Before running through Saturday’s Week 6 college football marquee matchups, I wanted to quickly alert you to the trickiness of reading sharp action this year. That’s always been a challenge for oddsmakers. This season, more than ever, it seems that sharp groups are on different sides of the same game. Maybe some of that is simple market manipulation (sharps throw an early head fake to move the line, then come in stronger on their true intended side). Other times, one big player or syndicate may like a favorite at -4 or better (for example), while another prefers the dog at + 5 or more.
I’m paying very close attention to this dynamic. I don’t want to overreact to early money. I don’t want to underreact when I should move quickly. Sportsbooks aim to be positioned with the sharps against public sentiment. Our 11-10 edge creates more profit when that’s the case. As we work through college and NFL reports, I’ll let you know when this “fog of war” challenge is in play.
Matchups are presented in Nevada Rotation order so you can make notes on your schedules. I’ll only discuss team side betting today. There wasn’t much early action on Over/Unders.
Saturday, Oct. 9
Florida State at North Carolina (-17.5, 64.5)
ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET
Very little activity so far at my opener of UNC -17.5. It’s telling that sharps didn’t take Florida State just above a relatively key number (17 is two TD’s and a FG). FSU is 0-4 ATS since the season-opening cover vs. Notre Dame. No one -- sharp or public -- is looking to bet FSU right now.
No. 11 Michigan State (-5, 51) at Rutgers
Big Ten Network, noon ET
I’m taking Sparty money at my opener of MSU -5, but I’m not quite ready to move the line yet. I do see this number trending higher across the market. I’ll take another bet before I move. There isn’t sharp passion for the favorite. I’d be okay with a position on Rutgers at kickoff.
Connecticut (-3.5, 57) at Massachusetts
NESN, 3:30 p.m. ET
I can hear you laughing. This obviously isn’t a marquee matchup, but you wouldn’t believe how much action I’ve written on this game! It’s unbelievable. Bet after bet! I opened UConn -3.5. Bettors took the dog, so I dropped to 3. Customers laid back -3, and are now laying -3.5. Though, I did take a big money-line play on UMass at + 145. All the great matchups out there and this one is piling up tickets? Just goes to show you that if people think they have a winner, they’re going to bet it. If you’re confident about a team side in an ugly game, don’t be afraid to step in.
Maryland at No. 7 Ohio State (-20.5, 71)
FOX, noon ET
I opened Ohio State -21. I took a quick limit bet on Maryland from a sharp player and dropped to 20.5. Customers are starting to lay that price with the Buckeyes. I have to respect that first sharp bet, but I may not get much else on the Terps. I expect we’ll be back to 21 (or more) soon. Maryland looked so bad vs. Iowa last week that it will be hard for the public to back them here.
Virginia at Louisville (-2, 69)
ACC Network, 3 p.m. ET
This was one of my “Games of the Year” that first went up on the board months ago. Back then, I opened Louisville -1. Game got some play, but not enough to move off 1. This week I re-opened Louisville -2.5. A long-time respected customer bought Virginia up to + 3 (I charge -125 to do that). I dropped down to Louisville -2. Customers have since been laying the 2. I see a lot of 2.5’s out in the marketplace. I expect I’ll be back there soon (possibly by the time you read this).
Boise State at No. 10 BYU (-6, 57.5)
ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
I opened BYU -5. Sharps laid -5 and -5.5. I moved to BYU -6. I’m starting to see buy back from sharps on Boise State at that price. This is one of those games I talked about in the open: We may have competing sharps with BYU -5 and Boise State + 6. It’s possible BYU was a head fake, but the Cougars have been covering their “competitive” games with single digit spreads (3-0 ATS), while Boise State missed the market by two touchdowns last week against Nevada. Bettors in this state sure noticed that. I can see why “math” guys might like BYU at -5, while old school dog-heavy sharps would see value with Boise State + 6 in a bounce-back.
Utah at USC (-3, 52.5)
FOX, 8 p.m. ET
Fun one to study. My “Games of the Year” listing had USC -4 months ago. We took pretty good two-way action back then and never moved off the 4. This week, I opened USC -3.5. Sharps took the points with Utah. I’m starting to get play back on the Trojans. Even though the line hasn’t moved much in months, this is a completely different game. Over the summer, we thought this would be a blockbuster. Respected handicappers thought Utah could win the Pac-12. Now, Utah is 0-4 ATS. USC has already fired its head coach after a disappointing start.
No. 2 Georgia (-15.5, 47) at No. 18 Auburn
CBS, 3:30 p.m. ET
Big difference here from the “Games of the Year” package. I’m a little embarrassed to say I first opened Georgia -4! Back then, sharps bet the Bulldogs hard at -4, -4.5, -5, -5.5, -6, -6.5, and -7. I went to -7.5 and money was still coming in on Georgia at close. This week, I re-opened Georgia 14.5. Sharps bet that and -15 (moving away from the key number of 14). I’m still seeing some Georgia money come in. I may be at -16 soon. Obviously, I was way off with this one. Everyone knew Georgia was going to be great -- just not this great. After beating Clemson in their season opener, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 205-20 in four blowouts. I’m interested to see what price finally draws a nibble from sharp dog players.
LSU at No. 16 Kentucky (-3.5, 50.5)
SEC Network, 7:30 p.m. ET
Quite a loss of respect for LSU in the market of late. I opened Kentucky -3. Even though the Wildcats are in a clear letdown spot off the upset of Florida, smart money still laid the field goal. I’m up to Kentucky -3.5, as is the rest of the market. Sharps didn’t take the Tigers with the hook when it became available. That means it wasn’t a “line manipulation” scenario. Kentucky probably isn’t as good as its poll ranking. That won’t matter if LSU is still resting on past laurels.
West Virginia at Baylor (-2.5, 44.5)
FS1, noon ET
So odd to see such low totals in Baylor games. College football has changed a lot in recent years. I opened the team side Baylor -3. Quite a bit of sharp play on West Virginia. I dropped to Baylor -2.5 late Thursday morning. I see 2.5’s and 3’s across the market. Might be a game that hops back and forth, though sportsbooks are less likely to be friendly with the key number of 3 when points are at a premium in low-totaled matchups.
Wisconsin (-10.5, 42) at Illinois
Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET
I opened Wisconsin -8.5. Customers laid the 8.5, laid -9, -9.5, and even a little bit of -10. I moved up to -10.5 when it was confirmed that Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz was “probable” to play. As shaky as the Wisconsin offense has been this season, nobody wants to bet Illinois. At least not at the prices that have been available so far.
No. 6 Oklahoma (-3, 63.5) vs. No. 21 Texas (in Dallas)
ABC, noon ET
Great action. This has always been a heavily bet rivalry. This year, both teams are ranked, and have star players in the Heisman discussion. I opened Oklahoma -3 and haven’t budged. Great ticket counts both ways. I see other stores rising to 3.5 after taking Oklahoma money. I wouldn’t mind going into this game needing Texas. Great results in Big 12 play so far for the Horns. Oklahoma is 1-4 ATS, with the only cover coming in a scrimmage against Western Carolina. If you’re wondering about the “Games of the Year” price: I opened Oklahoma -9 back then. It got bet up to -10. Market is now impressed with Texas, and is more skeptical of OU.
No. 9 Michigan (-3.5, 50.5) at Nebraska
ABC, 7:30 p.m. ET
All Michigan money at my opener of -3. I thought Nebraska might get some respect of its 4-0-1 ATS run of late. That push came as a dog in overtime against Michigan State. That respect didn’t show up until the hook was on the board. I’m getting two-way play at 3.5. Michigan was the clear sharp choice at -3.
No. 1 Alabama (-18, 51.5) at Texas A&M
CBS, 8 p.m. ET
Here’s another spread that moved a lot from the “Games of the Year” package. Back then, I opened Alabama -10. Sharps bet it up to -11, before there was some buy back. I closed at 10.5. This week I re-opened at Alabama -17.5. It was bet up to -18. That’s only a half point, but important because it went away from a key number. Usually those pull line moves toward them. Nobody’s betting on the Aggies yet. A&M is 0-2 SU/ATS in SEC play already. They missed the spread by double digits against Arkansas and Mississippi State. Aggies were No. 6 in the preseason AP poll, but are unranked now.
No. 13 Arkansas at No. 17 Ole Miss (-6, 66.5)
ESPN, noon ET
Note the starting time here (and in Texas/OU). We’re to the point in the season where games listed further down in the Nevada Rotation may be early kickoffs after time changes. I opened Ole Miss -6.5. Sharps took the dog right away. Important because they didn’t even wait to see if + 7 became available. The public has been laying -6 with Ole Miss. Sharp money on Arkansas + 6.5 gets more respect. This line could drop more even if the ticket count strongly favors the favorite. Another example of sportsbooks wanting to be positioned with sharps against the public.
No. 4 Penn State at No. 3 Iowa (-2, 41)
FOX, 4 p.m. ET
Great action game and another one where perceptions of both teams have changed since the summer. This is the polar opposite of the Utah/USC game. My “Games of the Year” number was Iowa -1. During the summer, sharps laid -1, -1.5, and -2. Dog money started coming in just before I closed at Iowa -2.5. This week, I re-opened Iowa -2. Sharps took the + 2, so I dropped to 1.5. The market has been hopping between those numbers all week. Barely any move from months ago. But there’s no way anybody was thinking this would be No. 3 vs. No. 4 back then. On the “Games of the Year” lines, Iowa was + 7 against Iowa State. Penn State was + 3.5 vs. Wisconsin before money came in on the Badgers. I’m expecting a big handle by kickoff. Both programs have sharp and public constituencies right now.
No. 14 Notre Dame (-1, 47) at Virginia Tech
ACC Network, 7:30 p.m. ET
Interesting change in perception here. My “Games of the Year” number opened Notre Dame -2. Sharps laid -2, laid -3, and even laid -3.5. before I closed at -4. This week, I opened Notre Dame -1.5, and sharps bet the home dog. I’m down to Irish -1 because of respect for those sharp bets. The public is, and always will be on Notre Dame. My ticket count is about 5-1 for the Irish right now. This game may still end up lower at pick-em, because the sharp Virginia Tech money is more respected by sportsbooks.
UCLA (-16, 61) at Arizona
ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET
I try to include the USC and UCLA games each week because we have so many readers and bettors from Los Angeles. Honestly, not much happening in this game yet. Very little play at my opener of UCLA -16.
Before we call it a day, I wanted to mention that we got a lot of sharp play in the MAC this week. More so than usual. Wiseguys bet Akron (+ 14.5) at Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio (-1) at Eastern Michigan and Ohio (+ 6) vs. Central Michigan.
Thanks once again to all of you who have sent notes to VSiN, or tweeted about these articles to your followers. Your comments are greatly appreciated.
Chris Andrews is the Sportsbook Director at the South Point in Las Vegas, and has been a Nevada bookmaker for 30 years.