Wiz of Odds: The secret to big school success

Nov 17, 2009 |
Wiz of Odds: The secret to big school success

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

A bartender in Las Vegas once told me the worst thing that ever happened to him was winning $400 the first time he played blackjack.

“That was about $40,000 ago,” he said.

Yes, the gambling habit starts innocently enough. Maybe it was the weekly family card game, or just killing time on Friday nights shooting dice on the street corner with Rocco and the boys.

Call them gateway drugs. You crave the highs and become addicted to that feeling of instant satisfaction. But you want something bigger and better — something potentially more lucrative.

Then the opportunity arises to place your first sports wager, usually on a football game. It’s easy enough and, win or lose, you’re hooked and reading columns on Covers.

The ride includes plenty of lows, but that merely shapes strategy and develops a seasoned player, one who knows when to pick his or her spots and quite possibly, let a season’s worth of winnings ride on one game.

Finding those spots is becoming increasingly difficult in college football. This Saturday marks another low point in what has become the most predictable season in memory. Games of merit are a thing of the past, and today’s business model for big-time teams involves ducking opponents with regularity, even at this critical point in a season.

The spirit of competition has been sucked from the game. Want to win a championship? Learn the art of crafty nonconference scheduling.

The one component teams control is nonconference scheduling, and Florida, Alabama and Texas — the top teams in the Bowl Championship Series standings — have combined to play only two BCS teams in 12 nonleague games.

The mighty Gators opened as 43-point favorites Saturday against something called Florida International. I used to think this was an airport in South Florida until 2007 when this rag-tag bunch engaged in a brawl for the ages against the Miami Hurricanes.

An Internet search of famous alumni reveals C.D. Atkins and Louis G. MacDowell, the co-creators of frozen Orange Juice concentrate. One thing is certain: The Panthers are going to be beaten to a pulp Saturday.

Florida’s other nonconference opponents are Charleston Southern, a Division I-AA team, Troy and Florida State.

Another fact: Florida last played an out-of-state nonconference game on Sept. 21, 1991, when it lost at Syracuse, 38-21.

Alabama welcomes I-AA Chattanooga to Tuscaloosa Saturday. Its other nonconference games were Virginia Tech, North Texas and — you guessed it — punching bag Florida International!

Granted, Virginia Tech is a hard-knocking team, but why is a program of Alabama’s ilk playing Chattanooga at this point in the season?

Don’t give us that crap about the Southeastern Conference being so difficult that league teams are thereby granted a pass to engage in such nefarious scheduling practices.

Have you seen Vanderbilt play this season? It lost at Army. Kentucky can claim victories against Miami (Ohio), I-AA Eastern Kentucky and Louisiana Monroe. South Carolina, losers of four of five, is a pedestrian 6-5, and Tennessee is 5-5.

The SEC in 2009 is a three-team league when you include Louisiana State. That’s as deep as it goes. Mississippi? It managed to schedule two games against I-AA teams and has yet to beat a team of note.

Which brings us to the biggest offender in Texas. The Longhorns put together a cupcake lineup of Louisiana Monroe, Wyoming, Texas El Paso and Central Florida. Not a I-A opponent in the bunch.

Outside of beating 6-4 Oklahoma and 8-2 Oklahoma State, the Longhorns will advance to the BCS title game running through a schedule softer than Charmin.

It’s only the beginning, folks. BCS teams not only want to fill their nonconference schedules with inferior opponents, they also aim to gobble up all of the at-large bids to minor bowls beginning in 2010.

Big 12 commissioner Don Beebe has proposed legislation that would treat BCS teams with .500 records the same as teams with winning records from non-BCS leagues.

Currently, if a bowl has to go outside its conference affiliation to fill a spot, it can’t select a 6-6 BCS team over a team with seven or more victories. Beebe’s legislation would toss out that rule, meaning a seven-win team from the Mountain West, Western Athletic, Mid-American, Conference USA or Sun Belt could be bypassed for a 6-6 BCS team.

There are 120 teams in Division I-A, and 66 of those belong to the BCS. There are 34 bowl games this year and could be as many as 36 in 2010.

Florida, Alabama and Texas have perfected the art of nonleague scheduling. It’s the blueprint of success. Even if you’re a crummy BCS team, simply go 4-0 in nonconference play and 2-6 in league and you’re likely to be rewarded with a trip to a bowl game.

College football has serious problems. There is no incentive for BCS teams to play each other in nonconference play and Beebe’s legislation, which is expected to get the stamp of approval in January, only makes matters worse.

If you’re a bettor, it makes for more lousy games. If this keeps up, we’ll all be back on the street corner shooting dice with Rocco.

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