Wiz of Odds: Lesson learned from betting yo-yo Big Ten

Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog

Where do bettors hang? There’s the Las Vegas Strip, of course. Then there’s Wall Street.
Think about it. Buying stocks and putting a wager on a team amount to the same thing. The possibility of reward comes with considerable risk.
Ever buy shares of a stock only to see it crash? How about betting on a team that is favored by 10 and have it win by seven? Bottom line: Wall Street or Las Vegas Boulevard. There’s no such thing as a sure thing.
The differences between the two havens for gambling mavens are slight, so I called a stockbroker friend of mine.
“An investor is in it for the long run,” he said. “A trader is in for the thrill of it. Instant gratification.
“Consider that in 2001, a sharp investor could have purchased shares of Apple for less than $20 a share. Ten years later, it’s trading at $400 a share.
“A trader is looking for a quick turnaround. Put a wager on a game and double your money in a matter of hours.”
Buying a stock valued under $20 and watching it balloon to over $400 is certainly gratifying, but where’s rush? Perhaps that’s why Wall Street’s planning-for-the-future atmosphere requires business attire and the Strip’s living-for-the-moment vibe employs flip-flops, Hawaiian shirts and a 24-7 party.
Nonetheless, bettors can learn a lesson or two from the Street, whose savvy investors often engage in a practice called buying low and selling high. The same practice can be applied to college football, where team fortunes often swing between rock bottom and record highs in a matter of weeks.
The Big Ten is full of examples. Turn the clock back two weeks. Iowa had inexplicably lost at Minnesota for the second year in a row and fans of the Hawkeyes were ready to tar and feather the team when it arrived back on campus.
The offensive coordinator had to go. What had happened to the defense? Coach Kirk Ferentz’s demeanor led to this embarrassment. Everything excluding the price of soybeans was to blame.
Things could only get worse because a resurgent Michigan team, cruising along with a 7-1 record, was next on the schedule. Despite playing at home, the Hawkeyes were slight underdogs to the Wolverines, a team they had defeated the previous two seasons.
So what happened? They teed it up and Iowa was a different squad. The Hawkeyes beat the Wolverines, 24-16.
It was a classic case of buying stock in a team whose value had plummeted to a season low. Everybody bought in to the tsunami of negativism and as a result, Iowa was simply undervalued.
Let’s look at it from the other side. Michigan State had beaten Ohio State and Wisconsin on consecutive Saturdays and its stock was at a season high entering the Oct. 29 game at Nebraska. The Spartans never had a chance in Lincoln. They were buried, 24-3.
That victory sent Cornhusker stock skyrocketing entering Saturday’s game against little Northwestern, which lost in September to Army. Nebraska and Northwestern last played in the 2000 Alamo Bowl and it wasn’t pretty. The Cornhuskers won, 66-17, outscoring the Wildcats 31-7 in the second quarter. For good measure, Nebraska tacked on 28 unanswered points in the second half.
But the only thing the Cornhuskers won on Saturday was the coin toss. The Wildcats scored a stunning 28-25 victory in Lincoln that was punctuated by a 13-play, 66-yard drive to give the visitors a 28-18 lead. Every play of that Northwestern drive was a run. That’s right, the Wildcats were able to inflict their will on the Cornhuskers when it mattered most.
Nebraska fans might be down on their team this week, but they need to remember that things are never as good or bad as they seem. Just as Wall Street.
Week 10 impressions: Frankly, the Kansas State-Oklahoma State game was more deserving of a “Game of the Century” tag than the Southeastern Conference snoozefest between Louisiana State and Alabama.
Oklahoma State might end up in the Bowl Championship Series title game, but it is ridiculously bad on defense. The Cowboys rank 110th in total defense but are first in turnover margin, which is masking their inability to stop opponents.
Teams ranked in the top 10 of last week’s Associated Press poll went 5-5 against the spread. There were two head-to-head matchups involving top 10ers — LSU-Alabama and South Carolina-Arkansas. For the season, teams ranked in the top 10 are 61-27-2 (69.3 percent).
Auburn plays at Georgia on Saturday in the final regular-season matchup between teams from the SEC West and East divisions. Straight up, the West has a 12-6 advantage. Against the spread the West leads, 11-7 (61.1 percent).
You can follow The Wiz of Odds on Twitter @JayChristensen

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