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College Cram Session: Revenge is best served cold… and with a pointspread
By Joe Fortenbaugh
They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, but as it pertains to sports bettors around the globe, it’s not quite as cut and dry as the famous cliché insists.
Talk to 50 people who wager on sports for a living and you’re likely to hear from 25 guys who believe that revenge plays an integral role in their weekly handicapping while the other 25 feel that revenge is nothing more than a distraction capable of preventing one from viewing a particular matchup for what it truly is.
I side with the former because of the human element that helps to comprise the world of sports. If football consisted of 11 robots challenging 11 other robots, sure, then revenge would mean nothing. But different people are motivated by different factors and when a head coach has 11 months to reiterate the embarrassment suffered at the hands of a specific opponent prior to a rematch, I believe his players will respond accordingly by taking their respective games to another level in an effort to right a wrong.
This certainly doesn’t mean that revenge is a primary factor in handicapping or that the revenge angle leads to extremely profitable results over the long term. It’s simply an ancillary tool that I employ when breaking down a rematch between two teams.
Saturday night’s marquee college football showdown features the aforementioned revenge angle, as the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans play host to the No. 7 Oregon Ducks in a rematch of last year’s showdown in Eugene that saw the Ducks erase a 27-18 third-quarter deficit before going on to win 46-27 on September 6. The Ducks were 14-point favorites for that game, but 2015 is a vastly different story, as Michigan State opened as a pick ‘em before being steamed all the way up to the price of -3.5.
Several factors ranging from location to roster changes are playing a role in the dramatic line adjustment from last September to this year, but here are two key elements to keep in mind:
First, Oregon transfer quarterback Vernon Adams was knocked out of last Saturday’s contest against Eastern Washington with what appeared to be a concussion, but was later reported by the team to not be a concussion. We’ll let you decide:
Yeah, that’s a concussion. But Oregon convinced the world otherwise and now Adams is expected to play in the biggest game of his life, which just so happens to take place in an extremely hostile environment.
Second, and more importantly, not only is Sparty 14-6 ATS over its last 20 games as a favorite, but Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 5-1 SU and 5-0-1 ATS over his last six revenge games.
That’s a very small sample size, but it’s still something I plan to keep in mind heading into Saturday night’s marquee showdown.
SHARP VS. PUBLIC: BEHIND THE COUNTER
Each and every week, this column will converse with a Las Vegas insider in an effort to provide you, our loyal and dedicated readers, with all the inside information possible to make more educated and informed wagers. This week, we speak with Jay Rood, who serves as vice president of race and sports for MGM Resorts properties in Las Vegas.
*Point spreads current as of Thursday evening.
Notre Dame (-12, at Virginia)
Oklahoma (-1.5 at Tennessee).
Interesting to see so much love for the Fighting Irish, as Notre Dame is just 2-8 ATS over its last 10 games when winning by 20 or more points the week before, while Virginia is 9-4-2 ATS over its last 15 games overall. The same can be said about Oklahoma, who is 0-4 ATS over its last four games against teams with a winning record while Tennessee is 5-1 ATS over its last six home contests. More likely than not, these positions reflect opinions based somewhat on last week’s results.
Louisville (-13.5, vs. Houston)
Michigan State (-3.5, vs. Oregon)
Be careful with Louisville, as the Cougars are 19-7-1 ATS over their last 27 road games while the Cardinals are 0-5 ATS over their last five home games. As for Michigan State, the Spartans are at home in a revenge spot against a banged-up quarterback in Vernon Adams, and Oregon hasn’t exactly inspired a lot of confidence in recent years when hitting the road against non-conference opposition.
Georgia-Vanderbilt – UNDER (50.5)
Kentucky-South Carolina – UNDER (56)
Big line moves for both of these showdowns as Georgia-Vanderbilt has been bet down from a total of 56 to 50.5 while Kentucky-South Carolina has moved from 58.5 to 56. The Under is 7-3 in Vanderbilt’s last 10 conference games, but take note that the Over is a staggering 8-0 in the last eight meetings between Kentucky and South Carolina.
Public totals: Per Rood, the MGM will have a better understanding of which positions the public is taking as it pertains to college football totals once Saturday morning hits.
Biggest MGM line movements since opening: Notre Dame at Virginia, which has moved from the Fighting Irish -10 to -12.5.
Game experiencing the most action: Oregon Ducks at Michigan State Spartans
BONER OF THE WEEK AWARD
For all the millions of dollars they make and praise they receive for having such “innovative minds,” some coaches just don’t get it.
Take former Oregon State boss Mike Riley as an example, who earns our “Boner of the Week” award for botching his debut as head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Leading BYU 28-27 in Lincoln with just one second remaining on the clock and the Cougars on the Cornhuskers’ 42-yard line, Riley decided it would be prudent to rush just three passers while dropping eight men into coverage to defend the Hail Mary.
The result, as you no doubt already know, was disastrous for Nebraska, as Cougars quarterback Tanner Mangum had 90 minutes to let his receivers reach the end zone, set his feet and deliver a strike to Mitch Mathews for a touchdown and 33-28 victory.
News flash, Riley: Rush five men and make the opposing quarterback’s life a living hell rather than provide him with a leather couch to relax upon before deciding to chuck up a last second pass.
Too many coaches make this mistake on a weekly basis and it’s embarrassing because no-names like me know it’s the wrong move. Rushing five could result in a sack, but more importantly, it will likely force the opposing quarterback to attempt an inaccurate and ill-timed pass off his back foot that may not even reach the end zone.
The key here will be to see if Riley learns from his mistake. If so, terrific.
If not, well then he’ll get what he deserves.
MIND-BLOWING TREND OF THE WEEK
The Army Black Knights are 0-20 SU and 1-19 against the spread over their last 20 games played away from West Point.
We’ll see if America’s Finest can buck that trend against Connecticut, who opened as a 6.5-point favorite before being bet up to as high as -7.5 as of Thursday evening. The favorite in this series is 4-1 ATS over the last five meetings between these two schools.
BIGGEST LINE MOVES OF THE WEEK
Mississippi Rebels (from -20.5 to -30) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs: Monstrous mismatch here and the early bettors realized it. Fresno State is just 3-8 ATS over its last 11 non-conference games and 1-4 ATS over its last five matchups against SEC opposition.
Florida Gators (from -13 to -21) vs. East Carolina Pirates: New Gators head coach Jim McElwain got off to a rousing start last weekend with a 61-13 blowout win over New Mexico State and the early action supports another rout this Saturday against an East Carolina squad that is just 1-9 ATS over its last 10 games.
California Golden Bears (from -7.5 to -14) vs. San Diego State Aztecs: Cal head coach Sonny Dykes and quarterback Jared Goff have something cooking in Berkeley at the moment. The Golden Bears are 6-2 ATS over their last eight games when scoring more than 40 points in the previous game.
SMU Mustangs (from PK to -5) at North Texas Mean Green: Despite not playing last week, North Texas doesn’t have the firepower to hang with an offense such as the one possessed by SMU, who hung with Baylor for 30 minutes last week before wilting during the second half.
DAILY FANTASY VALUE PLAY OF THE WEEK
Chris Laviano, QB, Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Went 4/4 for 138 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 63-13 rout of Norfolk last weekend. But the primary reason why I like Laviano this week is this matchup with a porous Washington State defense that surrendered 24 points and 294 total yards in an embarrassing 24-17 loss to nobody Portland State last Saturday.
Vegas has this showdown posted with a total of 63 points and at a price of $6,800, Laviano is merely the 13th-ranked signal-caller for this week’s college football contests.