NFL & College Championships
Tuesday November 27
LAS VEGAS – We all know that college football’s BCS system (often shortened to BS) has been flawed, and thankfully it will be replaced by a four-team playoff in the 2014-15 season.
In the meantime, we’re still left with it and there’s no doubt that it will be sending the winner of Saturday’s SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia to the title game against undefeated Notre Dame while one-loss teams such as Kansas St., Oregon and Florida are left to wonder why their losses hurt them more (of course, the simple answer is that Oregon and Florida both fell short of playing in their conference’s title games while Kansas St. lost to unranked Baylor).
But while those other teams wait to see how they fall in the pecking order of the other BCS games, an unforeseen situation has happened at the bottom of the BCS pecking order. The Orange Bowl is sending representatives to the MAC title game at Ford Field in Detroit between Kent St. and Northern Illinois (full disclosure: that’s my alma mater) on Friday because the winner could become an automatic qualifier for a BCS bowl if they finish in the top 16 and are ranked ahead of a champion of an “automatic qualifier conference.”
Kent St. is currently ranked No. 17 in the BCS standings and Northern Illinois is No. 21. In year’s past, the debate has usually been about undefeated teams such as Boise St. or TCU fighting for BCS bids yet we could see a one-loss team from a smaller conference crash the party. The thing that made this possible was Big East leaders Louisville and Rutgers both lost last week and dropped out of the top 25. They face each other in the unofficial Big East title game on Thursday night with Rutgers as a 3-point favorite (the league doesn’t have a title game, though it just worked out that their regular-season finale on Thursday will decide the champion).
What makes this interesting from a Vegas point of view is that while Kent St. is ranked higher in the official BCS standings (mostly due to the computer rankings that the BCS uses as NIU is No. 18 in the USA Today Coaches Poll while Kent is No. 19), the oddsmakers made NIU the 5-point favorite in the MAC title game and bettors have bet it up to 6 as of early Tuesday morning.
For this to happen, Kent St. would likely still need No. 16 UCLA to lose to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game that kicks off one hour after the MAC title game on Friday. The Bruins are a 9-point road underdog at Stanford after losing to the Cardinals 35-17 last week. For NIU to make the leap, they would also probably need Texas to lose to Kansas St., an 11.5-point favorite on Saturday to get past the Longhorns, while also needing their win over Kent to move them ahead of No. 20 Boise St., which is a 9.5-point favorite over Nevada on Saturday and is also trying to earn a BCS bid.
It all makes for an exciting college football weekend despite the abbreviated schedule.
Back to the marquee game on the board, Alabama opened as a 7.5-point favorite against Georgia in Saturday’s SEC title game, but money has come in on the Bulldogs and it was down to 7 as of early Tuesday morning.
Looking ahead to the BCS title game (to be played Monday, Jan. 7, in Miami), Vegas sports books have Alabama around a 10-point favorite over Notre Dame with Georgia around a 3-point favorite over the Irish in advance wagering (note: the matchup must take place or all bets are refunded).
Bettors got the best of the sports books here last Saturday as the favorites had a field day, going 29-12-1 ATS and especially with the most popular teams covering the spread, including Alabama laying 35 points to Auburn but rolling 49-0, Ohio St. completing its undefeated season and beating Michigan 26-21 as a 4-point fave, Heisman Trophy candidate Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M laying 24 points against Missouri and getting there at 59-29, and capped off by Notre Dame beating USC 22-13 as a 5.5-point favorite with a huge late goal-line stand.
The books rebounded a little bit on Sunday, especially with the Broncos failing to cover the 10.5-point spread against the Chiefs and the Packers losing on Sunday night to the Giants, but it’s still looking like November will be one of the all-time worst months for the books here though official numbers won’t be released by the state until early January.
But the books were able to pay their electric bills and are open for business.
Week 13 brings us our first regular full slate (1 Thursday, 14 Sunday, 1 Monday night game) since Week 3 due to all the byes and last week’s Thanksgiving schedule. The weekend kicks off Thursday night with New Orleans at Atlanta. The Falcons opened as a 4.5-point favorite at the LVH SuperBook but it’s been bet down to 3.5.
That’s far from the most surprising line move in early wagering. The Jets opened as a 3.5-point favorite against the Cardinals and that’s been bet up to 4.5 (I know the Cardinals are in a tailspin, it’s still a shock to see so much support for the Jets). A less-surprising move is the fact the Chargers opened as a 3-point favorite over the Bengals at the LVH and 1-point fave offshore but now the Bengals are a 1.5-point chalk.
It’s also interesting to note that the Buccaneers, who have a league-best 8-2-1 ATS record, are 7-point road dogs at Denver. While the Broncos have been impressive this year (and are 7-4 ATS themselves), it’ll be interesting to see if bettors stay on the bandwagon after they failed to cover against the Chiefs last week.
The weekend concludes with the Monday nighter with the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, fresh off that convincing 38-10 rout of the Packers on Sunday night, taking on the upstart Redskins. Oddsmakers have only made the Giants a 2.5-point favorite, though early wagering indicates it’s probably heading toward 3, so if you like the G-men you should probably bet ASAP. If you like the Redskins, wait for the line to peak.
Good luck this weekend (and every 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