What a 'Bettor Better Know': Notes from NCAA Week 6

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David Malinsky

Monday, October 9, 2017 1:44 PM GMT

Monday, Oct. 9, 2017 1:44 PM GMT

On the difficulties of tracking scores and tracking stats, and why sometimes scoring touchdowns is a bad thing. …You didn’t have Arizona's Khalil Tate or Iowa State's Kyle Kempt on your fantasy team on Saturday, did you?

Point Blank – October 9, 2017

That was one hell of a ride across the NCAA landscape on Saturday, the confluence of college football and betting coming together for one of the more intriguing days of my betting lifetime. So much so that I will spend the day on that theme, not only bringing some short-term particulars that we might be able to fit somewhere into our portfolios this season, but also the long-term notion of how patience is so essential in being able to persevere through the kind of bounces the sport can bring.

I am also going to keep this as an all-NCAA edition for easier tracking in the archives, but there will be plenty of drama on the diamonds, and those will be brought into the comments section as the day unfolds – just click the grey box in the upper left and you join the huddle.

In order to maintain a sense of sanity through the confusions of such days as this past Saturday there is a special level of dignity called for, and today the jukebox also takes us to such a place to help you through the long read ahead. I will stay with the tribute to Tom Petty for a bit longer, and the elegance of “It’s Good to be King”, from Baltimore back in July, is the ideal backdrop for the strain that the Saturday postmortems can put on the handicapping consciousness - 

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If your first instinct after watching that is to click reload and watch it again immediately do that; it will make you a better person. And yes, those are the Webb sisters, who toured for so long with the late great Leonard Cohen.

Now time to sort through a Saturday that began for many of us with that Mississippi pursuit of the backdoor vs. Auburn, the Rebels among the most unlikely of teams to make such a chase entering the day, and ending far later when Justin Wilcox called timeout in California-Washington with 0:02 remaining, everything decided in that one except the point spread outcome.

 

Item: How do you grade LSU-Florida? (The Trouble with Trends, Part 176)
Sub-Item: It is fine to grade UCF-Cincinnati as an Over (and credit for a UCF cover isn’t bad, either)

The best place to start deals with a couple of unusual outcomes, first the utter disaster for some sports books that was LSU-Florida and the difficulty in grading afterwards. Let me use Pinnacle as the example:

Sunday night opener: Florida -6.5
Saturday closer: LSU -1.5

This was not an injury game that saw an adjustment during the week, but rather one that kept moving on money all along, and for most of the week LSU money. Pinny was at Florida -6 early on Monday morning, then down to -3 by the end of the day. By Friday, the game had gone to pick’em and some LSU -1 across the various outlets, and on game day the Tigers reached -2, before there was then some Florida buy-back. As such the game falling where it did was the worst possible scenario for the shops.

It is also a tough scenario from a grading standpoint, and provides another in the long line of reasons why I am not much of a trends guy. There are sites out there that do automatic tracking off of the closing line, and most of them will show LSU failing as a road favorite and Florida cashing as a home dog. But is that proper? For much of the week not only did the cover go in a different direction, but so did the roles, the Tigers as the road dogs and the Gators as home favorites.

There isn’t an absolute answer here, except for the handicapper to maintain a flexibility in charting results, a major topic this week.

That also takes us to UCF-Cincinnati on Saturday night, that game going into a delay with 0:04 left in the third quarter, UCF up 51-23. Once it got past midnight, the programs decided to not finish what was a one-sided affair.

That one goes as a no-bet in Las Vegas, a horrible Bad Beat for folks that had Over, though they were few (the weather caused the total to come down from 58.5 to 53.5), and most likely a Bad Beat for those that had Central Florida as a side ticket. I doubt that Cincinnati was going to come back (the Bearcats were about to punt on fourth-and-12 from their own 40-yard when the delay set in).

Is it proper to go ahead and grade the game as an Over? Absolutely because it was. Is it also proper to grade UCF with a point spread cover? I will. And while it was a quarter short of being a completed game, the statistics have an integrity to them – I will chart everything for the yards-per-play value, but keep it separate so that the yards-per-game areas don’t become convoluted.

What is the best way to do that from a practical standpoint? I will make that the lead for the Wednesday edition, some space available now that I have officially drowned in the NFL Survivor pools. This tangent then leads us to …

 

Item: On doing the proper tracking of Western Michigan-Buffalo, and all OT games

As noted here often, my tracking is for regulation purposes across all sports, overtime not only being a different beast in terms of strategy, but also bringing physical fatigue into play, hence those numbers often become a distraction (though they serve enough purpose to be kept separately). That does take time and effort to sort through, and for many of you that is impractical, so I will at least offer one small help regarding that rather epic 7-OT Western Michigan-Buffalo clash from the Mid-American Conference on Saturday, 40-37 WMU in the added marathon session, after a 31-all regulation.

The first box score is the one you will see from most sources (I have used a simplified version), while the second is where things were at the end of regulation play.

Broncos senior tailback Javon Franklin had 102 yards after the end of regulation play. It was that kind of game.

   Item: And then there was all of this (just to point out a few) ...

Purdue 31 (-3.5 and 45), Minnesota 17: When the Boilermakers took over at their own 44 following a good kickoff return down 17-16 with 2:26 left, Minnesota and Under backers appeared to be safe, the logical process Purdue working to get into position for a game-winning FG. But Markell Jones broke a 12-yard TD run with 1:17 left, and the two-point conversion made it 24-17. The Gophers then drove to the Purdue 32-yard line before Conor Rhoda threw an interception to Ja’Wharton Bentley, who ran it back 76 yards for a TD instead of taking a knee. How misleading is that final score compared to the way that the game had been flowing for the first 59 minutes? And if you had Under (many did, because of the wind sweeping across the Midwest), ouch.

Texas (-5) 40, Kansas State 34, OT: This is another one that requires some re-charting, of course, because of the added plays, but even more important was a sequence that had that game falling where it did rather expensive for some sportsbooks. A rumor circulated for a while on Friday and Saturday that QB Jesse Ertz might be a question mark for Kansas State, and enough folks bought in to drive the game up across the “6”, several key stores getting all the way to “7”. As kickoff approached and it was clear that Ertz was warming up and ready to go, the line came right back down through the “6” again. Which is where it fell, those that laid the Longhorns on the way up and bought the Wildcats on the way back down all cashing in.

Ertz did get injured during the game, which will keep TCU-Kansas State off the board until later in the week, but Alex Delton showed an interesting burst when he was in the game, and note that Delton got an enhanced opportunity to develop in spring practice, running the first team offense while Ertz was recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

Appalachian State (-13.5) 45, New Mexico State 31: The underdog Aggies made a good account of themselves most of the way, despite some travel difficulties that were brought to our attention by an astute reader in the weekend comments thread, and scored to take a 31-24 lead with 9:27 remaining.  Not easy for a +13.5 up seven to not get the money from there. Even after a pair of quick Mountaineer TDs the Aggies were still competing to tie the game when they were stopped on fourth-and-6 at the App State 26-yard line with 4:26 remaining.

The Mountaineers came out and got a first down on the next possession, then faced a third-and-6 at their own 44. One more first down on that play and it would have been time for the victory formation and a series of QB kneel-downs. Jalin Moore broke through the line for that first down, but instead of taking a knee once beyond the chains he didn’t stop running until he got to the end zone (circa the Florida-Vanderbilt ending from last Saturday).

USC (-34) 38, Oregon State 10: This game was talked about at length on last week’s House of Yards, both Matt Landes and I going into pocket with the Beavers in a setting that brought value. And we can also connect this one up to an astute reference from reader John Weston about “rooting for the clock” in the weekend thread.

Many of you would likely have picked up the gist of that, but to take it a bit further someone had asked me a long time ago if there was any particular university or team that I ended up rooting for more than others through the years. The answer was that the one pennant I end up waving the most often would read “Tick…Tick…Tick…”, and perhaps someday I will have one of those made up for my office. The story behind that is of those final end-game drives, so often involving underdogs, in which indeed it is a moving clock that is our best friend.

So how about what the final stages in the Coliseum would have put a bettor through? The OSU cover seemed to be fairly comfortable most of the game, and even when USC backup QB Matt Fink broke a 51-yard TD run with 6:19 left to make it 38-10, there didn’t appear to be an issue, other than possibly a quick Oregon State turnover. And then …

 

 

Oregon St. at 06:19

ORE ST

USC

1st and 25 at USC20

40-C.McGrath kicks 58 yards from USC 20. 9-T.Allen to USC 46, FUMBLES (25-J.Jones). 40-C.McGrath to USC 46 for no gain.

   

USC at 06:19

ORE ST

USC

1st and 10 at USC46

26-J.Toland to ORS 49 for 5 yards.

   

2nd and 5 at ORS49

26-J.Toland to ORS 43 for 6 yards.

   

1st and 10 at ORS43

26-J.Toland to ORS 45 for -2 yards.

   

2nd and 12 at ORS45

19-M.Fink to ORS 44, FUMBLES. 19-M.Fink to ORS 44 for no gain.

   

3rd and 11 at ORS44

19-M.Fink complete to 9-R.Grimes. 9-R.Grimes to ORS 32 for 12 yards.

   

1st and 10 at ORS32

29-V.Malepeai to ORS 11 for 21 yards.

   

1st and 10 at ORS11

29-V.Malepeai to ORS 10 for 1 yard.

   

2nd and 9 at ORS10

29-V.Malepeai to ORS 9 for 1 yard.

   

3rd and 8 at ORS9

29-V.Malepeai to ORS 4 for 5 yards.

   

4th and 3 at ORS4

19-M.Fink kneels at ORS 6 for -2 yards.

   

 

Each USC run brought a glance at the ticking clock, and the timing was just tight enough that at some point the Beaver defense was going to have to stop something. When you have done this long enough, those calculations become second nature. Clay Helton added mystery by calling a timeout after the third-down play, but not to prolong anything, letting the play clock run down to the final second before doing so. Would he reward one of his young players with the opportunity to score a TD? Or would he choose to be a sport against an outmanned Pac-12 opponent? Helton chose the latter; the bankroll is grateful.

It was part of a series of intense Pac-12 endings, including Utah driving 95 yards to close the final vs. Stanford to 23-20, scoring with 0:44 left with the bonus of two personal foul penalties on the Cardinal (one of them coming after a fourth-down incompletion). But at least that was traditional football, a team still competing to win a game that was within reach (the Utes failed to recover their on-side kickoff attempt).

To close the wild day, there was this …

Washington (-28.5) 38, California 7: This was a yawner of a game, the only Golden Bears points coming on a fumble return for a TD, yet because the point spread was still in doubt, more than a few folks would have still had an interest. Cal methodically put together a 13-play drive when the game seemed like it would come to an end, backup QB Chase Forrest getting sacked at the Washington 24-yard line. But instead of allowing those final seconds to tick away Cal coach Justin Wilcox called time-out with 0:02 remaining, and sent his FG unit out.

Perhaps it is sporting for a coach to do that so that his offense could avoid a shutout, and to get his kicker some experience on the road. But the spread being where it did at least raise a small flag. Ironically the Bears had a bad snap on the attempt, and got tagged with a loss of 41 yards (yes, that is another play that you need to take out of the databases, since it serves no purpose as a rushing loss for the Cal offense, or a big play by the Washington defense).

I’ll get back out to the Pac-12 in a moment, for an entirely different reason, but first it should be noted from this Saturday how even straight-up wins can turn on a dime. …

Bowling Green 37, Miami Ohio 29: The underdog Falcons got a break when RedHawks QB Gus Ragland was injured, though they still allowed 36 first downs and 612 yards, and they were holding on to a 30-29 lead when what set up as perhaps the final Miami drive of the game. The RedHawks easily marched 76 yards, only getting to third down once, and had a first-and-goal and the BG 1-yard line with less than 2:00 to play.

Miami then went to a jumbo package on offense, though still operating out of the shotgun, and there was a bad snap that led to a scramble on the field, before Bowling Green LB Brandon Harris got control of the ball, and ran 93 yards the other way for a TD.

Football being football, of course, the great play by Harris was actually a bad one. Recovering the fumble was proper, but not running the length of the field with it – by scoring the margin only grew to eight points, which gave the RedHawks the opportunity at 1:21 to tie it and force OT, and they did get to the BG 27-yard line before back-up QB Billy Bahl threw four straight incompletions.

From Falcon HC Mike Jinks:“When the ball pops up in the air, I’m screaming ‘Get Down! Get down! That’s going to be a teaching moment. If [Harris] goes down the game is over.”

Could a player cost his team a win by scoring an unnecessary TD? Yes. Back in 1994, Hawaii led Missouri 25-24 in the waning moments when a Warrior defender intercepted a pass and ran it back all the way. The problem is that left it at 32-24, and the Tigers drove the field for a touchdown and made their two-point attempt. That was before overtime had become part of the NCAA landscape, so the game ended in a tie, one created because the Hawaii player got caught up in the moment, and didn’t simply take a knee.

UAB 23, Louisiana Tech 22: Short kicks are boring, right? PATs and FG attempts from the red zone don’t bring much excitement. They did in this one, Bulldog kicker Jonathan Barnes having about as tough of a fourth quarter as I can recall from that position. Tech scored a pair of TDs in the final stanza, but Barnes missed both PAT kicks, and then when the offense rallied and created the opportunity to win the game on the final drive, having marched to the Blazer 12-yard line, Barnes had his kick blocked by the 6-7 Stacy Keely.

Miami Fla. 24, Florida State 20: A lot of the charting and game watching that goes on deals with subtleties, in particular the play of catalysts who have leadership roles with their teams. In this one I came away impressed with the late-game moxie of both QBs, who put on quite a show after a game in which each of them had been dominated by the opposing defenses most of the way.

The win goes to Miami QB Malik Rosier, who had only led the team to one TD before the final two possessions, that coming on a one-play drive of only 21 yards. But after falling behind 13-10 with 6:55 remaining, Rosier led a 75-yard drive on six plays, hitting Braxton Berrios for a TD to regain the lead. James Blackman countered with a 75-yard TD drive, the second straight game in which Blackman struggled, yet got the team to the end zone when it had to happen on what might have been their final possession.

Then it was up to Rosier again, taking over at the 25-yard line with just 1:24 left, and he put together another 75-yard march, this time the TD pass going to Darrell Langham. That was 150 yards of total offense in the final 6:55 for the Hurricanes, who only had 177 for the first 53:05. Was this the coming-of-age for Rosier as the leader of the offense?  It sure as hell matters from a handicapping standpoint going forward – even more falls on Rosier’s shoulders now, with RB Mark Walton, Miami’s best playmaker (428 rushing yards at 7.6, and 13.0 on seven receptions), out for the rest of the season.

And of course there are those games that are so difficult to grade…

South Carolina 48, Arkansas 22: With the stats just about even, it is easy to see the dominant category that produced the scoreboard blowout: Arkansas had three turnovers, while South Carolina didn’t have any. But in this one it went a step further as all three of the Razorback giveaways were turned directly into touchdowns, a pair of pick-sixes and also a fumble return.

Iowa State 38, Oklahoma 31: A high line went even higher when it became known that Cyclone QB Jacob Park did not make the trip, the team quietly saying that he is taking a “leave of absence” from football.  But State went out and won the game legitimately, a 28-7 closing run after falling behind early, behind the terrific QB play of Kyle Kempt. Kempt was 18-for-24 for 343 yards and three TDs, without an interception,  a rather nifty 14.3 yards per pass attempt.

Where has Kempt been hiding all this time? He is a senior walk-on who had only thrown two passes in his entire career.

Want to have more fun with that one? Cyclone MLB Joel Lanning was named Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week after coming up with eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. And who spelled Kempt when he needed a break at QB? Lanning, going back to his old position. He was on the first for 13 snaps on offense, running nine times for 35 yards, and completing 2 of 3 passes for 24 more.

This stuff really isn’t easy, but the fact that the oddsmakers have to make prices on all of it makes these unusual situations an opportunity for those who can read them best.

Now a challenge for all of us when it comes to grading, and this one is historic …

 

Item: Did Khalil Tate just play the best game by a QB ever?
Sub-Item: Tate wasn’t a starting QB in the game

Yes, that is a strong statement, especially from someone who will soon reach 40 years of breaking down college football box scores. But from a game that has gotten shockingly little interest from the Sports Mediaverse so far, Arizona’s 45-42 win over Colorado in Boulder on Saturday night, Tate’s numbers were astonishing.

First, let’s start with the fact that Tate did not start, Brandon Dawkins again getting the call for the Wildcats, before being injured on the opening drive. Then we go to the simple fact that Tate set the all-time record for rushing yards by a QB at the FBS level, 327 on 14 attempts, a likely never to be equaled 23.4 per rush that included four touchdowns. Those TDs came on plays of 75, 58, 47 and 28 yards. That is pretty good stuff, but then take a look at what happened when he passed, a 12-for-13 for 154 yards and another TD (the first post-game box scores, which show 11-12-143, were wrong, and later amended, another of those little disciplines that we have to go through each week). That is a 208.8 rating on the NCAA scales, or about as close to flawless as can be. I don’t have a database set up for the query, but I cannot recall any QB having over 200 rushing yards and a 200+ passer rating in a game, which makes the 327 even more remarkable.

Rich Rodriguez has already tabbed Tate as the starter vs. UCLA this week regardless of the health of Dawkins, and for those wondering why it has taken this long there has been a health issue; Tate opened the season with an AC sprain in his right (throwing) shoulder.

Tate is a true sophomore, his redshirt getting burned in 2016 because of Arizona injuries at the position, but he wasn’t quite ready for game action as a freshman, having a dismal time in his only start, a 48-14 home loss to USC. How high is the ceiling? That becomes the major question power rating the Arizona offense going forward. UCLA now gets to at least come in with a game plan, albeit with an unimposing defensive front, but those films have to be a bit frightening for the Bruin coaching staff to view.

In terms of pure single-game math, I don’t have a better showing from a QB than what Tate just turned in, both his running and passing at off-the-charts levels. It was just another plot twist from a Saturday that brought plenty of them.

How special is college football? The two best QBs in the nation on Saturday were Tate and Kempt, and as late as Friday of last week there was the real prospect that neither of them would even play.

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