A sure sign that I'm having way too much summer fun is that point spreads for dozens of college football games have been on the Vegas Board for more than a month, and I have yet to break down those spots in a TL;DR MGoDiary. Well, fellow MGoBloggers, here it is, with the season beginning three weeks from tonight, lets take a look at how the oddsmakers have factored the Wolverines' chances in some of their more important games of the season. I know there has been a handful of threads briefly discussing this topic, so I doubt I'm breaking much news with these spreads, but I still felt a more in depth look into these spots was warranted.
Oddsmakers put out lines for six of Michigan's 12 games. What those numbers reveal is just how unconvinced the public remains on a Wolverine turnaround in 2009 and the challenges the Books face in enticing Michigan money to flow through the betting windows. Michigan is an underdog in all six games. Regardless of foe, be it as powerful as Penn State or Ohio State, or maligned as Notre Dame or Wisconsin, the Wolverines are catching points on the early line of every game of that's been released.
Even though that development was not entirely unexpected, it still deserves a sticker shock double take of sorts. Before last season, Michigan had only been catching points in seven regular season games this decade. In last year's disastrous season, Michigan was installed as a dog five times. Before the first ball is even kicked off for the 2009 season, Michigan looks to be the underdog already in at least six games. The only way Vegas can get people to bet on Michigan in any of these games is to give them anywhere between a field goal and a touchdown head start.
None of this should be construed as any real dour news. Well, other than the transfers that will certainly ensue with the further publication of these lines. But seriously, Michigan has historically been a great play when catching points. Even in bowl games. Since 1985, Michigan is 30-17 ATS as an underdog. If you remove any games against Ohio State--a rivalry that tilts to the home team against the spread and during which the Wolverines are a pedestrian 5-5 ATS as a dog during this run--Michigan's record when catching points improves by a few percentage points with a 25-12 record.
History says Michigan will cover more of these games than not. We'll see if Rodriguez's young charges are up to the burden of history this year and whether or not any of the possible underdog covers net upset wins. Without further adieu, lets take a look at the games on the Big Board.
Western Michigan at Michigan, 9/5
Line: Michigan -12
A clarification: This line has only been released within the last few days and not part of the Book Community's Games of Year Board that came out several weeks ago. In those games, the Wolverines are catching points in everyone. But, most online books have updated to include the entire Week One slate and here are the Wolverines laying serious chalk against a team that, unlike the Maize and Blue, played in a bowl game last season.
Of course, the Broncos were absolutley obliterated by Rice last season in that bowl game and my concerns for this game had really subsided for most of the off season. Now that the drum beat of the approaching season is louder and closer, the worry wort fan in me has begun to envision Tim Hiller channeling his inner John Elway and slinging the ball all over the place against the young, retooling Michigan defense.
I still think Michigan has a significant edge in the trenches in this game. As bad as last year was, Michigan still rushed for almost 5 yards a carry against their two MAC foes last season. And, Brandon Minor had a total of one combined carry in the contests. With the Broncos completely rebuilding on defense, Michigan's offensive line expected to make the leap and something in the ballpark of 20 carries out of Minor and I dont think the Wolverines will have problem moving up and down the field.
The question is will that be enough to score points? Last year's offense bogged down in those MAC games and struggled to turn an efficient offense in between the 30 yard lines into points. I believe Forcier will be a difference in those spots. However, he is a true freshmen and could throw a killer pick-6 like Threet did last year against Toledo. Michigan will have enough to finally win an opening game, but can anybody not drunk on Maize and Blue Koolaid (and, trust me, that shit tastes good) really feel comfortable laying 12 points with them right now? I cant. Besides, there are much better investment chances on opening weekend.
Notre Dame at Michigan, 9/12
Line: ND -3.5
There has already been quite a bit of activity surrounding this line. When the Golden Nugget in Vegas released their lines in June, it was reported that the Irish were indeed 3.5 point chalk. However when the army on onlines formally released lines several weeks later, the Irish had been moved down to 2.5 points. It was quickly bet up to 3 and tagged with a higher taxed juice at -120. The extra vig has not stopped the momentum in favor of the chalk and, as of today, the line has been bumped back up to 3.5.
All the seemingly one-sided action the public is placing with the off shores on the Irish flies in the face of the history of this series. The underdog is 20-5 ATS since the modern rivalry resumed in 1978 and has won this game outright as often as the favorite. I've talked about it many times. It is the series identity. It trumps whatever matchup breakdown you can throw out there.
I could go on and list all the times a chalk Wolverines squad got chopped at the knees by the Irish. But that would bring up way too many scars. Besides, short of a Michigan romp over WMU combined with a Nevada upset over the Irish opening week nothing will flip MIchigan into the favorite role. So lets talk about them as dogs in this series.
Notre Dame has only covered once in this series as a favorite. In 1982. I was in the fifth grade. That was a long time ago.
Notre Dame has been favored only once in the Big House and that was back in 1985. Michigan unveiled a dominant defense, crisp offense and let the football world know that day that it was back after a disatrous 6-loss campaign the year before in a 20-12 upset win. I could go for a parallel outcome next month, whadya say Fielding Yost up there in Football Vahalla?
The last two times Michigan has been catching points in this series, Remy Hamilton knocked home a game winning field goal and Yakety Sax 2006 happened.
What intrgiues me about this series is how often the winner ends up playing aruguably their best game of the season. Name me a better win by the 1998, 2002, 2004, 2005 or 2008 Irish team? How about a more clutch game than played by the 2006, 1999, or 1994 Wolverines. The thread in most of those games is the underdog springing the upset or, at the very least, keeping the final score closer than the experts thought.
I'll blindly throw a buck or two down based on the series history alone and wont lose any sleep over doing so.
Michigan at Michigan State, 10/3
Line: MSU -4
It's hard to get past a pair of technical edges when looking at this year's Michigan-Michigan State game. Neither lines up well for the Wolverines.
Michigan will be playing its first road game after four straight home contests to begin the season. Underdogs in that spot are just 12-15 ATS since 1998. That tilts away from the Wolverine's side, but only slightly and not hardly enough to stand alone as a serviceable handicapping angle.
The fact it's MIchigan's first road game is damning enough, however, to make a pick. The Wolverines first road trip of the year has been a nightmare for Michigan boosters with the program checking in with a 9-21 ATS record in their first game of the year in the other guy's stadium.
This dates back to 1979, making it a Michigan tradition as old as great flankers wearing the #1 jersey.
The Wolverines traveled to Cal that season as heavy 9-point chalk. But, Michigan played a sloppy first half, puncuated by a block punt that set the Bears up on short field for an easy touchdown. Trailing 10-0 to start the second half, Michigan finally kicked it in gear. A hit by defensive tackle Paul Girgash gave Michigan the turnover they needed to get it started. Two plays later a Stan Edwards run put the Wolverines on the board. Later in the quarter, a BJ Dickey pass to Doug Marshfield provided the go ahead score. Despite dominating the game statisically (Michigan had nine sacks and nearly twice as many yards), the Wolverines never threatened to score the spread busting points.
After listening to the game on the radio, a young Jamie Mac, while happy his team won, walked down the block to pay off the quarter bet he had made with some loudmoth Buckeye neighbor that Michigan would roll by at least double digits. His main bone of contention: Schembechler burying the cant miss, 5-star waterbug recruit Anthony Carter on the bench as AC rarely saw the field that day. From that point forward, Michigan's misery in their first road game only grew. Here are some lowlights:
- In 1981, preseason #1 MIchigan lost their season opener, on the road, to lowly Wisconsin thanks to a gazillion interceptions thrown by Steve Smith. Later that day, an infant Brian Cook helped his family paint their home pink and collect injured stray kittens from around the neighborhood.
- In 1987, Demetrious Brown tossed two gazzilon interceptions as MSU and Lorenzo White powered past MIchigan 17-11. Somewhere in southern MIchigan, toddler Dex begins chain smoking and swinging whiffle ball bats at whomever mocked his Wolverines. The seeds of an Army were sown.
- In 1993, the Spartans again stymied the heavily favored Wolverines, bottling up Tyrone Wheatley the way no other Big 10 could ever replicate and mandhanled MIchigan in a 17-7 win. This result so enraged Other Brian that he declared, on sight, a war on everything green and started by torching the grass in his parent's front yard. He has been protecting us from the Green Menace ever since.
- In 1998, the defending national champs got smoked in the second half in South Bend as touchdown chalk en route to a 38-20 loss. Magnus pink slipped quarterback Tom Brady for engineering an offense that failed in the red zone, settling for too many field goal attempts and missing a chance to blow the Irish out during the game's first 30 minutes. The quarterback who should keep his job was Drew Henson. Or Jason Kaspner.
- In 2003 Varsity Blu-er, I mean MGoTim consoled himself after the loss at Oregon by pouring over highlight films of a rising junior who was sure to be the steal of the eventual 2005 recruiting class: Johnny Sears.
I mean I could go on and on and on here. There is a plethora of epic, heartbreaking fail here.
But, no. I wont. Instead, I come bearing news of a loophole that could lead us around this historical landmine. Like most of the games in this diary, the Wolverines are an underdog. That's important when looking deeper into these otherwise woeful numbers. When catching points in their first road game of the year, Michigan is 7-2 against the spread, with four "upset" wins and a tie straight up.
Think about that for a second. In all games, Michigan's historic success rate in the role of first road game is less than 33 percent. However, in this specific role as a dog, their success rate shoots up to 87 percent. I'd say those are intrguing numbers.
Penn State at Michigan, 10/24
Line: Penn State -5
The winner of this game has also covered the spread in 12 of the 14 all-time meetings between these teams since the Nittany Lions joined the Big 10. Sometimes its as easy as picking the winner. No problem, right?
The only two times the winning team also failed to get the cash also provided a pair of memorable Michigan Stadium moments: Michigan's overtime win by 3 in 2002 as four point favorites and the inimitable Manningham catch puncuating the 2005 27-25 win. Hard to believe, but the Wolverines were field goal chalk against the unbeaten Lions that afternoon.
I'd like to think Michigan can win this game. We'll know by October if our dreams of an improved season are materializing and whether or not Michigan has the chops to compete here. One thing I will say is that I am not 100 percent sold on Penn State. They are very talented in spots. But they have some holes that also raise eyebrows. They're rebuilding their entire secondary. They're replacing a lot of talent of the offensive line. Daryl Clark still has not made a big throw in a moment of truth spot. I'm not that sold on Clark as a great QB, and with all his targets gone from last year he will see more of the passing game burden fall on his ability to deliver the right ball. Yeah, they can be exposed by good teams. But is Michigan a good team?
Real quickly about those receivers: I generally dont get too swayed on a team's chances based on skill players returning or leaving. But, I cant shake that this will be a big problem for Penn State. They're replacing a trio of wideouts who have finished 1-2-3 in receiving stats for the team all four years they were on the team. That's going to hard to replace this season merely by dipping down on the depth chart.
The biggest blow is Derek Williams, who caught, ran and passed the ball out of multitude of formations. He was as important to PSU's run last year as Michael Robinson was in 2005 and we all saw how inconsistent the Lions were for a couple of seasons without him. The Spread HD was all the rave last season with Clark at QB instead of Anthony Morelli, but I dont think Jay Pa and Galen Hall will know how to call plays as effectively without Williams to lean on. Just epinion.
Michigan at Illinois, 10/31
Line: Illinois -7
A year after Illinois stabbed dagger-in-the-heart play into our hearts one after the other and thumped Michigan to the tune of 45 points, its probably hard to conjure up images of a Michigan win here. But was last year really that much of a blowout?
What happens if Threet and Odoms connect on a wide open pass over the middle in the closing minute of the first half? That's a touchdown and Michigan lead of three going into the half. Instead the connection achingly was off target with another. Or, after Illinois had forged a 10-point lead in the second half, a deep sideline pass to Savoy had connected? Michigan always could connect on those when the chips are on the table. But, on that play, Savoy was so overmatched against Vontae Davis he had no chance to catch the ball, which was thrown so poorly it probably would not have helped had Savoy even been able to get open.
What does all this excuse making mean? If Michigan's offense takes the steps forward many readers of this blog expect, then the Wolverines should be able to do damage against the Illini. They came sneakingly close to going point for point with them in last season's otherwise decisive Illini win. The question is can they keep up all four quarters? Can the defense get enough stops to help the cause? With a lot of fireworks expected in this one, a touchdown head start could come in handy.
Michigan at Wisconsin, 11/14
Line: Wisco -3.5
The home team has won five straight games in this series. That's bad news for Michigan. The underdog has covered at a 6-1-1 clip with five meetings decided by five or less points. That's good news for Michigan.
What's better news for Michigan? Brett Bielema remains the coach for the Badgers.
If Michigan needs the Badgers to forget who their best tailback weapon is, Bielema will be there for them. If Michigan needs the Badgers to fail on third and short by getting too cute with the playcalling, Bielema will be there for them. If Michigan needs extra prep for a field goal at the end of the clock, Bielema will be there to call timeout. If Michigan needs the running game to start working, Bielema will be there with ridiculously wide gapped defensive fronts.
He will be All In for Michigan.
The problem may be the calendar. This game is in early November. That should give Bielema enough time to figure out that Curt Philips is his best bet at QB. Not to mention enough time for Jonathon Clay to become enough of a star that Bielema wont be able to lose him on the bench like he did last year.
Nevertheless, this has become one of the more dramatic series in the Big 10 this decade with three games decided in the final minute, two others by less than five and a sixth by just a touchdown. No reason the trend of tight games with the Badgers will stop. The more points the better in games like that.
Ohio State at Michigan, 11/21
Line: OSU -7
Ah, the big one. After spending the better part of TWENTY YEARS owning this series, Michigan has seen the roles reversed in this rivalry and have been the nail since 2004 with five losses in a row. I refuse to insult you with a pep talk about how we are Michigan and never count us out, especially in a big rivalry. That's rah-rah stuff and wont mean a hill of beans if the 2009 Wolverines dont take the steps forward many are counting on.
Instead, I will repeat the same type of expectations I have for this game as I did last year. If you recall, last summer Michigan opened up as a 14-point underdog. All I had hoped for is that Michigan play well enough during the season to see that line decrease and maybe shrink to single digits by game week. Of course, the complete oppositie happened. The season did not go well. D'uh. By game week, the Bucks were laying three touchdowns instead of just two.
I have the same hopes and feelings here. Hopefully Michigan will play well enough in the upcoming months to see this line get shaved a point or two down. Or how about a little wishful thinking and get it down to just a field goal. What would make that happen? Well, a Michigan team entering the contest with 7-9 wins might do it. I guess so to would a Buckeye team with four losses or so. I wont lie, both those outcomes I would accept. The latter would quiet a lot of locals around my scarlet and gray neighborhood here behind enemy lines.
So, rather than breaking down what might be a matchup mismatch on paper, I'll just lean on the hopes that Michigan improves enough this year to make this spot smaller. Michgian Football 2009: Where We Hope To Play Well Enough To Get Better Oddsmaker Respect By November. Can you feel the excitement? Alright maybe its not as thirlling as 'All In' but its what I'm sticking to.
We'll see what happens. Until then, enjoy the games.
Diarist Note: For more insights on all things college football and hoops related with some NFL thrown in, make sure to visit my new e-blog: justcoverblog.com. I've been sporadic at posting this summer at the start, but will be revving up with daily posts in the next few days. There will loads of content and a few gambling rants once the season begins.