Betting against the public or “fading the public” is the most time-honored sports gambling advice of the last century.
We’re almost a score of years into the new millennium now, though, and perhaps it’s time for an update of the old maxim. Wagering against the public still works. But an even better angle might be to bet against the media.
Much like cable news, everyday sports media is now controlled by a handful of big-moneyed interests which may or may not hold fairness and even-handed punditry as its abiding principle in all situations.
For instance, “futures” speculators have grown all-too-familiar with NFL Network analysts touting the Dallas Cowboys as the best roster in the NFC year after year after year – all to promote a cash-cow franchise which has not won a Super Bowl in going-on 3 decades now. Ordinary fans may feel perpetually duped or simply annoyed by the network’s lazy punditry, but bettors ought to be grateful – it helps lead to longer preseason lines on the New England Patriots and others with a better chance to win the Lombardi Trophy.
ESPN had some embarrassingly-dumb things to say about SEC football after LSU’s impressive road defeat of Alabama last Saturday. Namely, Stephen A. Smith’s ridiculous statement that LSU was “lucky” to have bested the Crimson Tide. Who was he kidding? Louisiana State ran-up a 3-touchdown lead during the game. Alabama – for all its immense size, strength, and talent – was lucky to have a chance in the final frame.
Ed Orgeron’s Tigers deserve a #1 ranking after whipping an annual College Football Playoff contender. It’s not like anyone in Las Vegas is taking ESPN seriously when its commentators say that the outcome was a fluke. But thanks to the Heisman hype around LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, there is a perception that Louisiana State is not the bruising, conservative unit of years past but rather a wide-open team that must out-score its conference opponents en-route to the SEC Championship Game.
That could be a misconception. Especially after a huge, emotional Top 5 win like LSU’s triumph in Tuscaloosa, it might be time for a good old hard-nosed, low-scoring SEC scrum when the Tigers visit the Ole Miss Rebels this weekend.
Don’t tell that to a gambling public which has pushed the Over/Under total all the way up to (65) headed into Saturday evening.
Here’s a handicapper’s look at the match-up in Mississippi (on scroll) plus a few other chronological picks to keep the action warm before and after the kickoff in Oxford.
Kansas Jayhawks at Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mama, don’t let your babies grow up…to play defense? Mike Gundy’s defense in Stillwater has always struck me as a PlayStation unit with the “rookie” or “semi-pro” setting turned on. They look the part. There’s a lot of size and speed and usually an NFL prospect or 2 in the mix at linebacker or safety. But they sure give up a lot of points, consistently.
It doesn’t help that the OSU program’s NASCAR-style offense is designed to score as quickly as possible without regard to the D’s stamina. But as the Over/Under total for Oklahoma State vs Kansas this Saturday afternoon rises to a healthy (68) points (surprise, surprise) the point spread has expanded with it – to KU (+17.5).
Cowboys may be 7-2 ATS in 2019, but that trend’s a little deceiving. OK State hasn’t pulled-away from an underdog substantially since beating Tulsa by 19 back in September. The offense isn’t as much of racecar with cool, calm Spencer Saunders at the helm, and moreover Kansas presents new challenges under the tutelage of Les Miles.
Last week’s rivalry-game loss to KSU was a disappointment, but the Jayhawks have beaten a similar Texas Tech program and only lost to WVU and Texas by a combined 7 points.
Pick: Kansas ATS
Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Fighting Irish
At a glance, the line-movement for this afternoon rivalry clash in South Bend is logical. Navy (+7) and Notre Dame don’t really play “home and home” series in the sense that each side fills up tons of seats with cheering fans and academy students. Navy has the best chance of any modern service-academy team to go to the New Year’s Six in 2019, sporting a blitzing defense and a grease-lightning runner at QB named Malcolm Perry. When Tulane scored on a late 4th-quarter drive to tie the Midshipmen 38-38 a few weeks ago, Perry simply carried the ball 5 times for 40+ yards and got it in position for excellent frosh PK Bijan Nichols to notch a winner.
Navy opened (+10) and the line has tightened to a TD + XP margin while the Over/Under total has dropped to (54) points for what should be a frigid outdoor contest.
However, the fact that the Mids know this is their best chance to surpass Appalachian State in the rankings and earn a New Year’s bid – pending of course a victory in a potential AAC Championship Game appearance – could help UND cover. Navy will be prepared to lay it all on the line, and Notre Dame could surpass (-7) thanks to a desperate final few minutes in which the visitors may turn the ball over trying to catch up.
I’m warming to the underdog moneyline (+240) and will be cheering for Navy to win, not out of dislike for Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish but because an academy that turns into a national powerhouse would be great for the sport of college football.
Still, Notre Dame is a high-% pick-to-cover on the new point spread…and the likelihood of a 27-20 final score or another 7-point margin and a “push” is a nice safety latch.
Pick: Notre Dame ATS
LSU Tigers at Ole Miss Rebels
The plain truth about last Saturday’s “upset” at Bryant-Denny Stadium is that ‘Bama played ordinary defense for an SEC contender, and LSU took advantage like a well-coached team should be able to. The Tigers’ biggest asset was Orgeron, who did not allow the visitors to feel intimidated in the slightest.
LSU’s skipper is also now confirmed to be a genetic human-crocodile hybrid, as evidenced in the postgame interview:
Coach O interviews always incredible pic.twitter.com/jTfuHUR1gR
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) November 10, 2019
The effects of Orgeron’s leadership can be spotted in Louisiana State DE Rashard Lawrence’s words to his team and the media following the clash in Tuscaloosa – “back to reality.”
In this particular case, “reality” involves a Saturday evening road game in Oxford against 9-to-1 underdog Ole Miss.
Burrow is the type of QB who only thrives when his supporting cast is excellent, but when things are going well all around him, he’s indeed capable of the type of elite pocket-presence and accuracy that Baton Rouge fans have long-hoped for at the position.
The only opponent to have slowed the LSU scoring barrage in 2019 is the Auburn Tigers, but a look at the stat sheet indicates that Louisiana State’s 23-20 victory was something of a deceptive final score. You can blame the top-ranked team for blunders and for failure to take advantage of its chances at the end zone, but LSU outgained visiting Auburn almost 2-to-1. None of the hosts’ running backs averaged under 6 yards per carry.
Has Ole Miss done anything on defense to compare with Auburn? Ironically, the Rebels contained Auburn for most of a 20-14 loss 2 weeks ago. It was the 2nd of 3 games in a row which can be considered above-average defensive performances for Mississippi. But the offense hasn’t been getting it done under pressure, only doing enough to beat New Mexico State while failing to out-score the Texas A&M Aggies or the War Eagle.
Still, the Rebels’ worst struggles came in late summer and early fall. Memphis and California beat Ole Miss 15-10 and 28-20 respectively in OOC games, putting Mississippi behind the 8-ball in the race to get to a bowl. Despite losing 4 of the team’s last 6 contests, Ole Miss has not played like a 4-6 squad through an arduous conference slate.
The Over/Under total for LSU-at-Ole Miss is rising slightly, which may reflect injury issues on defense for both sides. However the gamblers taking “Over” (65) might be overlooking the physical toll of 9 games on Burrow’s blockers.
24/7 Sports reports that starting right tackle Austin Deculus “would be listed as “doubtful” to play against the Rebels. Deculus went down with an injury multiple times in the win over the Tide. Meanwhile, starting left tackle Saahdiq Charles appears to also be out for the game, though not with injury. Orgeron also confirmed that backup left tackle Dare Rosenthal would not see action against the Rebels.”
“Back to reality” is right. LSU is going on the road to play a desperate team for which 1 more loss equals a likely absence from the postseason. Mississippi likely won’t win, but the Rebs can play a little defense – and handicappers are forgetting that QB play is a continuum.
Burrow’s shining hour has helped gamblers forget that he’s not a miracle-man and will probably eat the ball if Ole Miss gets around the edge thanks to a noisy crowd.
USC Trojans at California Golden Bears
There have been unfortunate Twitter threads dedicated to shaming Hawaii-vs-visitor “bailout” gamblers in 2019, with ‘cappers making remarks like “you know it’s bad when you’re chasing at midnight and have to bet a Hawaii home game.”
That’s anti-Group-of-5 prejudice (and a healthy dose of ignorance) at work. You don’t have to be losing money to watch or gamble on the Rainbow Warriors, an exciting and unique FBS program. I’ve “chased” winning streaks with an extra “redeye” wager on UH.
But there won’t be any such blather about Week 12’s “bailout” kickoff, an 11 PM EST contest between the Cal Golden Bears (+200) and the visiting USC Trojans. Speculators will wager on the game much as they would any marquee Pac-12 meeting, except that units will be metered-out carefully (or recklessly) based on how Saturday bets have played-out.
No one will find an easy angle for a pick, at least not based on this season’s outcomes. USC is 6-4 and California is 5-4. The Trojans have beaten Stanford and Fresno State and are slated to play UCLA on November 23rd while the Golden Bears also meet Chip Kelly’s charges and then Stanford (in The Big Game) late in the season, so each program in the late-night battle is still eligible to become a Golden State champion.
USC is 5-5 against the point spread and Cal is 4-5 against the point spread. Each team has rebounded from a lopsided loss to prevail in its most recent outing, with USC’s Kedon Slovis passing for 400+ yards and 4 touchdowns vs Arizona State and Cal’s running game controlling the rock in a 33-20 victory over Washington State.
There’s 1 statistic that stands out – California has only beaten Southern Cal once in the current decade. That’s deceiving in its own way though – the Golden Bears beat the Trojans 15-14 in 2018, so a losing streak has been snapped and host-upperclassmen won’t lack confidence even if the guests take an early lead.
It’s understandable that Las Vegas is favoring the bigger name-brand program in USC. But is media-hype once again at fault for a mispriced moneyline?
Cal’s defense held Oregon to 17 points in Eugene. The inexperienced Slovis isn’t comparable to Justin Herbert at this time…and USC gave up 56 points to the Ducks earlier in November.
Pick: California to win
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.