What a 'Bettor Better Know': Notes from NCAA Week 9

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David Malinsky

Monday, October 30, 2017 2:29 PM GMT

Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 2:29 PM GMT

What a 'Bettor Better Know' for NCAA Week 9, as we look for the reality behind the masks on Halloween week (including some ghoulish box scores to sort through). ...

Point Blank – October 30, 2017

It is the Halloween edition of our NCAA review, and we can play off of that theme with a purpose this week, looking at how W/L records and statistics may only be a mask covering the realities for some teams, all the while some coaches are working hard to change those numbers. This is something that was touched upon in last Monday’s edition, much of the focus on how some HCs of struggling teams were facing dire straits in turning their seasons around, but today the focus is on a some positive cycles along those fronts. And of course there are the curveballs of some games being more mask than reality, forcing us to see what is behind them so that it becomes Treat and not Trick.

Yes, it would also be fun to cycle through World Series Game 5 as well, and all of the various permutations of sport that came into play, but I will save that for Tuesday, so that we can also weave in some of the key handicapping elements for Game 6, which will not be an easy read for the markets – are there any relief pitchers for either team who can fully be trusted at this point?

Another long Monday read also means the jukebox will be in play, and while I do try to avoid any repeats, there may be an annual for this particular week. If the time ever allows I may do an academic treatise on that 2012-14 tour by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, one that was filled with so many various dynamics, and one of the unique aspects were the amazing number of one-off’s that they did, based on either the venue or the timing of a show the sort of thing that talent, creativity and experience allow for. This one is simply fun, from Rochester on Halloween night in 2012:

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Now let’s look at what is going on behind some of the masks across the NCAA landscape, some teams playing at a higher level right now than some early-season stats that have become a bit stale.

 

Item: On appreciating Steve Adazzio

This will be the third week in a row that Boston College gets a featured spot, despite this being its bye ahead, but I do it so that the first two can be put into better context. The cycle began with that rally to win at Louisville, winning after being down 21-7, which seemed most unlikely for an underdog of +19. But from the moment that BC fell down by 14 in that game it has been a 114-34 run over nearly 11 full quarters vs. those Cardinals, and then Virginia and Florida State, all in an underdog role.

What is shocking about the stretch is two-fold, first that Boston College was a collective +32 across those games, and second is that there wasn’t the hint of anything being a fluke. The last two wins were beatdowns in which Adazzio’s team won the rushing yards battle 480-159. And it is worth bringing up the name of the HC, because he saw this coming and has also taken steps to accelerate the growing processes for the rare team in which the leading passer (Anthony Brown), runner (AJ Dillon) and receiver (Kobay White) are all freshmen.

Want something for your files? Embedded in this tweet is a moment of video from Addazio the week before the Louisville game, when the Eagles were 2-4:

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3-0 since this pic.twitter.com/Amdw4wCBjd

— ERIC HOFFSES (@EJHoffses) October 28, 2017
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Fast forward to last week, and there were reasons to like the Eagles against Florida State, but I was hesitant to pull the trigger. After being frustrated by a lack of talent in the skill positions in past matchups vs. the Seminoles, the Eagles finally had the necessary playmakers, but I was cautious about backing a team with so many young key cogs under the bright spotlights of the national television cameras. The markets made it easier to step in when the price became +6 on Friday, and then it was Adazzio who managed to take pressure off of his team with some early aggressiveness.

What jumped out? On the opening possession the BC offense scored on a 34-yard TD pass from RB Jeff Smith to White, a well-designed gadget that broke wide open. It was the coach setting the tone of being aggressive and attacking, rather than trying to just tip-toe his young players into the game flow.

There are serious strides being made on Chestnut Hill, and while I had not thought of Adazzio as much more than a defensive-oriented guy though his first four seasons, there is a lot more going on right now, especially with that young still cast to build around. He got right to the point after Friday’s win: “We’re playing at a really good level right now and gaining confidence. There’s a resilience here. There’s a chemistry in our team, a very strong chemistry, and it’s a love for each other.”

 

Item: On Appreciating Dave Clawson

The aggressiveness shown by Boston College in the first drive vs. Florida State could also been seen from Wake Forest in the opening march vs. Louisville – the Demon Deacons crisply went down the field for a touchdown. They did it on their second and third drives as well, QB John Wolford going 13-for-14 for 196 yards on those three marches, and they controlled the flow in getting their first signature ACC win of the Clawson era.

Clawson inherited a team that was off of four straight losing seasons, Jim Grobe having had a good long-term run but the program having grown style across his sunset campaigns. In Clawson’s first season, the Demon Deacons were double-figure underdogs in eight of their 11 lined games, which shows what he was up against.

Back-to-back 3-9 records were the opening salvo, but then a 7-6 last year that included a bowl win, although there wasn’t a major ACC breakthrough. There hadn’t been this season earlier, Wake having some moments against Florida State and Georgia Tech, but not enough to get over the hump. Then came Saturday, and it wasn’t a coach trying to have his team hang around in a game early and then try to find a way, but instead the confidence to attack from the beginning.

Playing smart is still the big foundation for a Clawson team – the Deacons only have 5 turnovers in 657 snaps. The question was whether he was going to have enough talent to begin winning games, rather than just keeping them close. Clawson and Wake are now 4-0 ATS vs. Clemson, 4-0 ATS vs. Louisville and 2-1-1 ATS vs. Florida State, the three teams that have been at the top of the ACC Atlantic Division, but had been 0-11 SU vs. those teams until Saturday.

Clawson had a plan against Louisville, and because someone like freshman WR Greg Dortch is around, his players were good enough to execute it. Dortch caught 10 passes for 167 yards and four TDs and rates fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards with 1,290. But now the dark cloud: Dortch, will miss the rest of the season after undergoing abdominal surgery on Sunday.

There is a lot to like form the way that Wake Forest plays, now it becomes a question as to whether or not playmakers like Dortch can be brought to a campus on which they have rarely been seen.

 

Item: On appreciating Cory Hall

There isn’t much of anything to like about Oregon State football except that over the last two games, the Beavers have played hard in the aftermath of Gary Andersen leaving the program. They had opened 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS in their five lined games, the closest scoreboard loss by 28 points, so there wasn’t much reason to expect things to change under interim HC Cory Hall, who was handed the keys after being the secondary coach, but there have been back-to-back passion plays on the field in Corvallis.

In the first outing they drove 84 yards to take the lead 33-29 over Colorado with 4:22 remaining, but the defense could not hold. Yet even after falling behind 36-33 with 1:34 left they got three first downs, and were close enough to attempt a long FG attempt on the final play, which missed. Then last Thursday State did get the break of not having to face Bryce Love, but still competed hard against Stanford, taking the ball over at their own 32-yard line with a 14-9 lead with 3:31 remaining. Two runs produced a first down, but then veteran RB Ryan Nall fumbled, just a snap or two before it was going to become kneel-down time.

Even after a turnover that could have shattered the psyche of a struggling team, the defense forced the Cardinal into a fourth-and-10 before Keller Chryst converted with a terrific throw to get a first down and keep the drive alive, and a few plays later Stanford scored to win 15-14.

Oregon State is a limited team that lacks playmakers on both sides of the ball, and the Beavers are on the way to their four straight losing season. But I was impressed at how hard they competed in those last two games, and it begins to build a respect for Hall, especially because I believe the players may already have that, and want him to get the full-time job.

Let’ start with Hall, who is already treating the situation as though it truly is his team, which many interim HCs don’t do:"I always believe that a team is going to take on the identity of the head coach and I'm no one to be pushed around, and obviously you're going to develop a team like that. …Now it has to translate. It has to translate into the win and loss column. But they have the right kind of emotion. Those guys want to compete, they want to play and they want to make Beaver Nation proud. They know they should have beat that team, just like we should have beat Colorado."

The change in attitude is not lost on OSU Athletic Director Scott Barnes, which is something I will follow closely: "He's made those student-athletes believe in themselves. Certainly that is a huge difference -- their belief in themselves. The same student-athletes with a different attitude and a different swagger. Certainly I think on top of that, I think he's been able to simplify some things that has allowed them to be in positions to make plays.”

Administrators like to say “certainly”, don’t they, a kind of narcissistic self-affirmation that if they believe something it must be true, mustn’t it? But if the players believe they can get Hall the long-term job by going hard the rest of the way, might it mean far more energy than what their record would ordinarily indicate? It may be a far hungrier Beaver than the betting markets expect.

Now time to get a bit ghoulish in terms of the art and science of handicapping, with some difficult challenges coming from the weekend results, and I will begin with one that also connects up to the previous theme, and dealing with what a coaching change can mean. …

 

Item: On Grading Georgia-Florida
Sub-Item: What next for the Gators?

Georgia 42, Florida 7 really should not come as a complete shock, except for some market elements that were surging towards the Gators on game day, as low as -12.5 showing prior to kickoff. Given the Florida struggles both on and off the field, and how the physical play of the Bulldogs could exploit that on both sides of the ball, I would at least grade the scoreboard as “within reason.” But there is a catch.

Georgia only had the ball for 42 plays. That is not a misprint. The Bulldogs got a five-TD final margin despite having 24 fewer snaps than Florida, in what was a snail’s pace of a game. And even charting it as 42 is generous to the defense – on the final two Georgia drives there were seven snaps, all running plays by reserves, the last of which was -2 yards on a kneel-down. Outside of those possessions, when the sole focus was working the clock, it was 35 plays for 381 yards, a robust 10.9 YPP.

Games like this, and a few that are to follow, are a big part of why those quick glances at first downs and total offense in the box scores can often steer one in the wrong direction. It certainly would have here – to chart the Georgia offense at 15 first downs and 395 yards, and record the Florida defense the same way, would have zero merit.

A major question is what happens next for the Gators, especially a talented defense that played without heart on Saturday. It is Randy Shannon who will be the interim HC the rest of the way, but it was also Shannon’s defense, which has the tools to be among the best in the nation, that chose not to compete against Georgia. Was that a case of the unit quitting on Jim McElwain, and might they still be responsive to Shanahan?

I will be reading through the lines carefully on this front. One of the keys when there is a change like this is to determine whether the interim HC is being considered for the full-time job, like at Oregon State, which can mean the players buying in and having a sense of purpose the rest of the way. Florida is well capable of winning the last four games and heading to a decent bowl at 7-4. Will the administration present Shannon that way? Sometimes it is the savvy thing to do, even if it isn’t true, just to keep the players on track.

An example of what happens when that isn’t done takes us to El Paso. …

 

Item: On Mike Price, and UTEP yawning through the remainder of the season

There wasn’t any pretense of Price coming back for 2018 when he was given the chore of finishing out another dismal UTEP season. Price is 71 years old and was brought out of retirement because he was at least someone who had success in leading the Miners in the past. Or so it seemed – I wonder if Price is still effectively retired.

The scoreboard results have not been noticeably bad, an 0-3 SU and 1-2 ATS in which the two spread losses were each within two points of the closing line. But look at those game flows – the UTEP offense has only averaged 54.3 snaps through that cycle. How low is that? It has naturally helped drop them to lead last in the NCAA in pace, but the next worst team for the full season is Vanderbilt at 60.3. The Miners are playing at more than a full possession per game less than any other team.

There has been a way to take advantage of this – those three outings played 'under' the closing total by 54 points, a significant 18.0 per game, though the markets may start to adjust. I doubt we see much change from the UTEP flows, with Price not likely burning the midnight oil to come up with game plans.

Those of us that try to beat the game for a living do have those late-night moments of study, and there are several additional games from the Saturday slate that required extra attention before attaching the grades. …

 

Item: On Grading Indiana-Maryland

It would appear that the Hoosiers were unlucky in this one, leading 32-19 in first downs and 483-351 in total offense, but losing on the scoreboard 42-39. But if your first glance goes towards yards per play, it registers the Terrapins with a substantial 6.6 to 5.0 advantage. It is a difficult flow to chart, Indiana running 97 plays to just 53 for victorious Maryland.

Turnovers were even at one apiece, and there was only one play that could be identified as altering the flow, the Terrapins blocking a punt for a touchdown, which took away an offensive possession for them and added one for Indiana. The rest was a result of the Hoosiers effectively moving the ball via a lot of short passes, which built up plays and possession time, but drives not being finished any more efficiently than Maryland did.

There may have been one long-term silver lining for Indiana. I thought that the Hoosiers might have been a little gassed heading into the game, off of grueling losses to Michigan and Michigan State that went to the final possession, the former into overtime. The fact the Hoosier defense got out of Saturday with a reduced work load may turn out to be a plus factor going forward, especially against a physical Wisconsin ground attack this week.

 

Item: On Grading Arizona-Washington State

Arizona’s 58-37 win on Saturday night lays out much like Indiana-Maryland did – a quick glance at the box score would show the Cougars having a substantial edge of 32-13 in first downs, and a smaller edge of 660-585 in total offense. That makes for a misleading scoreboard right? Once again, wrong.

Washington State got off a remarkable 101 snaps in the game, vs. just 51 for the victors. And yes, you can already do the quick math in your head – if the Wildcats got 585 yards out of 51 plays, they had a pretty good evening on offense. Welcome to more of the Khalil Tate era. Take away the final Arizona drive, when it was three running plays to work the clock, and on possessions in which they tried to score it was 12.1 yards per play. Yes, per play.

Tate continues to be fun, averaging 13.4 yards per rush, and while not showing up on the national charts because he doesn’t have enough attempts yet, his passer rating would be #3. The Wazzu State defense didn’t have any answers.

As for the Cougars offense, there are some questions going forward. Mike Leach lost patience with veteran QB Luke Falk and went with sophomore Tyler Hilinski most of the way, but Hilinski threw four interceptions, a pick-six included among them. Who is it going to be for that key Pac-12 showdown against Stanford on Saturday? Leach may not always offer a plan that we can trust, but remains a fun read: “If I could slice the two of them in half and mold them into one guy, we would have probably been in a good situation today.”

The bottom line from Saturday night is that while 37 points, 32 first downs and 660 yards might look terrific on the first glance, when an offense is given 101 plays that production level isn’t anything special at all.

Meanwhile, there is absolutely nothing special about the quality of play in the Mountain West this season, which creates some handicapping challenges.

 

Item: On grading the entire Mountain West

By this stage of the season the lines should be getting sharper, right? Conference play means teams taking each game seriously, and it also brings years of team vs. team histories that we can look back on, to better anticipate what will happen next. For the 2017 MWC it has been a different story, in large part because the quality of play has been so bad that there has been inconsistency across the board. How about this past weekend’s results:

Wyoming (-2.5) 42, New Mexico 3
Air Force (+9.5) 45, Colorado State 28
Boise State (-13.5) 41, Utah State 14
UNLV (+22) 26, Fresno State 16
San Diego State (-8.5) 28, Hawaii 7

None of the games fell even close to the spread, and it left a lot of head scratching. If you watched UNLV without starting QB Armani Rogers take on first-place Fresno State, you would have been shocked to see that a three-touchdown underdog looked every bit as good as the favorite on the field, the scoreboard recording the game not a fluke.

And are we supposed to be digging deeper into the rumored issues between Bob Davie and his players at New Mexico? It was a lead topic here earlier in the season, and now think about this way – in the last two Lobo road games they closed -2.5 at Fresno State, and +2.5 at Wyoming, making it a projected pick’em for those 120 minutes of football. They got outscored 80-3 in those games. How does pick’em crumble into that?

I have not been able to get a lot of action out of the MWC this season, even consistent programs like San Diego State becoming a challenge, with the last four Aztec games falling 85.5 points from the closing line. But it did allow me to have a little fun this morning, an annual exercise to show part of the challenge that comes from interpreting sports results. Let’s play the 2017 mind game:

If:
Howad beat UNLV
And UNLV beat Fresno State
And Fresno State beat San Diego State
And San Diego State beat Arizona State
And Arizona State beat Washington

Then:
Howard would beat Washington

And we just try to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, there are some folks that thought they had something in the Sun Belt last week that got me to pay close attention, and it led to more confusing grading. …

 

Item: On grading Texas State-Coastal Carolina

I am only putting the groundwork together for understanding Coastal Carolina in the Chanticleers' inaugural season in the Sun Belt, and I am not sure if I will have enough for them to be bettable in 2018, either. Yet there was a major market surge last week, CC getting bet up from -7 to as high as -10 over Texas State, before there was a little buyback at the end. It had me take notice, because there is the usual notion of wondering if somebody in the marketplace knew something. The Chanticleers had not won a conference game, yet were being projected to easily handle a league opponent, and there were backers for the concept.

The outcome was a stunner, Texas State rolling by more than the 27-7 scoreboard in what was a complete thumping. First downs were 32-9 and total offense was 530-183, with the only Coastal Carolina points coming from the defense, via a fumble return for a touchdown. It was the sort of game we often only see from the best team in the conference vs. the worst, and for a solid home favorite to get pushed around that badly raises concerns about whether the line was in the right place to begin with. Now in this instance there is the added element of trying to ponder just what led to the market surge over the course of the week as well.

It is all a part of the learning process from this grand pageant that we play through every weekend. While for many handicapping platforms the numbers get filed into a database and crunched as though they were Gospel, it is in the subtle reading beyond those numbers that substantial edges can be found.

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