Season win total bets are inherently biased just in their name alone. Vegas wants you to think about how many games a team can win, and then boosts the totals toward that side.
In college football, with non-conference games and teams playing Division I-AA schools, there’s no way to show the bias. But looking at the NFL totals shows the bias. The average win total for every NFL team is 8.17. Last I knew, the average has to be eight. So if you bet every NFL team Over, you’ll probably go 15-17.
With that knowledge, why sweat your favorite team winning every week when you can root against your most hated opponent each week? Besides, a team rarely improves from their pre-season expectations with guys coming out of the blue to have magical years. More often, a team nose-dives because of injuries. Finally, when you’re betting a team to go Over eight or nine wins, there’s not many spots to recover from an upset loss. “Recovering” from an upset win, however, is easier when you’re looking at a bad team to begin with. So let’s find some season-long bargains.
Arizona State U7.5 -115
Projected Wins (6): Weber State, @ New Mexico, @ Colorado, Utah, Notre Dame, Washington State
Projected Losses (6): UCLA, @USC, Stanford, @ Washington, @ Oregon State, @ Arizona
The may start the season 3-0, but the next four games are UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington. Suddenly the Wildcats could be looking at 3-4 and needing to win their last five games to screw you. Notre Dame isn’t an easy win, even at home, and they’d need to win at Oregon State and in-state rival Arizona.
Boston College U4.5 -105
Projected Wins (3): @ UMass, Maine, @ Wake Forest
Projected Losses (9): Pittsburgh, USC, Colorado State, @ NC State, Clemson, @ Va Tech, Louisville, @ Florida State, Syracuse
The Eagles return only nine starters and look to be sluggish to start, which is why I count Pittsburgh and Colorado State as losses. Look at the projected losses and tell me where they pick up wins. Pittsburgh (which I’ll talk about later), Colorado State and Syracuse are the best options. And they need to win two of those. Going to Wake Forest won’t be easy either.
Vanderbilt U5.5 -115
Projected Wins (4): Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern, Old Dominion
Projected Losses (8): Ole Miss, South Carolina, @ Kentucky, @ Georgia, @ Missouri, Florida, @ Miss State, Tennessee
The slipper doesn’t fit any more. James Franklin was a miracle worker at the typical SEC cellar-dweller, but he’s gone. So is QB Austyn Carta-Samuels and his top two receivers. Only 10 starters return. It’s difficult to find wins at home, so they probably need to beat Kentucky on the road and then find a win at Missouri or Mississippi State.
Minnesota U6 +125
Projected Wins (4): Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, San Jose State, Purdue
Projected Losses (8): @ TCU, @ Michigan, Northwestern, @ Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, @ Nebraska, @ Wisconsin
The Gophers must get off to a good start, and they could be 3-1 heading into conference play. But if they don’t have that sixth win before November, it’s not happening. They close the season with Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. They need wins at Illinois and a huge upset (maybe hosting Northwestern?) just to push this bet. You can get U6.5 at -135, but I think Under 6 is safe.
Iowa O8.5 -115
Projected Wins (10): Northern Iowa, Ball State, Iowa State, @ Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, @ Minnesota, @ Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska
Projected Losses (2): @Pittsburgh, @ Maryland
Here’s a team that I think could run the table if things break the right way. The two losses, on the road, could become wins. The rest of the road schedule is manageable. Kirk Ferentz always over-achieves with Iowa, scratching out wins with a solid ground game and a stout defense. Be wary, however, as everyone likes this bet. It started at +115 and dropped to -115. At 8.5, there’s room for an upset loss, but betting nine and having to win 10 could be tight.
Pittsburgh O7.5 +120
Projected Wins (9): Delaware, @ Boston College, @ Fla International, Iowa, Akron, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke, Syracuse
Projected Losses (3): @ Virginia, @ North Carolina, @ Miami, FL
I’m wary of this one. Pitt screwed me a couple times last year, but I swear I saw good things in the team. One is sophomore RB James Conner, who could have a breakout season with four returnees on the offensive line. I’ve already projected three road losses, so if they trip up it has to be at home. The Iowa game could become a loss. But I think Va Tech and Duke are due for down seasons. Plus, you have to like +120 if you win.
College football is perhaps the best place to bet futures, as you only hand over your money for a little over three months, from late August to mid-December. (Another month if you’re betting on the national title, as we will here.) This year, with four teams guaranteed a shot at the FBS National Championship, we have the most wide-open season in years and potentially the best chance to make future money. Find some loose change and take a shot at getting an early Christmas present from your man.
Ohio State +1150, Oklahoma +1200, Georgia +2000, UCLA +2500
For the first time, four teams a committee will pick four teams to continue into a playoff for the national title. With five main conferences and probable mounting pressure to not pick two SEC teams, I think we’ll see the winners of the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big 10 working to get the committee’s attention. The SEC winner is definitely in, as is the Pac-12 champ and Florida State, if they win the ACC. Oklahoma has a great shot at running the table, which should get them in.
Ohio State may need to run the table to get in. It is possible. In a restructured Big 10, they will probably be unbeaten when they play at Michigan State November 8. Win there and they are 12-0 going into the Big 10 title game.
In the SEC, the West is loaded with Alabama, Auburn, LSU and darkhorse Mississippi (mainly because of its cushy schedule). In the East, Georgia can’t have as unfortunate season as they did last year. They play at South Carolina, but off a bye and early (September 13). They also avoid Bama and LSU, and host Auburn. In a league where a lot of teams will count on defense, the Bulldogs have the best offense.
The Pac-12 is loaded with UCLA and USC in the South and Oregon and Stanford in the North. It’s hard to see any Pac-12 team going unbeaten, but UCLA has the best shot. They host Oregon, USC and Stanford, and the toughest road game is at Washington. However, the season could be over on September 13 if they lose in Arlington to Texas. If they do, watch for a freefall.
Oklahoma must go unbeaten to get into the playoff, but can do just that. We’ll know if they have a shot after the Sooners travel to TCU October 4 and follow up a week later with the Red River Shootout. Should Texas beat UCLA, the Shootout could feature two unbeaten teams.
North Carolina/ACC +1600, Iowa/Big 10 +1300, Georgia/SEC +700
I already talked about Georgia and the SEC. North Carolina is the probable opponent for an unbeaten Florida State. The Seminoles are priced too low (+500) to bet as a national title contender. If they get to the four-team playoff, you can probably bet them then at +200 three months from now. The Tar Heels have underachieved for years (psst, don’t tell Mikey). But after rattling off five wins in a row at the end of 2013 before losing to Duke, then rebounding against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, I think this is their year. Marquise Williams was the key. With a year under his belt he should be the second best QB in the ACC. Defense is the Tar Heels key, and the D-line needs to mature quickly. Knowing a spot in the playoff could await them with a win, the ACC title now means more to an underdog than just an Orange Bowl bid.
Iowa could be the real darkhorse this season. They miss Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan from the East, and get all the heavy hitters in November. There is a real possibility of seeing two 7-0 teams when the Hawkeyes host Northwestern November 1. If Iowa wins there, they travel to patsies Minnesota and Illinois, then finish the season hosting Wisconsin and Nebraska. Even if Iowa isn’t unbeaten at the end of the season, they may have more inspiration to win the Big 10 title than if the Buckeyes (or Michigan State) have a loss on their record.
Next week I’ll look at season win totals. Unlike this set of picks where we’re trying to find winners, betting season win totals often means finding teams that will disappoint and betting Unders.
Don’t fall in love with a team. Just rent them for three hours.
The Old Man
It’s never too early to start picking games.
Las Vegas posted the Week 1 lines a couple weeks now, but I still think they’ll move quite a bit between now and the last weekend of August. So if you’re a short trip from Nevada, choose to risk the online books or have a local on the street corner (not that we recommend gambling—ever!), here’s some games I think I want to take now before the lines get stale. (See the end of this article for a complete list.)
Mississippi -3 @ Vanderbilt (August 29)
Fairly fresh in the minds of Mississippi is a November 10 defeat in which the Commodores drove 79 yards and scored the winning TD with 52 seconds left. Second-year coach Hugh Freeze will use that to fuel his 19 returning starters. Giving up points on a road opener is tough, but I like that it’s only a field goal. No way would I lay 3.5.
Fresno State -10 vs. Rutgers (August 29)
Rutgers travels west for a 7 p.m. Vegas Time start. That’s worth a field goal more than home field right there. Toss in Fresno’s 16 returning starters, including third-year senior QB Derek Carr (below) and 1,300-yard sophomore receiver Davante Adams. Add a crowd that has nothing better to do in Fresno but drink all day to prepare for the game, and 10 points is a gift. ESPN U has the game, and it’s worth staying up late. Beware, Rutgers junior QB Gary Nova is on the other side of the field and no slouch himself. It’s going to be a long night with a ton of scoring. Don’t be shocked if you see a total near 80. Anything under 72? Grab it!
USC -22 @ Hawaii (August 29)
I don’t recommend betting this game, but list it here for one reason. There is nothing better than watching a degenerate gambler on a losing streak trying to get everything back on the final game of the night. CBS Sports has the coverage.
NC State -14 vs. Louisiana Tech (August 31)
Two first-year coaches with minimal returning starters (NC State has 10; La Tech has seven), but the Wolfpack have the advantage of bowl practices under their current coach. Dave Doeren prepared for 2013 during the run up to a 38-24 Music City Bowl loss to Vanderbilt. La Tech, meanwhile, turned down a Liberty Bowl berth, wound up without a dance partner, and then Sonny Dykes skipped town. This is another where the number is at a peak, and I wouldn’t lay half a point more.
Virginia +3.5 vs. BYU (August 31)
Before each season, I go through every teams schedule and predict wins and losses for every game. When I did that about three weeks ago, I made Virginia the winner of this matchup. I’m rather surprised I’m getting points, especially the hook, at home. The Cavaliers have 16 starters returning, including four on the offensive line. To steal data from Phil Steele, last year they were -14 in turnovers and suffered two net close losses, which means their 4-8 record is partially due to circumstances that rarely repeat. BYU will be a strong team, but sophomore QB Taysom Hill is less than a year removed from a torn ACL and the defense returns just four starters. BYU will be the better team at the end of the year, but at this point, the Cavaliers can grab this win.
Washington State +15.5 vs. Auburn (August 31)
The Cougars are in their second year with Mike Leach. The system is more refined, the offense clicks better, and Leach has his own players. I’m taking the chance that redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca (Leach’s guy) will be the starting QB over Conner Halliday, who was less than impressive in 2012 when Jeff Tuel was hurt. Gus Malzahn returning to Auburn scares me, but 15.5 points and Mike Leach screams backdoor cover.
Northwestern -5.5 @ California (August 31)
Poor Sonny Dykes was left with a bare cupboard. Redshirt freshman (and not DYKES’ redshirt freshman, like Leach, above) Zach Kline will probably start at QB, and there’s only 11 starters returning from a team that went 3-9 and allowed 49, 21, 59 and 62 points in their last four games. Northwestern has 15 returning starters and needs to rack up wins early to be bowl eligible. The need to be 4-0 before they hit Ohio State and Wisconsin on back-to-back weeks. Don’t be surprised if this is -7.5 once money starts moving.
Ohio State +625, Texas +3500 to win National Title
Mikey, the marketing guy of our tandem, is probably going to scream at me for giving this out before the conference preview shows. But I’ll put a unit on Ohio State and half a unit on Texas to win the national title. As I said on this week’s show, I don’t know when Alabama will slip up—and I have a hard time seeing it—but I think at least one of these teams finishes the season unbeaten. If the voters and the computers don’t give them a chance to play for the title, so be it.
If somehow you missed the Sixth Year Seniors season-opener, click here.
Here’s the complete set of lines for the first week of games, and the National Title odds for teams 100-1 and less. (Note: Texas A&M is not listed due to Johnny Manziel's eligibility questions.)
One of the hardest things NBA teams have to do is determine how a college player’s game will translate to the professional level. For every sure thing like Michael Jordan, there is a Sam Bowie. For every guy who breaks the mold—Charles Barkley suddenly lost two inches when he left Auburn yet still was an undersized rebounding monster—there are perfect specimens who never come close to expectations.
With the NBA draft coming this Thursday, which college players from the Class of 2013 will become the expected superstar, the biggest bust or the shocking surprise? A lot depends on the team they go to, but here’s my take on the top players and deep sleepers in this year’s draft.
THE TOP GUYS
Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky The draft’s “obvious” first pick, but he comes with a ton of baggage. First, he has a wrecked knee that won’t be healed until December. Second, he just turned 19 years old. Third, he’s had trouble staying academically eligible, which to me says he’s either dumb or unmotivated. Put all those together, and you have trouble.
Cleveland has the first pick, and if I were them, I’d trade the pick. The question is whether anyone wants to pay the price Noel is supposedly worth. Regardless, bringing a 19-year-old kid into an adult atmosphere where he can’t do the only thing he’s good at, and that just screams for him to get in trouble.
When Noel was first injured, I immediately said he should have spent another year in school, take some classes and learn something about life. Instead, he’ll be a kid lost in an adult world. Finally, even if he comes back healthy, he may not have the body (at 6-11, 206 pounds, he’s a taller version of Shaun Livingston) or motivation to be the defensive presence expected from him.
Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas Here’s the guy I’d take as the first pick in the draft. At 6-foot-5, he’s perfectly sized for an NBA shooting guard. He has NBA three-point range and he can create his own shot (so important going from college to the pros—ask Adam Morrison), yet he’s also proven he can see teammates in the flow of the offense (averaging 2.0 assists as the team’s leading scorer). I can see him coming into the NBA like Damien Lillard did last year with Portland and be a big contender for Rookie of the Year.
Alex Len, C, Maryland If Cleveland is set on getting a big man, this is the guy. Compare him to Noel, and he’s two inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. Yet he runs the court well while being a massive defensive presence. Frankly, I think he’s a better player than Noel right now, and the only thing Noel has on him is “potential.” But “potential” only happens if the player wants to improve. I’d love to have Len as my third or fourth option on offense, be a stopped on defense, block out and rebound. He could become Alonzo Mourning.
Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown Suddenly Porter is the hot player in the draft. I’ve seen him going as high as #3, behind Noel and McLemore. He’s an incredible athlete with a long wingspan, but he’s another scorer who can’t shoot. He’ll be a good sixth man, but will probably be drafted by a team who needs him to start.
Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV Here’s another guy who’s leaping up draft boards, anywhere from #3 to #8. Everyone, take a deep breath and wake up. He’s Anthony Bennett! He’s a freshman! He’s made his name by being a physical monster. That won’t happen in the NBA. When he runs into guys his size, his lack of basketball fundamentals will hurt him. Yes, he could continue to improve (the dreaded word “potential”), or he could have topped out. Here’s a guy who’s probably made a good move by entering the NBA draft before scouts realize he’s not getting any better.
GREAT COLLEGE PLAYERS, BUT…
Trey Burke, PG, Michigan I am a huge fan of Trey Burke, college player. But I’m not sure his game translates to the NBA. He’s only 6-foot-1, doesn’t have a three-point shot (only 38 percent last season) and isn’t a great defensive player. He’s a winner, which could make up for some of that. I just don’t think he’s a starting point guard. He’s Golden State’s backup PG Jarrett Jack—a winner you want at the end of the game as long as you have talent around him. You can get Isaiah Canaan of Murray State in the second round and get the same guy.
Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA Let’s forget his off-court troubles at UCLA. Hell, let’s forget the on-court troubles (“Screw you, Larry Drew, for winning the game. I wanted the ball.”). At 6-6 he’s not tall enough to be a small forward and not able to get his own shot at shooting guard. He’s not a good dribbler and a Black Hole as a passer. When he doesn’t get the ball, he pouts. In the NBA, he’ll be a cancer on the bench when he doesn’t get minutes. At best, he’s a poor man’s Corey Maggette. Hope your team’s rival drafts him.
Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana I’m not sure why he declared for the draft. At best, he had half a season worth talking about. I think his ascendance was more due to Cody Zeller’s decent. He’s another college scorer who actually can’t shoot, and that will show in the pros. He’d be Player of the Year if he stayed in college for his senior year. Instead, he’ll be stranded on the bench of a good team or scoring 12 points a game on less than 40 percent shooting for a team that wins 20 games.
Cody Zeller, C, Indiana Zeller went from preseason Player of the Year to a guy who underperformed in the NCAA tournament. He averaged 44 percent shooting, 12.3 ppg, 6.3 rebounds and 3.7 turnovers when it mattered. I question his court IQ—I’ll always remember him getting lost on the backdoor cut that allowed Butler to beat Indiana. But he is 7-foot and athletic, and if he lands with a team who only needs him to be an energy guy, he’ll be OK.
Kelly Olynyk, PF, Gonzaga Because of the connection to Gonzaga, many people think he’ll run the same course as Adam Morrison. Hey, not every Duke guy becomes JJ Reddick! Olynyk is for real as a 7-footer who can play power forward. I’d compare him to a poor-man’s Tim Duncan. Yes, he can be that good. And being drafted in the middle of the first round, I can see him not being forced into the starting lineup.
Tony Mitchell, SF/PF, North Texas He’s 6-foot-9 and doesn’t really have an NBA position, but considering you can get him late in the first round or early in the second, he’s worth a shot. Mitchell is a solid defender, which you don’t see a lot coming out of college. You can teach a player how to play offense, but defense is about motivation. This guy could be a larger Charles Barkley or a saner Dennis Rodman.
GUYS WHO WERE SMART
Marcus Smart, SG, Oklahoma State
Russ Smith, SG/SF, Louisville
Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Joe Jackson, PG, Memphis
Spencer Dinwiddie, SG, Colorado
For the first time in many years, a number of high-end college players declared and then backed out of the draft. Congratulations to these guys for seeing the big picture, taking another year of college and realizing the pro money will be there in 2014. Looking forward to watching you this winter!