I am sure that comes as no surprise to anyone. A quick perusal through the main stream media sites like ESPN, CFN as well as the blogosphere reveals that the Utah Utes Bandwagon tomorrow afternoon is pretty much damn well full. Now, I am not here to ring up those short sighted fools for blindly taking the Boys from the Beehive State. Despite most going against UM tomorrow, an interesting meme is developing as I read through a lot of those predictions. Many are going with the Utes, but also mentioning a caveat somewhere along the lines "Michigan will be much better than people expect this season, but they'll fall just short of the more experienced Utes." Ok, so at least thats an improvement after most of the off season where a lot of people expected us to be bedfellows with Indiana in the Big 10 standings.
What I want to talk about here, however, is the point spread. Michigan is still favored, so obviously when all these experts are picking Utah to win, they're gobbling up the points as well. Utah is the prototypical publid dog, one whose bark sounds so attractive and tough that everyone and their mother collars it. The line movement of this game bears that out.
Back in a UV in the middle of summer, Brian linked to the Las Vegas Sports Consultants, a handicapping forum and research site, that had released an initial line of UM -7 over Utah. In a subsequent diary, I theorized that line would not be valid for very long. Since LVSC is not an actual site where you could place I bet, I said expect that when the real books come out with a line, to see something much smaller, perhaps as close to a field goal. The public would subsquently jump on Utah and drive the number down even farther.
I was kinda, sorta correct. The first official live line I saw was 5.5 at various offshores from BoDog, Pinnacle, 5Dimes and Sportsbook.com. It took about two weeks of August betting, but the line plunged at all those sites to 3.5. It has stayed firm at the number for the second half of this month. This morning I am seeing that the hook has, at least temporarily, been chopped off and UM is an even 3-point favorite. We'll see if it dips below three. I might be interested at that point as the public keeps buying Utah. I am a big fan of fading the room, mostly because I have never met a cash poor bookie.
In each of the last two years, the Utes--always a solid underdog--have failed miserably against a BCS school in the season lid lifter. In both those games, vs UCLA and Oregon State, the Utes struggled putting up points. Despite the quality of Brian Johnson at QB, they wont be lighting up the scoreboard tomorrow. Utah also gave up 22 sacks in their six regular season games vs bowl opponents last year, so I think our pass rush will be a big factor.
Of course, the real rub is that nobody is expecting either team to score much. I know, not really breaking news, is it? Tomorrow's Over/Under total is either 40 or 40.5, depending on the book. That is the lowest total on the board for the entire weekend. I cant remember any other time where the Michigan game had this low a total put on it and was the lowest on the board. There are a couple of games in the 41.5 to 42.5 range, but just about every other game has at least another TD added to the O/U line.
While the actual line for tomorrow's game has been plummeting all August, the lines for Michigan's "games of the year" this season have stayed steady. I did a separate diary that broke down the lines released for the ND, PSU and OSU games. Those lines have not budged at all and remain with Michigan decided underdogs: +3.5 vs ND, +9.5 vs PSU and +14.5 vs OSU.
I can guarantee these lines will change dramatically based on tomorrow's actual UM performance. If Michigan lays an egg, those lines will rise. Heck, even if they lose close, I think the public will basically have the expectation that UM is heading towards a ND '07 disaster and look to fade the Wolverines until proven otherwise. Considering OSU and PSU will win their games tomorrow by a combined score of 97-9 and ND does not play (which means they can only look better in the minds of the pundits....lol), a Michigan loss will set off more alarm bells than are going on now. But, if they win and look good in the process, many folks might re-evaluate and consider investing in the Wolverines. That is esepcially the case for the ND and PSU games. As much as I would like to grab close to double digits when they play PSU, I would settle for a line of less than a TD because that would mean Michigan is already outperforming the expectations of the experts in the desert and Joe Public.