Tuesday, August 28
LAS VEGAS - Pro football is king here in Vegas (though the gap lessened in terms of betting handle with so many more college football games each weekend), but the focus will be on NCAA games this weekend as the season kicks off and the NFL goes through their final preseason games.
Long gone are the days of the standalone - and usually overhyped -- "Kickoff Classic." Instead, we have an above-average slate of games on Thursday and Friday night with a solid schedule of games on Saturday and continuing through with two televised games on Sunday (with no NFL to compete with) and national title contender Virginia Tech (albeit a relative longshot at 40-1 in the future book at the LVH - Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, formerly the Hilton) taking on Georgia Tech in the NCAA's version of Monday Night Football.
Last year was all about LSU and Alabama as they played 2012's version of the "Game of the Century" (which we seem to have every year) with LSU winning 9-6 in overtime, and then they met again in the title game with Alabama turning the tables in a 21-0 rout in the BCS title game to take the national championship.
The LVH oddsmakers made it look like there might be a repeat of that storyline this season as, shortly after the BCS title game in early January, they made LSU 7-2 favorites for the 2012-13 BCS title game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on Jan. 7 , 2013, with Alabama as the 6-1 second choice. USC was made the co-third choice at 8-1 along with Oregon and Oklahoma, but it didn't last long. Early money came in on the Trojans, who were on probation last year, and they're led by Heisman Trophy favorite Matt Barkley (3-1 at bovada.lv - Heisman Trophy wagering hasn't been approved in Nevada yet). Some wise guys jumped on them early, but it's often that a popular Southern California team gets money in Vegas because of our proximity to the fan base. By late January, USC was the solid third choice and slowly gained ground on LSU and Alabama. By late March, USC had caught Alabama as the co-second choice at 5-1 behind LSU at 4-1 and then by mid-May had passed both as the 9-2 favorite with LSU and Bama both at 5-1.
As the season approaches, USC is now a fairly solid 3-1 favorite with Alabama still at 5-1 and LSU drifting up to 6-1. For those interested in the other title contenders at the LVH: Oregon has stayed pretty much at 8-1, with Oklahoma and Florida St. at 10-1, Georgia at 15-1, Texas at 25-1, South Carolina (which opens in the featured ESPN game on Thursday night as a 7-point favorite at Vanderbilt) is 30-1, with Notre Dame, Arkansas and Wisconsin joining Va Tech at 40-1.
In addition to just the carloads of money coming in from SoCal, two things also helped solidify USC as the preseason favorite and move Alabama ahead of LSU as the second choice: Penn State's probation from the Sandusky/Paterno scandal led to running back Silas Redd transferring to USC without having to sit out a year, making the Trojans even stronger in the eyes of most observers/bettors, and LSU defensive star Tyrann Mathieu being kicked off the team for violating team rules. The latter also had an impact on the LSU-Alabama game on Nov. 3 in which LSU had opened as a 2-point favorite when the Golden Nugget posted the first NCAA games in early June and saw it quickly get bet up to a 3-point spread, but now the advance line on the game at the LVH is pick-em (despite LSU being home and having a very good home-field advantage). Challenging that matchup for Game of the Year/Decade/Century status could be USC-Oregon, which is also on Nov. 3, with the Trojans as a lukewarm 4-point home favorite. I'm surprised that hasn't been bet higher with all the support we've seen on USC; in fact, it's down from the Golden Nugget opener of USC -6.
As to be expected, the national title contenders have the highest over/under season win totals since most of them are assumed to be going around 11-1 if they're to have a chance.
(Note: before moving on, I want to mention that the margin of error for betting college totals is much smaller because most of these teams have pretty much guaranteed wins along the way. In the NFL, any team can truly beat any other team on any given Sunday, but the top teams in college football are going to roll over most of their schedule. We know that even if Alabama has an awful year, by their standards, they're still going to win at least 8 or 9 games. It's a matter of handicapping those few key games where they could conceivably lose. We don't see teams going 4 games under their win totals like can easily happen in the NFL. OK, back to our regularly scheduled column.)
The LVH has USC, Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon all at 10.5 wins for their over/under win totals with the vig on USC over 10.5 having been bet up to -150. LSU's over/under is down to 10, again showing the effect of the loss of Mathieu. Florida St. is also at 10 with Georgia at 9.5 with a steep -170 on the over.
We should be in for a great season. My advice for this weekend is that if you've done all your research and really have a feel for the teams, go ahead and fire away as you could have the edge over the oddsmakers and other bettors. If you're playing catch-up, watch as many games as you can and formulate your opinions for the rest of the season.
Good luck, we'll be back with the "Vegas Beat" next week to preview the NFL season and opening weekend.
Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper in Vegas and has written for Daily Racing Form since 2000. Tuley started his own website,ViewFromVegas.com, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including ESPN.com. In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 45, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas