What a 'Bettor Better Know' from NCAA Week 4

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David Malinsky

Monday, September 25, 2017 2:04 PM GMT

Monday, Sep. 25, 2017 2:04 PM GMT

What a 'Bettor Better Know' from NCAA Week 4: The Hawkeyes weren't as good as that scoreboard, the WVU rush defense has some issues, and was there ever anything worse than what San Jose State just put on the field?

Point Blank – September 25, 2017

The breakdowns for The Week That Was across the NCAA gridirons take us into some interesting nooks and crannies this time, a lot of it having to deal with some poor play that the markets may not be fully picking up on, and some of it some flat-out awful play that there is not much precedent for at all. Sometimes it is easier to write about good performances and the sense of optimism they bring, but the search for edges across this endeavor brings all facets into play.

As will be the case throughout the season, the long reads on Mondays will have the jukebox in play for some background to help you glide through, and I will bring in Part II of the cycle promised on Friday, a listen in to how Roy Bittan has developed The Coda across the decades as a way of the music elegantly supplying the final verses of Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets,” going to places where sometimes the words are difficult.

I brought the song into play on Friday because there is something that each of you can do that can fulfill selfish purposes while also aiding those in need, with the show from Springsteen and the E-Street Band at the Summit in Houston in 1978 being made available to the public, with all proceeds going to the MusiCares Hurricane Relief.

There is so much needed by so many at this time, and it has hit me on a personal level because of how many good friends I have who are in the rebuilding process, especially for those in Puerto Rico facing a devastation that has not fully sunk into our collective consciousness as a nation yet.

And of course as you file the Houston show into your musical archives, you will also be doing something positive for yourself. It enables us to compare today’s version of Racing in the Streets, from Philadelphia in 2016 and 38 years later than the Houston show, and you can see how the complexities of what the song is about have evolved, as a timeless take on the human condition gets addressed through the added layers that life’s experiences bring to those that choose to live it head on.

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As you listen, for those of us of a certain generation take a moment to think back to where you were and what you were doing 38 years ago; while for the younger set try to project out 38 years into the future. Those arcs connect to the song, a tale of feeling life’s passions before knowing what to do with them, a place where we all have been and for some continue to be. But the words can only bring a plot line of a specific moment in time; it is the music that provides the stage for the next act to take place.

There is one hell of a ride available, and since you only get to take it once, to do it with anything less than the fullest of your passions and abilities is a human tragedy. At a time like this there is also the hope that our individual passions take us in a direction of aiding those who don’t have the opportunity to dream for much more right now than merely getting through the next day.

Most of you who read here each day have your paths influenced by the outcomes in the betting arena, so time to get to work, and build some portfolios that can make a difference across so many fronts.

 

Item: Coming to grips with Iowa’s near miss (in the excitement of the moment, might the Hawkeyes’ issues get undersold?)

The finish at Iowa City on Saturday night brought so many of the elements that make college football what it is, Penn State finally able to emerge 21-19 over an Iowa program that had pulled some upsets at Kinnick Stadium through the years, and nearly had another. But while the scoreboard back-and-forth would have been compelling to those not watching the game, what happened on the field was much different. It now raises a key question – instead of that being a sign that the Hawkeyes could stand toe-to-toe with a member of the Big Ten’s elite, might there instead be warning signals?

For most of the evening the game was a mismatch, Penn State leading 31-11 in first downs and 581-273 in total offense. Will that get appreciated through the exhilaration of the end-game? Let’s see where the markets go with it, because this wasn’t the only tightrope walk the Hawkeyes have had. In retrospect, that 24-3 win over Wyoming doesn’t look like much. Iowa had to rally to get Iowa State into overtime, before escaping, and then trailed outright at home in the second half vs. lightweight North Texas.

Does Coach Kirk Ferentz have an offense that can compete with the Big Ten elite? In 2015 there were two such games, the Hawkeyes scoring 10 points vs. Wisconsin in the regular season and 13 vs. Michigan State in the conference title game. In 2016, it was 14 vs. Penn State and Michigan, then nine vs. Wisconsin. Saturday night made it yet another game in which the offense couldn’t reach 20 points vs. that upper tier, and note that in the last two bowl games the Hawkeyes could only score a combined 19 points vs. Stanford and Florida, respectively. They might have been on the verge of a scoreboard coup on Saturday night, but that was despite some serious football flaws.

 

Item: How overmatched will the West Virginia defense be when the Big 12 play picks up?

If you didn’t have a vested interest in WVU-Kansas, you might not have paid much attention to the final score, the Mountaineers winning 56-34, which was right in the middle of a line surge to their side over the course of the week, from -20 up to the common closer of -24. But to label it as “nothing to see here” would be the wrong thing to do. A young West Virginia defensive front got gashed, again, and in a way that has to be disturbing considering the quality of Big 12 offenses that hit the schedule after their bye week.

I bring up “again” because the Mountaineers allowed Virginia Tech to balance out the offense to the tune of 234 rushing yards and 235 passing in the opener in Landover, a competitive game that the Hokies won 31-24. Following that came back-to-back routs of 56-20 over East Carolina and 59-16 vs. Delaware State, but those two teams ran for a respectable 309 yards at 4.7 per attempt.

Then came Kansas. The Jayhawks established their intent on the opening drive, perhaps an indication that they had seen something on the films, by running on 12 of 13 snaps. It led to a fourth-and-3 at the WVU 6-yard line, where David Beatty planned to go for it until a false start penalty led to a made FG.

The Jayhawks kept running, even though their own defense couldn’t make stops, and allowed a deficit to build, with a Pick-Six from the offense exacerbating matters. When the counting was done sophomore, Khalil Herbert, who entered the game with 22 carries for 147 yards, hauled it 36 times for 291 and two TDs. The Kansas team total was 367 yards on 50 attempts; this from a team that only had 328 net rushing yards through the first three games vs. relative lightweights (compared to the Mountaineers).

The West Virginia defensive front simply got pushed around, and that can happen when there are two sophomores and two redshirt freshmen at DL and LB in Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 designs. But in allowing 227.5 rushing yards per game at 5.3 per carry vs. the softest part of the schedule, just how much growing up will be possible by that undeveloped cast when the sledding gets tougher, and in the case of the Big 12 offenses, much tougher?

 

Item: Duke is +120 in snaps through four games

Duke is 4-0 SU and 3-0 ATS, beating the closing spread by 40.5 points, or 13.5 per game, when on the board. There is an advantage of 946 yards in total offense that would seem to indicate merit, along with a +5 turnover advantage, which puts the scores and stats close enough to just stop there. You shouldn’t, although it does become a difficult riddle to answer.

Though those four games the Duke offense has snapped the ball 349 times, vs. only 229 for the opposition. That is a stunning disparity, a net average of 30 more plays per game. Not only does that obviously impact the overall stat lines, but it has also brought issues of freshness and energy into play in the game flows as well – the Blue Devils have outscored the opposition 41-7 in the fourth quarter.

Breaking this down is not easy because there are additional wild cards in play – while I often write about how special teams and defensive TDs skew possessions, by preventing one offense from taking the field and putting the other right back out there, Duke actually had a 3-0 edge in that category, three Pick-Six's while the offense and special teams have not given up any. That means that +120 gap could have been even wider.

Now there is an ACC showdown with No. 14 Miami coming up Friday, and making sense of this becomes mandatory. For as good as David Cutcliffe has been in Durham, closing the talent gap vs. the Hurricanes has been a problem, Duke just 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS in the Cutcliffe years.

Where is the football merit to the net play advantages? The Blue Devils do have a dink-and-dunk offensive package behind the run/pass talents of Daniel Jones, which makes them difficult to get off the field. The yardage of the three leading receivers tells much of that tale, with T.J. Rahming only netting 10.3 on his 24 catches, Johnathan Lloyd 11.2 on 12, and RB Shawn Wilson 5.4 on 10 out of the backfield. It is an offense that can methodically move the chains through balance. Meanwhile, it is the most talented defensive the program has fielded under Cutcliffe. Those elements have come together, and the net play differentials are the outcome. But is it enough as they step up in class? This will be a fascinating team to chart.

 

Item: The Bettors ‘In the Know’ on Western Kentucky/Ball State were right in timing but wrong in handicap, yet took the money

There was some good talk in the discussion threads last week (check the grey box in the upper left of each edition and you will be in the game) about the line movement in Ball State-Western Kentucky, one that was difficult to understand on the surface given how disappointing the Hilltoppers have been this season. But now it raises the question as to “What did they know and when did they know it?" Those that got in early had quite a ride to victory, albeit one that was far more lucky than good.

To set the stage at the betting windows, Western Kentucky got bet all the way from -7 to -12. To set the stage for the cashier’s windows, the Hilltoppers won 33-21. The money won. It won because some folks may have had access to Cardinal QB Riley Neal not playing, long before others did. But the money also had one hell of a sweat.

In terms of the injury flow, here is how quiet things were from Ball State during the week, no mention at all that Neal was an issue. When did Neal’s absence make the public domain, again from the Muncie Star Press, the prime local coverage for the team? This was published at 6:42 Eastern on Saturday, not long before kickoff.

Might this have been an instance of someone having that info well beforehand? That would be a reasonable assumption. Yet the game outcome would have had those with the scoop rather nervous, Ball State still leading outright at 21-20 before Jakairi Moses scored for the Hilltoppers with 1:38 remaining, and then a Pick-Six just a few moments later.

I have noted here earlier in the season how much of a disappointment Western Kentucky has been; that was a rather fluky scoreboard outcome on Saturday night, and as the schedule softens there could be a misleading impression developed about this team, something we can might be able to take advantage of come November.

 

Item: Akron was -2 in turnovers at Troy and almost won, Bowling Green was +3 at Middle Tennessee and didn’t even cover

One of the prime things that I look for each week are turnover disparities that do not translate the way that logic says that they should to the scoreboards. It leads to a game that will bring some intrigue this week, Akron traveling to Bowling Green in a setting that will call for yawns across much of the marketplace. Let’s call this one an “Inside-Out” in which both of the Saturday results require some interpretation.

Akron was -2 in turnovers at Troy State, while also committing 12 penalties for 100 yards. The Zips were also 17-point underdogs. Take the point spread, the turnovers and the penalties, put them into a blender, and you would end up with a scoreboard smoothie of Troy winning by about four touchdowns.

Instead it was Troy down 17-16, the Trojans taking possession at their own 3-yard line with 3:14 remaining, before Brandon Silvers engineered a game-winning drive, which included a fourth-down conversion in their own territory to keep it alive. A 17-point dog nearly won a game outright with a -2 turnover differential, which either tells us something good about Akron or something bad about Troy (and naturally the option of a combination of the two).

Meanwhile, Bowling Green was in position to put a favorable outcome together at Middle Tennessee State – the Falcons were underdogs of +7, the line being adjusted down for the absence of Blue Raiders QB Brent Stockstill and top WR Richie James, and they had a +3 turnover advantage. At +7 the matchup is considered to be competitive, and the +3 should have the underdog winning outright, perhaps by a full TD or more. Yet BG lost 24-13, and only the turnovers kept it close – even without Stockstill the Middle Tennessee offense rolled for 29 first downs and 532 yards.

It is ever so rare that a team fails to cover the spread with a +3 turnover advantage, so the natural question comes in again – do we downgrade Bowling Green, or upgrade MTS? The post-game comments from Falcon HC Mike Jinks were particularly dour, the phrasing of “It’s extremely worrisome” and “We have to put kids in better situations”  shedding some insight.

I am not a proponent of playing bad vs. bad in near pick’em situations; as noted often here, games like that are more determined by someone making bad plays to lose rather than someone making good plays to win, which makes it feel like laying -115 or -120, instead of -110. But I will be digging more deeply into this one as the week unfolds.

I also have some digging to do with a team that played one of the worst games I have ever charted …

 

Item: Where does San Jose State’s Saturday showing go into the annals?

“Because tonight was like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

Those were the words of first-year San Jose State HC Brent Brennan after he coached his first ever Mountain West Conference game on Saturday night. It was not an exaggeration by him because it was also unlike anything I have ever seen, having watched football far longer than Brennan. Just where do we put Utah State 61, San Jose State 10 into perspective, in order to have any idea of how to power rate the Spartans going forward?

Was this the worst performance by a team I have ever tracked in conference play? I would have to go back through nearly four decades of memories on that front, but it makes the short list. The Spartans were only 2-point underdogs, so the gap of 49 points vs. the spread is historic, but the fact that it was a home conference opener that Brennan and his team had to believe they had a chance to win magnifies it. Utah State is a program in decline, the Aggies having lost at Wisconsin and Wake Forest by a combined 105-20 in their only two road games, so SJS should have had a reasonable opportunity to compete. Instead, it was a clocking every bit as bad as the scoreboard indicated, the Aggies rolling to advantages of 30-10 in first downs and 589-162 in total offense. The only SJS touchdown came on an interception return.

The difficulty in power rating this outcome is both from an ability standpoint, but also the psyche of the beaten team. On football talent it should be almost impossible to be dominated that badly at home by a team like Utah State. But did the Spartans let go of the rope? I filed this away, from senior CB Jermaine Kelly: “Mentally as soon as adversity hit, it was hard for us as a team to come back strong. We just kind of went in the tank.”

As for Brennan, we can go back to last week’s take on Barry Odom and Missouri, a relationship that likely won’t be lasting much longer, and how the Tigers performed dismally despite Odom claiming that they had a good week of practice. I brought up the notion that perhaps bad coaches may not genuinely know whether a practice week was productive or not, so let’s frame Brennan’s post-game comments as more along the theme: “I’m not sure how much I can say outside of the fact that was an awful showing across the board. I felt like we were well prepared going into the game -- we had a good week of practice -- but none of that manifested itself when we started playing real football.”

Not much has gone right for this program since Mike MacIntyre left, and the few fifth-year seniors on the roster are the only remnants from those times. But have things really fallen this far?

 

Item: And speaking of bad football, here comes the UTEP-Army rematch (or is it, since no “match” really took place in 2016)

I wouldn’t have to go back too long to find a result not too far off of the Utah State-San Jose State outcome from main board games, and a level of ineptitude from a home team, in the 66-14 UTEP loss to Army last September. It was a game written about in one of these Monday sessions at the time, bringing up the question of whether it should be charted at all, and now that the two teams are meeting again it is worth a revisit.

Here was the gist from the 2016 encounter – because the Army option is so difficult to prepare for, Sean Kugler and his coaching staff decided to not even bother, since it was a non-conference game.  His take was why get the defense out of sorts for a one-off, and the Black Knights rolled to 39 first downs and 598 yards in getting a ridiculously easy win. There were numerous quotes from both the UTEP coaches and the players about how little they prepared, so I considered the scoreboard outcome and stats to be of little merit.

I might have made a slight error in judgment on that front – as it turns out it may not matter whether the Miners fully prepare or not these days; there is a genuine question as to whether Kugler still has his players willing to go hard for him even when they do try. UTEP has opened 0-4 ATS, falling to the spread by 55.5 points, or nearly two full touchdowns per game.

Two weeks ago the Miners had an opportunity to show some fight vs. Arizona, with the national television cameras on hand, which is ever so rare for the program. It was a complete rout. On Saturday night there was an opportunity to make up for that against local rival New Mexico State, a team they had beaten in each of Kugler’s four seasons. They were a physical and seemingly emotional no-show in a 41-14 drubbing, a game that created something for the ages – NMS defensive back Shamad Lomax caught more passes thrown by UTEP QBs (three) and more TDs (one, on a Pick-Six), than any Miner player (three of them caught two each, no TDs).

A natural part of my developing a game rating for UTEP-Army this week was reading between the lines to see if Kugler and his team were going to choose to game plan this time. But part of me is now wondering if it even matters anyway.

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