Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's a beautiful day (for gambling)

There are a few dates each spring and summer that serve as milestones, reminding us that college football season is getting just a little bit closer. Tuesday was one of those days.

Several sports betting sites (,, etc.) posted their lines for team win totals, the BCS champion and their "games of the year," and there were obviously some interesting numbers to be found.

One quick disclaimer before we get into the numbers: Keep in mind that betting lines are often skewed to compensate for lopsided wagers on a fan favorite. For example, there was a story on Tiger Woods (I can't find the link) that included a quote from the golf expert at a particular casino. He said that while the actual odds of Tiger winning a particular major were something like 5:3, the line was set at 1:2 because so many people would bet on him at the "true" line that him winning the event would be financially devastating for the casino. In these cases, though, I'm focusing mostly on team comparisons, not the specific odds.

Anyway, let's start with the big one (these lines are from, by the way):

BCS national championship
Florida +200 (2:1)
Texas +400 (4:1)
Oklahoma +600 (6:1)
USC +700 (7:1)

There's a pretty significant drop-off after those four teams, with no one else having better than 20:1 odds. What's interesting, though, is that Texas is given noticeably better odds than Oklahoma. I've seen about a 50-50 split in various preseason magazines regarding which team should be #2, but this definitely tilts the scales in favor of the Longhorns. Also, USC is breaking in a new QB and 10 new starters on defense and I still find their 7:1 odds at the national title completely reasonable (and maybe even a little low).

Win totals (over/under)
Florida -- 11
Boise State -- 11
Texas -- 10.5
Oklahoma -- 10
USC -- 10
Oklahoma State -- 9
Notre Dame -- 8.5
Oregon -- 7.5
Michigan -- 7
Tennessee -- 7

It's a little weird to think that Boise State has entered the upper stratosphere when it comes to expectations, but honestly, I think that projection says as much about the WAC as it does about Boise. The other thing that jumps out at me is Oregon at 7.5 wins. For a consensus top-20 team that plays all its big games at home (with the exception of an early-season visit to Boise State), that seems like a shockingly low win total. As for Notre Dame at 8.5, that bet could just be renamed the "Will Charlie Weis Keep His Job" wager. Everything we've heard since the end of last season is that it's nine wins or bust for Notre Dame this year, so if Vegas is right and the Irish are sitting at 8-3 against Stanford in the final week, there will be a very large and very nervous man standing on the visitors' sideline.

Games of the year
USC (-3) at Ohio State
Notre Dame (-2.5) at Michigan
Tennessee (+24) at Florida
Oklahoma (-10.5) at Miami
USC (-5) at Cal
Alabama (+3.5) at Ole Miss
Texas (-1) vs. Oklahoma
USC (-6) at Notre Dame
Texas (-3.5) at Oklahoma State
Ohio State (+3) at Penn State
LSU (+3.5) at Ole Miss
Oklahoma State (+11.5) at Oklahoma
Ohio State (-6) at Michigan

Yup, that Tennessee-Florida line deserves an LOL. I think it's kind of interesting that Ole Miss is favored in every game despite having an over/under of nine wins -- something doesn't quite match up. Another oddity is the size of the rivalry lines (high for Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, shockingly low for USC-Notre Dame and Ohio State-Michigan). If Michigan is within six points of Ohio State in the fourth quarter on Nov. 22, I will throw a little party in my head ... actually, come to think of it, the Buckeyes aren't getting much respect here. They're home underdogs to USC, they're road underdogs against a Penn State team that returns something like nine total starters and they're only favored by six against a work-in-progress Michigan squad. This is one of those situations where I start to wonder if Vegas is seeing something that everyone else isn't.

That's about all the numbers I can handle for right now, but I'll dig a little deeper throughout the week into some of the surprising win total over/unders and some of the lines on big conference games.

One last note: I'm always surprised that people don't pay more attention to preseason (or even pregame) lines from Vegas. There's a reason casinos and online gambling sites make billions of dollars a year on sports betting -- they are very, very good at analyzing information and predicting results without the inherent bias that influences fans and even the "experts" in the media (including myself).

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