Before we get to all the big college games Saturday, a quick word on parlays.
Sportsbooks earn a good percentage of their profits from taking parlay bets (asking two or more options to cover at an increased return, but the picks must SWEEP for you to cash the ticket). There was some media chatter this week about what a large impact parlays had on New Jersey’s huge betting handle in October. I want you to think about something for a second…
Have you ever heard me (or any other oddsmaker) say “I took a sharp parlay bet today,” or “Sharps are betting this parlay.”
Unlikely. As a general rule, sharps don’t bet parlays!
Sharps look for value. Parlays rarely offer value. If you’re new to betting, or being stubborn about forcing too many parlays each week, you should be aware that parlays don’t pay out at true odds. The vigorish isn’t as obvious as 11/10 on straight bets. But, it’s there. Clearing the hurdle to win is harder than you realize, even before you factor in poor handicapping decisions.
Recreational bettors tend to parlay overpriced favorites, which compounds the issue. It’s important to remember that sharps DON’T parlay underpriced dogs. They bet them against the 11/10 vig, or straight up on the money line and let value grind out a profit.
There are times where sharps will consider parlays. Late in a season, if the result of Game A impacts whether or not the result in Game B matters, sharps will parlay the correlation.
Also, I used to have a guy who would parlay his best money line underdogs in Week One of the college football season on the assumption that betting markets were softest when least was known about each team. There were more “false favorites” in Week One then at any other time. He beat me pretty good over the years.
You shouldn’t be thinking about parlays this weekend. It’s not Week One in the colleges. There are no true “must win” correlations at exploitable prices in the colleges or pros.
One of my goals with putting together these market reports each week is to teach bettors how to think more like sharps. I know it’s fun to shoot for a jackpot. Nothing wrong with playing for entertainment if you’re betting responsibly. But, if you’re playing a lot of parlays, you’re not thinking or betting like a sharp. Remind yourself of that before making your final decisions.
Here's a look at betting activity in Saturday’s marquee matchups. Games are presented in Nevada rotation order so you can make notes on your schedules.
Saturday, Nov. 20
SMU at No. 5 Cincinnati (-11, 65)
ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET
Great betting game with a lot of interest so far because SMU is seen as a real threat to Cincinnati’s playoff hopes. I opened Cincinnati -12. That was a half-point below market at the time. I still thought it was high. Sharps took SMU + 12 and + 11.5, so I’ve dropped to + 11 and I’m still taking SMU bets from wiseguys. That said, my ticket count is 2/1 for Cincinnati because the public loves betting ranked favorites who “need” to win. I’m guessing sharps will keep betting SMU unless or until the line drops to 10. For Over/Unders in today’s report, I’ll only talk about lines that have moved. Nothing yet to report here. Still at my opener of 65.
Virginia Tech at Miami (-8, 56)
ACC Network, 7:30 p.m. ET
This was part of my “games of the year package” last summer. I’ve been telling you all season that I had been really high on Miami entering the new campaign. Big disappointment. I opened and closed -10 this past summer. Took bets on both teams at that price. This week I reopened Miami -7. There was early interest in the Hurricanes. Then, news broke that Virginia Tech had fired head coach Justin Fuente. I moved to Miami -8 on the combination of bets and news. No buy back yet on Tech.
No. 7 Michigan State at No. 4 Ohio State (-19, 68.5)
ABC, noon ET
Quite a bit of play in this game even though my opening line of Ohio State -19 hasn’t moved. Michigan State is a rare public dog. Recreational bettors are all over Sparty. Do you remember the last “public dog” I talked about? Purdue on this very same field last week! Ohio State bashed the Boilermakers. I won’t move my number until I see sharps taking a stand. They’re not betting yet. It’s telling that wiseguys aren’t on this highly-ranked double digit dog. They don’t like betting on soft defenses against explosive offenses. I took a sharp Over bet on my opening total of 67.5. I moved straight to 68.5 to stay in line with the market. That may be the way some sharps support Ohio State this week. Take the Over and don’t worry about a high point spread in garbage time. Sparty played to 69 points against Purdue, 70 against Michigan. OSU played to 90 last week against Purdue.
No. 6 Michigan (-15.5, 56.5) at Maryland
Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET
My opener of Michigan -15 was bet up to -15.5 on public money and I don’t see any resistance yet from sharps. It might take as much as 17 for wiseguys to nibble on this ugly dog. Maryland has had poor results vs. quality teams this year. Michigan could get caught looking ahead to Ohio State. Will that distraction matter against Maryland’s bad defense?
Texas at West Virginia (-3, 56.5)
ESPN2, noon ET
This was also part of my “games of the year” package several months ago. My, how both teams have fallen. Back then, I opened and closed at pick-em with split action. This week, I reopened West Virginia -2.5. Sharps laid that number against the slumping Longhorns. I’m up to -3, which I see across the market. Sharps stopped fading Texas at the field goal. Tough to love either side. Texas has failed to cover five straight, missing the market by 17 and 32 points the last two weeks. West Virginia is 2-4 ATS its last six.
No. 10 Wake Forest at Clemson (-4, 56.5)
ESPN, noon ET
This wasn’t in my “games of the year” package. Nobody last summer would have imagined that Wake Forest would be the top-10 team and Clemson the unranked team in this matchup! My opening line of Clemson -3.5 is up to -4. I took a few Clemson bets and the market was trending upward. I even see Clemson -4.5. in the marketplace. I’m interested in monitoring game-day betting. It’s not uncommon to see ranked teams getting points on the road from unranked teams. A bit more rare to see top-10 teams getting more than a field goal from unranked teams this late in a season.
Nebraska at No. 15 Wisconsin (-9.5, 42)
ABC, 3:30 ET
I opened Wisconsin -10 and the first bet in came from a sharp on Nebraska + 10, so I dropped to 9.5. The public is laying me back the 9.5. But, I do see the line dropping at other stores. I may be down to 9 soon if sharps keep backing the Huskers. Nebraska hasn’t lost a game by more than nine all season despite facing a schedule that includes Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma.
No. 3 Oregon at No. 23 Utah (-3, 58.5)
ABC, 7:30 p.m. ET
Great betting game. It’s already one of the most heavily bet games this week. It may end up with top honors thanks to a prime time start. Many other top TV games are early in the day. I haven’t moved off my opener of 3 because both sides are drawing support. There’s more sharp money on Utah, which is a team wiseguys were high on entering the season. The Utes are 5-1 straight up, 4-2 ATS since a surprisingly shaky start. Oregon’s been within a field goal of the number four straight games, after failing to cover its prior four.
Georgia Tech at No. 8 Notre Dame (-17, 58.5)
NBC, 2:30 p.m. ET
We know the public always wants Notre Dame. This week, sharps laid -15.5 against my opener, so I went straight to -16.5 when I saw that. Another sharp laid -16.5 and I’m at -17 now without any buyback yet on Georgia Tech. No idea how high this will go. I am pretty sure sportsbooks will be writing Notre Dame tickets until kickoff before rooting for Georgia Tech. There is a line move here on the total to report. I took a sharp bet Under my opener of 59.5. I dropped straight to 58.5. Very little betting since.
UCLA (-3.5, 65.5) at USC
FOX, 4 p.m. ET
Current line is a mirror image of my “games of the year” opener. Months ago, I opened USC -3.5. Sharps bet that up to -4 and -4.5. I got a little play on UCLA + 4.5 before closing at that line. This week, I reopened UCLA -3.5. A sharp took USC, dropping me back to a field goal. The public has been betting UCLA heavily enough that I had to move back to -3.5. Looks like sharps will take USC at + 3.5, but not + 3. The public hasn’t seen USC play well in a big TV game all season. No motivation to take them here.
No. 21 Arkansas at No. 2 Alabama (-20.5, 58)
CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET
Good two-way play from the public at my opener of 20.5 I see as low as 20 and as high as 21 out in the market. That means sharps aren’t betting with me. They’d take + 21 if they liked the dog, or lay -20 if they liked the favorite. I’ll let future bets determine movement at my store. For now, there’s no reason to budge with such active two-way interest.
Iowa State at No. 13 Oklahoma (-4, 59)
FOX, noon ET
This was part of my “games of the year” package last summer. That was when many were assuming this would be a conference championship caliber matchup. My opener of OU -6 was bet up to -7 and -7.5. This week I reopened Oklahoma -4.5 and sharp interest in Iowa State has driven that down to -4. (And, everyone’s talking about how great Baylor and Oklahoma State are playing!). Both OU and Iowa State are only 40% against the spread so far this season. I took a sharp bet Under my opening total of 60 and dropped straight to 59. No action since.
No. 9 Oklahoma State (-10.5, 56.5) at Texas Tech
FOX, 8 p.m. ET
I opened Oklahoma State -11. Sharps took the points, so I’m down to 10.5 and starting to get public play back on the Cowboys. Sharps don’t seem interested in the dog + 10.5. The public hasn’t shown much interest in Okie State this season. It’s a bit easier to cover eight in a row when nobody’s paying attention to you! Recreational bettors who do well early in the day may come in later on this prime time TV favorite. Sharps will likely take Tech + 11 whenever it's available.
No. 11 Baylor at Kansas State (pick-em, 50)
FS1, 5:30 p.m. ET
Another good betting game. I haven’t moved off my opening line of pick-em. I’ve seen both teams favored elsewhere. Sharps are taking either dog when available. I haven’t taken many sharp bets yet because I’ve been glued to pick-em. But, I can tell you that sharp interest is slanted toward K-State at my store. Sharps are much more likely than the public to expect a letdown. Baylor is coming off that huge win over Oklahoma last week in Waco.
Good luck with all of your college bets Saturday. Remember to be careful with parlays if you insist on playing them. I’ll be back with you tomorrow to discuss a loaded NFL slate that includes Dallas/Kansas City, Green Bay/Minnesota, Indianapolis/Buffalo, Arizona/Seattle and New Orleans/Philadelphia.
Chris Andrews is the Sportsbook Director at the South Point in Las Vegas and has been a Nevada bookmaker for 30 years.