Golden Nugget's college football 'Games of the Year' a labor of love for oddsmakers

“We’ve got TCU -6. That might be the game of the year this season. I think TCU and Ohio State are the two favorites to be in the national championship game.” - Tony Miller, Golden Nugget.

Patrick Everson
Last Updated: Jun 26, 2015 9:14 AM ET
Photo By - USA Today Images
This afternoon, dozens of bettors are descending on downtown Las Vegas, ready to be among the first to get down on the Golden Nugget’s annual College Football “Games of the Year”. If you think that Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller, his trusty sidekick Aaron Kessler and The Gold Sheet executive editor Bruce Marshall just threw all this together in the last 24 hours, well, think again.

Because much like a fine wine, these games have been marinating in their minds for months. It’s an extraordinary amount of tedious work and thought. Or at least it is for Miller and Kessler. Somehow, Marshall – who was brought into the fold before the 2011 season – has found a level of pleasure in the process that eludes his partners.

“I have a lot of fun with this, but keep in mind that my favorite TV show is ‘BBQ Pitmasters,’” Marshall told Covers.

Well, that might just explain his zeal for the arduous process.  Miller said he put forth the games – numbering 166 for the 2015 season – a few months ago, and ever since then, the three have been independently studying up on all the teams and all the matchups. “I say, ‘Here’s the games we're using,’” Miller said. “Weeks go by, and we don’t even talk about it.”

They got back together Thursday to hash out their final opinions and set the pointspread for all 166 contests.

This is the ninth year the Golden Nugget has broken up the summer betting doldrums with its Games of the Year, and Miller has been pleased with the evolution, particularly since Marshall joined in.

“When Bruce came on, he really helped us a lot. He knows his college football really well,” Miller said. “In years past, we had some games where we were 14 or even 20 points off on the (closing) spread. It opened us up to middles.”

Lately, the trio has consistently been on the mark with many of their numbers, relative to the closing lines at kickoff.

“It’s interesting how far we’ve come along. Our numbers are really good,” said Miller, noting he’ll know right away today if they’ve gone too far astray on any particular game. “If the volume of bets is high, then the numbers are off. If the handle is low, then the numbers are good.”

With so many games every year, it can be hard to keep track of all of them as the season unfolds. But some of them tend to stand out even years later.

“The one I’ll always remember is from the first year, 2007,” Kessler said. “It was USC at Notre Dame. We had a really soft number on the game, USC -28. And we just got absolutely slammed with Notre Dame money. The game ultimately went off at -17, and USC pounded Notre Dame, 38-0.”

So that ended up being a great, though fortuitous, June pointspread on a game played four months later. The line dove 11 points by game day, yet there was no luck to be had for Irish bettors, many of whom probably thought for certain that getting 28 points in June was a lead-pipe cinch, especially for a home game. It’s a scenario Miller has seen many times.

“We have the teams we’re high on, and the guys who come in and bet, they’re high on their teams. That’s where we get the fluctuation of opinion,” Miller said. “After they bet, guys are telling us they can’t believe the line, and that we’re really way off. They tell us they got us. And on our side of the counter, we’re thinking, ‘We got them.’”

But the book can be had, and last year provided a great example. Miller, Kessler and Marshall couldn’t correctly peg then-defending national champion Florida State. The Seminoles went 14-0 straight up in 2013 and were a stout 11-3 against the spread, winning by at least 27 points in all but one regular season game before edging Auburn 34-31 as 11.5-point chalk in the national title tilt.

Last June, when the 2014 Games of the Year came out, the popular Seminoles had eight of their contests on the board and were generally hefty favorites. But from Week 1, they couldn’t beat the initial big spreads of June or even the bet-down numbers at kickoff, going 3-10 against the closing line during another 13-0 SU regular season. Then Florida State was a 7.5-point underdog against Oregon in the national semifinals and got blistered, 59-20.

“We were so high on Florida State last year. It turned out we were off,” Marshall said. “Even people who took Florida State later, the Seminoles weren’t covering the numbers. We were basing a lot on 2013. That year, Tony couldn’t make the number high enough. But early on in 2014, it was clear they weren’t the same team.

“We took it on the chin with Florida State, but that was about it. We won on a bunch of others.”

So is there a Florida State lurking this season? Maybe so, says Marshall.

“We’ve had to keep that in mind. Perhaps we have the same situation with Ohio State,” he said of the Buckeyes, who went 14-1 SU and a respectable 10-5 ATS last season. “But we only have four Ohio State games. Most of the Buckeyes’ schedule this year, the number will be in the 30s.”

For the 2015 season, Miller, Kessler and Marshall all have their own favorites.

“What sticks out for me as far as two teams with really high power ratings is TCU-Baylor,” Miller said of the Nov. 27 Big 12 showdown on the Horned Frogs’ home field. “It will be exciting to watch, and the game is going to mean a lot. The total will probably be around 80 points.

“We’ve got TCU -6. That might be the game of the year this season. I think TCU and Ohio State are the two favorites to be in the national championship game.”

Kessler thinks some people are suddenly forgetful of a certain SEC team.

“A team that should always get a lot of love and is not getting it is Alabama,” he said.

Marshall also pointed to a traditional power, though one that has seen more ups and downs than the steady Crimson Tide.

“Notre Dame is interesting. There’s a little more discussion this year,” he said. “As usual, we have a lot of Notre Dame’s games up there, so we want to try to get those numbers right.”

All three noted they didn’t have too much trouble reaching a consensus Thursday as they hashed out all the lines. But there was a little dissention in the ranks.

“Where my numbers were quite different than Bruce’s and Aaron’s was on Stanford,” Miller said. “That’s where we had to butt heads. I have to come down or they have to come up.”

Miller also circled one game in which both teams have new coaches – Jim Harbaugh at traditional national powerhouse Michigan, and Tony Sanchez trying to turn around perennial local loser UNLV.

“Tony Sanchez at UNLV, right off the bat, he has to go to Michigan,” Miller said. “He’s going to be a good coach, but he’s going to have a rough start. Michigan is at -33. Jim Harbaugh is going to want to make a statement right away, and I’m afraid he’s going to take it out on UNLV to do that.”

We’ll find out about that and the other 165 Games of the Year in due time, now that the heavy lifting is done and the lines are posted.

“Right now, it’s fun, but leading up to today, there’s so much work going into it,” Miller said. “It’s tedious getting to this point, but now we get to let our hair down.”

And of course, they’re eager to be proven right.

“The process is so streamlined, we’re just humming along this year. Every year, we agree more and more – we get in step pretty well. I’m just hoping we’re right on,” Kessler said, adding he feels good about the lines. “Even if the bettors fire away this year, we might be all right.”


Here's a look at the full list of the Golden Nugget's College Football Games of the Year odds:

Thursday, September 3

Michigan Wolverines at Utah Utes (-4)
TCU Horned Frogs (-18) at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Friday, September 4

Washington Huskies at Boise State Broncos (-13)

Saturday, September 5

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (-10) in Arlington
Louisville Cardinals vs. Auburn Tigers (-11.5) in Atlanta
Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Texas A&M Aggies (-3) in Houston
Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-7.5)
Virginia Cavaliers at UCLA Bruins (-17)
BYU Cougars at Nebraska Cornhuskers (-6)

Monday, September 7


Ohio State Buckeyes (-16) at Virginia Tech Hokies

Saturday, September 12


LSU Tigers (-3) at Mississippi State Bulldogs
UCLA Bruins (-32) AT UNLV Rebels
Oklahoma Sooners at Tennessee Volunteers (-3)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-9) at Virginia Cavaliers
Oregon State Beavers at Michigan Wolverines (-14)
Iowa Hawkeyes (-4.5) at Iowa State Cyclones
Marshall Thundering Herd (-3.5) at Ohio Bobcats
Boise State Broncos (-6) at BYU Cougars
Oregon Ducks at Michigan State Spartans (-1)

Thursday, September 17


Clemson Tigers (-3) at Louisville Cardinals

Saturday, September 19

Auburn Tigers at LSU Tigers (-4)
UNLV Rebels at Michigan Wolverines (-33)
Ole Miss Rebels at Alabama Crimson Tide (-9.5)
South Carolina Gamecocks at Georgia Bulldogs (-11)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-2)
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Miami Hurricanes (Pick)
Stanford Cardinal at USC Trojans (-4)
BYU Cougars at UCLA Bruins (-14)
Colorado Buffaloes (-1.5) vs. Colorado State Rams in Denver

Thursday, September 24

Cincinnati Bearcats at Memphis Tigers (-2)

Friday, September 25


Boise State Broncos (-9) at Virginia Cavaliers

Saturday, September 26

LSU Tigers (-20) at Syracuse Orange
UCLA Bruins at Arizona Wildcats (Pick)
USC Trojans (-1) at Arizona State Sun Devils
Utah Utes at Oregon Ducks (-14)
Oklahoma State Cowboys at Texas Longhorns (-2.5)
BYU Cougars at Michigan Wolverines (-7)
Texas A&M Aggies vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (-6.5) in Arlington
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Auburn Tigers (-8)
Tennessee Volunteers (-2.5) at Florida Gators

Thursday, October 1

Miami Hurricanes at Cincinnati Bearcats (-2.5)

Saturday, October 3

UNLV Rebels at Nevada Wolf Pack (-14)
Ole Miss Rebels (-6) at Florida Gators
Alabama Crimson Tide at Georgia Bulldogs (Pick)
South Carolina Gamecocks at Missouri Tigers (-11)
Arkansas Razorbacks at Tennessee Volunteers (-1)
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Texas A&M Aggies (-6.5)
Pitt Panthers at Virginia Tech Hokies (-9)
Arizona Wildcats at Stanford Cardinal (-7.5)
Arizona State Sun Devils at UCLA Bruins (-6)
Oregon Ducks (-16) at Colorado Buffaloes
Army Black Knights at Penn State Nittany Lions (-28)
West Virginia Mountaineers at Oklahoma Sooners (-10)
Kansas State Wildcats at Oklahoma State Cowboys (-4)
Texas Longhorns at TCU Horned Frogs (-21)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Clemson Tigers (-3.5)

Thursday, October 8


Washington Huskies at USC Trojans (-19)

Saturday, October 10

LSU Tigers (-8) at South Carolina Gamecocks
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Clemson Tigers (-3)
Arkansas Razorbacks at Alabama Crimson Tide (-7.5)
Florida Gators at Missouri Tigers (-10)
Georgia Bulldogs at Tennessee Volunteers (Pick)
Miami Hurricanes at Florida State Seminoles (-14.5)
Virginia Cavaliers at Pitt Panthers (-6)
Boise State Broncos (-12) at Colorado State Rams
TCU Horned Frogs (-11) at Kansas State Wildcats
Oklahoma Sooners (-6.5) vs. Texas Longhorns in Dallas
Oklahoma State Cowboys at West Virginia Mountaineers (-5)
Wisconsin Badgers (-1) at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-14)

Thursday, October 15


UCLA Bruins at Stanford Cardinal (-4.5)
Auburn Tigers (-9) at Kentucky Wildcats

Friday, October 16


UNLV Rebels at Fresno State Bulldogs (-12)
Boise State Broncos (-9.5) at Utah State Aggies

Saturday, October 17


Florida Gators at LSU Tigers (-14)
Arizona State Sun Devils at Utah Utes (-2)
USC Trojans at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Pick)
Oregon Ducks (-15) at Washington Huskies
Louisville Cardinals at Florida State Seminoles (-12)
Pitt Panthers at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (-14)
Virginia Tech Hokies at Miami Hurricanes (-6)
Missouri Tigers at Georgia Bulldogs (-8.5)
Alabama Crimson Tide (-7) at Texas A&M Aggies
West Virginia Mountaineers at Baylor Bears (-17)
TCU Horned Frogs (-29) at Iowa State Cyclones
Oklahoma Sooners (-3) at Kansas State Wildcats
Michigan State Spartans (-4.5) at Michigan Wolverines
Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio State Buckeyes (-19)

Saturday, October 24

Utah Utes at USC Trojans (-7)
Kansas State Wildcats at Texas Longhorns (-2)
Tennessee Volunteers at Alabama Crimson Tide (-10)
Auburn Tigers at Arkansas Razorbacks (-6.5)
Texas A&M Aggies at Ole Miss Rebels (-4)
Clemson Tigers (-4.5) at Miami Hurricanes
Florida State Seminoles at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Pick)

Thursday, October 29


Oregon Ducks (-5) at Arizona State Sun Devils
West Virginia Mountaineers at TCU Horned Frogs (-20)

Saturday, October 31

Boise State Broncos (-28.5) at UNLV Rebels
UCF Knights at Cincinnati Bearcats (-6)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (-10) at Virginia Cavaliers
Ole Miss Rebels at Auburn Tigers (-4)
Florida Gators vs. Georgia Bulldogs (-12) in Jacksonville
South Carolina Gamecocks at Texas A&M Aggies (-10)
Oregon State Beavers at Utah Utes (-16)

Tuesday, November 3

Northern Illinois Huskies at Toledo Rockets (-3)

Thursday, November 5


Mississippi State Bulldogs at Missouri Tigers (-6)
Baylor Bears (-12) at Kansas State Wildcats

Saturday, November 7

LSU Tigers at Alabama Crimson Tide (-9)
Arkansas Razorbacks at Ole Miss Rebels (-1)
Auburn Tigers (-1.5) at Texas A&M Aggies
TCU Horned Frogs (-11) at Oklahoma State Cowboys
Michigan State Spartans (-6) at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Florida State Seminoles at Clemson Tigers (-2)
Virginia Cavaliers at Miami Hurricanes (-6.5)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-3) at Pitt Panthers
Arizona Wildcats at USC Trojans (-7.5)

Thursday, November 12

Virginia Tech Hokies at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (-9.5)

Friday, November 13

USC Trojans (-12) at Colorado Buffaloes

Saturday, November 14

Arkansas Razorbacks at LSU Tigers (-1.5)
Utah Utes at Arizona Wildcats (-3)
Oregon Ducks at Stanford Cardinal (Pick)
Georgia Bulldogs at Auburn Tigers (Pick)
Alabama Crimson Tide (-9) at Mississippi State Bulldogs
Florida Gators at South Carolina Gamecocks (-2.5)
Oklahoma Sooners at Baylor Bears (-13)
BYU Cougars vs. Missouri Tigers (-12) in Kansas City

Saturday, November 21

San Diego State Aztecs (-16) at UNLV Rebels
LSU Tigers at Ole Miss Rebels (Pick)
Fresno State Bulldogs at BYU Cougars (-18)
TCU Horned Frogs (-5) at Oklahoma Sooners
Baylor Bears (-10) at Oklahoma State Cowboys
Michigan State Spartans at Ohio State Buckeyes (-14)
Michigan Wolverines at Penn State Nittany Lions (-3.5)
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Arkansas Razorbacks (-10)
Tennessee Volunteers at Missouri Tigers (-2.5)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (-6) at Miami Hurricanes
Arizona Wildcats at Arizona State Sun Devils (-3)
USC Trojans at Oregon Ducks (-6.5)
UCLA Bruins (-1) at Utah Utes
Cal Golden Bears at Stanford Cardinal (-13)

Friday, November 27

Baylor Bears at TCU Horned Frogs (-6)
Oregon State Beavers at Oregon Ducks (-22.5)
Washington State Cougars at Washington Huskies (-4.5)
Iowa Hawkeyes at Nebraska Cornhuskers (-7)

Saturday, November 28


Texas A&M Aggies at LSU Tigers (-7.5)
Kansas State Wildcats (-24) at Kansas Jayhawks
Oklahoma Sooners (-3) at Oklahoma State Cowboys
BYU Cougars at Utah State Aggies (Pick)
Ohio State Buckeyes (-16) at Michigan Wolverines
Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan State Spartans (-12)
UCLA Bruins at USC Trojans (-3)
Colorado Buffaloes at Utah Utes (-13.5)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Cardinal (-3)
North Carolina Tar Heels at North Carolina State Wolfpack (-6)
Virginia Tech Hokies (-4) at Virginia Cavaliers
Missouri Tigers at Arkansas Razorbacks (-7)
Alabama Crimson Tide (-3.5) at Auburn Tigers
Florida State Seminoles (-4) at Florida Gators
Georgia Bulldogs (-1) at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Louisville Cardinals (-2.5) at Kentucky Wildcats
Ole Miss Rebels (-2) at Mississippi State Bulldogs
Clemson Tigers (-3) at South Carolina Gamecocks
Vanderbilt Commodores at Tennessee Volunteers (-17)

Saturday, December 5

Texas Longhorns at Baylor Bears (-18)
West Virginia Mountaineers at Kansas State Wildcats (-5)

Saturday, December 12


Navy Midshipmen (-13) vs. Army Black Knights in Philadelphia

Preseason Top 5


Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Buckeyes (-16) at Virginia Tech Hokies
Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio State Buckeyes (-19)
Michigan State Spartans at Ohio State Buckeyes (-14)
Ohio State Buckeyes (-16) at Michigan Wolverines

Alabama Crimson Tide


Wisconsin Badgers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (-10) in Arlington
Ole Miss Rebels at Alabama Crimson Tide (-9.5)
Alabama Crimson Tide at Georgia Bulldogs (Pick)
Arkansas Razorbacks at Alabama Crimson Tide (-7.5)
Alabama Crimson Tide (-7) at Texas A&M Aggies
Tennessee Volunteers at Alabama Crimson Tide (-10)
LSU Tigers at Alabama Crimson Tide (-9)
Alabama Crimson Tide (-9) at Mississippi State Bulldogs
Alabama Crimson Tide (-3.5) at Auburn Tigers

TCU Horned Frogs

TCU Horned Frogs (-18) at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Texas Longhorns at TCU Horned Frogs (-21)
TCU Horned Frogs (-11) at Kansas State Wildcats
TCU Horned Frogs (-29) at Iowa State Cyclones
West Virginia Mountaineers at TCU Horned Frogs (-20)
TCU Horned Frogs (-11) at Oklahoma State Cowboys
TCU Horned Frogs (-5) at Oklahoma Sooners
Baylor Bears at TCU Horned Frogs (-6)

LSU Tigers


LSU Tigers (-3) at Mississippi State Bulldogs
Auburn Tigers at LSU Tigers (-4)
LSU Tigers (-20) at Syracuse Orange
LSU Tigers (-8) at South Carolina Gamecocks
Florida Gators at LSU Tigers (-14)
LSU Tigers at Alabama Crimson Tide (-9)
Arkansas Razorbacks at LSU Tigers (-1.5)
LSU Tigers at Ole Miss Rebels (Pick)
Texas A&M Aggies at LSU Tigers (-7.5)

Baylor Bears

West Virginia Mountaineers at Baylor Bears (-17)
Baylor Bears (-12) at Kansas State Wildcats
Oklahoma Sooners at Baylor Bears (-13)
Baylor Bears (-10) at Oklahoma State Cowboys
Baylor Bears at TCU Horned Frogs (-6)
Texas Longhorns at Baylor Bears (-18)

Colin Kelly is a Las Vegas-based contributor for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @ColinPKelly29.

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