical passion and the subtle elegance of the craft from Steve Van Zandt and the Disciples of Soul , and it isn’t too late for many of you to take advantage of a rare opportunity to see a master (I will likely be watching the first half of Chiefs/Raiders from a bar stool somewhere in Los Angeles on October 19, before heading over to the Orpheum Theatre). Steve and a superb supporting cast are where they are because they dared to dream big dreams, and had the courage to pursue them, all the while dreaming still. Let’s set the tone for the new season with a moment from their show in Amsterdam two months ago, and “The Time of Your Life” -

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Go ahead and dream big right now, and each day here we will delve into the realities that must be dealt with to make them happen.

 

To Open, just what were the “Openers”

As noted above, much of the conversation here will not just be about players and coaches, but also the betting markets themselves, a critical part of the process, yet one that does not get a whole lot of attention across the traditional Sports Mediaverse. There is much to be said on that front but one of the biggest challenges comes this particular week, the attempts to track the various market movers and shakers for this NCAA board.

By this Sunday the usual routine will already be in play – there will be a few shops both offshore and in Las Vegas that will post the following week’s college card early in the day, and then the major shops follow a bit later. This Sunday the flow will be earlier than usual because the Sports Books aren’t being distracted by NFL Halftimes and In-Running, but most weeks we will see good stores with decent limits have their NCAA lines going up as the 4th quarter of the west coast NFL games wind down.

That isn’t the case for this board. Some of these NCAA lines have been up for a couple of months, and those that were ready to take the plunge quickly found themselves with major bargains. Some good folks here in Las Vegas, like Tony Miller at the Golden Nugget and Chris Andrews and Jimmy Vaccaro at the Southpoint, are willing to deal those lines early, but of course, it comes with a catch – they also keep their liabilities in check via low limits. Hence the tracking issue – just what is the baseline for the “openers” on this board?

I am not among those in line when the Golden Nugget or Southpoint post; there are college football specialists that are far ahead of me at that point, having absorbed spring practice reports while I am breaking down MLB box scores, and diving deeply into the NBA playoffs. And part of what those that open early have to cope with is that the majority of their action will come from sharps; recreational bettors neither having their opinions formed nor willing to lay out bankroll a couple of months in advance of kickoff. That means some of the early lines get hammered away.

How do I cope with it? By trying to ignore those lines, which has been increasingly difficult given the media flow these days. If I think a team should be -15, and they opened at -6 and got bet to -10, my methods say that the -10 is still more than fair value and that I should invest despite the fact that there was a better opportunity out there. That kind of decision will be extremely rare the rest of the season because the gaps won’t exist, but it is an issue on this board. While I will mostly scold folks for laying the worst of it throughout much of the campaign, laying the worst of it compared to the early NCAA Week #1 lines does not qualify as a sin.

How do I track it? My default through the years has become the Pinnacle opening line, which brings a consistency and integrity of the process that is a valuable tool. That is also how I will track this week each season as it unfolds. There can be a lot of confusion out there for this week, with several games having moved a full touchdown from their early offerings; limiting that confusion should become one of your priorities.

Another priority will be understanding the confusion of the Jaguars offense because while the QB play looks woeful, it isn’t just about the QBs…

 

Blake Bortles isn’t necessarily starting the Jacksonville opener for the right reasons

Yes the one take on the Jaguars as the NFL tour continues will focus on something that has gotten plenty of attention already across the Sports Mediaverse – in what is shaping up as the make-or-break season for Blake Bortles, his performance to this point has not been good at all (though these things don’t get filed officially anywhere, he threw five interceptions in a July 29 Jacksonville team practice, and was 5-17 in a joint practice vs. the Patriots on August 8).

Of course, Bortles has not been good at the NFL level, in particular when gauged against his draft position, and one of the best ways to view his various performance trackings is to understand that his statistics paint a far more favorable portrait than they should. Michael Salfino at 538 did a terrific job of breaking that down, so there isn’t much need for a rehash.

Bortles had been so unsteady in this training camp that Doug Marrone gave a start to Chad Henne last week, which showed how uncomfortable the Jaguars had become – in his 10th season, Henne has already had plenty of opportunities to exhibit how limited his ceiling is. There was more of that evident when the Jaguars offense opened with a trio of three-and-outs vs. Carolina with him at the helm, though the middle series got extended into a scoring drive via a fake punt.

Now it is back to Bortles as the starter for the regular season opener vs. Houston, and while it is not a huge surprise, it is worth filing away the particular reason for it. Let’s go to Marrone - “The first thing I look at is who gives us the best chance to win in the situation we’re in. Blake has the ability to extend plays for us, which is going to be helpful in what we have to get done.”

What Marrone is really saying, with his phrasing of “extend plays”, is perhaps better read as “our offensive line play is a problem”. And it is. The Jaguars had hoped to get at least one season out of Brandon Albert, which not only would have upgraded the key LT spot, it also would have allowed rookie Cam Robinson to break into the league at a lesser-pressure position. That didn’t happen, Albert retiring early in camp. Now Robinson must start at LT, where he may not be ready, and there are no Pro Bowl candidates anywhere across the unit. Six different Jacksonville linemen were called for a penalty in last week’s loss to Carolina when Henne was sacked three times during his stint.

As the season unfolds there is going to be a lot of mental pressure on Bortles, likely more than he can handle, under the magnification of the Sports Mediaverse. Much of the success or failure of the Jaguars offense will be attributed to him. The shrewd handicapper needs to also isolate the OL – this is potentially one of the NFL’s weakest groups in the trenches, and just how vulnerable Henne looked last week speaks volumes.

Jacksonville has playoff-caliber performers at RB, WR and TE. That will make some even harsher in their grading of Bortles/Henne because that surrounding cast has so much promise. But the blocking corps does not show a strength in either opening up running lanes or in pass protection, and tracking how that group grades out in the early stages will tell us whether this offense has any real upside or not.

 

On the Hurricane Harvey front

First, our heartfelt prayers go out to those that have been impacted by Harvey, and we are aware of many long-term readers that were unfortunately in that path. For those of you that have been building your bankroll for the start of this football season, I hope there is some breathing room for part of that to go to the Red Cross at a time in which there is so much need.

I hope that turning the attention to the practical aspects of the sport is not an awkward juxtaposition, and apologies up front if that is the case, but it is also a reality of what we do. Let’s get to some of the things that you should know.

Of issue on this board are the preparations for the University of Houston, with the Cougars set to play at UT-San Antonio on Saturday. The team is practicing in Austin, using the University of Texas indoor facilities, but one can’t help but wonder how much distraction there will be, because of the uncertainty of what is happening at their homes (while Rice does not play this week, note that the Owls still are not sure where they are heading on their way back from Australia, with the prospects of the Baylor or SMU practice facilities as their options).

There are similar issues on the professional boards. The Houston Texans flew from New Orleans to Dallas after their pre-season game on Saturday night, where they will practice for the next few days, and the Thursday game against the Cowboys that was slated for Houston may be played in Dallas instead. Meanwhile, the Houston Astros are also in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, pending the altering of the schedule of their series against the Rangers this week, which may be switched from Houston to Tampa if the logistics can be worked out.

Keep in mind that the scoreboards of sport can be trivial to the players and coaches right now. There is the uncertainty of what their homes are going through that can be a major distraction, and is something that will be a factor in what we do over the days ahead. It is tragically unfortunate, but it is also a reality.

 

In the Sights, Monday MLB…

I’ll be taking a small flyer on #903 Miami (7:05 Eastern) vs. the Nationals this evening, the return being offered a little too good to pass up.

The Marlins are not only playing well in a current 13-3 surge, but the run has coincided with the Rockies and Diamondbacks slumping, to the point at which there are legitimate playoff aspirations now – they begin the day just 4.5 games out in the Wild Card. And there are certainly no confidence issues for Jose Urena; Miami having gone 6-1 over his last seven starts, the only blemish a tough 1-0 defeat vs. these Nationals when Urena only allowed three hits over eight innings.

This price over-values what Washington brings this evening. For Max Scherzer, the goal is to show that he is healthy in his first game action in over two weeks, and behind him is a bullpen that will be shorthanded, Matt Albers, Shawn Kelley and Joe Blanton all having worked both games of Sunday’s doubleheader vs. the Mets.  There is as high as +205 betting lines out there in the early trading, and for those that can find a favorable run line (favorable being -105 or less), note that the Marlins have gone 17-4 as +1.5 across the 21 Urena starts. He doesn’t dominate, but he keeps his team in the game most outings.

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