What a 'Bettor Better Know': NCAA Notes From Week 5

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David Malinsky

Monday, October 2, 2017 1:58 PM GMT

Monday, Oct. 2, 2017 1:58 PM GMT

Some shenanigans in the NCAA Totals market in Week 5. ... The Crimson Tide just aren't going to turn the ball over much. ... San Jose State may be setting new layers at the bottom of the food chain.

Point Blank – October 2, 2017

It isn’t easy to begin the week the way that most Mondays flow, the thoughts and prayers going to so many people who have been through such a tragedy within a small radius from this keyboard, and indeed it is going to take a while to sort through what has taken place in Las Vegas.

On the heels of what was written here Friday, there is a general sadness as to where we are as a culture, but one of the most important aspects in dealing with extreme situations is to also avoid paralysis. First, you do what you can to help, and in this instance those of us in Las Vegas can contact the Red Cross or United Blood Services, because there may be a shortage of blood (so far more than 400 people have been taken to local hospitals). And then you move forward with your life.

For those that visit PB each day it means attacking the betting boards, and that is what we will do. The only slight alteration is that the Monday jukebox for the long read ahead needs a different purpose, and I believe today we can all use some Roy Buchanan, with “The Messiah Will Come Again”:

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Now let’s respectfully move forward, keeping the movements of the betting markets in the proper perspective, although even that is tougher than usual this time because …

 

Item: Was there some hanky-panky in the Totals markets?

Some rather large, and also unexpected, moves on the NCAA Totals made their way into the comments section last week (check the grey box in the upper left of each column and you can join the discussions), and there really are some questions for anyone involved in the marketplace. Was there some line manipulation going on?

There were a handful of games that can be brought into the discussion, but let me focus on two. I will use Pinnacle as the guide; while there are shops that open totals before Pinny, the bet limits are so small that I don’t attach much weight to them.

South Florida at East Carolina
Open: 74
High: 80.5
Close: 71

Indiana at Penn State
Open: 61
High: 69.5
Close: 62

Rather fascinating rides, weren’t they?

This doesn’t happen in a normal marketplace. For USF-East Carolina to get to 80.5 means that someone had to be playing over at least 79.5, and possibly 80. When a game opens 74 and closes 71, who is going to be in such a hurry to lock in a bad over ticket that early in the week? In terms of Indiana-Penn State, someone had to be playing over at least 68.5, and perhaps 69, for that plateau to have been reached. And it asks the same question: Who betting that early would be playing over at such a bad price point, in regard to where it opened and closed?

This has led to a lot of back-and-forth with folks on the other side of the counter, a few of them of the mindset that the numbers were being maneuvered for the purposes of buy-back, which is a fear with totals early in the week (hence the low limits, and the hesitation of some shop stewards to post them at all).

For those who don’t understand what that means, it is rather simple: If someone has a strong opinion to a total there is often the frustration of not being able to get enough money bet at the preferred price. If it is a group/syndicate, and not an individual, there is a way to work around that a bit, by betting the opposite side of the total early in the week, to maneuver to a better price point, and then come crashing in via the other direction once the limits have been raised.

There is a risk to this, of course, that being betting the wrong side of your own opinion can also mean it being against other opinions as well, those others immediately snapping back the added value. Hence why it does not happen all that often. Was it happening with those NCAA Totals last week? That isn’t easy to verify, but it damn sure raises suspicions. As such, it will be fascinating to see the early trading on that part of the menu this week.

 

Item: Wake Forest got 17 TFLs and five sacks vs. FSU
Sub-Item: FSU allowed 17 TFLs and five sacks vs. Wake Forest

Gutting out a push with a -7 ticket on Florida State at Wake Forest on Saturday was remarkably good fortune, the Seminoles being outplayed throughout. FSU managed only 14 first downs and 272 yards, and to put the latter in perspective 109 of the yards came on two plays, which meant just 163 on the other 61 snaps.

How was the yardage total so low on the other plays? The combination of the Florida State Offense/Wake Forest Defense generated a shocking 17 tackles for loss (TFL), including five sacks. The Seminoles lost yardage on 27 percent of their plays, and perhaps the fact that there were a dozen losses on non-sacks looks even worse than the five times QB James Blackman went down. When your RBs can’t even get back to the line of scrimmage …

An improved Deacon defense does deserve some credit, with a genuine plan on that side of the ball being developed under Dave Clawson. But the FSU offensive line was simply atrocious, leading announcer Jesse Palmer to state (paraphrasing) that it was “the worst position group of any in a Power-5 conference.”

Palmer was exaggerating a bit, since the likes of Kansas, Rutgers and a few others bring various layers of ineptitude, but there is much merit to the general point – the Seminoles' skill players rarely found any operating room. To make matters worse, an already weak group lost LT Derrick Kelly in the early stages, leaving the back-side of Blackman largely unprotected, and over the course of the game both starting guards, Landon Dickerson and Cole Minshew, missed action.

In the aftermath Jimbo Fisher was straight forward: “We’ve got a lot of work to do. A ton of work to do in a lot of areas. We gave up too much penetration. … I’ll have to look. We had a new combination of people out there. We gave up a sack right off the bat when Derrick went out. The backups got to be ready to play. We’ll look and see where the problems were.”

This is not an easy fix. Starting RT Rick Leonard is the only senior on the two-deep, which includes four sophomores or freshmen, and now a talented Miami defensive front comes to town. Sorting through the details of those injuries will be a big part of the processes in breaking that game down.

 

Item: Alabama doesn’t have a turnover yet (welcome to a key aspect of the Jalen Hurts era)

I don’t need to say much of anything good about Alabama, but there is something worthy because it may confound some models. The Crimson Tide are +10 in turnovers through five games, not so much that the defense had been great, but that the offense simply hasn’t coughed it up yet through 348 snaps. If you want to take it back further, it is now 582 snaps since Hurts threw an interception early in the second quarter last November vs. Auburn, the last turnover from the offense. Meanwhile the defense has 19 takeaways in that span.

While some traditional through processes call for regression, I am going to take a different approach – this may well be what is going to happen in the Jalen Hurts era. Alabama has the ability to attack aggressively, but can do it much more safely than most teams because of the abilities of the QB. The Crimson Tide don’t have to run risky option plays to get either Hurts or the RBs to the perimeter, and they can throw deep down the field without much risk of strip sacks because of how well Hurts can move when pressured in the pocket. They are also likely to be favored by at least 17 points in very game until the regular-season finale at Auburn, which means a lot of opportune game situations that also call for few risks.

For Alabama to be +10 in turnovers isn’t good fortune, it is good football.

 

Item: Was there a subtle buy signal from Clayton Thorson?

Games are not just individual entities, they are movements across the course of a season. Hence there is a focus on some of those subtleties of a player's or a team’s competitive spirit that can tip us off to something going forward. A classic example of that in 2016 came when we delved deeply into the Arkansas State defense on these pages (though at a different platform), the Red Wolves not quitting in a game in which they easily could have, and an 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS closing to the season after the diagnosis provided quite a ride for those that got in play.

That takes me to Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson, and a Saturday end-game that had me captivated. Thorson took a beating on the road against a Wisconsin defense that is one of the nation’s best, and after he and the Wildcats had a 10-7 lead at halftime, the game was gradually getting away, with what appeared to be a final nail in the coffin when Thorson threw a pick-six with 9:54 remaining, the Badgers going ahead 31-10.

Now consider the circumstances. You are a QB getting knocked around badly in the pocket by a great defense, and the opposition has run off 24 straight points to take command of the game in front of a hostile crowd. How bad had the second half been for the Northwestern offense? When Thorson and the offense went to the sidelines at 31-10, the Wildcats had managed 22 yards in 24 plays.

Yet what happened after the pick-six? Thorson came out and drove the team 75 yards for a TD. That sparked the defense enough to make a stop, and Thorson then led the offense 55 yards for another TD. The defense took the field with a major spark, generating a three-and-out, and the Wildcats got the ball back with an opportunity to tie the game.

Of course, they got the ball back at their own 2-yard line with 1:09 remaining, so there wasn’t a lot of hope, and there was perhaps a fitting conclusion when Thorson got sacked in the end zone to end the rally. But there was a lot of fight shown by the QB and the offense at a most unexpected moment, when others could have easily lost their will to compete. There may be something useful in that somewhere.

I can also say the same thing about the Texas Tech defense, a team showing something what will get graded as a failure that may not have been, and could matter going forward.

 

Item: Despite allowing 41 points and losing, the Texas Tech defense is indeed better

Is there something good to be said about a defense that just allowed 41 points and 602 yards? I believe so, which is the case for David Gibbs in season No. 3 of trying to rebuild what has been a horrendous Red Raider stop unit. First note that those production counts came on 80 offensive snaps by Oklahoma State, so that tempers things a bit, and there was the fact that instead of wearing down either physically or mentally when trailing in the second half, which had been their wont in the past, this time the Tech defenders kept competing.

One again there is a moment that we can freeze in time. The Red Raiders were trailing 28-17 when their opening offensive drive of the second half was blocked, the Cowboys taking over at the 9-yard line with the prospect of breaking the game wide open. Given the history of the program, it could have been a disastrous moment. But Tech put up a stand, only allowing a FG attempt, and it marked the beginning of four straight drives in which State was denied the end zone, enabling the Red Raiders to work their way into a 34-34 tie.

This is not going to be a good defense; that will take a couple of recruiting classes. But it is a vastly improved one, first in talent, and then in the competitive spirit shown on Saturday night. In terms of the talent equation, here is something that made the files from Gibbs that I believe is important:

“We’ve got better players than we’ve had defensively. We look a little different. All the junior college kids we brought in, we got lucky on them. They’re good players, good kids and they love football. Generally you bring those guys in and you’re rolling the dice on what you’re getting. But I think I got lucky. And I’m not typically a big junior colleges guy; I’d much rather train a high school kid and develop him. But obviously when you have to win, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”

Previous Tech defenses might have lost their will to fight after that blocked punt. This one didn’t, and that makes them worth watching closely.

 

Item: So Tulsa gets to face the option for the third straight week

Matchups are an intriguing phenomenon in college football, and as written often here they can be used to advantage, finding subtle elements in the line that are not factored in. In theory, Tulsa should have at least one tactical advantage against Tulane this week in that the Golden Hurricane defense is facing the option for the third straight week, which should mean a much better ability to prepare than the one-offs that so many teams have to deal with.

But what if you just can’t defend it? That can happen if you are dead last in the nation in almost every meaningful rush defensive statistic. Yes, playing some opponents that bring good overland attacks will naturally lead to high total yardage counts, but Tulsa has also allowed 6.7 per rush, with UCLA (6.3) and East Carolina (6.2) the only other teams in the nation that are over 6.0.

Will having played New Mexico and Navy the past two weeks help the tactical prep for Tulane? Perhaps not – might there even be a case made that having had to face 126 rushing attempts in those games (allowing 751 yards), they might be physically worn down?

As bad as the Golden Hurricane were on Saturday, they were far better than Air Force. …

 

Item: New Mexico averaged 1.1 points per play vs. Air Force

I can’t put my finger on just why, but New Mexico is now 6-0 ATS vs. Air Force under Bob Davie, beating the spread by 76.5 points. The reason it is difficult to comprehend is that the Lobos run a lot of option, which the Falcon defense sees in practice daily from their own schemes, and yet there has been an utter inability for them to make stops, the Lobos averaging 41 points per game across that span. Yet the first five were nothing compared to what happened in Albuquerque on Saturday night.

The Lobos rolled 56-38 on the scoreboard, but that came despite having only 50 offensive snaps, a rare game in which a team averaged more than one point per play. Those plays generated 509 yards, 8.9 per run and 16.2 per pass.

Where do you go for answers when it is difficult to account for them from the stat files? To the coach, of course, but Troy Calhoun couldn’t offer much in his post-game: “You have to be in the exact spot, and if you’re not you’re going to get exposed. And we were exposed.”

I bring this up because Air Force has the annual meeting with Navy this week, another game against an option offense. Does it help to see those schemes two weeks in a row, or much like Tulsa were the Falcons so befuddled that it does not bring any advantage at all?

 

Item: Where can North Carolina’s season go from here?

There wasn’t anything fluky about Georgia Tech’s 33-7 rout of North Carolina; the Yellow Jackets were in command of the proceedings, doing their usual thing overland (403 rushing yards), while holding the Tar Heels to 12 first downs and 247 total yards. The question is whether that was a bad performance, or if it was about as much fight as the Tar Heels can put up right now.

The UNC injury list has become a massive one, this being the report filed before traveling to Atlanta to face Tech: Out for the Season - Antwuan Branch, TB; Jesse Cuccia, S; Luke Elder, OL; D.J. Ford, S Rontavius Groves, WR; Thomas Jackson, WR; Tyler Powell, DL; Austin Proehl, WR; Jacob Schmidt, TB; Andre Smith, LB; William Sweet, OT; Carl Tucker, TE; Noah Turner, TE. Out - Corey Bell Jr., CB; Tommy Hatton, OL; Tyler Pritchett, OL; Stanton Truitt, TB. Doubtful - Jalen Dalton, DT; Questionable - Dazz Newsome, WR.

Eight of the players either out for the season or out for Saturday’s game would have projected to start. That included the top three WRs, and that group got worse when Devin Perry was injured, after moving up the ladder and making his first catch of the season.

The 247 yards gained was the lowest for a Larry Fedora team anywhere that he has been the HC, and it raises questions going forward both from an ability standpoint and also one of pace. Fedora loves to go fast, but not only is he now left with a freshman QB in Chazz Surratt and a limited WR corps, but also the fact that playing at a brisk tempo exposes the lack of depth on both sides of the ball.

Let’s go to the HC: “Nobody feels sorry for you, so you can’t use that as an excuse. You’ve got to find a way to get it done. So we’ve got to find a way. I don’t want to be close. I don’t want any moral victories. … It boils down to me. I’ve got to do a better job of coaching. I’ve got to do a better job of coaching our staff. I’ve got to do a better job of coaching the players. And that’s my job.”

Commend Fedora for taking ownership of the situation, which can alleviate the pressure on his players, but this could be a long season ahead. As is the case at San Jose, where we need to revisit the Spartans again. …

 

Item: San Jose State really is this bad

It was difficult trying to fit the pieces together for a Spartans power rating last week, as noted in the Monday review session, the 61-10 loss to Utah State being beyond the parameters of what I though the Aggies could possibly do to anyone. But things really are that bad – note that the 41-13 UNLV win on Saturday night was 35-13 at halftime before Tony Sanchez generously backed off, the Rebels only running 65 offensive plays.

There hasn’t been much fight from SJS, the rush defense allowing 655 yards through those first two conference games. That is alarming, because those were not one-sided matchups on paper; hell, the Spartan fifth-year seniors had gone 4-0 outright against UNLV in their careers. The question was raised last week as to whether Brent Brennan has a full command of his team, and that question has to come up again.

Note above what I wrote about Fedora taking ownership of what is going to be a difficult season for North Carolina, and compare that to Brennan’s Saturday post-game: “We are in the process of rebuilding this program, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. … We’ve been a little bit beat up, so we got some people out there that haven’t played a lot of football, and then we need our seniors and our leaders to step up. We need them to push the team, and we need them to lead.”

I find that a bit troubling. One of the issues that comes with any coaching change in which someone is brought in from the outside is that he has to earn the trust of players that he did not recruit. Brennan had been a San Jose assistant under Dick Tomey and Mike MacIntyre from 2005-2010, but since then had been the WRs coach at Oregon State. That meant the lack of a relationship between him and the current roster, and in trying to light a fire under the Spartan veterans, might he instead be showing us where the problems are?

The sportsbooks got stung badly with UNLV money last week, the Rebels going from -10 to -17 at Pinny before that easy rout. This time around they are quicker on the adjustments trigger. Two weeks ago Utah State closed as a two-point favorite at SJS, now Fresno State, a weaker team than Utah State, is -16. That is substantial, but for now I have no such thing as a “buy” price on the Spartans. This may be a situation that goes outside of the realm of traditional power ratings.

 

Item: Deep Dive Alert - Southern Miss was -7.5 at home, had a +2 in turnovers, and lost by 15 (or does the credit go to North Texas for winning?)

One of the prime topics here will be scoreboards that shouldn’t have happened based on the closing line and the turnover count, and last Monday it brought some food for thought on the Akron-Bowling Green matchup. Often these are games far off of the radar screens, but they do send signals that a deeper dive is called for (in the case of Bowling Green, diving into those deeper murky waters is showing us signs that Mike Jinks may be overmatched). This week we have another game that calls for strapping on the oxygen tanks and diving more deeply.

Southern Miss was -7.5 at the close vs. North Texas on Saturday night, and the visiting Mean Green won the game 43-28 despite a -2 turnover count. It was a result that fell nearly three full touchdowns off of where a favorite in that range, playing at home, would usually project with that TO advantage.

What that tells us basically is that the line was wrong, and the game flow indicated that – North Texas led 543-415 in total offense and 6.5 to 5.8 per play. The question now is in which way to make the bigger adjustment to the power ratings, whether it was the Golden Eagles being overrated, the Mean Green underrated, or some combination in between. As is the continuous case for those looking to find edges, there is work to be done.

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