We interupt our daily hyperventilating countdown to the start of the football season and the Utah opener, to bring you a little Olympic chatter.
You may have heard of some kid named Micheal Phelps. It's possible he's been on one or two magazine covers in recent weeks. Phelps mania begins tonight at the Beijing games. After coralling six gold (of a total eight medals) in the '04 games in Athens, Phelps is chasing history again as he tries to get eight goals and break Mark Spitz's record. Ever since his Greek bounty, Phelps has been attending UM, training with the elite swim team Club Wolverine, and serving as a volunter assistant for the University's team, that way allowing himself to collect beacoup endorsement dollars. It's a perk of being the greatest swimmer in the world.
His pursuit of history takes center stage tonight. NBC twisted enough arms so that all the swimming finals will be swum in the morning hours in China. The result? All those events will be shown live by the network during their primetime broadcasts. From now until next Saturday night, expect a heavy dose of Phelps, the bathing beauties of the US Women's team and a little Australian rivalry to stir the pot.
Phelps' event tonight is the 400 Individual Medley. That's 100 yards (two laps) of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. According to the schedules on the nbc website, the 400 IM will be at 10 pm tonight and is the first of the four finals going off tonight. I dont know if we can trust those schedules, though, so I will be tuning in when the primetime begins at 8. Apparently, the beach volleyball team of May/Walsh will have a live match before the swimming, so I'll gladly watch those bikini's while waiting for the swimming. Here's the breakdown of tonight's first showdown for Phelps:
Toughest race for Phelps? Conventional wisdom is claiming this will be his hardest event to win gold in. We'll see, but that analysis misses a lot of key points such as this will be the most fresh Phelps will be in any of his other possible finals this week. He says it's his favorite event, so he will come out blazing. He has swum 11 of the fastest 22 times (and six of the fastest eight) in the history of this event. He is the current world record holder and has set said record seven different times. Since setting the mark for the first time six years ago, he has lowered that mark by nearly six seconds (it now sits at 4:05.25). He is the defending gold medalist. Is it worth mentioning that he has never lost a race in this event in international competition? Probably, just a little.
Capital One Bowl Maybe the reason the experts claim this will be his toughest individual race of the entire meet is the quality of his top rival in this race: fellow countryman Ryan Lochte. Lochte is a champion swimmer from the University of Florida. Consider this race the Capital One Bowl of the Olympics as Wolverine and Gator but heads. Lochte has medaled in past Olympics and World Championships, but rarely wins gold because he loses out to Phelps, perhaps the greatest ever, in the IMs and to Aaron Piersol, this decade's best backstroker, in those events. He's a laid back dude, but seems convinced he can pull off the upset tonight. Lothe has said several times that if he can hang with Phelps until the breaststroke legs that he can take him.
Watch the turns You've heard of a basketball player dominating the boards. Well, Phelps dominates the wall. Watch his turns. What he does off the wall just doesn't look human. He's a human dolphin. He can lag back a stroke during the body of the pool, but come out of a turn a stroke ahead. That could be the difference tonight. In the epic battle at the US Trials in the 200 IM, Phelps out touched Lochte by .02 seconds (setting a world record in the process) and did it on strength of those turns. They will be making seven flips on the wall during this race tonight and thats a big advantge for Phelps.
Want to bet Phelps? Take ot a loan Oddsmakers doubt this will be his toughest final of the Games. He was -1000 ( one must wager a grand to win a hundred, thats some pretty bitter juice) when most books took the race of the board when the prelims started. Pinnacle Sports (which does not take bets from people in the US) still has live odds up and Phelps is now -1700 to win tonight's gold. No one else is on the board, but you can take the field at 12 to 1. Expect a fast swim. The odds of the world record going down is a solid favorite of -170.
Phelps victory strategy It might take a world record for Phelps. Lothe qualified in three events for these games, finishing second at the trials losing out each time to a world record effort. Twice by Phelps.
Not all nerves are wrecked the same This morning while watching both indoor and beach volleyball announcer were critical of the poor early play of U.S. teams citing nerves while playing their Olympic opener. Contrast that to Phelps qualifying heat this morning. Announcers on that race wondered if he was swimming too well and too fast as he was under world record pace for the first four laps. As it was, Phelps cruised to an Olympic record this morning. Nice opening statement. Loche qualifed in fifth, but he obviously eased up the final half lap as he had his heat and spot in the finals in hand. Both did an excellent job it seems of leaving something in the tank for tonight.
Quick turnaround or a day in the life of jamiemac They swam those heats this morning, but that was night time in China. After a night of sleep, they will wake up and swim off for the gold. In the 12 hours since, I have run four miles, done a load of laundry, cleaned my kitchen, took care of horses, spent a couple hours by the side of a pool and now have had a couple of brewskis. I could not imagine having to gear up to swim a high stakes international race on such a short turnaround. Ok, so they've been sleeping. But I am pretty sure that after swimming eight laps, you could give me a night of sleep and I still would not be able to drag myself out of bed. It will be interesting to see how all the swimmers throughout this week handle some of these quick turnarounds. Maybe it keeps a lot of world records from falling. We'll see.
Prediction At most, this is a two person race, and I'm going with Phelps. He'll be the frontrunner after the fly and back. He's so improved in the breast that Loche might catch up with Phelps, but he wont be able to gain control of the race. The final turn on the freestyle leg will be the difference putting Phelps ahead for good. They both ought to be pushing world record pace. Its an American 1-2 finish. I would be stunned if Phelps and Loche dont go 1-2 in some fashion. As for bronze, the Hungarian Lazlo Czesch is the pick on paper, but he sometimes has struggled in bigger events. I like the Canadien swimmer, Brians Johns to snare a surprise medal. With nobody watching he snuck in second behind Lochte in the qualifying heat. Maybe he does the same thing tonight when the rest of field has given up on chasing the two Americans? I will say despite the Phelps prediction, if I were to put cash on the event, I would take a small flier on the 12-1 field and hope Loche breaks through with the swim of his life. Laying that kind of juice on the favorite--even if it looks like such a sure thing--is not prudent. Just ask the folks with Big Brown "to win" tickets for the Belmont.
Wait, there is another maize and blue swimmer tonight? Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue Lets quickly give another Club Wolverine swimmer some pub as well. Former UM swimmer Peter Vanderkaay will be swimming in the 400 freestyle final tonight. He is a major threat for the medal podium in what is one of the more wide open events of the swim meet. This event has been the domain of Aussie Ian Thorp for the last two Olympics. He's retired, and now this is anyone's race. Aussie Grant Hacket and North Korean Park Tae Hwan have been projected by SI to win Gold and Silver. But, Hacket only qualified with the fifth best time and Park the third best. The Aussie is dominant at longer distances, particularily the 1500, and Park might be better in a more sprint race. I dont trust SI's projections in this (or in football for that matter!) race. American Larsen Jensen is the American record holder and Vanderkaay has been one the most improved swimmers in international play the last couple of years. Both can win. Watch to see if home pool advantage comes into play tonight. China's Lin Zhnag surprised Park to win their heat this morning, helped by the large home contigent pushing him through his surge down the stretch. They will be yelling in full throat tonight and he could easily use that and get on the medal stand.
Just about everyone in this race can win it and certainly any of the eight swimmers can grab a spot on the medal podium. Right now, Park is the betting favorite at 2-1 with Hackett and Jensen at 3-1. Zhang is 5-1 and Vanderkaay is the long shot of sorts at 12-1. I like Jensen in this one, only because he looked the smoothest in this morning's prelim heats. I feel good about Vanderkaay getting a medal, but its not because SI tabbed him for the bronze. Maybe its just a hunch that his wolverine paw gets in on the wall ahead of most of the others. He'll go bronze with Park getting Silver. I'd put money on both Americans in this one, however, and come out ahead.
Either way, I expect all four American men racing in finals tonight to earn a medal. And, it will be a good night for the maize and blue.
My favorite day of the off season occurred last week with relatively little fanfare in the mainstream circles of college football fandom. Internet books released the lines for their "games of the year" for the upcoming 2008 season. Some relish the recruiting letter of intent day and the rush of new prospects and stars committing to your school. Others soak in spring ball, scouting their squad to see what next year will bring. But for me, its when this buffet of point spreads are announced for the expected bell weather games of the season. It's closer to the start of the season than those other moments, so it adds to my already anxious anticipation. More than anything, by providing a tangible expectation for specific games, it moves forward the hypothetical arguments we're already making about the upcoming season. I now can day dream an entire three mile run away wondering how notre dame is going to bounce back like many expect when they're not even favored to beat a North Carolina club that has not had a winning record in six seasons.
Sportsbook.com released a little over 100 lines last week and included among them were four games involving the Michigan Wolverines: the home game vs MSU and road tilts against Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State. A few days ago, I wrote a diary breaking down the spread in Michigan's opener against Utah, and now lets take a look at these four showdowns.
Michigan +3.5 at Notre Dame. The Irish pegged as favorites in this game might negate the above doubt about a possible rebound season generated by their under dog status against the Tar Heels. Let's just call that even and say ND is as much of a mystery as Michigan. This line stands out because recent history in this series has seen Michigan as the favorite, often times pretty heavy too, as six of the last nine games has seen them laying at least a touchdown. That's too bad because the underdog has owned this series since its modern inception in 1978 going 19-5 ATS with 12 outright upsets and a tie. That's right, the dog is 12-11-1 straight up in this series. You wont find a more underdog dominant series than this one. Michigan is 8-1 ATS as a dog vs the Irish, but just 4-4-1 straight up in those games. Notre Dame has not covered as a favorite in this series since 1982, and we all know what happened in 2006, the last tie ND was favored in this game. Is it worth mentioning that the Wolverines are 18-3 ATS as a road dog of less than a touchdown? Perhaps. So naturally with that kind of history on my side, I feel real good about Michigan's chances here. Then a harrowing thought washes over me. Does this just mean we're about to be introduced to a new Harry Oliver or Reggie Ho, with an iprobable kick sailing through the uprights to snatch victory away from deserving maize abd blue hands? Sigh. Michigan may have covered those games, but just thinking about those devasting losses will force me to down a couple of whiskey shots before I continue this diary.
Michigan +9 at Penn State. Ok, we have a team whose won nine straight against a certain foe, yet they're catching nearly double digits. In these teams thirteeen games against one another--all since PSU joined the league--Michigan has allowed just over 17 points per game to the Nittany Lions. I just dont see PSU suddenly figuring Michigan out and blowing up the scoreboard. They might break the losing streak, but they'll only do it in a defensive slugfest. Points will be at a premium, so I'll take the nice sized head start. There is a segment of Nittany Lion Nation that is expecting a decade's worth of comeuppance in a Wolverine blood letting this October. But Michigan's defense has a lot of confidence matching up with PSU. Replacing Morelli at QB might be addition by subraction, but its just as likely to mean nothing more than a new QB to gripe about. When Penn State made that leap in 2005 it was because they had a special talent at QB whose talents finally were being used right. I dont see a similar spark on this year's PSU offense, so I think we're going to see the same old Penn State team that we've seen for most of the decade. The one with about as many league wins as Northwestern. I am not sure if thats true, but I am pretty sure I read it somewhere in the back of this year Big 10 media guide. Trust me, dont worry about looking it up. Maybe its too easy, but I really love Michigan and the points here.
MSU +4 at Michigan. Well, at least we're still favored to beat Little Brother, right?!?! But even this line is eye opening in how little in the long run the expectations are for Michigan this year. Consider that in the last five games between these two at the Big House, Michigan has been favored by an average of 13 points. This is a line where we could see some serious movement between now and then. If Michigan exceeds expecations and looks like, well Michigan, from a record standpoint and Sparty is amid their annual autumnal tumble, then this could balloon. Michigan as a short favorite at home usually is a solid play and, heck, pay a little extra for the money line and eliminate the line altogether. Sounds like a solid plan, but there is a weird historical footnote that could spell doom for Michigan. Each of the last four first-year Michigan head coaches, Bump, Bo, Mo and Lloyd all lost their first game against Michigan State. Lodged between road games at Penn State and Purdue, Michigan cant afford to lose this game or it could be a ugly wheeze to the finish line.
Michigan +14.5 at Ohio State. If this line is even remotely close to this come game time, that means Michigan's season has been as mediocre as many are expecting while Ohio State's has been as top shelf as many expect. Accordingly this game will be looked upon as a total mismatch and the line could mushroom to closer to three TDs than two. And living here in Ohio as I am, I will have to resort to heavy drinking, possibly some violence and certainly a temporary move out of the area in order to survive game week. And, of course, once Michigan pulls off the upset, like the last three Michigan first year head coaches have done in this series, I will quietly creep back to my home county to help collect and bury the bodies after the mass crimson and silver suicide sweeps the state. Now, if this line shrinks to -7--which is what it was in the epic 2006 matchup--then Michigan will at least be playing for a share of the league title. Conjecture, sure, but nothing short of a 9-2 record coming into this game will keep this line in the single digits if its already opening over two touchdowns.
So there you go. Thats my hope for this year's team. To play well enough to only be a TD underdog to the Buckeyes. Its not exactly the slogan to make any new T-shirts out of, but never before I have been so unclear as to what to expect out of the program. So, making the experts in the desert seriously re-evaluate their price on this game so drastically in our favor means that ninja offense we're all drooling about will have already sliced through much of the competition.
Heading into a year with as much doubt as ever for the Michigan football program, it likely wont warm too many Wolverine hearts that the squad opens its season against one the best underdog bets anywhere across the college football landscape.
While there is serious discussion in the Beehive Stae about the chances of the Utah Utes running the table and returning to a BCS game, it should not be forgotten that this program built its reputation, in gambling circles at least, of being a money maker when catching points from the oddsmakers.
Consider the following numbers: Since the start of the 1997 season, Utah is 24-5 ATS as an underdog. Breaking that down even more reveals that Utah is 4-0 as a home dog, 2-0 as a dog in bowl games and a remarkable 18-5 as a road dog. Relative to that last number, it does not really matter too much if Utah is playing out of confernece or a league brethern. While they do have a better mark in league play as a road dog, 10-2, their mark against non conference is only percentage points worse at 8-3.
Putting those numbers in financial terms, had you wagered $100 on Utah everytime the Utes were getting points since 1997, you would be up $1,850. Only in two seasons during that span did the Utes not win money as an underdog, but one of those seasons was the 2004 Urban Meyer created monster that ran the tables into the Fiesta Bowl. That squad did not make money as a dog because they were favored in every game, of course they still cranked out a 10-2 ATS mark that season. The other non-money making year the Utes had as a underdog was 2006 when they logged a 1-1 mark in that roll, thus costing players merely the juice on a pair of bets.
Clearly, the Utes as a dog is a strong trend. Many in the gambling world shun trends. In some cases, that instinct is correct as you can dig up a trend to support any play you want to make. However, I have always included trends as part of my personal handicapping routine. History carries value. I have a degree in history and a deep rooted passion in college football. So when those paths intersect in terms of placing a wager, I lean on it. But, it has to be proven out long term. Utah as an underdog is just that. It goes back more than a decade and covers three different coaching regimes. It is not a fluky run, or the product of a quick run led by a shining star coach. No, for Utah it is part of the program's culture. They play their best, or better than expected at least, as the competition, and the odds against them grow.
Frankly, I am surprised by this line. It comes courtesy of the Las Vegas Sports Consultants. THE LVSG is not a site where you can actually place wagers, however. I believe it is just a sports gambling resource and information site. Tons of usefel stuff, for sure, but I dont think you can actually lock in a bet at the -7 line at that site. No other internet book that I found has actual week 1 lines up. Plenty have posted lines for the 'games of the year' and listed is Michigan +14.5 against a certain team from down south. I will have thoughts on UM lines in those games in other diaries.
Getting back to the opener, I feel when the lines do get released by the actual books in the week leading up the game, this line will get bet down, perhaps by more than a field goal. It might be released at that small of a number, the LVSC opening guideline be damned. Before I saw the line, I gave strong consideration to the fact this game might be close to a pick 'em. To a certain extent, the point spread of the game is geared towards public perception and an attempt to even out the wagering. And, who is not dissing Michigan this off season? Most expect this power to sink, even as it relates to this specific game. There has been a lot of chatter about BYU-Utah closing the season in a battle of unbeatens, a Utah football announcer in an interview with Rivals said the Utes should be favored to win, college football news.com has penciled in a "W" for Utah and you cant surf the web for too long before stumbling upon some enterprising writer calling for an opening week upset, most with a "lightning will strike twice" theme. A Utah win on August 30 will not necessarily surprise the college football punditry, nor its casual 'Michigan will have a ND 2007-like season" audience.
The line at -7 shocked me. At first blush, it seems like its easy money for Utah. Perhaps too easy. With that in mind, here are a couple reasons why Michigan might buck history in this one and beat/cover as a favorite against Utah.
The experts in the desert dont make too many mistakes. While the goal is to get even money on both sides, dont be fooled into thinking Vegas does not attempt to predict games or manipulate lines to trap a lot of people on the eventual wrong side. This is their business and their business has always been good. I dont know too many cash poor bookies. If the line indeed is -7, they are giving a strong indication that Michigan, as they analayze it, should win by more than a score. While the public gets entranced in the summer by teams who look good at the skill positions, Vegas knows and understands the whole picture. They see a top flight defense wearing the Maize and Blue. They understand that its only a matter of time before we know UM's skill players by name. The skill players may be anonymous, but they know its as talented a group the Utes program ever sees. While the public keeps talking about UM's struggles against the spread, the experts who profit off of casual fans misconceptions figure that fault will wane because a spread innovator is now in control and the D sees this now every day at full throttle in practice. The oddsmakers are well aware that people jump on the Utes when they're a dog, so why make them a full TD puppy against a foe that everybody is expecting to embarass themselves this year? Perhaps Vegas does not expect Utah to score much in this game?
The thought that Vegas is setting a trap for underdog players in this game might even heighten once the rankings are released. We can all agree that UM will not be ranked in those first polls. But what about Utah? Rivals has them ahead of us, but not in the top-25. Still there is a palatable buzz going around in the punditry circles about this Utah team. I exepct Utah to be in the first polls in the 20-25 range. If Michigan is still favored in the game, then I might even go to the window asking for a favorite ticket. If you're looking to break into the sports gambling world this season, do this one thing and you will make money: During college football and hoops, look at the lines everyday and find unranked teams favored to beat a ranked opponent. Place a bet on that unranked favorite. You will win two out of three games and slowly develop a nice profit.
Part of using historical trends as a handicapping method is knowing when the tides of history are changing. Do the oddsmakers see a momentum change regarding the profitbality of Utah as an underdog? Its easy for people to go to an information site and quickly find out the Utes are 18-5 ATS as a road dog. They can throw the -7 out there and get all those people to happily climb aboard.
Do those people know the Utes are only 4-4 the last three years as a true (meaning in the other guy's stadium, not a neutral field like a bowl) road dog? A trend that runs a 77 percent success clip is coughing at 50 percent success rate (you lose money if you're going 50/50 by the way) the last three seasons. Utah still has a great percentage over the years in this role, but 80-percent of their losses in this spot have come when this year's senior class has been in uniform.
Or that Utah is 1-3 in that role the last three years against schools from the BCS conference, with double digit losses against North Carolina, UCLA and Oregon State? They did rebound and win outright last year as a dog at Lousiville, but the Cardinal team was the worst of the group and until a few seasons was not a BCS school, but a mid major colleague of the Utes. Coincidentally, their failures at UCLA and at Oregone State came in the last two season openers, just like their upcoming tilt with Michigan. That tells me that when Utah pays off as a dog it happens later in the season, after the public has discounted them. Over an eight year span, Utah went 8-0 ATS as a road dog in non league games, but this year's senior class is just 1-3 in that spot.
I dont feel confortable about either side in this one vis a vis the point spread. The bookish historian in me wants to grab those seven points and see what happens. But, I lost my right ankle and then my left ankle stepping into those season opening "bear traps" in Utah games the last two seasons. Hey, they did earn that money back later in both those years, but maybe this season I will step around the possible trap and wait to play Utah later in the year. Besides, dont we all need to be pulling together this cominig opening week (and season) to get this regime off to a good start. We dont need some jackass in section 14 whose inner accountant is quietly pulling for the Utes.
If I really want to bet on an underdog that opening week, I ought to save my cash for Fresno +5 over Rutgers. Or perhaps MSU +7 over Cal.