Weekend Edition: ND/Michigan State, Washington/Colorado and "Reputation vs. Reality"

David Malinsky

Friday, September 22, 2017 1:43 PM UTC

Friday, Sep. 22, 2017 1:43 PM UTC

As the football weekend approaches, Reputation vs. Reality is front and center in East Lansing and Boulder...Amber waves of grain are particularly lovely when brewed properly…

Point Blank – September 22, 2017

One of the prime themes across the handicapping universe is that of Reputation vs. Reality, and Rams/49ers offered a crash course in that on Thursday night. Since there are some prime NCAA Saturday matchups that fall under the same umbrella I’ll make that the theme for this edition, in particular because of the way the money is flowing in a couple of the major showdowns.

With a lot of ground to cover across a busy weekend, including following the comments thread, naturally the jukebox will be in play, and this week the decision is an easy one. As part of the MusiCares Hurricane Relief Fund, something close to home for folks in Houston is out there – the Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band show from the Summit in 1978 has been made available to the public, with all proceeds to go to the fund.

I have some good friends that live in Houston that are going through the difficult rebuild process right now, among them Chuck and the folks at Matchup Center, so this is a great time for you to do something selfish, getting a recording of a great show at a fabulous price (the MP3 is only $9.95), while also having that money go to where it is needed.

That December night in Houston was part of the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, and there is an ideal working backdrop from the show as you complete your NCAA and NFL handicaps – a terrific early rendition of “Racing in the Streets”. I label it early because this is Roy Bittan developing what has come to be known as The Coda, a poignant way to round out the meaning of the song, something that has evolved masterfully over the last 40 years. As a proper wrap-around, I will bring one of the latest versions of the song into play on Monday, to showcase how the best of art can continue to evolve, and is a world without limits (even in a world where hairlines recede, as you will note on Monday).

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Our thoughts and prayers are with some special friends in Puerto Rico as well, and the unfortunate cycle many there are having to go through. Now let’s make some money that we can use to help them all out, getting to some specific Reputation vs. Reality notions for Saturday, games in which I don’t believe the money is moving the line in the proper direction…

Betting in Boulder: The Washington Huskies were good, but not great, in 2016…

Some good thoughts on Washington/Colorado were brought up in the comments thread earlier in the week, and it has been a game of major interest to me – while my early week trigger finger wasn’t going to twitch unless a +13 showed (one does indeed learn patience in this stuff across the years), the markets pushing this one from Washington -10 to the current -11.5 is enough for a go. Let’s get to the details.

I don’t grade Washington as being elite; the talent isn’t quite there for that yet. The run to a playoff spot in 2016 was based on an extremely non-conference schedule (Rutgers-Idaho-Portland State, all at home) and much of the rest of the Pac 12 being down a bit, so the coaching of Chris Petersen took a good roster and had it appear to be great. But in those late season step-ups vs. USC and Alabama the Huskies showed that the talent level had not truly risen to that level.

Are they better this season? Let’s talk market plateaus. When Washington met Colorado in the Pac 12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium last December, the Huskies closed at -8. That was after both teams had played a dozen games, so while the looked wrong based on that outcome, Washington rolling 41-10, that may have been more about the Buffaloes not being ready for the moment, than the overall talent gap.

What are the markets saying this week? That if we attach a 3-point home field advantage for Folsom Field, which is a pinch low for a Saturday night, the gap is now -14.5 on a neutral. I don’t see it.

Can we trust Colorado to play with more composure than the Pac 12 title tilt, enough to allow the relative talent gap to keep the game under the price? My money will say yes because there is something unique in play – one of the key matchups of this game could make the home team the far more experienced and steadier side…

It is the Washington secondary that brings the upstarts on Saturday night

One of the under-rated aspects of the Buffaloes offense is that the WR corps of Bryce Bobo (21 catches for 201 yards), Shay fields (19-257) and Devin Ross (14-231) rates among the nation’s best. I am not quite sure how he pulled it off, but in one of his first recruiting classes Mike MacIntyre came up with a trio of wide-outs that could end up in the NFL. That is making the assimilation of Steven Montez much easier at QB, especially when you add senior RB Philip Lindsay, another guy that could make an NFL roster (he would be an ideal third-down back). Montez still lacks experience, and does cause some nervousness for my wagering purposes, but has far more upside than Sefo Liufau brought to the position in previous seasons.

Let’s get to what I believe is the key matchup of this game, not just in terms of talent, but also in the poise to hold up under the pressure spotlight, the base MacIntyre offense using four WRs –

Colorado WRs
Devin Ross – RS Senior
Bryce Bobo – Senior
Shay Fields – Senior
Jay MacIntyre – RS Junior

Washington Secondary
CB Jordan Miller – Junior
CB Byron Murphy – RS Freshman
S Jo Jo McIntosh – Junior
S Taylor Rapp – Sophomore

Who looks more ready to stand up to the pressure? And note how different this matchup is than last December, when the Huskies had three starters in the secondary that all went in the high second round of the NFL draft – Kevin King (#33, Green Bay), Budda Baker (#36, Arizona) and Sidney Jones (#43, Philadelphia). Meanwhile there are no seniors for Petersen in his DL rotation either, so even the pass rush is not an automatic.

This has been a major swing in the matchups of the Buffaloes passing offense into the Washington pass defense since the last meeting, which I do not believe the markets are pricing properly. Hence there will be #354 Colorado (Saturday, 10 PM Eastern) going into pocket as long as I can get a win on 11, and there is nothing wrong with taking a piece of +360 or better on the Money Line if you see it.

There is a similar matchup aspect taking place in East Lansing earlier in the evening…

Be careful with the Michigan State defensive reputation

Long-time reader Ben Maldonado brought up a good talking point about this game in the Thursday comments thread, and since there is a key fundamental matchup scenario much like the battle of the Colorado WRs into the Washington secondary, let’s take a closer look at Notre Dame/Michigan State.

After a surge to the Fighting Irish in the markets early in the week this one is slowly coming back down, to the point at which -3 is not difficult to find, and in reading some of the analysis across the Sports Mediaverse there is a common theme – Mark Dantonio as a home dog with that usual tough Spartan defense. There may be an issue with the thinking, however – what if that MSU defense simply isn’t all that “tough” this season?

Let’s go to the “game inside the game” and focus on perhaps the key matchup component to the outcome -

Notre Dame OL
LT – Mike McGlinchey (GS) 6-8/315
LG – Quenton Nelson (SR) 6-5/300
C – Sam Mustipher (SR) 6-3/305
RG – Alex Bars (SR) 6-6/312
RT – Tommy Kraemer (SO) 6-6/314

Michigan State DL
DE Kenny Willekes (SO) 6-4/244
DT Mike Panasiuk (SO) 6-4/294
DT Raequan Williams (SO) 6-4/300
DE Dillon Alexander (JR) 6-4/247

The Spartan first-team DL only has a combined 15 career starts, with Bars, McGlinchey (who has already graduated), Mustipher and Nelson all having more than that by themselves for the Irish. So this must be a case of Danaontio putting some of his young recruits into the fire early because of their talent, right? No - Alexander and Willekes joined program as walk-ons, before both being put on scholarship at the end of spring practice. That’s just all there is. How vulnerable is Sparty going to be at the point of attack, what has been a strength historically in the program now much different this season?

I’ll put some of that #361 Notre Dame -3 (Saturday, 8:00 Eastern) in pocket; in particular because one of the things that a favorable matchup in the trenches brings is the ability to run safe plays, which can reduce the risk of turnovers. The Fighting Irish won’t have to get tricky here.

The bottom line on the path to handicapping success is that you have to be alert at the start of every season when there are paradigm changes, and that includes then NFL as well, so let’s shuffle off to Buffalo for more on that front…

Some written words to go with the audio

You should be listening to House of Yards every week, if for no other reason than to hear the Hambones in the opening and closing, but also because we are looking for as much feedback as possible, to best craft the product for the audience. You can click to hear this week’s episode a little further down, but let me get back to both a general handicapping point, and a specific one, that ties in to this week’s Best Bet from the show, #469 Denver/Buffalo Under (Sunday, 1:00 Eastern).

The general is something that is a major part of the early-season handicapping process – get on top of the “Whys and Wherefores” behind the early results and you can make some anticipations that get you ahead of the marketplace. The specifics this week takes us back to Tuesday’s NFL review (the link for that is also at the end of this column), and just how strong the Denver rush defense graded out against Dallas.

What do you do early in the season when there are major changes in performance levels? Instead of just filing it away as being early, and awaiting further developments, you can go inside of the game to search for answers. Find them before the rest of the markets, and you will grow a portfolio.

Have the Broncos genuinely changed up their packages in the turnover from Gary Kubiak/Wade Phillips to Vance Joseph/Joe Woods? You don’t have to just rely on the box scores. Let’s start from the top down with this from Joseph - “We’re fitting the run game differently. Our backers are getting downhill faster, so the double-teams aren’t as tough on our interior D-linemen. So it’s personnel, and it’s scheme.” And of course based on the Ram defensive performances so far, those Phillips schemes are certainly cause for evaluation.

Now more, from LB Brandon Marshall - “We knew that no team can really beat us through the air, no team. If we stop the run, I feel like we’re unstoppable as a defense. We did that. … The guys are just better this year. (Derek) Wolfe has always been Wolfe, but he’s healthy. Adam Gotsis has turned it on. He was a rookie last year, but he turned it on. (Domata) Peko is an absolute beast. You can’t move him. We’re just going to keep getting better.”

And CB Chris Harris - “We brought some new things that they (Cowboys) haven’t seen. We put me in at safety, which they haven’t seen, and it allowed us to load the box and play ‘man.’ A lot of other teams can't-do that. They don’t have anyone as versatile as me that can go and play multiple positions.”

We can believe in a vastly-improved Denver rush defense instead of the one that rated #28 on the Football Outsiders charts in 2016, and that helps make this handicap, as they shut down a one-dimensional Buffalo offense, one in which the WR corps lacks a rhythm with Tyrod Taylor, and isn’t going to get open often vs. this secondary anyway.

The flip side you can hear in the podcast, so go ahead and listen in – the story of the Buffalo defense pre-Rex Ryan, during the Ryan years, and post-Ryan is another of those elements in which digging deeply can set a better path.

For your listening pleasure…

And now let’s get to House of Yards, the weekly discourse on football, beer and life in general between Matt Landes and myself that can help you not only find sharper edges in your handicaps, but also learn how to deal with the personal ebbs and flows that are a natural consequence of what we do each day. This week the NFL focus goes to Chiefs/Chargers, Raiders/Redskins and Cowboys/Cardinals, while there is also the weekly USC breakdown, this time as the Trojans head to California to face the resurgent Golden Bears (where Matt will be cheering them on, unless he ends up betting Cal).

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And for your drinking pleasure…

One of the prime features of House of Yards is Matt’s Beer of the Week, and in truth our unrecorded conversations will often focus more on that part of life than sports. Matt is a true aficionado, and last week while attending a wedding in Vermont he came up with a true keeper of a photo that sets up this week’s tasting notes. You can follow Matt’s search for the best in hops right here.

Brewery: Switchback Brewing Company
Beer: Switchback Ale
Style: American Amber/Red Ale
ABV: 5%

Head to Vermont and Switchback Ale is a heavy favorite to be one of the first beers you'll encounter. There's good reason for that - it's a crowd pleaser, suitable for everyone from fans of craft beer to those who prefer macro lagers, and Switchback's 100% employee ownership makes it an even bigger point of pride in a state that sets the standard when it comes to supporting all things local and independent.

Smooth and refreshing, Switchback Ale pours a reddish amber and gives off the aroma and flavor of a traditional amber ale (a little fruitiness and a little more toasty malt sweetness), but with a touch of vanilla mixed in - it almost has a hint of cream soda to it. Describing it in a traditional sense is a challenge, as Switchback calls it "a flavor concept, not adhering to any style guidelines." It's not the best beer in the world, but it's well worth trying - just go in knowing it doesn't belong in a box and should simply be appreciated for the unique, well-balanced beer it is.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5


What a Bettor Better Know – NCAA Week #3
What a ‘Bettor Better Know’ – NFL Week #2

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