What a 'Bettor Better Know' from NCAA Week 1

David Malinsky

Monday, September 4, 2017 2:14 PM UTC

Monday, Sep. 4, 2017 2:14 PM UTC

What a "Bettor Better Know" after a very interesting opening week of the college football season. ... For the 2017 Baltimore Ravens, why will a bad offense get any better?

Point Blank – September 4, 2017

Mondays across the NCAA autumn will be a renewal of the format from the past, and for the first time through at our new platform – a look at some of the key takes from the weekend behind us, as making better sense of what happened is the first step to better anticipating what will happen next. We are also winding our way down the NFL team-by-team tour, and instead of stretching to the end of the week, which was the original play, I will double up the AFC East on Tuesday & Wednesday, so that everyone will be covered before the Thursday kickoff (if truthful, there just is not a hell of a lot to say about the Jets).

Most Mondays will also have the jukebox in play to help you glide through what will be long reads, and today brings the melancholy of accepting that a unique talent will not be with us any longer, this time the passing of Walter Becker, who co-founded Steely Dan along with Donald Fagen (they first met 50 yards ago at Bard College). There is the continuing human attempt to measure loss against what we have gratefully been able to able to experience in the first place, and the creativity of the Becker/Fagen craft has brought some fantastic elements to the soundtrack of a lifetime. Let’s go to “Deacon Blues” from live in Charlotte a while back:

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And while indeed “they call Alabama the Crimson Tide”, it was the other defense on display in Atlanta on Saturday that also merits some prime attention.


ITEM: Did Florida State play the best half of defense we will see from any team this season?

There will be a lot of natural takeaways from Alabama breaking away from FSU in the second half on Saturday night, the athleticism and acumen of Nick Saban’s defense not allowing much breathing room at all after intermission, and also the unfortunate season-ending injury to Noles QB DeAndre Francois. What can get lost in the shuffle was just how terrific the Seminole defense was at the very time the scoreboard was getting away.

The FSU defense blinked once in the first half, and it cost it a 53-yard TD pass from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley. But outside of that kept the team in the game, and after forcing a punt on the first Alabama possession of the second half, the Seminoles had the ball down three and were in position to take the lead. Then came a series of special teams and offensive miscues, which put the FSU defense up against the following sequence of Alabama drives:

1st-and-goal, FSU 6-yard line
1st-and-10, FSU 11-yard line
1st-and-10, FSU 42-yard line
1st-and-10, FSU 31-yard line
1st-and-10, FSU 31-yard line

Through that stretch, against a gifted opponent with one of the best-balanced offenses in the nation, the Seminoles only gave up 11 points (it would have been 10, but Saban opted to go for two after the lone TD in the sequence). The Crimson Tide only managed three first downs on those five possessions, and one of them came after a fourth-down gamble.

Now add this – how many offensive plays did FSU run through that entire time? Just six. That meant the Seminole defense having to consistently go back out on the field without getting a breather, yet they stood tough throughout. Given the circumstances and the opposition, that is just about as well as a college defense can play. It was quite a showing for a team that has 11 sophomores or freshmen on the two-deep, and while there will be some significant adjustments to the power ratings for the loss of their QB, the upside of this defense makes for some compelling study ahead.


ITEM: The Oklahoma State bandwagon has formed early (get out in front if you want to join the club)

One of the ongoing notions being discussed here is that winning is not just about knowing the players and the coaches, but the marketplace as well. It is in being in the right place at the right time that profitability gets enhanced, and one of the prime focuses at the early part of any season are looking for the “bandwagons” -- whether they be of the Play On or Play Against variety for the teams involved. To bring that into focus let’s make the 2017 Oklahoma State Cowboys Exhibit A.

There is a lot to like from Mike Gundy’s team in general, but in particular the best of what OSU brings also has sex appeal across the marketplace – a passing game that can stretch the field as well as any in the nation, with the Mason Rudolph/James Washington combination on the way to historic numbers. This is not only a talented team, but one that will impress visually, and it did not take long to see the queue form when a Las Vegas property opened the Pokes -10 over Tulsa earlier in the summer. In a brief flash of cash that price moved to -17, which is where the general marketplace opened. But even after establishing -17 as the new plateau there was still a surge to -19.5, before OSU easily dispatched the Golden Hurricanes 59-24. They did what they do, Mason going 20-24 for 303 yards and a TD, the offense generating four TD plays of 40 yards or more.

If you want to buy in with this bunch you should consider buying in early. Note this Friday at South Alabama, which is something that could be ominous for the Jaguars defense – on the same week that Okie State had two TD plays of more than 70 yards, they were allowing Ole Miss to connect on TD passes of 77 and 71 yards.

Note an additional factor that can matter here – had this game been buried into a Saturday afternoon, it might have appeared as a flat spot for the Cowboys, before their schedule ramps up. Instead it is a Friday night showcase on ESPN2, which means both auditioning the team for the pollsters, and also Rudolph for the Heisman Trophy voters.

 ITEM: The world is not coming to an end if you are a Texas (or Texas A&M) fan

Because yesterday was a relatively relaxed Sunday, compared to the frenzy when the NFL is back in full this week, there was time to do just a little more reading in dissecting the postmortems for each game, and in particular the fascination from Maryland’s 51-41 upset of Texas, and folks lining up to be bridge jumpers while wearing Longhorn burnt orange.

I believe things will be much better under Tom Herman, who can be a great fit for the program. The fact that so many others believe that is perhaps why the angst was so high, but there does need to be a bit of perspective – it is going to take some positive recruiting classes to give the program some momentum.

One of the casual assumptions I have seen made through the years is that the Texas talent is still first-rate, and that all the Longhorns need is someone who can maximize it through the X’s and O’s. But consider this – as the NFL depth charts come across the desk following the final roster cut-downs, how many former Longhorns would you guess are starting in the skill positions in that league?

There have to be a bunch, right? The high schools in the state produce some of the best QB/RB/WR/TE talent in the country, the highest levels of competition also playing a wide-open brand that accentuates the skills at those positions. Yet there is only one Texas player starting in the skill positions for any NFL team, WR Marqise Goodwin in San Francisco, and I am not sure how many other teams Goodwin would start for.

That is it, among the 192 skill players who will start this week. This is not a multi-talented Longhorn roster that only needs Herman to press the proper buttons; there are some missing pieces, and as such dramatic improvement is unlikely to happen.

As for the Texas A&M giveaway vs. UCLA, a game in which so many things had to fall just right to make the late 35-0 run possible, I will take a different direction – instead of breaking down what happened on the field, there will be a warning about how the social media era makes post-mortems even more challenging.

It is one thing for young fans to rant and rave, that is part of the learning process. It is also one thing for older fans to rant and rave because some folks simply never do learn. But for someone on the Texas A&M board of regents to lose perspective this badly is a warning sign to everyone as they search for the information necessary to beat the pointspreads. Keep in mind that the coaches and players read these things, which makes already fragile psyches even more so.


ITEM: That UNLV loss may have been particularly damaging for the 2020 Power Rating

Another item that has the Social Mediaverse abuzz was Howard winning 43-40 as a 45-point underdog at UNLV. Much of the interest came from the fact that it could be considered the biggest upset in NCAA history, if purely using the pointspread as the guide. Whether or not it really was is subjective – that wasn’t a line that had much of a foundation behind it, the sportsbooks that did deal the game basically guessing in regard to the underdog, a team that will only been on the board that one time all season.

As damaging as that kind of loss can be at any time, it cuts even deeper for Tony Sanchez. Had the Rebels established any kind of momentum this season there was an opportunity to spurt future recruiting classes – as part of the approach to 2018 signees and beyond, Sanchez was going to be able to tell potential recruits that they would be playing at least half of their career in the new Raiders Stadium, and that anyone that was going to redshirt would get to play three seasons there.

That was going to be an intriguing handicapping notion, not just waiting for the day that UNLV moves into the new digs to see improvement (literally going from one of the worst stadiums in the nation to what will be one of the best), but gauging how far in advance there would be some impact. Now that all gets muddled quickly, and it raises a different betting prop notion: What are the odds that Sanchez ever coaches a game in that new stadium?


ITEM: You will probably be reading that Marshall got a little lucky this week

One of the prime focus points each week is naturally the proper grading of games, in particular looking for misleading results that can lead the marketplace to make an error in the future. This is a rather common practice for sports bettors, and common content across the Sports Mediaverse, but a lot of folks also get it wrong. I touched upon this concept in a take a shot while ago, but let’s use a concrete example of where there is a delicate balance, the 31-26 Marshall win over Miami Ohio.

A season can’t be opened better than what the Thundering Herd did, with Keion Davis returning the opening kickoff back for a TD. In the second quarter Davis did it again, taking another return to the house, and in the third quarter the Marshall defense struck, Chris Jackson returning an interception 72 yards for a score.

Now you have to go to work. The box score would make it appear that Miami of Ohio was clearly the better team, with commanding advantages of 25-15 in first downs and 429-267 in total offense. The RedHawks only lost because of those big plays, right?

Be careful there. While turnovers and big plays from defense and special teams do carry more weight on the scoreboard than often what the football merit behind them would call for, at the same time they also wreck box scores. Why did the Thundering Herd offense gain so few yards? They were deprived of the ball by each of those big plays, while Miami got the bonus of added possessions. Total plays in the game were 86-55 in favor of the RedHawks, so naturally they were going to have a better-looking box score.

It is common practice for bettors to adjust scoreboards down in games in which turnovers or non-offensive TDs played a major role, and it is a common practice that will get you beat in the long run if that is all you do. The shrewd ‘capper doesn’t just alter the scoreboard for those plays, but the box scores as well.


ITEM: But then there were the Cincinnati Bearcats

There was a major double-take in filing away Cincinnati’s 26-14 win over Austin Peay in Luke Fickell’s head coaching debut, the Bearcats not even coming close to the -43 that appeared in a small handful of shops. Naturally the score was a bit of a shock, but then came a box score which showed the Governors holding possession of the ball for 37:41-22:19, and outrushing Cincy by 224-97.

The rub? This is an Austin Peay program that entered the evening on a 27-game losing streak and is 1-45 over the last 46 games.

Things had gone flat for Cincinnati in the latter stages of the Tommy Tuberville era, Tuberville perhaps staying in the game a bit too long, including a dismal 4-8 in 2016 in which six of the losses were in double figures, and the markets struggled to adjust down to their level in a 3-8 ATS. But what they hell was that on Saturday?

There were no flukes contributing to the box score, with no turnovers in the game. Austin Peay ran 22 more plays not because of unusual circumstances, but that the Cincy offense could not run the ball well enough to sustain drives. That is rather frightening, considering that the Bearcats are on their way to Michigan to play in front of over 100,000 fans this week.


ITEM: On “layering” and the Oregon State Defense

Want to get a jump on the game in the early part of the season? Be ready to work the comparisons, and in this instance they take a badly out-of-focus portrait of the Oregon State defense.

Colorado State    vs. OSU      vs. Colorado

Points                 58              3

1st Downs            31              23

Total Offense     525            342

Yards Per Play    6.4             4.3

Portland State    vs. OSU      vs. BYU

Points                 32              6

1st Downs            28              14

Total Offense     515            229

Yards Per Play    6.3             3.1

Just the sort of exercise you should be putting into play to find some “tells” faster than the rest of the marketplace.


ITEM: Time for some perspective on Todd Graham

In an ideal world, one of the things that you would be in the habit of doing is checking the college depth charts carefully each season to get the best understanding of whether or not a coach is using mostly his own players, or those that have held over from a previous regime. I know that isn’t practical time-wise, so the next best thing is to begin creating a separation point when the coach is in his fourth season with a program, which means mostly his recruits, and then fifth season and beyond, which means entirely his roster. When you do that it enables you to bring up some reservations about particular coaches, like Todd Graham at Arizona State.

Graham’s Sun Devils escaped 37-31 vs. New Mexico State on Thursday night, and while the score flow might have appeared easier than the final, ASU leading 37-13 in the fourth quarter and the Aggies getting six points on the final play of the game, take a deeper look. An underdog that closed at +26.5 went on the road and physically played the favorite dead even. The Sun Devils never took command of the line of scrimmage, but won three a series of big plays, TD passes of 60 and 53 yards, and also a Pick Six.

Now let’s set the perspective. The ASU program was indeed slumping under Dennis Erickson, who had lost passion for the job, and when Graham went 8-5 in his first campaign in 2012, it took the team to their first bowl after missing out three straight seasons. Then it was a 10-4 and 10-3 back-to-back, which made Graham appear to be a star in turning the program around. But those three teams that went 28-12 had a lot of decent talent left from the Erickson years.

In Season 4 for Graham, with mostly his own players in the rotation, they fell to 6-7. Then in 2016 it was an ugly 5-7 in which the last four games were lost by 89 points. So that meant a high level of focus for that opener vs. New Mexico State, with the Sun Devils needing something decisive far more than most early-season big favorites. They didn’t get it – take away the two long TD passes by Manny Wilkins and they were outgained by nearly a 2:1 ratio on all other plays, and they could only must a net of 79 rushing yards. Hence why Graham may soon need a police escort heading away from the field at Sun Devil Stadium, and not towards it.

Has the talent level fallen off this badly? Consider this: The 10-3 team of 2014 went on to have a first-round pick in the NFL draft, a third-round, and two fourth-rounders. The first three teams that Graham coached at ASU had eight players drafted in the fourth round or earlier. How many from the last two, when it was all of his recruits eligible? None. In those two drafts only three players were taken, two of them in the seventh round.

Has the talent level fallen off that far in Tempe?


Baltimore 2017: Why will a bad offense get any better?

As the NFL team tour comes into the home stretch, the focus on finding one key item for each team to zero in on in the early stages, it is natural to begin with Joe Flacco’s health for Baltimore, isn’t it? Of course getting a home game vs. the Browns in Week #2, and then the Jaguars in London to follow, allows for one of the best Defense/Special Teams combinations in the NFL to win early games anyway, but there is a question about the offense beyond Flacco being at full health – what has a bad group done to get better anyway?

To set the foundation, the Ravens were #21 in passing offense and #18 in rushing on the Football Outsiders tables in 2015, and then fell to #26 and #21 last year. Only two other teams failed to finish higher than #18 in either category the past two seasons, the Texans and Jaguars. Injuries have been an issue, as has the transition to Marty Mornhinweg as OC, but the simple truth is that the roster isn’t anything special. At this stage, peg a healthy Flacco as below average; peg the RBs well below average without Kenneth Dixon; peg the WR/TE group as average if Breshad Perriman develops but potentially less than that; and peg the OL as below average if everything falls well, and potentially a few steps below it. The group was not going to be special in terms of talent or depth, but has now had to deal with the losses of Alex Lewis, Nico Siragua and John Urschel since the start of training camp (the experiment of bringing back Jeremy Zuttah already appears to be a bust, the team having to trade a draft pick to the Cardinals for Tony Bergstrom on Friday after Zuttah was released).

Before the OL attrition set in here was the other problem – Flacco will be in his 10th NFL season, TE Benjamin Watson #14, RG Marshall Yanda #11, WR Mike Wallace #9 and TE Dennis Pitta #8. The Baltimore offense has not gotten more talented since last season, outside of adding Jeremy Maclin, who became available because the Chiefs felt that he had lost a step, the 12.2 per catch of 2016 the lowest of his career, but it has added a year to some older key cogs.

If there is to be improvement, where is it going to come from? The playbook does not appear to have been tweaked, although it is difficult to gauge because of Flacco’s absence in the preseason, and the talent is both ordinary and getting old. This defense will keep the Ravens in games all season, but can the offense make enough plays to get over the hump when the opportunities are there?

And for your listening pleasure

As teased on Friday, there is a new podcast that will be part of the routine this fall - “House of Yards”, a weekly discussion of sports betting, beer, music and life in general, not necessarily in any particular order, but ultimately showing how it all connects up in the ongoing attempt to find edges at the betting windows. I will be joined by Matt Landes, USC grad, emerging NFL betting talent and already a guru when it comes to the finer point of all things under that fall under that lovely canopy of beer.

Each week we will be running across the best of the NFL board, some various techniques that you can use to develop your own handicapping skills, and also reviews of some of the more interesting hops being used to create fine adult beverages. All of this accompanied by The Hambones the official house band of House of Yards.

We will be back with a Week #1 edition on Wednesday of this week, but for now we have also decided to let our trial-run intro be available as well. We did drift into beer talk a bit early in this one, but sometimes that is what we will do…

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If you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine.

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