Football is the main course of any sharp bettor’s meal ticket. That’s why there was so much wiseguy activity when NFL season win totals opened up last month and why the Golden Nugget was in the news last week.
The Nugget is not generally a hotbed of wiseguy betting activity, but the sportsbook takes center stage as the first place to post college football game pointspreads in June for six years running.
According to several professional bettors that I spoke with, this year, the Nugget’s lines were tighter. We didn’t see four, five or six point line moves from multiple bets on the same team in the same game, like we saw in 2011. The Nugget’s power ratings were closer to those of the bettors they were battling against. Stronger numbers equals fewer bets; plain and simple, and I’m quite certain that management was content to make that trade-off.
Who the sharps liked, who they didn’t
Five teams got significant support in multiple games within the first few hours of betting: Florida, Ohio State, Texas, LSU and Tennessee. And there were also five teams who were bet against in multiple games during that same time frame: Alabama, Notre Dame, West Virginia, South Carolina and Oklahoma.Phil Steele influence
It’s no accident that the Nugget’s opening numbers were posted within days of Phil Steele’s 2012 College Football Preview
magazine arriving on newsstands and in mailboxes all around Las Vegas.
The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook
is considered to be the preseason bible for college hoops; a publication that most assuredly affects early season pointspreads. Steele’s influence on the early college football betting market is similar in its scope. Bettors read it cover to cover, and those same bettors expect that others will be reading it as well.
Steele’s research and offseason work on college football is considered to be as good as or better than anything else out there as an overview. His rankings and predictions are certainly influential.
Ohio State and Tennessee rank among the top six of his ‘most improved teams’ this year. After finishing tied for sixth place in the Big 12 last year and finishing in last place in the Big 12 South in 2010, Steele has the Texas Longhorns ranked ahead of Oklahoma State; the projected second place team in the conference.
Steele has Florida winning the SEC East, a dramatic improvement off their 7-9 SU record in SEC play over the past two seasons. And Steele has LSU at the top in the SEC West, expecting the Tigers to pick up right where they left off last year; national title contenders once again. All five teams that took big early money were teams that Steele was bullish on.
On the other end of the spectrum, many of the ‘bet-against’ teams in early betting action were squads that Steele was looking to fade in 2012. Steele cautioned bettors that West Virginia “probably will not match last year’s 10 win total.” He has South Carolina returning to mediocrity in the SEC East after winning the division two years ago and coming in second with a 6-2 SEC mark last year.
But while Steele’s influence cannot be denied, bettors aren’t shy about disagreeing with him. In recent years, Steele has overvalued Oklahoma repeatedly. This year, he has them as the No. 2 team in the country in his preseason rankings, behind only Florida State. Early bettors didn’t seem to agree with that sentiment, betting against the Sooners on opening day for the college football markets.
It was a similar story with Alabama, a team Steele ranked #5 in the country. Bettors looked at the enormous graduation losses suffered by the defending national champs – five of the top 35 picks in the NFL draft played for Nick Saban -- and concluded that the Crimson Tide were ripe for a fall.