The Wiz of Odds: Riding ups and downs is smart handicapping

Sep 15, 2010 |
Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog

Welcome to college football, where one week a team is kicked to the gutter and the next it’s in the clouds after winning a big game.

Kansas, for example. The Jayhawks, in their first game for Turner Gill, lost to North Dakota State, 6-3.

Imagine what Kansas players had to endure the following week. Hellish practices, a student body that wanted to disown them and no more free entrance into the local club on Thursday nights. The horror, oh the horror.

Last Saturday, an inspired bunch of Jayhawks, who were 14-point underdogs to No. 15 Georgia Tech, defeated the Yellow Jackets, 28-25.

College football is a game of emotion. Each week presents opportunities for the bettor to capitalize on biorhythms of 18-to-23 year olds. Unless, of course, you’re talking Brigham Young, where players seemingly compete until they’re 30. But that’s a column for another day.

The bettor who can tap into this tsunami of emotion will cash in more times than not. It’s based on an old Wall Street principle: buy low, sell high. If you’re lucky, wild fluctuations in the pointspread will create an opportunity to middle a game.

One such contest will be played Saturday when USC travels to Minnesota. Smart bettors have been keeping an eye on the spread since it was posted Sunday night.

The Golden Gophers are coming off an embarrassment of the highest proportions - a 41-38 setback to South Dakota in their year-old $288.5 million stadium.

How bad was it? A whopping 87.2 percent of respondents to a poll in the Minneapolis Star Tribune declared it time for coach Tim Brewster to take a hike to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota. Presumably they do not want him back.

When asked how the hometown team will do against the Trojans, 74 percent said the Gophers would lose by 25-or-more points.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the world’s largest oddsmaking company, established USC as a 20-point favorite, although the Trojans haven’t done anything to distinguish themselves of late. They are 0-2 against the spread and have a nation-worst 24 penalties in two games.

Bettors have flocked to the embattled Gophers, with the spread plummeting to 11 at the Las Vegas Hilton, a dramatic shift to say the least.

Don’t expect another opportunity to middle a wager like this in 2010. No doubt a few lucky souls got Minnesota around plus-20, then locked in USC at minus-11. If Saturday’s game ends with the Trojans winning, 24-10, they’ll be cashing two tickets.

The spread continues to fluctuate, possibly creating an opportunity to middle around that magical number of 14. Jump on USC at minus-11 and shop for Minnesota at plus-14.5.

Random observations on the first two weeks of the season:

-- Heisman front-runner Denard Robinson of Michigan has carried the ball 57 times in two games. While his play has masked problems on the Wolverine team - a leaky defense and lack of another viable offensive threat - Robinson is sure to break down at some point.

Don’t be surprised to see Michigan, which started 4-0 last season before losing seven of its last eight, follow a similar script this season. Things should start to go haywire around October 9 when Michigan plays Michigan State. Get ready to profit against an overvalued Wolverine team.

-- Saturday’s 35-0 spanking from Stanford is an omen for UCLA, which will be fortunate to win three games. This team may start 1-6. The Bruins play host to Houston Saturday night before traveling to Texas. Then it’s back at the Rose Bowl to play Washington State before trips to California and Oregon. Reputations sometimes die hard and if the spreads surrounding the Bruins remain within reason, it’s time to cash in.

-- Little known fact about Iowa: The Hawkeyes have finished in the Top 10 four of the last eight years. Early indications are that this team could make it five out of nine. Iowa is a slight favorite at Arizona Saturday night, and if the Hawkeyes are an elite team, they will brush aside the Wildcats.

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