Handicapping college football isn’t easy. There’s no shortcut to picking winners consistently, let’s not delude ourselves here. Factoring in travel, rivalries, situations, and biases frequently can leave everyone scratching their head the exact same way you would after a blackout experience: Umm, how did I get here and when did things go so wrong?
For those betting seriously or just following the pointspread to see what experts think, understand that every line tells a story. No, that story isn’t just team A is better than team B instead it’s home field, match-ups, and public perception. Sure, I’ll piss people off throughout the SEC conference schedule picking against their favorite schools so better to get used to it now as we continue talking to the sharpest folks in the industry getting opinions from big time decision makers, not the drunk frat guy whose 40 Natty Ices deep by kickoff calling his bookie to bet tuition on the Arkansas moneyline against ULM (too soon Razorback fans?)
There’s no debating which games that will score the highest betting handle (handle is a fancy industry term for amount wagered on a game) because volume mirrors the major network television schedule. Simply put, people like to see their money in action rather than tracking Sun Belt scores on their iphone while spending Saturday shopping for drapes.
“The games we expect to see the most action are USC-Stanford and Michigan St- Notre Dame. Not only because they are big teams, but more importantly nationally televised primetime games,” Dave Mason told us.
I was slightly surprised that UT vs UF didn’t crack the list. However, its worth noting neither team is ranked in the top 10 and quite frankly the Volunteers haven’t played in a game with national implications since Derek Dooley took the reigns. This game opened up at pk (meaning the bettor just needed to pick a winner without pts) and has since surged all the way to UT -3. Let’s just say the people betting Tennessee aren’t the blue haired boosters you see at the bingo hall on fish fry Friday nights. I’ll side with the guys carrying satchels of cash so I can high five Smokey at the window.
The Pick: Volunteers 31-17
Obviously the next question people ask is what makes for sharp money? No, it’s not money with jagged corners (yes, I was an oddsmaker not a comedian so let the tomato throwing ensue) it’s the mathematicians, econometric gurus, and number crunchers using years of statistical analysis to arrive at what most perceive a 50/50 proposition in sports betting. The world’s best bettors are no longer hiding in dark alleys away from the public eye but rather walking among us trying to find the edge in a market generally perceived as highly efficient. Clearly my experience in an industry that can intimidate even the most diehard sports fans gives me a different perspective on things. I’m not crying fix every time a 19 year old drops a ball or an official blows an obvious holding call, they’re all part of the game. Knowing the gold standard for handicapping is 60% while most seasoned gamblers strive for 55% to turn a profit just goes to show how difficult long term profitability can be to achieve.
“Sharpest moves of the weekend came in on Purdue, Florida St, Ole Miss, and SMU. The public, as we anticipated is betting USC and Virginia Tech, again this weekend.”
Dave Mason knows this game better than anyone and the public betting patterns don’t change year over year. The public seeks to fade the perceived doormats and bet on the teams with those fancy alphanumerics next to their name. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to understand why bettors fire more when marquee games are on the board or why their betting behavior changes on weekends closer to the 1st or 15th of the month.
The Pick: SMU and Texas A&M O60
“Week 1’s matchup between Michigan and Alabama was huge, nothing really came close last weekend. This weekend though a couple games should see that type of action,” Nothing Mason says here should shock any of us. There’s a reason books root against the top 10 every week and when those teams all happen to cover on the same Saturday it creates a storm no oddsmaker wants to report to his superiors. If I had a dollar every time a bettor told me his/her goal was to bet the better team I’d be a rich man. There’s a reason you can’t blindly approach the weekend throwing darts if the goal is to walk away with more money in your pocket than was there when the day started.
The Pick: Notre Dame and Michigan St U44
More importantly though, and not to get away from the college game, we had to ask Mason how he felt about replacement officials, specifically if the perception is they’ll impact games negatively going forward.
“No I don’t think so, not yet anyways. Perhaps we might see it in the future. Say for instance a couple overs cover due to horrible calls; I imagine you might see some people think that overs are a good bet due to the replacement refs, but I’m not buying into any of that at all. The bad calls will all even out in the end; half the time it will help the player and half the time it will help the book.”
Think of it this way as per Mason, “Kind of similar to when you are playing blackjack next to someone that doesn’t know the first thing about basic strategy. Sure the guy will screw the table over by hitting on 14 when the dealer is showing a six but his bad play will also help the table too. All evens out in the end. The bettors just notice when you get screwed more rather than when you luck out. I’m still crying over my personal Pacquiao by decision “loss” over Bradley; but in reality I know the house lucked out when we cashed our Pacquiao by decision “winner” versus Marquez earlier this year. Sports betting has a way of everything evening out.”
Let’s just say a man whose been in the business a hell of a lot longer than myself can offer an analogy you won’t find anywhere else. Besides, my days right now aren’t spent sweating each irrelevant game between NC State and South Alabama, its about bringing home my own investments every weekend and helping you make a few extra bucks to upgrade that keg of Natural Light to a fine domestic beer like Bud Heavy.
College Best Bet: Miami OH +21 NFL Best Bet: Eagles -2