(Guess what? I published a book this offseason. It’s about baseball. The Cubs. The White Sox. And that one time they played each other in the World Series. Check it out. It’s only available via Amazon Kindle right now, but a paperback, print on demand option is in the works)
Good morning, everyone! Tomorrow is the first day of October. Or should I say Chalktober?
I’m beginning the middle month of the regular season by making it rain chalk dust. It’s a full slate of conference games in the B1G for the first time this season. And I’m picking heavy chalk in five of them. Those who have been following all along know I am not much of a chalk player. I am an Underdog Whore. I don’t care who knows. But there are a couple major drop offs in quality down the B1G pecking order, that a lot of games require you to side with the favorite because there is absolutely nothing to hang your hat on with the underdog. The favorite is just significantly better. Or the underdog is significantly worse. Looking at you, Northwestern. Later in the post, we go a bit coast to coast and find our underdog groove. But locally, we’re dining on chalk. Let’s roll through the picks. And if you like a game not shown below, don’t hesitate to shout it out in the comments section. We’re all here to help each other.
(Season Record, 8-8-1. B1G Conference Games, 3-1. Picks are in bold with team selected listed first.)
Maryland -10.5 over Purdue: Maryland has put together a solid start to their season. They've been efficient, but not explosive with solid run blocking. There's not much to say on this game, so instead I'm going to call out a Pick To Click. It'll be one of my new favorite players: Lorenzo Harrison. The freshman has already emerged as Maryland's top tailback, leading the team in carries and averaging 6.5 yards per rush in non conference play. He's a player to watch as conference play begins. If he becomes a 20-carry back for Maryland this fall, then they've discovered a nice weapon. He'll get those carries against the Boilermakers. He'll go over the 100-yard mark for the first time and score two touchdowns. His second score will clinch the win and cover for the Terrapins. Obligatory Perry Hills Interception Watch: Since the Terps did not play a week ago, Hills is still at zero. And a team that led the nation with 29 picks a year ago, including nine games with at least two interceptions and six with at least three, still has not thrown the ball to the other team in 2016.
Indiana +7.5 over Michigan State: OG Anunoby flirts with a triple double, Thomas Bryant owns the paint, and James Blackmon hits key 3s down the stretch. The defending league champion Hoosiers, finally getting MSU on their home court, run the Spartans off the fl---Wait. This is a football game? Crap. The Hoosiers have no chance.
Or do they? They're ranked two spots ahead of MSU in the latest S&P. Those projections actually give the Hoosiers a 56-percent chance at winning. What in the name of KenPom is going on in that computer? Here's what: An Indiana pass offense that's 8th in yards per attempt and 24th in passer rating should have their way with an MSU pass defense that's 70th in yards per attempt allowed and has struggled so far on passing downs this year. At least in a perfect world that's what happens.
The winner of this game will be decided by which quarterback bounces back from a shaky outing in a loss a week ago. Hoosier QB Richard Lagow's bad outing included a school record 496 passing yards against Wake Forest. But five back breaking interceptions undid it all. His first two picks resulted in at least a 10-point swing against Indiana. The Hoosiers chased those points the rest of the game and never back caught up. As for Michigan State's Tyler O'Connor, his shaky day included 4.86 yards per pass, four sacks and three picks, giving the Spartans their own turnover problems. On paper, the Hoosiers secondary (and maybe their overall defense) is performing better than State's. I cant believe I just wrote that sentence. It's probably not true. But some of the early numbers on the Hoosiers defense are pretty good (for them) and is a huge leap forward from all the previous years in, well, pretty much the history of time. If those numbers even hold up a bit after playing an alleged B1G heavyweight, you can bet you'll see a chart in next week's column showing the improvement. I like Indiana to stay within a touchdown and if Lagow averages less than one pick per half, they might just pull off the upset and finally bring home the Old Brass Spittoon.
Ohio State -38.5 over Rutgers: It's time to put at least one rivalry aside. #GoRutgers #BeatOhio #ShockTheWorld. What a rotten two week stretch for the Knights. After Ohio State this week, they play Michigan next Saturday. The real betting for this game should be on Over/Under props for the combined margin of defeat the next two weeks for Rutgers. Last year, it added up to 75 points. The Knights enter this stretch-and the rest of their season--without their best weapon Janarion Grant who tore his ACL last week. That seems bad. I'm betting the combined margin the next two weeks goes over 90 points. And the Buckeyes will provide half of that this week in a 45-0 shutout.
Iowa -13.5 over Northwestern: Here are two offenses that succeed on just a couple of drives and basically stink the rest of the game. Eleven of Iowa's last 21 real drives have ended with a punt or turnover after five plays or less. Against lowly Rutgers, they had two nice drives at the end of the first half, but moved the ball only 3.75 yards per play on their other nine possessions. As for Northwestern, they don't have good drives. They just hit 2-3 plays a game and pray their defense can make it stand. Guess what? It is not working. After a 10-win campaign a year ago, they're headed towards a 3-win season unless something changes fast. I suggest beginning with the offensive coordinator. The Wildcats are 111th in yards per play and 102nd in offensive success rate. Neither team is living up to their defensive hype either. Northwestern could not get off the field in losses against Western Michigan and Nebraska. The Wildcats are 74th in yards per play allowed, a year after ranking 7th in the country. Iowa has been pushed around trying to defend the run and rank 86th nationally in yards allowed. Over the last two weeks, Iowa has faced 112 rushing attempts as North Dakota State and Rutgers controlled pace and the ball. Northwestern could probably run Justin Jackson for 30 carries and 103 yards, shorten the game and try to win it in the end like the Bison did and the Scarlet Knights almost did. Both teams are near the top of the charts in defensive field position, so look for long fields that neither offense will be able to traverse competently. In the event either offense marches deep into opposing territories, both teams are pretty solid at red zone defense. Either way, this will be an ugly game to watch. The Hawkeyes will be without their best wide receiver Matt Vandeberg, whose caught more balls this year than the rest of his positional group has combined. But a return home peaks the Hawkeyes interest after sleep walking in New Jersey a week ago. Northwestern could run like the last two teams did against Iowa, but they wont. Their offensive line is a disaster. And it’s always been a little sneaky how bad the Cats rushing offense is despite Jackson’s eventual yardage number. It’ll be like every game so far for Northwestern: A fight to get to double digits. CJ Beathard will hit tight end George Kittle on two big pass plays that put the distance between the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats. Iowa wins 25-9.
Minnesota +3 over Penn State: How does Penn State's football season go off the rails? Coming home and losing to the Golden Gophers in front of a restless Happy Valley crowd days after James Franklin received the dreaded vote of confidence from his AD. You know what? I think that's going to happen. The Gophers are in the top-20 in both offensive and defensive success rate and are in the top-10 in success rate on both sides of the ball on standard downs. Penn State, meanwhile, is not efficient at anything, except ensuring their quarterback is under constant siege. Meanwhile, on defense, they're 103rd in yards per rush allowed. In their two games against Power-5 foes, they've given up 6.35 yards per carry. Now they play a Gopher team with a hot stable of backs and a decent running quarterback. Tailbacks Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Kobe McCrary combined for 197 yards on the ground a week ago and are averaging 6.1 yards per carry on the season as a trio. Watching Penn State live last week, only two positives really stood out. The brilliance of Saquan Barkley and punter Blake Gilliken. But the Gophers are holding foes to just 3.1 yards per carry and they have a great punter in their own right in Ryan Santosa. Besides, I have a rule. If you just watched a team in person lose by 39 points, bet against them the next week as a favorite. Alright, I just made that rule up. But it's bucking for formal approval this weekend. While only catching a field goal in this match, it's worth pointing out Minnesota is 14-6 ATS in their last 20 stabs as an underdog. Prediction: James Franklin tapes 49-10 on the lockers of his players next year during Michigan-Penn State week. Unfortunately, his players at Florida International won’t understand the message.
Nebraska -21 over Illinois: Nebraska is looking like Nebraska again. That's not a statement that their 4-0 start means Nebraska is back. It's just their style of play and identity looks familiar: A fanatical devotion to the running game. Their standard down run rate is 70.7%, 15th highest nationally and eleven points above the national average. A year ago in Nebraska's 6-7 season, they only ran the ball on standard downs 60% of time. So far this added determination to the run the football is working. Their 51% success rate running the football is 13th annually and 9.5 points better than the national average. They're back to running their quarterback. Tommy Armstrong has had at least 11 carries in every game this year, after only two such games a year ago. He's coming off his best back-to back-starts of his career, averaging 7.4 yards per pass or rush, en route to 673 total yards in wins and covers as chalk against Oregon and Northwestern. Devine Ozigbo has emerged as the lead back. His stats aren't eye popping, but he's given the Huskers a physical presence running between the tackles. He and Terrell Newby are a solid 1-2 punch to go with Armstrong's legs, pacing Nebraska to 5.15 yards per rush and 242 yards on the ground a game.
The Cornhuskers start has pushed them into contention for the B1G West crown. The oddsmakers at Sportsbook.com have Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa all at 7/1 to win the B1G, so it's basically a betting dead heat. Nebraska's schedule does set up for a run in October. After this game against Illinois, they travel to Indiana and host Purdue. They should be 7-0 and entrenched in the top-15 of the national polls heading into a showdown in Madison in Week 9. But considering the Badgers play Michigan and Ohio State these next two weeks and how shaky Iowa has looked so far, the Cornhuskers will probably enter November controlling their own fate in the division even if they lose to the Badgers later this month. But here's something else to consider. Does any team in the West have an offensive weapon like Tommy Armstrong? Some might say that's a back handed compliment. But consider me another buyer on Armstrong’s conference player of the year candidacy. The often maligned senior is well on his way to authoring a special season. And at this point, it would not be a surprise to see them in the B1G Championship Game.
So far the opposite of what happened last year is happening to Nebraska. They are Team Regression To The Mean, but in their favor. All those close losses a year ago? They're 1-0 in tight games this year with that big win over Oregon. They were -12 in turnover margin last year. They're +6 so far this year. Last year, Northwestern's Clayton Thorson nearly outgained the whole Nebraska team in a Wildcat win. Last week, it was Armstrong who almost outpaced Northwestern's 388 yards with 378 yards on his own as Nebraska cruised to a win. How does that impact this week? Last October, Nebraska blew a 13-0 fourth quarter lead in a loss to the Illini and Armstrong had one of the worst games of his career. This October? Armstrong continues to put himself in B1G Offensive Player Of The Year talk with another game of over 300 yards in offense. One of Ozigbo and Newby goes over 100 yards. And the fourth quarter lead will be beyond insurmountable. Nebraska wins 45-16.
Michigan –10.5 over Wisconsin: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Nebraska are a combined 12-2-1 against the spread this year. The rest of the conference? Try 11-23 ATS. Can you say Big 4, Little 10? The first of at least five games between the Big 4 sees Michigan installed as a whopping 11-point favorite over the Badgers. Since the Badgers already own big wins over LSU and MSU, most people who I've bumped into express amazement the line is so large in UM's favor. I mostly nod in agreement. The reality, however, is this number is the exact number Books hung in the summer when they released their Games Of The Year lines. So not much has changed. Well, except for everything. The Badgers are suddenly playoff contenders. And Michigan's cake early season schedule has a major speed bump in front of it.
Look for the defenses to dominate the game. Michigan is the most disruptive team in the nation, ranking first in havoc rate and second overall in defensive success rate. That Badgers aren't too shabby themselves, ranking 12th and 13th in those categories against a harder schedule. They have a zillion linebackers all automatically programmed on a simple, yet lethal high motor, tackles for loss setting. They’ll need to pluck a clone off the bench to replace injured star Vince Biegel. Michigan at least has the offensive weaponry to challenge Wisconsin. Their offensive line against Wisconsin's front is a much better match than it is for the Badgers when their offensive line goes against the Michigan D. The Wolverines have DeVeon Smith, whose been a stud in pass protection. Their top three pass catching targets will be playing in the NFL next fall. I will not lie. I am not convinced Wilton Speight can handle the Badger D. The clunkiness against Colorado lingers in my thoughts. Please don't tell Dad. But at least he has a supporting cast.
What does Wisconsin have? Keep in mind this is the 90th ranked team in yards per play going against the 13th ranked defense in yards per play allowed. The Badgers are rushing for just 3.94 per attempt. They have not been able to run the football in 17 games. It's the new normal. And it's not changing against Michigan. Troy Fumagali will be a thorn. Most of his catches have moved the chains for the Badgers. But I'll believe Wisconsin quarterbacks not committing killer turnovers when I see it. Remarkably, the Badgers have possessed the football for 50:16 of a possible 60 first quarter minutes this season. They have had at least 10:44 minutes of possession in every opening frame so far.
If Michigan is able to run enough offense early in this game, they might end up playing with a comfortable lead the rest of the way. Otherwise, it'll be a rock fight. DeVeon Smith's generally aces his blitz pickups. An assortment of Wolverine defensive ends finally expose Ryan Ramczyk, the Badgers transfer from UW-Stevens Point at right tackle whose been stellar so far through the first four games. And Michigan dials up some well timed big plays en route to a 24-10 win.
Before getting deeper into this post, let's point something out. Check out some of Saturday's Big-12 games: Oklahoma (-3.5) at TCU, Kansas State at West Virginia (-3.5), Texas at Oklahoma State (-3). Those are three pretty good games. And nobody is talking about them. But when you've seemingly fallen out of the playoff chase--save for one team that never, ever plays any interesting games this early in the season and is a total disgrace off the field--you get lost in the shuffle. Most of the Big-12 chatter the last couple of weeks has centered around crazy expansion talk. It might as well be May. It'll probably be a crazy chase for their league title. But who knows how to factor it or the games this weekend? I'm pulling for Oklahoma and Texas to win this week, but only so there is at least some positive buzz and excitement for next Saturday's Red River Shootout.
Now the rest of the post and more picks.
Stanford +3.5 over Washington: Tune in to see what a Christian McCaffrey "slump" looks like. It features ranking second nationally in rushing yards per game and being on pace to rush for over 2,000 yards if Stanford at least reaches the Pac-12 Title Game like a year ago. He's been more workhorse than explosive runner in the early going. He only had five games of 26 or more carries in 14 games a year ago. He's already done that twice in three games this year in conference wins over USC and UCLA. But he has not had the impact in the receiving or return game yet. He's averaging almost 5 yards less per catch this season. If you take out his longest--a 56 yard catch and run against USC--he's going for less than six yards a reception. He returned his first punt of the season back for a touchdown against Kansas State, but it was nullified by a penalty. Since then, he's only had two punt returns. And his kickoff return yards are down from 28.9 per return to 21.3. Getting back to those decreased receiving numbers, it's probably not a good sign McCaffrey leads the team in catches and yards. First year starter Ryan Burns is throwing for 2.5 yards less per attempt than the departed Kevin Hogan did a year ago. Somebody in the Cardinal wide receiver group needs to step up.
Washington has come out of the gates like gangbusters, averaging 45.8 points per game and ranking 3rd nationally in offensive success rate. Sophomore QB Jake Browning and his band of tiny receivers have been torching teams. They have weapons in the backfield with Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman. And while McCaffrey has been struggling to get his return game going, the Huskies are in the top-20 nationally in punt return and kickoff return average thanks to Dante Pettis and John Ross. The Huskies are rolling, but they've played, per the S/P rankings, 95th ranked Rutgers, 111th ranked Idaho, 62nd ranked Arizona and FCS team Portland State. They needed overtime, albeit on the road, to defeat that 62nd ranked team. Stanford is way more battle tested with all three of their opponents this year ranked 34th or higher. This Washington program has been hunting a breakthrough win for years. Do they finally bag one? Stanford's defense is 15th nationally in havoc rate causing a disruptive play on 21.1% of defensive snaps. That could come into play after Washington gave up four sacks a week ago to Arizona, one of the least disruptive defenses in the nation.
What will happen? Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips pick up where they left off a week ago against UCLA and take over the game up front. It's enough to keep the Huskies' offense at bay. The Cardinal are without a couple corners, but it's a deep spot on Stanford's depth chart. Christian will be Christian. That's enough to keep Stanford in any game. This will be a fun game. Somebody will win by a field goal, but I don’t know exactly who. So we're taking the field goal and the hook with the underdog Cardinal.
One other quick Pac-12 note. All of us here are #TeamBuffs after Colorado upset Oregon last week. What an unexpected SOS boost for Michigan. Hopefully, it's the gift that keeps on giving all fall. This week, Colorado is favored over Oregon State. It's only the third time the Buffs have been chalk in a Pac-12 game since joining the league. And what a favorite they are! Right now, it's by 19.5 points. Or, more points than Michigan was favored over them 2 weeks ago. The last time Colorado was double digit chalk? Try Week 10 of the 2008 season against Iowa State when they were still in the Big 12. In other Pac-12 games, Arizona State is at USC (-10), Oregon (-2.5), on a 2-game losing streak, travels to Washington State, Arizona is at UCLA (No Line Yet) in the Pac-12 After Dark Game on ESPN, and Utah goes to Cal.
Wait. How about a second Pac-12 pick....
Utah +2 over Cal: The Utes have historically been one of the game’s best underdog programs. And that tradition has carried over to its new league. Since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are 17-9 ATS as an underdog. In this game, you get a team catching points that's 22 spots ahead of it's opponent in the S&P Rankings. Cal has showed a lot of offense in the early going, but they face their first real, physical defense of the season. Utah is 4th in sacks per game, 24th in tackles for loss per game, and 5th in havoc rate. Cal is 110th in yards per play allowed. They Bears do not play much defense, unless missed tackles count. Utah's power run game should own this contest.
Clemson +2.5 over Louisville: Bettors love Louisville. Do you recall their Week 3 beatdown of Florida State? The line opened that week at FSU -3, was steadily bet down to -1, and on the morning of the game swung all the way to Louisville -1. Everyone jumping on the bandwagon won easily. This week against Clemson? The same thing happened, but swifter with a heavier swing. Most books posted an early line favoring Clemson by 3 or even 3.5 points. By Tuesday, every book had done a 180 and listed Louisville a 2-point favorites. That's a 5-point line swing in less than 48 hours four full days before kickoff. And for good measure, the line has sprouted a hook since then. Louisville is everybody's team this year. And the momentum has made the Clemson Tigers and DeShaun Watson a home dog in at night in Death Valley. We’ll take the Tigers, almost on principle. It promises to be one of the best QB duels of the season. It's the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite in Watson going up against the current, overwhelming betting chalk to take the trophy in Lamar Jackson. Jackson started this race as a 50/1 shot, but is now -300 (must bet $300 to win $100). The next shortest odds are Christian McCaffrey at 8/1, while Watson is 10/1. All four of Louisville's games this year have gone over the total. All four of Clemson's games have gone under the total. Cue the Something's Got To Give sound effects. And good luck making heads or tails of it if you play the total.
Elsewhere in the ACC: Florida State (-11) plays North Carolina in a game between the 121st and 82nd defenses in yards per play allowed. And Notre Dame (-11) hooks up with Syracuse featuring the 104th and 112th defenses in yards per play allowed. That's probably why the totals have been set at 70.5 and 73.5 in those games. Did the Big-12 expand already?
This is your Official Hurricane Warning: Check out Miami. Don't look now, but the Canes are projected to go undefeated in the regular season. Brad Kaya has been solid. They're running the ball with so many different backs like it's 1999. Unlike a lot of teams in the league this year, at least they have good looking defensive numbers. But are they for real? They've rolled up numbers against nobody. We'll see them take on Georgia Tech this week in their first game of the season against a Power-5 club. The Canes are 7.5-point road chalk.
Navy +7.5 over Air Force: Most folks probably don't know that Navy and Air Force play this weekend, beginning this year's Commander In Chief Round Robin. But rest assured Over/Under players are well aware. I have stated before that I do not play totals, especially unders. But if you like playing them, it is hard to overlook recent history when the Services Academies play each other head to head. Over the last 11 seasons, the under has cashed at a 25-7-1 rate when Air Force, Navy, and Army meet in their rivalry games. And it makes sense, doesn't it? All three teams love to run, run, run, run the football. Then, they run it some more. The result being a constant running clock, limited possessions, and just not enough time to score the points needed to go over the total. This trend is not a secret. The total for this game had plunged four points from 51.5 to its current number of 47.5 since the opening of betting. But the same thing happened in two of the three games a year ago, and the unders still easily cashed. I've stated many times I dont play unders. I am the biggest Under jinx in the world. If I played this under, they would fly in Rich Rod and Mike Leach to be the honorary play callers. But I do like Navy catching these points. Navy as an underdog is my Jam. Like sexy red heads with glasses. Navy is 42-21 against the spread as an underdog since the start of the 2003 season. Giving them points against Air Force and you're just adding curves and swagger to that Ginger. Did you know the last seven times Navy has been an underdog against Air Force, they've won the game outright? My family knows. The Christmas presents were bigger those years. Anchors Away.
Teaser Toledo +11/Western Michigan +4: Here' what a teaser is. Don't judge me. It's a sucker bet, I know. But in my defense, I can be a degenerate at times and it's not as much as a sucker bet as a parlay. Whatever.
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Let's take a tour of the Mid American Conference!
One of the best #RealRivals in the college game hits when Central Michigan and Western Michigan hook up tomorrow in Mount Pleasant. It's FIRE UP CHIPS! in one corner. And ROW THE BOAT! in the other. And if you can find a local book who'll let you take bets on blood alcohol content of random fans in Mount Pleasant, always roll with the over. This year, it's not just a party. The teams have three combined wins against Power 5 schools this season. They're led by two hot coaching commodities. And it's an early swing game in MAC title chase. The Broncos are skillful at the field position game and will spend all day giving the ball to Jamauri Bogan and Javarion Franklin. Their run success rate is almost seven points better than the season average. They are more than comfortable scratching and clawing their way to third or fourth down and shorts and pounding their way to a conversion. They're converting more than half of their third and fourth down attempts, with seven conversions on fourth down already on the year. The Chippewas lean on the talents of QB Cooper Rush and the explosiveness of his targets. Rush has 13 touchdown tosses, averages 9.2 yards per attempt and leads the conference in passing yards per game. They're fifth nationally with 28 plays of 20 or more yards, 25 of which have come off the arm of Rush. His top three receivers average over 15 yards a catch and a fourth goes for 14.3 yards a catch. Unfortunately, two of those targets are out of this game. Historically, the Mid American Conference turns with the hot quarterback, but Western will be too much here........Akron and Kent also hook up Saturday in another league rivalry game, but this would only interest me if the teams suddenly decided to play basketball against each other instead.....Is Northern Illinois suddenly the worst team in the MAC? The Huskies have won three of the last five conference championships, at least a share of six straight MAC West titles, and played in eight straight bowl games. But they have hit rock bottom. They're out of the 2016 gates with an 0-4 start, have the 121st ranked total defense and just lost to Western Illinois. They open league play as 4-point underdogs at Ball State. It's just the fifth time since the start of the 2011 season that the Huskies have been regular season dogs in conference play.......Bowling Green is suffering a similar fall. The Falcons have won two of the last three league crowns and are coming off one the program's best seasons in school history. But their swagger might have left along with Dino Babers. They're off to a 1-3 start, but they're coming off a 74-point loss to Memphis. They've allowed 77 points in a game twice. They're only win is a one point squeaker against North Dakota. What's worse is they're only 2.5-point favorites against Eastern Michigan. That's significant because the foe is, well, Eastern Michigan. It's the 35th straight league game the Eagles have been the underdog, only the seventh of less than five points and, as long as the line doesn’t increase, the first time of the less than a field goal. Pretty heady times over at Eastern. They're 3-1, defeated Charlotte two weeks ago as a road favorite and upset Mountain West Conference Wyoming at home a week ago. Was that the best 2-week stretch ever by Eastern? Pretty close. A win here matches last season's win total.......Meanwhile Toledo opens the weekend for the league on Friday night at BYU. What a great test for the Rockets, who enter the game averaging 563.7 yards and 42.7 points per game. The Cougars are already this year's hard luck team. After beating Arizona by 2 in the opener, they've lost by 1 point to Iowa, 3 points to UCLA, and 3 points to West Virginia, the latter ending with a BYU interception at the goal line. That's a challenging schedule for almost anyone. But Toledo isn't a breather for the Cougs. Not only are the Rockets ranked 11 spots higher in the S&P than BYU, but they are also ranked higher than any of BYU's four previous opponents. The Rockets are on a 15-4-2 run against the spread. Toledo does not typically see the physical type of play, let alone this kind of road atmosphere--in the MAC. It will be interesting to see how they can handle it. I think they’ll be alright, enough at least to cover the inflated line on the teaser card. If they win tonight and Western wins tomorrow, then the Rockets-Broncos match the day after Thanksgiving could not only be for the MAC West, but it could be a battle of 11-0 teams. If that happens, we'll all remember this teaser bet from 1,000 words ago that I didn't even attempt to give a rationale breakdown on.
Do we want to talk about the SEC? It is a bit of a snoozer this week in the Big 1, Little 13. League head to heads include Florida (-10.5) at Vanderbilt, Kentucky at Alabama (-35.5), Texas A/M (-18.5) at South Carolina, and Missouri at LSU (-13.5). I guess it’ll be interesting to see how LSU plays in their first game after the Les Miles firing. I mean, Ed Orgeron will feature heavily in this game. All bets are off. These games only become interesting if any the favorites find themselves on the ropes in the second half.
The Game Of The Week in the league is Tennessee (-3.5) traveling to Georgia. The Vols are playing their second straight rivalry game. It’s a question of how much they have left in the tank after last week’s emotional, breakthrough win over the Gators. If they win, they all but wrap up the SEC East crown. And they’ll play Alabama probably twice. What does that mean if Tennessee goes 11-2 with both losses to The Tide? Maybe a lot of stupid SEC arguments about the need for a third game between the schools. PAWWWWWWL THE VOLS LOST BY 21 IN THE FIRST GAME, 10 IN THE SECOND, THEY EARNED A THIRD TRY. I am already annoyed. And pulling for Georgia to pull this out and take that far fetched talking point off any eventual agenda.
That’s about all I have to say. I hope I have properly set enough of the table for the weekend. Our B1G picks are Maryland –10.5, IU +7.5, OSU –38.5, Penn St +3, Iowa –13.5, Nebraska –21, and Michigan –10.5. Nationally, we’ve got Stanford +3.5, Clemson +2.5, Navy +7.5, Utah +2 and a Toledo +11/WMU +3 teaser. Our national card is heavy on the BIG GAMES. We just can’t seem to find much else for this weekend.
Good Luck and Go Blue!
(I don't know if I should post this. But I had to write it. I promise content to come that is more in line with the Jamie Mac you have come to know and love, but humor me on this one......)
I don't remember anything about last year's Maryland game. I only remember leaving.
A few times this offseason, the game's details were brought up in conversation, but every play-by-play morsel was news to me. I do recall the substitute public address announcer for Carl Grapentine being 10 times more excited for every first down than anybody else in the crowd, but nothing else. It was the final home game of one of the most miserable Michigan seasons most of us can remember, and given some of our more recent times, that's actually saying something. Despite Michigan's losing season, we trekked up to Ann Arbor from Toledo for one more tailgate. Part out of duty, part out of respect for the players, and part out of the fact that that's just what fans do. Only half of us actually attended the game. I was part of that group. We spent most of the first half wondering around the sparse crowd and sitting in different seats throughout the stadium just to stay warm and entertained. How many times can you so openly seat jump at the Big House? Wait, let's not talk about that.
As halftime approached, we had had enough. The weather was cold. The football was miserable. Most of the rest of our crew was at a bar. It was time to join them. I was fine with that until we were actually about to leave the stadium grounds. While my friends hustled out to flag a cab on Stadium Boulevard, I froze, not wanting to pass through the exit gates the way Archie Moonlight Graham didn't want to cross over the first baseline in the movie Field Of Dreams. Moonlight knew he would not be able to play ball on the Field of Dreams anymore once he crossed over that baseline. And I was afraid that once I left Michigan Stadium, I would never return.
I've always had on again, off again migraine issues throughout my life, but in 2012, the headaches began to get bigger and more frequent. Blood pressure medication soothed the issue for awhile, but by the spring of 2013 the migraines were not only back, but they had found another gear and often came accompanied by violent nausea. Here is how a typical day would play out. I'd have a slight headache. I would get on the phone with a customer, and the headache would mushroom to the point where I couldn't talk anymore. When the call ended, I'd rush to the bathroom to puke. This is not normal behavior. Of course, I'm seeing a doctor through all of this, but the medications just weren't working and causing frustrating side effects (gout, puffed up extremities, even more severe headaches). Eventually the problem was identified. My kidneys were failing, partly through high blood pressure and partly through the fact that that is sometimes what happens to the body as we age. Shit happens and you just have to deal with it. I got myself a kidney specialist and rather quickly she was able to administer a proper medicinal routine that stopped the headaches and, while it didn't fix the kidney functions, it kept them from getting worse. As 2013 ended, I had dodged the dialysis bullet.
But the good health did not last. By spring, I was getting constant stomach aches that felt like somebody was always kicking me in the belly. At first, I thought it was just a changing-of-the-seasons sort of virus and did not think anything of it. But I couldn't shake it. And it was getting worse. I could not eat anything. Most days, a single bite of food disgusted me. At the same time, I was somehow always in the bathroom with differing degrees of diarrhea. The foods I could stomach were going straight through me. It was weird, scary and confusing. It was like I had a little bit of every possible eating disorder known. By August, I was not much of a functioning human being. Since I could not nourish my body, it was tough to get very far into the day without significant rest. I was regularly going to bed before sundown because I lacked the energy to do anything else. Of course, I was also up in the middle of night for endless hours in the bathroom. Months were spent going through rounds of specialists, tests, and proddings until finally they figured out all I had was Crohn's Disease. Very treatable stuff. By the middle of September, I had new medicinal regimen to take care of this and instantly began feeling better. So much better, that I might have partied a wee bit too hard during the Miami tailgate.
But those good times lasted shorter than the good health at the beginning of the year did. By the end of September, my body began inexplicably falling apart. This was not a slow devolution either. It happened overnight. And I don't know how to fully explain the conditions I felt without doubling the size of this post. Nobody wants that. I'll try to be brief. Major breathing issues, chest pains, sweats. I struggled walking to and from our tailgate to the stadium during the Minnesota game. I couldn't walk more than a couple of blocks without having to stop. As the next week went on basic household chores and walking up the stairs in my house proved too much. Is this what dying feels like? Unbeknownst to Brian and Ace, I almost didn't make it through our podcast the morning after the Rutgers game. I was scared. I spent the rest of the day with my phone in my hands, expecting to call 911 any second.
By Monday, I could not wait any longer. I checked myself into the emergency room, assuming I was having some sort of cardiac arrest. So did all the doctors, given my condition. As it turns out, that wasn't the case. We were back to that unfamiliar place of having something major wrong with me, but having no clue what it was. I stayed in the hospital that whole week, unable to walk down their hallways without passing out, complete basic breathing tests and baffling another new team of doctors. As it turns out, my body had rejected the medication they had put me on for the Crohn's. And by rejecting it, I mean the medications gave me a serious of strokes that were increasing in number and strength. I mean, come on universe. Really? So off that medication I went, new medications were prescribed and I was released the day before the Penn State game, which I obviously did not attend.
During all that, we also did a routine kidney ultrasound that uncovered a small spots on the left kidney. To find out more, we did MRIs and a very invasive procedure (for men) to find out more. And when that procedure struggled to identify it, we did it again. Eventually, the verdict was a tumor, albeit a tiny one, at least for the time being. The decision was to monitor it over the winter and see how it progresses, but phrases like renal cancer and organ removal all of sudden were on the table. Maybe it wouldn't grow and this was a false alarm? But I knew better based on the last couple of years that whatever the worst case situation was, that we were going to at least flirt with it.
So as we left the Maryland game last year, I had doubts about everything. Health issues had been piling up and the specter of something even worse loomed. I knew if things truly did go south over the next few months, I might not make it back here. While my friends hailed a cab, I just could not leave. I needed a moment. I gathered myself by the Victors Colonnade monument and took a deep breath just to level myself. I said a prayer and a thanks to my grandparents, who have long since passed, but who first brought me to the Stadium during Anthony Carter's freshman year. And I took another deep breath and let the memories of all the good times at this place and in this town wash over me. If I were to do a top-10 personal moments of every year type of retrospective, most years it would be hard to push at least one memory from the UM home schedule off the list. I just always have such a good time at tailgates and games. It was like that as a child. It was like that as a teen. It was like that in my 20s. It was like that in my 30s. And it is like that now in my 40s. But was this this final chapter? Eventually I noticed my friends piling into the cab and I hustled to join them. As we disappeared into the Ann Arbor night, I looked back a few times until the stadium lights could no longer be seen. While I wondered if I would ever return, I tried not to let my friends see how much I had been crying.
Obviously since I am writing this, there is a happy ending. But not before clearing more hurdles. The symptoms I was told to look out for began showing themselves by the end of March. We quickly moved up follow up appointments that weren't scheduled for another six weeks. The tumor had almost tripled in size and it was clear it wasn't benign. Life moved pretty quickly at that point. After coming up to Ann Arbor for a second opinion, I decided to have the surgery in mid-June at the University of Michigan Health System's Oncology Center. Before I knew it, the day of the surgery arrived. We removed the tumor and about half my kidney in the process. I am cancer free. But I still have stomach issues. And I'm now trying to fight suboptimal kidney performance with less than 2 kidneys. Its unclear what the long-term future holds on that front, but so far everything is holding up great.
It was a hard summer of post-op recovery. Truthfully, it's been a long, hard, lonely three years. Often, the depression encountered with these ups and downs have been as difficult as anything else to overcome. And I have plenty of days where I'm still fighting that off. What pushes me forward most days is realizing that life is a ride and that there are millions of people out there whose health struggles are much worse and more challenging to overcome than mine. I honestly don't know how people with more aggressive cancers manage it. In every waiting and recovery room that I've been in these recent years, I have found people with harder struggles, higher hurdles and scarier diagnoses. Inspirations, all of them. You all know or will know somebody who has to go through these kinds of struggles. Be there for them. Rework your schedule and make them a priority. They need your support and companionship, even if it looks like they're doing alright.
As I write this today, I feel as healthy, athletic and optimistic as I have in three years. Maybe there is another shoe out there ready to drop, but I don't care. All I want now is solid run of good health so I can reconnect with old friends, make new friends and just have some fun. I've been slowly making the social rounds and even gone on a couple dates. I've dusted off an old manuscript that I going to finally figure out how to publish and I'm going to start writing again. I actually went to a concert a few weeks back, an activity that seemed unheard of for most of the last several years. I feel like I am back. And tomorrow, I'm going back to Michigan Stadium.
It's not the return that's making the headlines this week. But it's been the only return I've cared about since last November.
Go Blue. Beat Oregon State.
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.