I moved to Las Vegas one year ago to work as a financial analyst at Mandalay Bay. Thankfully, I have managed to keep up with Stanford football and now that I have developed a greater understanding of sports betting, I thought I would write a column which combines my love for football with Vegas odds. I would like to stress that the intent of this column is not to advocate gambling but rather use the betting markets to gain a better understanding of win probabilities, “surprise” teams, and the likelihood of various scenarios. Finally, I acknowledge that the betting markets include public perception and are not always efficient, but I think we can all agree that they provide a good starting point.
Note: Standard disclaimers apply: This is for entertainment purposes only. Any money you wager is at your own risk. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Coffee may be hot. Etc.
Week 2 Recap
In the games that I highlighted last week, Stanford saw an influx of smart money late in the week and closed as a 16.5-point favorite after opening at 14. Does anyone remember if they covered? Arizona beat Oklahoma State handily as 10.5-point underdogs even though they were down 0-14 early. Washington State hung on to beat Eastern Washington 24-20 despite losing QB Jeff Tuel and being held scoreless in the second half but failed to cover the 10.5-point spread. Finally, the Florida-Texas A&M game closed as a pick’em and Florida overcame a halftime deficit to beat Texas A&M on the road in A&M’s SEC opener.
For those of you who tuned into College Game Day, you may recall that Lee Corso picked Texas A&M to win the game. The line for who Lee Corso would pick (and yes, there is a line for this) closed at A&M -230. Yesterday, the line for who Corso would pick this week was Florida +245/Tennessee -335, and today it is Florida +550/Tennessee -1050. While I have not tracked the bet historically, I would guess that just like the Oscars and who will receive more Madden cover votes in head-to-head voting, there is value in the heavy chalk (large favorite). On an unrelated note, the atmosphere at College Station seemed fantastic and I hope to make it to Kyle Field at some point.
Week 3 Pac-12 Lines
Stanford +8.5 vs. USC (25.8% implied win probability)
Arizona -33.5 vs South Carolina St (96.4%)
ASU +6 at Missouri (32.3%)
Oregon -51.5 vs. Tennessee Tech (99.5%)
UCLA -17 vs. Houston (87.8%)
Utah +3.5 vs. BYU (41.4%)
California +16.5 at Ohio St (13.0%)
Colorado +15.5 at Fresno St (14.0%)
Washington -27 vs Portland St (94.2%)
WSU -8 at UNLV (73.8%)
Houston we have a problem! As you may recall from last week’s column, Houston opened as a pick’em in Las Vegas Hilton’s Games of the Year vs. UCLA, moved to three-point dogs by season’s start and 12-point dogs after their Week 1 loss to Texas State. After UCLA’s impressive home win against Nebraska and Houston’s home loss to Louisiana Tech, the line is now 17!
The Washington State-UNLV line is another that has moved substantially from its Games of the Year opener. It opened at 17 points, fell to 15.5 points after Week 1, opened at 10.5 points earlier this week and has been bet down to eight points. This really speaks to Wazzu’s struggles and perhaps some uncertainty about Tuel’s status as UNLV hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire. They lost to Minnesota in triple overtime in Week 1 and by a field goal to FCS Northern Arizona as 13-point favorites last week.
With all this line movement, I might have to start looking into Games of the Year next season. The only game I bet this year was Washington +4.5 vs Stanford. The current line is Washington +2 but is likely to move a couple of points depending on the Stanford-USC result. Speaking of which, that Game of the Year line opened at 12, moved to 14 after Week 1 and is currently at eight points after USC’s struggles against Syracuse and Stanford’s domination of Duke.
Finally, Arizona State opened as 7.5-point road dogs against Missouri but has crossed the key seven-point threshold to six points. I am not sure if it is an overreaction to the blowout of Illinois (45-14), who was missing their starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase, but ASU’s offense has looked Oregon-esque early on. No one has been able to stop them but themselves, as evident by their two fumbles inside the Illinois 10-yard line.
The Cardinalmaniac08 Win Totals Index (CWTI) Fund
Note: I bet only on season win totals, as I believe there is the most value there. Therefore, instead of tallying wins and losses on individual games throughout the season, I am tracking my projected return on the 50-plus season win totals bets I made before the season started, which comprise the “fund”.
My preseason projected ROI for the fund is 30 percent, and I will be the first to admit that it seems very high. The upside, however, is that my projections can be off and still result in a reasonable return. I will use my preseason projections as the starting point of CWTI’s value since I will be using the same methodology to value it going forward.
It was a shaping up to be a pretty solid week for the CWTI with Cincinnati (-5), UCLA (+4) and USF (+1) winning and Colorado (-21.5), Eastern Michigan (-3), Miami (+7) and Texas A&M (pickem) losing but then the bottom dropped out with the losses of Oklahoma State (-10.5) and Wisconsin (-10.5). Those are two of my bigger positions and with their future weeks’ win probability plummeting as well, turned a solid gain to a 6.7% loss. Wisconsin, who fired their O-line coach earlier this week, feels like a lost cause at over nine and 9.5 wins, but Oklahoma State at over 7.5 and 8.5 wins should still be in play if they can get their act together.
As I mentioned previously, there is a lot of volatility in the first few weeks of the season with each game providing a lot more information about how good or bad teams are. Stanford had a strong bounce-back week thanks to the shellacking of Duke and their opponents’ struggles. They went from 1.5-point favorites at Washington to two-point favorites, one-point favorites at Cal to three-point favorites, seven-point dogs at Notre Dame to five-point dogs and most significantly, 14-point dogs against USC to 8.5-point dogs. All told, my new numbers show that an eight-win season (31%) is most likely and a seven-win season equally likely as a nine-win season(23%), with Stanford’s projected win total jumping from 7.4 wins to 8.0 wins over the past week.
NFL Prop Trivia
With the return of the NFL season, in-game props are back in full swing with a menu of 100+ props for each of the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. No one has ventured a guess on the probability of either team having three consecutive scores in a game so I won’t reveal that quite yet. This week’s question: What is the probability that the highest scoring quarter of the winning team is greater than or equal to the total score of the losing team? For extra credit, how does the spread and total of the game affect this probability?
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