this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
I was going to spend my MGoTime this week addressing the shifting odds in the Big Ten after week one, but it's hard to focus when it's Notre Dame week. With all the semantic arguing about whether or not it's a real rivalry, I've found myself wandering down memory lane a lot. However it's couched, it's been a grand run of games over the years, and I am old enough to have memories of all of them, even the Rick Leach-Joe Montana duel that started the modern day series back in 1978. Of course, this is a rivalry, but pointing out the Irish's countdown clock to this game probably would make me an MSU fan, so I wont do that. Instead, how about I take you down Memory Lane with, of course, a point spread angle.
The underdog is 23-6 ATS in this series since the 1978 renewal. Can you name the six times that the chalk covered the spread? We played this game on twitter last night, and it didn't take very long for most of the correct answers to reveal themselves. So, you are under a bit of pressure to perform here, guys. While pondering, I will quickly list the spread changes on Michigan's future games this season. Odds per sportsbook.com:
At Penn State: Last week, UM -3; Today, UM -3
At Michigan St: Last week, MSU -2.5; Today, UM -2.5
Vs Nebraska: Last week, UM -4; Today, UM -3.5
at Northwestern. Last week, UM -3; Today, UM -6
Vs Ohio State. Last week, OSU -4; Today, OSU -3.5
I have no idea why the Nebraska line is shrinking. Also, it's worth noting that 5dimes had more future Michigan games on their preseason Games Of The Year board. However, that book apparently doesn't re-release new lines as the season goes on, so we're stuck analyzing only sportsbook.com's more limited action. I wanted to see how much the UM -12 line over UConn moved, but we'll have to wait until game week to find out.
Alright, had enough time on the trivia question? Hope so, because here comes the big reveal........
1981, Ann Arbor. Michigan 25, Notre Dame 7. Closing Line, UM -4...... One of the most bittersweet wins in program history. I don't know if anything could top the 2008 Outback Bowl on this list. Like that rousing victory over Florida, the Wolverines showcased everything that had made them such a highly touted team to begin the season. Butch Woolfolk rushed for 139 yards and as a team the Wolverines churned out 320 yards on the ground. Michigan just completed four passes on the day, but three went to Anthony Carter who took two of those to the house, including a 77-yard bomb to open the scoring. The Michigan D suffocated the Irish at every turn. It's just that they did it a week after losing 21-14 at Wisconsin, an inglorious season opener for the preseason #1 team in the nation. Seriously, how many preseason #1 teams lose their opener? FIRE BO ROD. The good news here is Michigan throttled the Irish, who had taken over the #1 ranking in the wake of Michigan's loss. The bad news is that other than this game, Michigan wasn't very sharp in their important games of the year. They lost to Iowa and Ohio State by uninspiring 9-7 and 14-9 scores. Had they split those games, they would have gone to the Rose Bowl. Instead, the Hawks went to Pasadena and Michigan played UCLA in something called the Bluebonnet Bowl at the Houston Astrodome.
1982,South Bend. Notre Dame 23, Michigan 17, Closing Line, ND -4.....Wait. Bo not only lost, but couldn't cover the spread against Gerry Faust? Honestly, I don't know why we kept that guy around for as long as we did. AC returned a punt for a score, but it wasn't enough. ND's Dave Duereson stripped Michigan flanker Vince Bean of the ball on the Wolverines final attempt to take the lead, and the game was over. This was Notre Dame's first home night game in program history. We waited nearly three decades for revenge over this moment and 2011 delivered. I love it when a plan comes together.
1991, Ann Arbor. Michigan 24, Notre Dame 14. Closing Line, UM -3.5....... This game speaks for itself. Desmond Howard's catch is the signature play of this series, launching a Heisman Trophy campaign and perhaps the most dominant single season individual performance in Michigan history. The game made Steve Lorenz (@TremendousUM) list of top-5 Michigan moments in series history. Hard to quibble with Tremendous here, but I will.
I would kick 1994, his top choice, off the list, move his other selections (2011, 1991, 2010, 2006) each up a notch and put the 1985 win over the Irish in the fifth and final spot. Admittedly, I am biased towards the '85 team. It's my favorite Michigan team of all-time, non national championship division. The run-up to the 1985 season was a down time for Michigan. They went an unheard of 6-6 the year before, had lost three of their last four to Ohio State and teams called Iowa and Illinois were going to Rose Bowls instead of them. Conventional wisdom said Bo had lost it and Michigan was a program in slow decay. The Irish were supposed to come into Ann Arbor in 1985 and extend the Wolverines misery. Instead Michigan kept the Irish out of the end zone all day en route to an inspiring 20-12 win. It was our first look at what would go down as one of program's best defensive units. Michigan capped the season with wins over Ohio State and then Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, ended #2 in the nation and re-established itself as a national power. Michigan would win Big 10 titles in six of the next seven years with five Rose Bowl berths. That whole run started with the '85 upset over the Irish. Besides, you cant have a top-5 that includes outcomes from two seasons that ended with the coach getting fired. The 2010 win gets to stay on the list because OH MY GOD DENARD!!! The 1985 gets bonus points because of the drunk Irish fan sitting behind us at the game who kept yelling at Gerry Faust. PINKETT, PINKETT, PUNT GERRY!! WHY DONT YOU GIVE IT TO PINKETT AGAIN GERRY!! WE'RE ALREADY PUTTING FOR SALE SIGNS IN YOUR YARD GERRY!! Easily one of the funniest random fans I've ever sat near during a game. Right up there with Barfie at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium for Browns games, but that's a whole different story.
2003, Ann Arbor. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 0. Closing Line, UM -10...... The 'Houston Is Better Game.' Please tell me this is true. The students were chanting this comparing the Irish to the Cougar team the Wolverines whipped the week before, right? We had been waiting our whole life it seemed to see Michigan just annihilate Notre Dame for a game, rather than give us a typical heart attack inducing win or loss. We got it in this game. I didn't even mind that I lost $50 on the +10. What can I say, I don't analyze this game, I just take the underdog. Speaking of 38-0 scores.....
2007, Ann Arbor. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 0, Closing Line, Michigan -9.5........ The 0-2 vs 0-2 cripple fight. Let's not talk about the preceding events. Just focus on Jimmy Claussen vs Ryan Mallet. Installment II of this series' three part Yakety Sax run. High times, indeed. I actually did not bet this game. How could you? The Irish looked like they had just started their football program during their first two games. And Michigan? Woof. Let's just move on.......
2012, South Bend. Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6, Closing Line, ND -6......Last year. What did it take for Notre Dame to cover as chalk in the series for the first time in 30 years? How about Michigan throwing interceptions on five straight passes, the last four by previous Irish foil Denard Robinson. Let's talk about the first of that bunch, a halfback pass that Vincent Smith lobbed into the hands of an Irish defender on first and goal. I place it third on the list of worst Michigan picks in this rivalry, behind Elvis Grbac hitting a wide open Michael Stonebreaker in the end zone in 1990 and Chad Henne in 2005 chucking it across his body on a bootleg killing a critical third quarter scoring chance. But at least its ahead of Demetrious Brown's cumulative effort in the 1987 game.
That's the rundown of the six times the favorite covered the spread in this series since 1978. The most common incorrect answer was the 2008 clash. It's an obvious, albeit wrong, guess given how bad Michigan was that year. Believe it or not, they were favored on the closing line by -1. Twitter friend @DrewCHallett did point out to an archival link showing ND favored by -1, but cover.com lists UM -1 and my Phil Steele magazine lists UM -2. I'm keeping this in the underdog covered column. Otherwise, I really don't want to talk about the 2008 game because it wont take long before some Michigan fan chirps in and tries to explain how Michigan really was the better team that day and should have won, blah, blah, blah. Look, this was the first in a long line of Rich Rod turds, to pretend otherwise is as lame as clinging to the notion that all Rich needed was Jeff Casteel, and he'll still be here. La La Land, folks.
Other popular guesses included the 1987 season opener that Michigan lost by a dismal 26-7 score as 3.5-point chalk; the 1999 game when A-Train scored the game winning TD to give Michigan a 26-22 win, but failed to cover the -7.5 line; 2011, however Michigan was 3.5-point home dogs that evening; and even a few 1997 guesses. Michigan won that game by a 21-14 score, a rather large margin for the series, but the Wolverines were a whopping -14.5 coming into the game. It was the fourth game of the season and the Irish were a shaky 1-2 coming into Ann Arbor, fresh of 28-17 and 23-7 losses to Purdue and Michigan St respectively. Hey, how about a hearty shout out to the Irish's #RealRivals for softening up the Domers for us and helping Michigan out in their national title quest!
As for this year's game. The line has grown from UM -3 to -4.5. It's a classic look ahead game for the Irish, what with Purdue on deck, so maybe it makes sense that the line is growing towards Michigan. Given the history, it's hard to turn down those points. And I wouldn't. I think it's the play to make if you decide to go to the window on this one. After a six year run of high scoring games in this series, during which the winner averaged 36.5 points per game, the series returned to the defenses a year ago. I think it stays defensive centric tomorrow. Michigan wins 20-17, Devin Garden runs and passes for a touchdown and a late defensive stop, let's say a Blake Countess interception, seals the win, but not the cover, for the Wolverines.........Have fun, enjoy the day and if you're Ann Arbor, swing by Fingerlee Lumber for our tailgate. We're the ones with the Desmond Howard RV. Go Blue!
Remember that Mattison is back and Ryan should be [Fuller]
Ed-Seth: Before every season a million prognosticators will tell you how the coming year shall unfold. Among these, usually the most accurate are those by the gamblers, for it is they more so than bloggers who ply their trade by ruthlessly excising their biases. Of these oddsplayers, our go-to guy is jamiemac of Just Cover Blog. For this reason I asked him to give us his own preview of the things that concern us, and he asked me to put pretty pictures in it, for it is at pretty picturing that we bloggers truly excel.
Football Study Hall riled up the Michigan base earlier in the week with their pessimistic projection of 7-5, 4-4. That would be a disaster. We're all anticipating much better after all. My simple expectation alone is make it to the Ohio State game controlling our own fate in the division. It's a lock that I would use up my allotment of FIRE HOKE ROD jokes on twitter if the season spirals towards that record.
But I'm don't come to bury the math. I do come to mention their projection puts them on the opposite side of the betting community. Over at 5Dimes.com, the Wolverines have moved to betting favorites in the Legends Division race after spending portions of the summer behind Nebraska and Michigan State. Michigan is chalk at +220 odds, followed by Nebraska, +290; Michigan St, +300; Northwestern, +325; Iowa, +1500; and Minnesota, +2900.
|How quickly they forget what I look like
in pads. [Upchurch]
There are reports that the Over 8.5 wins on Michigan has become one of the most popular bets of the summer. Another sign is simple point spread movement in favor of Michigan on the various Games Of The Year boards. Seven of the 10 Michigan games offered this summer have seen an adjustment based on Michigan action coming into their coffers. Take a look at the shifts:
vs Central Michigan: Opened, -26; Current, -31.5
vs Notre Dame: Opened, pick 'em; Current -3
vs Minnesota: Opened, -15; Current, -17
at Penn St: Opened, -2.5; Current, -3
at Michigan St. Opened, +3; Current, +2.5
at Northwestern. Opened +3; Current, -3
vs Ohio St: Opened +6; Current, +4
Some of those movements aren't that significant. But in five of those games, the line has shifted at least two points, including in the two most important home games of the season. In the case of the Northwestern game, the Wolverines have gone from underdogs to chalk. One line did move against Michigan, it's November road game at Iowa where Michigan opened as -10.5 favorites only to see the number come down to -9.5. Two lines have stayed the same the whole way through: -4 vs Nebraska and -12 at UConn, the latter line continuously balanced by Heiko throwing his MGoWages on the Huskies. Probably. Maybe. WOTS, at least.
[More good things after the jump]
Early in the week at the JCB, I posted about the Big 10's shifting odds as pointspreads for some of the future conference showdowns are being moved now that we have a few weeks of evidence. And calling what the Big 10 has done so far as evidence is pretty dang kind. But, hey, all these games in question deal with conference head to heads, so we're all in this equally sucky peer group together guys.
I buried the part about Michigan in that post, figuring we would talk about it more in depth over here. The simple fact is on their future Big 10 games listed on the board, people are either betting against Michigan or the oddsmakers are moving the lines against the Wolverines as insurance against a lot of Anti-Wolverine action. The Purdue line, which opened at UM -8.5 was down to -6 a week ago and has lowered even further to -4.5 as of today. Will it be the first of two games against Purdue this year? Who knows.
Michigan opened as slight favorites against Nebraska and Ohio State when the Golden Nugget first released lines back in June. By the time the season began, those lines had shifted and favored roles reversed with Nebraska -2 and OSU -3. They've continued to move in that direction during September. Nebraska is now -4 over Michigan. As for the OSU line, the Buckeyes were already up to - 6 a week ago and now its all the way to OSU -7.5. Yep, everyone is buying the Urban Revolution, and the Wolverines are now catching a full touchdown and a hook for The Game.
Why are people betting against Michigan? Let me try and count the ways: Their best runningback is their QB. Their top targeted WR was their backup QB and just moved to that position. Their other dangerous weapon so far in the passing game is a raw true freshman who hasnt dont anyhing yet against legit BCS competition. Their leading tailback from a year ago hasnt really got his legs yet and was suspended earlier after a serious run in with the law this summer. Denard made a bad play against UMass, GASP! Their right tackle's best position might be left guard. Their left guard should be their center, but he cant execute a shotgun snap. Their most talented player on defense has been lost for the season to an ACL tear. The rebuilding on the defensive line looks a bit wobbly so far. An overachieving D from a year returned seven starters, yet half the time the lineup is more freshmen and first year contributers than anyone else. Fans were excited to have good group of three returning linebackers who played well a year ago, but two of them are steadily losing snaps to true freshmen. And, Michigan got blown out by Alabama, which obviously means the Wolverines arent any good and might as well close shop for the fall. The team relies too much on one of the best players in college football. I dont know how you can win doing that.
So Michigan has problems. But some of those are hyperbolic. And others are areas of improvements where Michigan really still does have high ceiling potential this year. Others are fatal flaws. But, like, have you seen the rest of the Big 10? You think Michigan has problems. And thats my bottomline on these future odds. Catching points against Nebraska and OSU, two teams Michigan's offense worked over a year ago and whose own defensive issues still havent appeared to be solved? Sign. Me. Up. We'll see how the first half of the conference season plays out, but I'll take Michigan's offense, their defensive personnel and defensive scheming against all comers, especially if you're going to give me points.
The same goes for the big Notre Dame game this week, where Michigan is currently listed as 5.5-point underdogs. I dont have any new, creative ways to explain how titlted to the underdog this series is, so how about I just vomit up the numbers and move on. The Underdog is 23-5 ATS, but as impressively is 16-11-1 straight up, meaning they've won outright more than they lost. Notre Dame hasnt covered in this series as chalk since 1982 and hasnt won period in this series as chalk since 1988, the 19-17 Reggie Ho game where Michigan at least covered the 2.5 closing number. The only times in the last 20 years where the road dog failed to at least cover in a Michigan-Notre Dame games were the two 38-0 Michigan beatdowns in 2003 and 2007. Michigan is 10-1 ATS in this series as an underdog, with a 7-3-1 straight up record in those games. In most years, the underdog in this contest ends up playing its best game of the season.
Looking for something more rational than mere series history? I can do that. ND's front-7 is good looking, equipped with a lot of 4- and 5-star recruits finally blossoming as players and together as a unit. They dominated MSU a week ago. But the Wolverines come with a more talented, proven offensive line, even if the unit is far from fully gelled. That front-7, however, can only mask the inexperienced and patchwork secondary for so long. MSU could not take advantage of that because they're totally rebuilding their downfield threats and are at program low ebb at the WR position. Michigan isnt vintage Maize and Blue with their flankers, but they have more than enough proven and obvious up-and-coming targets to take advantage of the obvious weak spot of the ND Defense. Oh, and, is Denard Robinson still on the team? Let me check. Hmm. It says here he is. That gives Michigan the best player in this game, one whose been able to max out on all his powers against this team in his two previous starts. Michigan hasnt played a truly bad game on offense against the Irish since 2005, and I will be disappointed if they dont give us a bit of a showcase tomorrow night. Besides, it's Denard's 22nd Birthday on the 22nd. If that's not a sign, then I dont know what is. Michigan will have trouble with ND's offense. I fully expect Cierre Woods to have a really good game. But I am not sold on their redshirt freshman QB making his fourth career start. Mattison will have a trick up his sleeve for the kid. Notre Dame went 1-for-14 last week on 3rd conversions, yet still won and coverd as 6-point dogs. Yet, would you say, the Irish played all that well? I didnt think so and now they come back a week later, against an equally challenging foe as a week ago, but are now almost a touchdown favorite. I dont like that situation for any team. The Irish will still score their points, but I expect Michigan to go blow for blow with them and, at the very least, cover the spread. I'll have a full card of picks up at the JCB later in the day, and Michigan will be on there. Book It.
I wanted to spend some time breaking down the listed props for the game. However, as far as player props go, none are currently being listed. We'll probably see the various online books release those later tonight or tomorrow morning. I'll throw something together in the forum when they do. There are a few team related props already on the board, so let me breeze through those before signing off.
Michigan, Total Points Over/Under 22....This total is pretty low considering Michigan's history against Notre Dame. The Wolverines have scored more than 22 points in 12 of last 18 against the Irish, averaging 26.27 points per game. The number has been ticking upward in the series most recent matchups with Michigan averaging 33.16 points per in the last six games with Notre Dame, including five finals of at least 28 points. In Denard Robinson's 29 starts as UM QB, the Wolverines have scored more than 22 points in 23 games. Shall we talk about Notre Dame's team total being set at 27 points? I'd rather not ponder our young, flawed defense's ability to contain Notre Dame for the the purposes of this prop bet. On one hand, in the last 18 games between these two, the Irish have scored more than 27 points just six time. On the other hand, three of those occurrences are in the last four seasons, when they avergaged 30.5 points. But they've only gone 1-3 in those games. Insert Nelson Munz laugh here.
Longest TD Scored Over/Under 47.5 yards........This became a personal favorite of mine during Michigan games in 2010. The marriage of the explosive Denard Robinson with the crappy Rodriguez/GERG/Tony Gibson minus all the points defensive philosophy proved quite lucrative on the longest TD of the game props. This prop cashed on the first play of the marathon 132-point Illinois game on the Roundtree catch and run. It won on the famous Denard run to the house in South Bend. Of course, i reared its head in losses oo, like the The Edwin Baker home run job for MSU's first score in the Spartans win. The only thing I remember from the Penn State debacle is Kevin Koger's 61-yard TD reception, everything else from that night is not sitcking with my memory thanks to a catatonic state fueled by beer, whiskey and, uh, well, other things. It hit regularily, but, of course, the yardage needed wasnt as low as this weekend's prop. By the end of the season, this number was being listed in the low 60s. No worries, Jordan Hall and the Bucks got that covered on a 85-yard kickoff return score. Ok, enough of that. You get the point. We won a lot of money on Michigan games that year, we just needed to be creative about it. Getting back to the prop in this weekend's game. There's been a TD of more than 47.5 yards in two of three Michigan games so far this season. In the Denard Era, we've seen a TD of at least this length in 17 of 29 games. The defensive improvements in the wake of the Hoke/Mattison hirings have slowed the roll, however. After seeing touchdowns of at least 48 yards scored in 10 of 13 games in 2010, we've only seen it seven of 16 since.
Enjoy your Saturday of college football. Go Blue! Beat The Irish!
Hey all. Before we get started, a reminder: Its been 566 days, and counting, since Ohio defeated Michigan in football.
Technically, the offseason is officially OVAH. How so? Because now we have a full(ish) board of games to bet on thanks to the esteemed Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas releasing well over 100 games of the year lines back on Monday. This has become an annual tradition for the casino's sportsbook and, for me, it tells me two things: One, hurry up and get your summer on because pretty soon it will be football season, and, two, it's time to start studying up on these teams and getting them down cold because if it's football season, that also means it's gambling season. For full analysis on the games on the Nugget's betting board, bookmark the JCB. We'll be looking into these throughout the summer. And while we havent produced any posts yet on the subject, we do have a killer Wisconsin preview on the blog this week as well as daily Euro Cup 2012 coverage. For now, lets focus on the five games involving Michigan. Here are the lines as they opened and later adjusted as action came in, with a full breadown following:
|Opponent||Opening Line||Current Line|
|vs Alabama||Bama -12||Bama -10|
|at Notre Dame||ND -1||ND -1|
|vs Michigan St||UM -6||UM -6|
|at Nebraska||UM -2||UM -1|
|at Ohio State||UM -3||Pick 'Em|
WE HAVE A DIFFERING OF OPINIONS: NEBRASKA, OHIO STATE
What jumped right off the page for me is the fact that the Golden Nugget installed Michigan as road chalk in both the Nebraska and Ohio State games. The Nugget's opening line called for Michigan -2 at Nebraska and -3 at Ohio State. This is in direct contrast to the spread projections put forth by Beyond The Bets, which we discussed in the MGoForum last week.
To review, BTB did spread projections on all the scheduled college football games for the upcoming season. Per their numbers, Nebraska was -3 vs Michigan and OSU was -4 vs the Wolverines. In both cases, the first actual betting line was nearly a full touchdown different from the BTB projections. Of the 111 lines the Nugget released, a handful differed a point or two from those BTB projections, but very few had a different team favored which was the case with these two Michigan games. I caught up with Behind The Bets in an email exchange to get their take on the differing opinions on these games. Home field played a big role in their initial numbers and it was revealed that their numbers pegged OSU to be upwards of a 6-point favorite, but given Michigan's bounceback season in 2011, new found skill at defense and rivalry game intensity, BTB felt it more prudent to project a smaller number. They think the Bucks are the best team in the Big 10:
We power rated Ohio State as the best team in the Big Ten. Obviously, the Golden Nugget disagrees and - to some extent - it's apparent that Las Vegas wiseguys do, too. Otherwise, it's likely that the line in the Michigan-Ohio State matchup would have moved from Michigan -3 to Ohio State being favored. At some point, it very well could, and the guess here is that Ohio State will be at least a three-point favorite by kickoff. But that's the great thing about making opinions in June: They aren't exact, we all have different ones, and it makes for some great discussion.
Dont loook too deep into their power rankings calling OSU the league's best team. For one, its only summer. We're all speculating at this point. But more importantly, very little separates the teams at the top of the league. BTB forecasts a conference race thats too close to call. In their rankings, Michigan is just a point behind OSU, and there's a minuscule 3-point difference between OSU, the highest rated team, and the fifth-rated team, in this case MSU. BTB said that Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska are basically dead even in their ratings, and if the Cornhusker game was in Ann Arbor this year, their spread projections might have listed the Wolverines as 5- or 6-point chalk.
One of the themes in past summers in the wake of early betting lines being released was that Books couldnt throw numbers on the board to stop people from betting against Michigan. Whether it was Michigan being an unknown commodity in the wake of coaching changes in 2008 and 2011, or, frankly being a known stinky commodity after losing years in '08 and '09, nobody seemed interested in backing the Wolverines. That might be shifting and seeing the Nugget install the Wolverines initially as road chalk in the Nebraska and OSU games is an example of that changing mindset. The public loves betting on stars and few shine as brightly or are as popular as Denard Xavier Robinson. BTB expects the Wolverines to be a public darling most of the season.
Expect Michigan to be a heavy public team all season long - no different than USC, another storied program who has a Heisman Trophy hopeful at quarterback. And again, the Mattison factor can't be underestimated. The days of watching Greg Robinson's Swiss Cheese defense are over, and Michigan fans can again expect to see the defense make great second-half adjustments and keep them in games they otherwise have no business winning.
However, early action, at least on the Nebraska and OSU games, shows that the early bird gamblers are still going against Michigan. The OSU line was immediately bet down to a pick 'em and enough Cornhusker action was lured in to shave a full point off the Nugget's original line from UM -2 to UM -1. Living in Ohio, I can tell you that word is going around about a pick 'em line for this year's The Game, and I received a handful of texts and emails from Buckeye friends wondering if I was ready to bet them. The answer to that is No. I suspect the Bucks will have a really good season this year. And that come game week, Michigan will be catching a field goal. The smart investor will wait for those points to materialize, so dont pull the trigger just yet.
As for the Nebraska game, I'm a bit more bullish on Michigan and the current line than I was at first blush. When I broke down the 9.5 regular season win total prop for Michigan at the JCB, I wasnt very confident about any bigtime road game, admitting I couldnt even give a lean to a Michigan win in Lincoln. Since then, however, I've done soemthing radical. I rewatched last years game. I have new found Michigan confidence. I had forgotten just how much Michigan dominated the game and worked over Nebraska's allegedly vaunted Black Shirt defense. I recall the game getting out of hand in the second half thanks to some quirky turnovers by Michigan, but if this game was scored like a boxing match, it would have been a rout, all rounds to the Wolverines. It was the best four quarter game Michigan put together all season. Fitzgerald Toussaint was a beast. Michigan's offense was unstoppable. And the Nebraska offense, led by Tyler Martinez, generated no offense without the help of turnovers or after the game had long been decided. You know the woodsheds that Michigan seemed to end every season with under Rodriguez? It was like that, but with the good guys being the bully. After rewatching last year's game, I could buy the Wolverines being the slight chalk that the Nugget has made them. I think people are as unsure as ever on Nebraska. And nobody is interested in laying many points with them and Martinez. If you want my advice, go ahead and take Michigan against Nebraska. But hold on to your money until game week for OSU and wait until Michigan is catching points.
THE MONSTER OPENING GAME: ALABAMA
The online sportsbook 5Dimes got a jump on everybody with this game, releasing a line of Alabama -7 in the dead of winter. Sharps pounded Alabama on that line and eventually the line grew from Bama as one touchdown favorite to two touchdown favorites. To be clear, this wasnt a case of constant, daily action coming in against Michigan, making the line -8 one day, then -9 the next and so on. It was more of a shock and awe type of thing than anything else. That opening line of -7 got so much one side action that the book pulled the line, went back to the drawing board and rereleased it as -14. They seemed to have a found a fair number for the middle of the offseason, but, in the last month, a slow trickle of Michigan money came streaming in, and 5Dimes knocked the line down to 13.5, then to 13 and just before last weekend all the way down to Alabama -12.
When the Nugget released their much ballyhooed lines on Monday, they agreed with the latest 5Dimes shift and hung a Alabama -12 number. And in a sign that BTB's intimations that Michigan could be a public play this year, money did come pouring in on the Wolverines. The line at the Nugget currently sits at Bama -10. However, back at 5Dimes, where the online didnt get the hyped injection of action like the Nugget got on Monday, the line remains -12. So, if you want to bet Michigan and the points, go over and do it at 5Dimes while you can still get an extra two points. You know what I am thinking? I am wondering how sizeable the demographic is who has Alabama -7 on that very early 5Dimes line, but also has Michigan +12 on the Nugget line, or even +13 or +14 on the 5Dimes re-release. I want to watch this game with that crowd. Otherwise, I'm probably going to sit this one out.
I honestly dont have a true feel for exactly how Michigan will fare in this game. I do know that last summer I figured only a miracle could keep the Wolverines in this game. But their performance, especially on defense, a season ago, has at least given me a flicker of real hope in this game. I am not reassured that Alabama has to replace a lot of defensive parts, but it still will be athletic, fast and talented. And still coached by Nick Saban. It's easy imagining them choking Michigan the way similarly frothed defenses from MSU and Va Tech did to the Wolverines a year ago, despite the Renaissaince season. And the Tide's offensive line might be a mismatch going against the inexperienced and unproven Michigan defensive line. This might be the worst matchup for Michigan's defensive line to be playing without stalwarts up front Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen for the first time in years. Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler will handle the rock for Bama now that Trent Richardson is in the NFL. They have just theee 100-yard games between them, but I wouldnt be surprised if one of them pops over the century mark in this one, taking advantage of Michigan transition up front. I cant shake the feeling that this game may just take the form of the recent Bama/Penn St matches from the last couple of seasons. Bama strangled those games in their favor, slowly, but surely pulling away for 24-3, 27-11 wins, covering the spread in each. Michigan at least has a much more capable offense than Penn State ever did coming into those games. The playmaking ability of Robinson alone might be enough of an offensive counterpunch for the Wolverines to, unlike PSU, stay in the game and make the Tide sweat in the end. That might not sound like the most optimistic assessment, but a year ago at this time, I figured Michigan would be lucky to stay within three touchdowns of the Tide. #Progress
THE UNDERDOG SERIES: NOTRE DAME
I really dont have any new ways to present this well known factoid of the Michigan-Notre Dame series, so I'll just say it. This is an underdog series, with the dog logging a 21-5 ATS mark and actually winning the series outright on the real scoreboard by a 13-12-1 count. I always say the underdog in this series usually ends up playing its best game of the season. On the current 4-0 SUATS run the dog in this series is riding right now, you could for sure that say the 2008 Irish squad and the 2009 and 2010 Michigan squads didnt play better games or earned bigger wins in those years than what they accomplished in the annual grudge match between these historic programs. You'd be hard pressed to find an annual series that tilts so strongly to the underdog. Clemson-Georgia Tech in the ACC gives it a run for its money. Both games are ones that I will always play the underdog in, no questions asked. Sometimes its that easy to pull the trigger.
I know some partisan Michigan fans will grumble at the audacious lack of respect oddsmakers are giving the Wolverines here by making the Irish the favored team at home. But I want to Wolverines to be the underdog all the time in this matchup. Nothing good really comes from being chalk in this series. The Irish havent covered as chalk in this series since 1982, while the Wolverines have only covered twice as chalk in this series during my adult life. At least Michigan has some history of winning, but not covering in this series like in 1997 and 1999, but those were major escape jobs from our heroes.
The Irish are always a tricky team to handicap. Other than this Michigan game, the Irish are either eye opening dogs--catching double digits against USC and Oklahoma--or do-a-double-take heavy chalk, such as laying 10 points against Miami. Wise guy bettors have long loved Brian Kelly, but so far in two seasons in South Bend, he hasnt rewarded that faith with a great record against the spread. The Irish perpetually seem to be overvalued more than any other team in the early going of college football seasons. The money quote from Kegs 'N Eggs Adam from the above link:
There were also other games later in the season posted, and Vegas is taking plenty of Notre Dame action, again, because they are Notre Dame. The Golden Nugget clearly likes this team and are making lines that stretch beyond protecting themselves against public betting. That’s not the first time we’ve seen that happen, though.
Yes, we have seen it happen. In fact, it's become a little bit of a cottage industry for me (and the JCB, natch) to spend every September betting against the Irish before people realize just how overrated they are and how skewed the lines are as a result. Did you know that Notre Dame is just 32-31 straight up in the month of September and before since Lou Holtz left town? Well, now you do. That nets out to 27-35-1 against the spread, so betting against the Irish on the blind during the opening month of the season has turned a decent profit since 1996. As chalk, they are especially good money burners during the first month of year, logging just a 12-23-1 ATS mark during this stretch. Basically, they have been annual slow starters since Uncle Lou left town and have failed to cover the spread two out of every three times they've been September chalk since then. With the Irish laying 13.5 to Navy, a single point to Michigan and likely to be chalk against Purdue, you'll make money by betting against them in these games if past history is any indication. And even though they've covered the spread the last couple years against MSU, you could probably add in MSU -2.5 to the Fade Notre Dame Early profit mix. It's a Fall Tradition like no other.
THE GREEN ELEPHANT LAYING IN THE WEEDS: MICHIGAN STATE
The Michigan State Spartans, the current program Waterloo (please, no mail from Iowa. kthnxbai). I brought this up last week, but I am inclined to take the points here and side with MSU. I've been picking MSU to at least cover, if not win, pretty much the entire time during their nifty little historic winning streak over Michigan. I feel Michigan is finally ready to win this game and have just the right circumstances to do that this season--game is at home, senior QB, seemingly extra focus finally being put on this game and so on. But will they? I cant see them doing so in anything other than a close fight that goes right down to the gun.
I have a betting paranoia on taking a team thats favored by a decent amount while trying to snap a noteworthy losing streak against Foe X. A great recent example was last year's OSU game where Michigan won, breaking a 7-game losing streak to the Bucks, but failed to cover the closing -8 line. Yes, I realize there was a shaky replay call that overturned a Michigan touchdown late in the game, keeping them from opening a 10-point lead. But that wasnt the last play of the game. And part of my anxiety in these spots stems from situations like that, even if the TD is granted. There is plenty of time for a worthless late score and back door cover. The dreaded Prevent Defense burns chalk bettors every week with late scores. Given how fast OSU scored some of their TDs that afternoon, you cant say that replay was the difference between covering or not. The back door cover would have been in major play. I'm convinced that had the TD stayed on the board, Michigan would still need to recover an on-side kick to finally clinch a victory.
Getting back to this MSU game, I just dont think more than field goal really should separate these teams this year. And as far as that back door cover scenario, Michigan would need to be up more than 13 points in the fourth quarter to avoid the back door threat. I dont see that happening. We'll see how this line evolves between now and October, but right now I would take those points to the bank.
(JCB Weekend Set Up: SteveY takes on the Red River Rivalry. And during the 3:30 window it’s quantity over quality. Lets hope that becomes a good thing. The blog’s formal picks will be forthcoming. No later than for breakfast reading tomorrow)
This weekend the "This Is Not The Last Two Years Tour" begins. The schedule amps up compared to the last three weeks with this contest with Northwestern. Say what you will about Northwestern, but they've become an annual bowl team. And Michigan hasn't really been able to stop any offense from a Big 10 bowl team in recent years. If the defense throws a wrench into Northwestern's offense, then that would actually be a break through to a certain degree. Can the defense that's generated 15 turnovers keep up its thievery? Can the clutch red zone defense continue to limit damage? Can anything remotely close to the 10.2 points per game be sustained? Can the second quarter turnaround from a year ago keep Michigan in games?
Suddenly everyone loves Michigan. At one point, in the summer, the spread on this game was Northwestern -3. As game week rolls wraps up, oddsmakers feel the need to make Michigan more than a touchdown favorite in order to get even action on both sides. Let me play Chicken Little a bit just for some perspective to save us from possible fatal overconfidence as fans.
Just Cover Blog Rule: Never bet on a team with a countdown clock in their locker room the week before the game said clock is counting down towards. That is Michigan this week. This game has a classic game trap game look to it with the Wolverines playing hated rival Michigan State and their obnoxious three-game winning streak in the series next Saturday. Sharps for years have been banking by playing against teams in juiced up look ahead spots like this. Heck, you could argue its a sandwich game, since Michigan is coming off a win in a trophy game.
Just Cover Blog Rule: Never bet on a team in the regular season a week after a trophy game. Its the football cousin of never bet on a basketball team in the immediate game after their fans storm the court. You could argue its a sandwich game, in between rivals and trophy games in the wake of the Battle For The Little Brown Jug a week ago. I think that gives the 2011 Minnesota outfit a little too much credit. Rarely are trophy games that easy and Michigan didn’t need anything close to trophy game pep to cruise by. However, it does give us a warning not to play Northwestern in this game as well.
Just Cover Blog Rule: Be Wary Of Michigan In Their First Road Game. The major historical element in the room is Michigan's annual woes in their first road game. Michigan is 10-22 ATS since 1979 in their first road game, 3-18 when installed as the favorite. Uh oh. Here we go. I love trends like this, but I am also vigilante with them because when they cool off and, AHEM, regress to the mean, I want to be a step ahead so I don't lose my shirt on a trend that isn't a trend anymore. That sleuth in me would point out that Michigan is 3-2 ATS the last five years in this spot. Of course, all three covers were as underdogs in the Notre Dame series, another strong, long-term series trend. So who knows. I do know that plenty of sharps circle the first Michigan road game of the year and play it like its tradition. Some are probably downright giddy at the prospect of getting the Cats, the definition of a feisty dog, and a full touchdown head start.
Just Cover Blog Rule: Wow, we're getting a lot of these today. What can I say, the blog is getting ISO Certified this week, so we're all about rules, steps and processes. Anyway, here you go: Never bet on a team that's in their first road game of the season after starting the season with four or more home games in a row. To me, this is just a recipe for problems. I'm always interested in teams I don't trust or who I think are overrated in spots like this. Its certainly a situation that demands pause before pulling a trigger on the road team. I don't think any trend should override how you've analyzed a game otherwise, but if there's reasonable doubt in your mind, these are the types of situations you should avoid betting on. Remember, your profit is built as much on the bets you don't make as they are on the ones you do. Michigan has been in this spot before and have struggled each time: 1984, a 14-6 taffy pull with Indiana; 1987, the Demetrius Brown seven interception, 17-11 at Michigan State; 1993, a 17-7 loss at Michigan State with the Spartans stoning Tyrone Wheatley into the worst day of his career, 33 yards on 11 carries; 2007, on this very field, a 12-point win over Northwestern, in a game that required Michigan to climb out of a listless, 9-point halftime hole. I’m pretty sure Lloyd Carr guaranteed to sign a transfer paper or two during that intermission speech as well. Wait, too soon? And 2009, a 26-20 OT loss at MSU, a game during Michigan was whipped every which way but loose for 3.5 quarters until sparking a comeback to force overtime in the final seconds. Interesting how Michigan struggled putting points on the board in each of those games. Its so hard to see this team struggling like that tomorrow night. None of those outcomes are related to each other. But, its some proof that this game is prone to some basic human foibles and maybe this situation is at least one of them to beware of. Thus, the JCB rule.
What has me tied up the most about handicapping the game is my obvious love of Michigan, but also I'm a fan of Northwestern and love, love, love this team as an underdog. Well, any team that's an underdog in their games. The team catching points is 40-16 ATS since 2006 in Northwestern games. But the Purple and the points have been good to me. In 2008, I broke into blogging doing Big 10 Picks here in the diaries before eventually birthing the JCB. During that time, I am 11-3 ATS when taking Northwestern as an underdog. Its always been a good club in our bag. I might not always play them in that spot, but I always give them a second, third, even fourth look before. We’re 2-0 on them this year having had Wildcat tickets in both the BC and Illinois games. I keep tossing around in my mind that given my luck with Northwestern and the major upside to not winning on the +7.5, that I should just do this for pure emotional hedging reasons.
So, there's my weekly nervous ninny routine. I'm excited for this game because I do feel it will give Michigan a more legit test than anything we've seen the last three weeks. Some of evidence on record for Michigan is sketchy on account of opponent. I think there are plenty of measuring stick battles in this one that will be more relevant to projecting Michigan the rest of the way. Here are five keys/matchups/stats that I think will eventually tell the tale of this one.
Fun little matchup between Michigan's offensive tackles and Northwestern's high motor, play making defensive ends. The main event is along the left side with Taylor Lewan going up against Vincent Browne. A senior, Browne has 33 career TFLs and earned second team All Big-10 Honors a year ago. I think we all expect Lewan to compete and win some level of All Big-10 Honors before his career is done. Lewan had a knack for the killer penalty a year ago, can he keep his clean yellow flag sheet after a night of tangling with Browne? On the other side, the Mark Hugye vs Tyler Scott battle looks like another matchup that go either way. Most Michigan fans probably have been muttering under their breath for years that the offensive line will take a step forward once a talent upgrade from Hugye can be found. But, here's Hugye in his third year as a starter and fourth year as a contributor. He's developed into a pretty solid collegiate tackle. Scott is a redshirt sophomore, arriving from Warren, Ohio as a 2-star LB recruit in 2009. He's 45 lbs. heavier than he was when he arrived on campus, notched 3.5 TFLs in limited time a year ago and won the starting DE in the summer. He seems to have a quick burst and will probably beat Hugye once or twice in this game. How costly will those be?
Will the real Northwestern rush defense step up? Are you the one who was milked to death by Army? Or the one that shut down Boston College after a big opening play run and closed down Illinois' potent, dangerous multi-faceted attack? It maybe closer to the latter than you think. The Cats welcomed two additions to their lineup a week ago that made a big difference against the Illini. DT Jack DiNardo returned after missing the Army game. He was a wrecking ball against BC and Illinois, you have to think he might have helped keep those rushing numbers against the Cadets down had he played. They usually line him up next to Browne, so that's Molk and Barnum/Schofield territory. I like Dinardo's game, but if Michigan lets him tear up the interior line, what will MSU do to them next week? The other addition was redshirt freshman Colin Ellis at strongside linebacker. He didn't play in any of the three first games due to a broken thumb. He's an interesting player for Northwestern. He was the very first player to sign in Fitzgerald's 2009 recruiting class, venturing north from his native Louisiana. He made that state's top-50 prospect in 2009, slipping into the rankings at #43. To compare, Michigan's Carvin Johnson and Drew Dileo were 13th and 26th on that same list. He's the prototypical NW OLB: smallish, more speedy than elite fast and quick to diagnose plays. But, he's never had to chase or figure out somebody like Denard before. This kid seems to have a great college career ahead of him, but you cant help but wonder if Denard is going "posterize" him once or twice on a big play.
Kovacs Doppelganger. CB Jordan Maybin is the Cats biggest name in the secondary. He's experienced and a good, but not a lockdown, Big 10 corner. But the player to really keep an eye in the Northwestern secondary is safety Brian Peters. He's their Jordan Kovacs in that a lot of their special defensive calls revolve around allowing him to make the big play. Against Illinois, he thwarted one Illini drive burying Scheelhase on a safety blitz. He snuffed out another drive with a pick in the end zone. So there you go. I am setting the MAKE PLAYS Over/Under for Peters at 1.5. If he goes over 1.5 plays that change drives, then Northwestern probably will stay in this game longer than any of us will be comfortable with.
I am obsessed with Michigan's defense in third/fourth and short situations. Look, I love the improvement we've seen on defense, but I'm not ready to think its going to be anything but average at best in the meat of the Big 10. That alone, though, is exciting and should put the team in position to win a lot of games. With Denard on your team, that's not a bad position to be in and a major defensive upgrade nevertheless. But, if this D can find a couple of things that that it can do good to great, then average stats can actually end up better than it looks. One thing the D has proven it can do great is stop people cold in those short yardage situations. Let's consider offensive snaps when its third or fourth down and three or less yards. I mentioned this on the podcast, but that was days ago, so it bears repeating. Michigan's D has faced 20 plays in those spots. They've allowed just nine first downs in those spots and allowed just 43 total yards. That's a fraction more than one yard a play. EMU hit for 19 and 14 yards in two instances, so if you throw those plays out as outliers, then these numbers look even more stout. One other play this year went for seven yards, but every other play went for three yards or less. Its grabbed my attention and its so far been one of the more clutch defenses I've seen in program history in those situations. So far. I'm having flashbacks to last year's basketball team that developed the knack for picking up charges like no other squad I'd seen before in Ann Arbor. All season I kept wondering if those charges would keep coming in Big 10 play, but by the middle of the winter, it was such a part of their defensive game, you expected several calls on that end going Michigan's way. And it did. Can the football team's situational excellence here keep up? Northwestern will come at the Wolverines a little bit differently that the teams they've faced so far. Will either side have any new wrinkles in these spots? Keep track of these downs. If Michigan sets the tone and wins them early, they will have a chance to stake out to a lead.
Limiting Northwestern Snaps. If Persa plays, I really do feel this will be a high end test for Michigan's pass defense. He, his ability to evade the pass rush and his chemistry with Jeremy Ebert can take over games. Does The Happening that is Blake Countess ever match up with Ebert? I'd be lying if I didn't say I'd like to see this once or twice just to see how our freshman stacks up here. What's more with Persa in the game is Northwestern's ability to stay on the field and run a lot of plays. A year ago, no team had a higher percentage of their drives go for 10 or more plays than Northwestern, with 23.1 percent of their possession having that many snaps. Michigan's defense was 116th in the nation at giving up those drives, permitting possessions that long 20.3 percent of the time. This year has been a different story. The Cats took over the Boston College game with five drives of that length, but haven't really been clicking on long drives since. Getting Persa back fulltime may change that. Michigan, meanwhile, has seemingly found the ability to get off the field in due time. They've only allowed six drives all year of 10 plays or more and just 14 total points on those drives.
From a capping standpoint, I am afraid of Michigan closing this game out. The psychology of the look ahead either has you sleepwalking at the start or easing up at the end. I think Michigan will be ready to go out of the gates. And, while I dont necessarily feel they would ever ease up, with Persa playing, the Cats are going to keep coming and coming. Translation? At that -7.5 number, that looks like prime back door cover material. Here's how I see this game going. It's going to be a lot like the Indiana games from the last two years. Northwestern will do damage with its offense. But the Wolverine defense is improved where it wont get rolled on every possession. I should say this will play out like we had hoped last year's IU game would have. The offense having its way and scoring, with the defense getting enough stops to allow for a multiple score cushion. The reason I'm laying off the spread is because I could see a 31-20 score with two minutes to go, Northwestern with the ball and a chance at the back door cover. I dont want that stress. Will it be great to win money when Thomas Gordon closes down that drive with an INT? Sure it would. But Wolverine road games in recent years are stressful enough, my heart cant take Michigan laying a touchdown to go along with it.
[Ed: you know what? I'm just going to bump this instead of linking it again.]
[Quick JCB plug: We’ve got you covered on all the weekend action, including a great preview on the stellar prime time schedule tomorrow night from SteveY and a breakdown of the Evil Empire vs Little Brother match tomorrow afternoon. More to come later today including a deeper look at the Nebraska-Wisconsin showdown and, of course, my weekend card of picks, so bookmark us already!]
October is hours away. And so is the start of the 2011 Big 10 conference season. Out of conference games are more or less over and we're about to begin an historic Big 10 season, one with Nebraska in it, two divisional races and a winner-take-all championship in, of all months, December. This will be season to remember, but will Michigan be a factor? The numbers from September are in, and the early math points to the Wolverine's showdown with Nebraska in November being for the division title.
But we've all been here before with Michigan looking good on the verge on the conference campaign only to see the September numbers wither with the changing seasons. I have a feeling this year will be different, but that doesn't mean the Wolverines will run the table or boss their division. My prediction for the division has always been its pretty mediocre and that we'll see three teams tied atop at 5-3. Michigan has as good a chance as anyone to hit that 5-3 mark. My other prediction was if they beat ND, they would be one game better through ten games than a year ago, so that's 8-2 heading into the nasty double date at the end of November with the Huskers and Ohio State coming to town.
There are plenty of storylines to be had in tomorrow's league opener for Michigan against Minnesota. The Little Brown Jug is on the line, fer gawd's sake!! We get another data point in the evolution of the new offense. How does Minnesota look with the whole Jerry Kill situation? Can these young, new playmakers on the Michigan defense continue their progression. And, of course, in my world, can Michigan cover the point spread. Generally speaking, I don't consider covering the line or not a true storyline for the masses. But in Michigan's case this season, I do. Don't forget, the Wolverines didn't cover a single point spread in Big 10 play a year ago. That's only the fifth time in the last decade that any FBS school didn't cover against the closing game in all their league games.
The paranoid ninny in me is naturally not happy that Michigan is the biggest chalk on the Big 10 board in the wake of last year's 0-8 ATS mark and 4-20 ATS mark the last three years against the Big 10. Obviously part of that is Minnesota's serious sucktitude so far this season. But some of it is indeed a changing mindset towards Michigan within the gambling community. Back in the summer, not only was nobody betting on Michigan, but everybody and their pet cats was betting against the Maize and Blue. However, a month into the season, Michigan has showcased some defensive competency, they still have Denard Robinson and, well, the rest of the Big 10 just looks terrible. The result? A major shifting of the odds in favor of Michigan. The Wolverines used to be 8th in line on the board with Big 10 Championship odds, checking in at +1600. But with the shifting Big 10 odds, today they are third in line at +800, behind Wisco and Nebraska. And when books re-released lines for future games on Monday, Michigan, which had been an underdog in almost every Big 10 game available, is now the favorite in almost all those games.
[ed: specifics after the jump. Thanks for being terrible, Big Ten.]