Each week during the college football season, renowned Las Vegas wiseguy and Covers Expert Bruce Marshall looks at the NCAAF odds and tells you which spread to bet now, which one to bet later, and which total to watch as the week plays out.
Spread to bet now
San Jose State Spartans (-3) at UNLV Rebels
The latest confirmation that money moves are nothing to fear came last Saturday in the Mountain West, when the sharp money pushed San Jose State from a 7 to as high as an 11-point favorite in the 36 hours prior to kickoff of last Saturday’s game against Wyoming.
Charting such moves throughout the years indicates that this money rush to one side has no greater chance of success than any other game on the weekly card.
In fact, those with working knowledge of the Mountain West were a bit surprised to see last week’s move in Cowboys-Spartans, which was either an overreaction to Wyo’s ugly loss to rival Colorado State the previous week, or the sharp money simply continuing to invest in San Jose, which has mostly continued its recent pointspread prowess for new head coach Ron Caragher.
Fundamentally, however, there was little to separate the teams. Wyo jumped out to a quick 16-0 lead before San Jose began to chip away.
The Cowboys’ defensive deficiencies were eventually exposed in the second half after Wyo had extended its lead to 30-14 early in the 3rd quarter. The contest would become a back-and-forth affair. San Jose only held the lead for a few minutes of actual playing time and never extended the margin beyond seven points, the last time on a game-winning TD run by QB David Fales with just eight seconds remaining.
Those who kept pounding the Spartan side at the sports books would end up losing their wagers, as any late-week support for Wyo was rewarded with a win.
We mention all of this, however, because there is obviously some pro-San Jose sentiment among the money crowd that can actually move numbers. The Spartans still look like a go-with team, especially with HC Caragher now adjusting the offense back to its predominant spread looks that proved such a benefit to QB Fales last season. Fales has responded with 11 TD passes in his last three games, all SJSU wins.
As for UNLV, we still believe it is unlikely that any rush of support is due the Rebels despite their 5-3 straight-up mark that has them one win from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2000.
Though not taking anything away from UNLV’s accomplishments, and noting that a team can only play the foes placed in front of it, the Rebel victim list is still hardly a BCS lineup of foes. Faced with even modest opposition this season, UNLV has been overwhelmed. And San Jose seems closer to the Arizona and Minnesota sides that routed UNLV in September than the succession of weaklings the Rebs have beaten (mostly in hair-raising fashion) over the last month.
Money moves have a way of following the same teams, and we would not be surprised to see another round of San Jose support later this week driving the number up to near a full TD for Saturday’s game at Sam Boyd Stadium.
A bit of shopping early in the week should still be able to net Spartan backers a -3 price, which will look a lot better than what San Jose supporters might have to pay later in the week. Even 3.5, while beyond a key number, will eventually look like a good price for Spartan backers.
Spread to wait on
Miami Hurricanes (+21.5) at Florida State Seminoles
It was all one-way traffic last week at the Las Vegas sports books involving Florida State, as the Noles steadily rose from 29 to as much as 35-point favorites for the game vs. NC State.
Depending upon where one made an investment last week, FSU was either a winner or loser (or perhaps a “push”) against the number as the final score landed 49-17 in the Noles’ favor.
What is not lost upon the masses, however, is that the Wolfpack can be flattered by that scoreline, as FSU called off the dogs in the first half after racing to a 35-0 lead. If so inclined , it looked like the Noles could have scored 70 or more points.
Moreover, a 'public' side such as FSU does not necessarily need the sharp money to inflate a spread. The wagering masses and weekend participators are still likely to be in love with the Noles and will create buy pressure as the week progresses for Saturday’s ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium vs. downstate Miami.
Still fresh in the memory of the masses, as it certainly was last week, was FSU’s recent 51-14 destruction of Clemson, which could contribute to another non-stop ascent of this number vs. the Canes as it did vs. the Wolfpack.
Meanwhile, Hurricane backers have likely been burned the past few weeks by Miami, which has been fortunate to escape with straight-up wins, much less spread covers, the past two weeks vs. modest ACC opposition (North Carolina and Wake Forest). And considering FSU’s 40 ppg win margin this season, you can guess which team has been scoring more style points with the masses.
There are fundamental arguments to support a case for the Canes this week, but we’re not here to make that argument, rather to just alert on where we see the line moving this week. And with the public still likely to be enamored with FSU, and sour on Miami, we expect this number to rise, though perhaps not quite as dramatically as did Noles-Wolfpack last week.
No surprise, then, if patient Hurricane backers are rewarded with a few extra points later in the week. Expect buy pressure on FSU to push this price close to the next “key number” up the chain at 24 sometime later in the week.
While Miami supporters already might believe they are getting good value on the current price, they could have a few more points of cushion later in the week.
Total to watch
Eastern Michigan Eagles at Toledo Rockets
As we have mentioned many times on these pages this season, the oddsmakers are nobody’s fool. And one thing they loathe is to continue getting beaten by the same proposition each week.
At a certain point, they can be expected to adjust spreads and totals high (or low) enough so they can at least have a better chance to split some of the action and prevent one-way traffic in the weekly numbers.
It’s beneath the surface, however, where oddsmakers have to really do their homework, and where a lowly side like Eastern Michigan can cause many a sleepless night in sports book offices.
It’s not just that the Eagles are so bad, destroyed every week and not able to hang within already-inflated imposts. But EMU’s degree of awful is also at the root of a recurring totals trend that oddsmakers are going to want to alleviate if possible in the coming weeks.
Simply, the Eagle defense is so bad (allowing 50 points or more in four of the past five games) that it is creating Over dynamics almost by itself each week.
While Mid-American Conference games, and especially totals involving its matchups, are rarely the marquee matchups of any given Saturday (or midweek night in the MAC), such trends are worrisome to bookmakers nonetheless.
Thus, we have seen some pre-emptive moves by the oddsmakers involving EMU trends, as the initial total on last week’s game vs. Northern Illinois was an aggressive 65.5 or 66, depending upon the outlet.
No matter, there was still buy pressure on the Over for Eagles-Huskies, pushing the total to 68 at most outlets before kickoff. The final result cruised over by a comfy margin in NIU’s 59-20 romp.
Despite the oddsmaker adjustment, the Eagle scorecard this season now favors Overs by a 7-1 margin, one of the nation’s most-pronounced totals trends. This week’s foe, Toledo, has routinely blasted EMU (as Rockets are designed to do, we suppose), scoring 41 or more in the last six series meetings, and 52 or more three of those last six (including 52 and 54-point bombs the past two seasons).
We are curious to see how high the oddsmakers might price the EMU-Toledo total later this week as a reverse-Baylor effect (no defense as opposed to high-scoring offense) comes into play with the Eagles.