Betting Stuff: Rutgers is good, BYU has a Heisman candidate and jump on Justin Fields before it's too late
Betting Stuff is a regular sports gambling column here at Saturday Down South with a focus on college football wagering (though don’t be surprised to see some non-college football insights from time to time). Betting Stuff is brought to you by MyBookie. If you’re looking for a place to make a deposit and start getting in on the action, look no further than MyBookie.
It’s not a fluke
Last week, I implored our readers to consider the staggering fact that Power 5 home underdogs we’re cashing tickets at a historic pace (20-10-1). They were even in the black if you took them to win outright, pulling the upset on the field in 12 of those 31 contests.
That set the stage for the Big Ten’s return to the field last weekend. How did the home ‘dogs do in the league of Yost, Stagg, Schembechler and Hayes? They stayed true to the new normal. Both Indiana and Purdue won outright as short ‘dogs, while Minnesota was flat-out trucked at home.
This week I circled a pair of home ‘dogs as soon as the games hit the board. Georgia Tech is catching 3 touchdowns at home against Notre Dame. The Yellow Jackets are experiencing the kind of high-variance that young teams generally do both straight up and against the spread. They’ve pulled off a pair of moneyline upsets against Florida State and Louisville, but they’ve also been steamrolled by Clemson and Boston College.
This game comes down to the number for me. Once it hit 21, I was quick to pounce because Notre Dame has made it a habit of letting inferior opponents hang around. Duke is one of college football’s worst teams this season and the Irish only beat the Blue Devils by 14. And in back-to-back weeks, ND failed to cover against Florida State and Louisville, defeating them by 16 and 5 respectively. I’ll take the Yellow Jackets and the points.
Rolling right along, I like Texas Tech catching 14.5 against a streaky Oklahoma team. The point differential between these teams in their last 7 meetings in Lubbock is in favor of Oklahoma by just 8 points. For whatever reason, Texas Tech just turns it up a notch at home for night games and I’m happy to ride that wave in this one.
If not-so-recent history isn’t your preferred angle, consider the Red Raiders’ performances against SP+ Top-25 teams. Texas Tech should have beaten Texas (23rd) at home, and nearly captured a backdoor cover against Iowa State (24th) in Ames. The point being, they’re not getting boat-raced by the better teams in the Big XII and Oklahoma still leaves a lot to be desired defensively (26.8 ppg, 11 30+yard plays allowed).
The State University of New Jersey
I’m not here to say that we should all be chopping wood in our No. 23 Brian Leonard jerseys like it’s 2006, but the difference between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in 2019 and in 2020 is shocking. Roster turnover has a whole lot to do with it, considering Greg Schiano brought on a boatload of transfers and JUCO signees. But it was fair to wonder how well everyone would mesh, considering Rutgers’ COVID-related issues during fall practice. The on-field product, 1 game in, is a conservative offense and a ball-hawking defense. Full disclosure, I love fading teams with this exact recipe.
Rutgers scored 38 points while only gaining 276 yards against Sparty last week in East Lansing. They were the beneficiaries of 7 costly Spartan turnovers and, according to the Action Network’s Darin Gardner, “Rutgers had an incredible average starting field position of 54.6 yards from the end zone.” Those are outliers and I’m happy to throw the breaks on the Rutgers Rose Bowl parade right now.
Indiana is an 11-point road favorite over at MyBookie, and I believe anything under that key number of 14 is a gift. Indiana entered the season with a chance to field a truly special offense, but its 36-35 overtime upset of Penn State was far from a showcase for Michael Penix Jr. After 3 quarters of idling in neutral, the 17th-ranked Hoosiers put together a 75-yard game-tying drive complete with a 2-point conversion, and repeated the feat in overtime when it mattered most. I think that was a turning point in Tom Allen’s career and the Hoosiers will rebound offensive in Piscataway.
Last Week: 5-3 (62.5%, +3.45 Units)
Overall: 28-19-1 (59.5%, +8.85 Units)
My top play for Week 9
Hawaii-1.5 at Wyoming (60)
Before there was the college football phenomenon known as the #Pac12AfterDark, there was the tried-and-true midnight eastern kickoff of Hawaii football games. The “late-night gambler’s bailout game,” as it became affectionately known. But Hawaii football has become more than just college football’s last resort. After the program bottomed out in 1998, going 0-12, June Jones and his Run And Shoot went to work. Jones’ 76-41 overall record over the next 9 seasons included 4 bowl wins and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.
Once Jones left for SMU following the 2007 season, the program laid low once again before a revival under former quarterback-turned head coach, Nick Rolovich. Under Rolovich, the Rainbow Warriors went to 3 bowl games and captured a Western Division title in the Mountain West last season.
The common thread across the last 20 years has been offensive innovation. This season’s ‘Bow squad might be the most unique yet, which is saying a lot given the wacky schemes employed on the Big Island in the last two decades. Hawaii is employing a hybrid of Todd Graham’s old Arizona State offenses and assistant coach Brennan Marion’s GoGo offense. Marion’s offense positions multiple running backs to the left or right of the quarterback in the shotgun. Marion utilized the offense as Howard’s OC, orchestrating the largest point spread upset in the history of college football in 2017 (43-40 over UNLV). And this isn’t some well-kept secret either. Tenets of Marion’s offense have already bubbled up to the NFL. Here’s a play straight from his playbook being run by the Chicago Bears.
— 5 ⭐ Coach T TMP 🏁 🐐 (@CoachTTMP) November 28, 2019
The GoGo offense ran roughshod over Fresno State on Saturday, piling up 323 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Warrior defense was equally as impressive, forcing 4 turnovers in a 34-19 victory.
But for all of the love being tossed towards Hawaii in this column, this is my play of the week due to Wyoming’s injury issues. The Pokes’ starting quarterback, Sean Chambers, has been lost to his 3rd season-ending leg injury in 3 years in Laramie. The drop-off from Chambers to Levi Williams is pretty significant, and unlike most Craig Bohl-coached teams, Wyoming doesn’t have the horses to lean on in the backfield. The slight Xazavian Valladay was bottled up once Chambers exited the game and will be facing an improved Hawai’i front 7 on Friday night. I was surprised to see this open as a virtual pick ’em and wouldn’t be surprised to see this line steam up to the key number of 3 in favor of the Rainbow Warriors.
One last note on this game, the travel element for this game is misunderstood. Since 2016, Hawai’i has been near the bottom of the ATS rankings (10-14-1) when playing on the road. But Hawaii has stayed on the mainland following its road victory on Saturday, posting up in Denver for the week.
— Hawaii Football (@HawaiiFootball) October 28, 2020
This makes it a very short road trip for a team playing inspired football right out of the gate against an opponent that is severely limited offensively.
Sims still paying off
When I decided to blend my top picks with simulation data from NCAA ’14, I had hopes that the hybrid system would generate positive returns. Those modest expectations have been smashed to smithereens after 2 months. Despite the system’s first losing week (1-2), it is still sporting a healthy win percentage at 9-5 (64.2%). Each week the folks at Operation Sports update the roster set, so injuries, opt-outs and breakout players are accounted for in the simulation.
Two of these 3 plays caught my attention right away.
I like Ohio State to beat up on Penn State in a virtually empty Beaver Stadium, but the simulation liked the Buckeyes even more. Justin Fields accounted for 6 total touchdowns in a 55-24 blowout. Penn State pulled Sean Clifford in the second half and Will Levis found the sledding just as difficult, turning the ball over twice in the 4th quarter in relief.
The next game that wasn’t close to the Vegas projection was the total in Memphis-Cincinnati. The Tigers are an over-bettor’s dream, with a top-5 offense and bottom-5 defense. The Tigers are averaging 548.8 total yards per game (5th) while allowing 567.8 yards (dead last). That combination foretold how this one would play out, as Cincinnati hit season highs in yardage (603) and points (56). Memphis kept it close through 3 quarters, but faded in the 4th, losing 56-38. If Desmond Ridder comes close to his sim stats (385 total yards, 4 total TDs), it may be time to take a flyer on him for the Heisman.
The final game came as a pretty big surprise given the opposite directions these teams are headed in. Mississippi State is averaging just 10 points per game in its last 3, but that didn’t stop Leach’s Air Raid from scoring 10 points in the 1st quarter against Alabama. That fast start was enough for the Bulldogs to hang around for a full 60 minutes, falling to the Crimson Tide 45-24. It was another big game for Tide WR John Metchie III. The sophomore set career highs in receptions (11), yards (199) and touchdowns (3).
Two weeks ago I pointed out that Justin Fields’ Heisman odds (+600) were completely out of whack and the notion that Trevor Lawrence had this race wrapped up already was a complete falsehood. After a single performance against Nebraska (20-for-21, 330 total yards, 3 total TDs) Fields’ odds are as short as 2:1 at some sportsbooks. I believe Lawrence is due for a statistical dud, whether that comes against Boston College this week or Notre Dame in 2 weeks. A single off-week will really open up this race. With that in mind, let’s see who else presents decent value.
The best longshot being offered by MyBookie is Zach Wilson at 40:1. The BYU superstar is averaging 12 yards per attempt, sports a 12:1 TD-to-INT ratio and is accounting for 340.5 yards and 3.6 total touchdowns per game. BYU also has a 42.8% chance of running the table according to ESPN’s FPI metric. Heisman voters can be seduced by big stats, top-10 rankings and flashy highlight reels, and Wilson checks all 3 boxes. If he stays healthy and BYU completes a perfect regular season, I think he’s a shoo-in to be a Heisman finalist, which would present bettors with an opportunity to hedge by betting on other frontrunners. I’d lock in a bet on Wilson right away.
According to the Action Network, Michigan QB Joe Milton is listed at a few sportsbooks at 30:1 which is a deal considering his breakout performance on Saturday. Fairly or unfairly, his candidacy likely rests in the outcome of the Wolverines’ annual clash with Ohio State. But if he continues to pile up stats ahead of the Wolverines’ Dec. 12 meeting with the Buckeyes, the opportunity to hedge by backing Ohio State is as straightforward as it gets.
Don’t get seduced by talent
One closing thought for the week. This college football season has already proven that backing underdogs is the way to go in this chaotic atmosphere, which means bettors need to have the stomach to back teams that appear outgunned on paper. Just take a look at a few of the talent mismatches that produced these shocking upsets.
The biggest ⭐ differentials in "upset" wins this #CFB season. Not all were truly upsets.
4 & 5⭐ Recruits
Penn State 48
Iowa State 4
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) October 28, 2020
Texas A&M has 42 4- or 5-star players on its roster, while Arkansas has just 20. I’ll take the Hogs and 12.5-points in this week’s “They don’t play the games on paper” special.