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.