Betting Stuff: Searching for value in SEC futures picks and loving the Power 5 'dogs
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.
Lessons paid in full
Amid the chaos that has been college football’s 2020 season to date, a handful of compelling trends have emerged. These trends have favored sportsbooks, which traditionally are left with a larger percentage of tickets backing favorites than underdogs.
In major-conference play, which in 2020 has amounted to the new “Power 3,” underdogs are 40-32-2 (55.5%) and profitable in the SEC, ACC and Big 12. While that may only elicit a minor eyebrow raise from the casual gambler, the next statistic is sure to grab anyone’s attention.
In 2020, home underdogs from the Power 3 are, as a group, performing at a very high level. In these spots, teams are 20-10-1 ATS (66%, +9 Units). This includes 12 outright victories for the underdog. To put this in perspective, if you had bet the underdogs in all 31 games with a unit on the spread and a unit on the moneyline, you’d be +17 units overall.
The main takeaway here is that despite socially distanced crowds, home-field advantage is alive and well in major college football. As the Big Ten re-enters the fray this week and Pac-12 in the next few weeks, I’ll be giving this trend a test drive.
Big Ten home ‘dogs
A trio of Big Ten home ‘dogs litter the docket Saturday and all 3 are worthy of a closer look.
- Indiana is hosting No. 8 Penn State in Bloomington as a touchdown underdog.
- P.J. Fleck and his row-a-boaters are catching 3.5-points at home to Michigan.
- And Purdue has opened as a 3-point home dog to Iowa.
Sloppy, rainy weather is expected for both games in the Hoosier State, while the Wolverines and Gophers will be playing in the coldest Big Ten opener in over 70 years (33°F).
Of that 3-pack, IU and Purdue really jump off the page to me. Indiana nearly upset Penn State last year, shredding a porous Penn State secondary for 371 yards through the air. The Hoosiers return more than enough firepower at the skill positions, and a veteran quarterback, to instill confidence in bettors that they can hang with the Nittany Lions.
There’s also been a noticeable talent drain in Happy Valley during the pandemic. Future first-round draft choice Micah Parsons opted out and Journey Brown has been ruled out for an extended period of time. The loss of those two should have been enough for pollsters to drop PSU out of the top 10, but they’re honoring their pre-COVID positioning it seems. I think that creates value here, in a game that I have handicapped in the PSU-3.5 range.
One final note, Penn State hasn’t been very good against the spread in openers under James Franklin (2-4 ATS), including a straight-up defeat to Temple in 2015 and a near-loss in OT to Appalachian State in 2018. If you’re looking for good value against Franklin and Penn State, this is a spot to find it.
The second team in the Big Ten that I think could continue the 2020 home ‘dog trend is Purdue. Jeff Brohm didn’t suddenly forget how to coach football last season. The rising star in the coaching ranks resurrected Purdue from a 3-9 (1-8 B1G) season in 2016 to back-to-back bowl appearances and a 29-point win over No. 2 Ohio State in 2018. Last fall, the Boilermakers struggled with major injuries at quarterback and wide receiver, personnel setbacks that would have sunk nearly any team. What those injuries did afford Purdue was experience, which should come in handy this weekend.
Word out of West Lafayette is that the offensive line, by way of recruiting and experience, should take a step forward this season, which is really the missing piece of the puzzle. If they are merely competent along their offensive front, Purdue has a chance to lead the Big Ten in passing this fall. I’ll take the points here against an Iowa team breaking in a slew of new starters on both sides of the ball. And get well soon, Coach Brohm!
Last Week: 3-2 (60%, +.8 Units)
Overall: 23-16-1 (59%, +5.4 Units)
My top play for Week 8
Cincinnati at Southern Methodist-2.5 (56.5)
I’ve been a big fan of Sonny Dykes and the work he’s doing in Highland Park, but the wrong team is favored in this critical AAC matchup. Since SMU raced out to a 24-3 lead over Memphis on Oct. 3, the Mustangs have been outscored 58-37 in the last 6 quarters. During that stretch, they’ve also lost starters T.J. McDaniel and Reggie Roberson Jr. to season-ending injuries.
They were able to hold on against Memphis and required overtime to beat a 2-3 Tulane team in New Orleans.
What SMU is currently experiencing is what is known as the Wile E Coyote effect. The Mustangs have run off the cliff, but they haven’t started falling yet, and to both SMU and the casual observer, everything seems fine. But once gravity catches up with them, the descent will be swift and merciless, particularly against the best Group of 5 defense.
Cincinnati Bearcats CB trio Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant and Arquon Bush have combined to allow a 23.8 passer rating in coverage this year (@PFF_College).
Throwing the ball in the dirt every play would give the QB a better passer rating at 39.6. pic.twitter.com/tMNgeON2mI
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) October 15, 2020
Cincinnati is absolutely suffocating on defense, ranking 7th in defensive havoc rating nationally. When opponents have the football, 21.96% of their plays end in negative yardage, a defended pass, a forced fumble or an interception. That’s an astounding percentage, made even more impressive when you consider they’ve played a triple-option team (Army) with an offense designed at avoiding those kinds of disruptive plays.
Quarterbacks facing Cincinnati have the lowest passer rating in the country by a wide margin (CIN 1st – 80.46 | APP ST 2nd – 92.62) and the Bearcats boast the highest interception rate of any FBS team, picking off 9.68% of all attempts. This defense is ready to pounce on Shane Buechele, an experienced passer who has had his bouts with interceptions, tossing double-digit interceptions in a season twice already.
Offensively, Cincinnati is methodical but decidedly average. The Bearcats are great on 3rd downs (51.4%, 10th) but they lack the kind of explosiveness that usually wins the day in the high-scoring AAC. Luckily for Luke Fickell and his Bearcats, SMU is allowing over 400 total yards and 6 20+ yard plays per game.
The Mustangs live and die by pressure, which has been a double-edged sword. They have taken the ball away 10 times in 5 games and also generated 8 TFLs per game. But they’ve also given up 30 or more points 3 times. As I mentioned, Cincinnati isn’t flashy, but it protects its ball carriers. UC has been tackled behind the line of scrimmage just 5 times per game (25th nationally). If the Bearcats can win the turnover battle and stay on schedule offensively, they should be able to clamp down on an SMU offense with considerably less firepower than they had just a few weeks ago. I’ll be playing Cincy with the points, on the moneyline, and on the alternate line up to -6.5 at +275.
Video (game) review
The only thing that could stop the winning streak was a postponement, as it turned out. With just 2 games on the slate, my simulation series went 1-1, pushing our season-long record to 8-3 overall. For those new to the concept, I’m pairing results from a revamped version of EA Sports NCAA Football ’14 with my top plays of the weekend. The top 3 predictions are shared here and tallied week to week.
Welcome to the Top 25 party, Coastal Carolina. Much like Appalachian State’s short-lived appearance in the AP Poll last season, the first loss of the season for the Sun Belt’s flag bearer comes at the hands of the boys from Statesboro. In our simulation, the Eagles returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown and rode their rushing attack (322 yards) to a tight 27-23 victory in Conway, South Carolina.
Northwestern’s offense was a crime against humanity last season, but so was Maryland’s defense. Both units improved just enough on each side to keep this thing close. Northwestern clung to a late 17-point lead before Tua Tagovailoa’s little brother Taulia orchestrated an 8-play, 88-yard touchdown drive late in the 4th to score a backdoor cover for the Terps.
Alabama dominated the Vols in what appeared to be Jarrett Guarantano’s last game for the Orange and White. They knocked the beleaguered senior out of the game in the 2nd quarter en route to a 56-27 drubbing. Jaylen Waddle added a bit of steam to his Heisman campaign with 3 touchdowns 3 separate ways (punt return, rush, reception).
They can’t lose them all against the spread, right?
I stuck my neck out for the winless Jayhawks last week and they rewarded my support with a wonderful backdoor cover coming via a kickoff return for touchdown. For what it’s worth, Kansas played a great first quarter and actually led West Virginia 10-0, before reverting back to its hapless ways.
This is a bad Bad Beat. West Virginia currently the Bandwagon pick. The kick return for a TD gives KU the backdoor cover. https://t.co/mBKSVDL2IG
— Pigskin Mania (@pigskin_mania) October 17, 2020
This week we turn to Western Kentucky, a team with decent preseason aspirations that have all but gone up in smoke. The Hilltoppers are 1-4 SU and 0-5 ATS, but when you look up and down their schedule, it’s easy to see why.
With the exception of their game against Middle Tennessee, WKU has played good to great teams in 2020. Chattanooga, its opponent this week, is neither good nor great. Aside from the fact they haven’t even suited up yet this season, the Mocs are 15-19 in their past 3 seasons at the FCS level. And when they play a decent team, ranked FCS opponent or FBS opponent, they have lost by an average of 18 points per game. With those facts in mind, I set this game at WKU-17, so I was thrilled to see this open at WKU-14. Go ahead and grab the Hilltoppers and thank me later.
Fluctuating conference futures
The competitive mobile sports gambling market has incentivized sportsbooks to offer more props, exotics and futures than ever before. As a result, not only are national championship futures updated on a weekly basis, but so too are Heisman and conference title odds. Given the potential for COVID-19 outbreaks and postponements, I believe the upside of longshots is higher than ever before. This brings us to the current environment in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC.
Clemson is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, but given the ACC’s decision to use a division-less format for the game, instead of representatives from divisions, the race for No. 2 is really wide open. Just like the Big 12, the 2 teams with the best conference records from the ACC’s 10-game conference schedule will earn a spot in the championship game.
What does that mean for the teams above? Well, it really opens the door for NC State and Boston College, which would already be dead in the water under the previous divisional set-up.
Boston College, at 2-2 in ACC play, is worth a flyer at 500:1 because it’s a better than 60% chance that the 2nd-place finisher in ACC play will end the year with 2 or more conference losses (According to ESPN’s FPI). In this scenario, BC would need to upend both Notre Dame and Clemson, while winning out. The implied probability at their current odds (500:1, .2%) sells this team short, given its quarterback play, receiving corps, and its disruptive defense (34th in havoc).
If you’re interested in a more realistic longshot, NC State at 40:1 is chock full of value. The Wolfpack avoid Clemson and Notre Dame and will get their starting quarterback back in early December. Dave Doeren’s team, now 4-1 in ACC play, has UNC and Miami on deck in back-to-back weeks. If they upset either, my rankings give them a 15-20% chance of making the ACC title game. The implied probability of a 40:1 team winning the ACC is 2.44%, so a split in the next two weeks could make an NC State ticket very valuable seemingly overnight.
This is name recognition, plain and simple. Oklahoma no longer controls its fate, already having lost 2 games in conference. Yet here, the Sooners are the conference chalk. The love for the Sooners has inflated the odds of the other 9 challengers. Oklahoma State and Iowa State, both undefeated in Big 12 play, provide the most value at +350 apiece.
Kansas State’s starting quarterback, Skylar Thompson, will miss the rest of the season, making them a difficult team to select despite their unblemished conference record. If the Wildcats had a veteran option at quarterback instead of a true freshman, I would be bought in.
Unlike the ACC, the SEC is sticking to its established East vs. West championship game set-up. That essentially rules out every non-Alabama team in the West. Arkansas is a great story, but 200:1 isn’t enough of a payout to match a hypothetical upset of Alabama in Fayetteville and an upset of the SEC East champion in Atlanta.
Turning to the East, the road is rugged for everyone other than Florida and Georgia. With virtually zero room for error, Kentucky, Mizzou, South Carolina and Tennessee would need to win out, a task too tall for those programs.
Of the true contenders in the East, Florida’s defense opens up the possibility of the Gators losing to anyone remaining on their schedule save for Vanderbilt. And we’ve already seen what Alabama can do to Georgia on a large stage.
That’s why I’m going to parlay Alabama at -300 with any of my other conference title picks, viewing the Crimson Tide as a free multiplier. The Tide have already passed their most challenging tests with flying colors and appear to be getting better with each passing week.