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Buckeyes hard to figure in opener

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

Ohio State and Oklahoma State are the first Top 10 college football teams to take the field in the 2017 season. Are they in any danger from three-TD underdogs Indiana and Tulsa? A powerhouse parade through the first full weekend of college action begins Thursday in VSiN City.

College Football: In a scheduling rarity, #2 Ohio State opens season in Big Ten play at Indiana
The tradition of the Ohio State Buckeyes opening their regular season with home “paycheck” games against smaller state brethren like Bowling Green, Akron, Miami-Ohio, and Youngstown State takes a hiatus with a once unthinkable conference opener at Indiana. Thank you TV money!

There’s some added flavor in this affair because last year’s Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is this year’s Ohio State offensive coordinator. The Buckeyes are hoping to improve on offense after a season that saw them bulldoze weak opponents but struggle vs. quality. Indiana is hoping an emphasis on defense will keep them competitive against schools with better recruiting bases. 

Here’s a quick look at key data from last season. The strength of schedule rankings are from Jeff Sagarin at USA Today. Returning starter counts are from the Athlon summer newsstand publication. 

Ohio State (11-2) at Indiana (6-7) 

  • Against the Spread: Ohio State 6-7, Indiana 6-7
  • Offensive Ranking: Ohio State #31, Indiana #56
  • Defensive Ranking: Ohio State #6, Indiana #45
  • Sagarin Schedule Strength: Ohio State #6, Indiana #63
  • Athlon Returning Starters: Ohio State 8 off/7 def, Indiana 5 off/9 def
  • Last Year: Ohio State -28.5 only beat Indiana 38-17 (383-271 in yardage)
  • Las Vegas Line: Ohio State by 21, total of 57

Kickoff is at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Ohio State was a tricky team to deal with last season. The Buckeyes started like a juggernaut, bullying their way to 4-0 straight up and ATS records that included a 21-point win at talented Oklahoma. After that, the Buckeyes would fail to cover the spread in seven of their last nine games. That would include:

  • An ugly 17-16 win at Michigan State as 21-point favorites
  • A failure to establish meaningful superiority over other top Big Ten teams, losing by 3 at Penn State and going overtime with Wisconsin and Michigan
  • A complete embarrassment in the National Semifinal vs. Clemson, where they lost scoreboard 31-0, total yardage 470-215, and yards-per-play 5.5 to 3.8

The Buckeyes could really run up the score when things were going well. They were stunningly sluggish way too often down the stretch (and utterly inept vs. Clemson). Plus, poor postseason yardage performances for other Big Ten powers raised questions about whether the league truly was nationally elite. 

  • Penn State was outgained 575-465 by USC in the Rose Bowl
  • Michigan was outgained 371-252 by Florida State in the Orange

When Big Ten powers were matched up against other national powers in the postseason, they didn’t look at the point of attack like a conference ready to win a trophy. Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan were outgained 1,416 to 932 by Clemson, USC, and FSU. 

Ohio State enters the new season at #2 in the national rankings because they return a lot of talent, return a well-known quarterback in J.T. Barrett (though the offense could still only rank #81 nationally in passing last season), and may have a new offensive game plan that will function better vs. quality. 

Last season, Indiana was one of those mid-level teams that didn’t have the horses to impress as favorites vs. lesser lights, but fought hard and long as underdogs vs. rivals. 

  • Indiana was 1-4 ATS as favorites of 7 or more
  • Indiana was 3-1 ATS as underdogs of 5 or more, covering at Ohio State and at Michigan

Indiana’s defense improved so much last season under then coordinator Tom Allen, that he was given the head coaching job. That suggests at the very least a tight, controlled, physical effort designed to keep Thursday night’s game from getting away from them. That can be easier said than done when you have the lesser athletes. 

Sharps have had all summer to bet the early line here. They wanted no part of Ohio State at -21. That speaks to respect for Indiana as a home dog. The public is likely to bet the Buckeyes and hope for a blowout in a TV game they plan on watching. Sharps will buy back anything that goes over the 21. You saw in McGregor/Mayweather last week that sharp money can be overwhelmed by public money in marquee spots. Sports books may be forced to take a position that has them rooting for the underdog as well. 

College Football: #10 Oklahoma State will have big edge at QB over Tulsa…but can its defense protect a cover?
The other top ten team in action Thursday night is a popular darkhorse pick to upset Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship this season. Will the Oklahoma State Cowboys impress in their season opener against state rival Tulsa?

Tulsa (10-3) at Oklahoma State (10-3) 

  • Against the Spread: Tulsa 9-4, Oklahoma State 8-5
  • Offensive Ranking: Tulsa #4, Oklahoma State #14
  • Defensive Ranking: Tulsa #75, Oklahoma State #92
  • Sagarin Schedule Strength: Tulsa #95, Oklahoma State #52
  • Athlon Returning Starters: Tulsa 7 off/7 def, Oklahoma State 7 off/5 def
  • Las Vegas Line: Oklahoma State by 18, total of 69.5

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. ET on the Fox Sports 1. You’ll recall that this was the game moved from what had originally been a Saturday kickoff for this TV spot on FS1. Chris Andrews of the South Point was very kind to let everyone who bet Okie State at -10 keep those early positions after the huge line move. Most stores just refund bets after a date change. 

Why the big discrepancy between Chris’s early estimate of the right price, and the subsequent surge from the sharps? It’s easy to trace that to the quarterback position. Dane Evans had a big year for Tulsa in 2016, but was lost to graduation. All anyone can do is guess how far the Golden Hurricanes will fall in Power Ratings from a mostly stellar AAC campaign. There’s not much buzz about the replacement options, meaning star running back D’Angelo Brewer will have to carry a heavy load early in the season.

Oklahoma State will be led again by quarterback Mason Rudolph, who posted big numbers in a high-octane attack. He’s on the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates. Okie State could have such a big edge at the QB position that it covers that pointspread all by itself.  

There was a lot of media buzz about Oklahoma State “really” being 11-2 last year instead of 10-3 because of that controversial home loss to Central Michigan. While it’s true that the Cowboys got hosed…we’re talking about a 17-point favorite that would have barely won a game...that would ended with relatively even stats. The poor performance was a strike against the Cowboys in handicapping terms even if it shouldn’t have counted as a loss. If wins were based on total yardage, Okie State would have only gone 7-5 last season because of its poor defense. They were outgained by Baylor, Texas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma (629-403!) in addition to CMU. 

It’s safe to assume Oklahoma State will score a bunch of points Thursday night. The key to the cover will likely be how much Tulsa’s inexperienced quarterback can do against the typically soft OSU defense. 

Tomorrow in VSiN City we’ll go in-depth for Alabama/Florida State and Florida/Michigan. 

VSiN Point Spread Weekly: College football “stability” ratings
You’ve probably heard by now about our new online subscription publication called Point Spread Weekly. You can check out this week’s 27-page edition by going to vsin.com/subscribe. The first issue is free, so you can make sure it's worth your money.

An interesting feature focuses on what author Steve Makinen calls “Stability Score.” These are a handy representation of how much coaching, quarterback, and starting talent returns from the prior season. This information is very important right at the start of a new season. Which is why YOU should be familiar with them as the first big week of college action is about to begin.

We encourage you to study the data for every board team, as posted on page 11 in the publication. Here’s a quick look at the extremes from Makinen’s formula...

Least Stable Teams (losing head coaches, coordinators, experienced talent)
Mississippi
Western Michigan
Baylor
California
Houston
Minnesota
San Jose State
UAB

San Jose State played last week, and managed to cover its spread against South Florida. The lack of stability doesn’t guarantee early season failure. But knowing who’s starting relatively from scratch will give you a sense of the challenges these teams will be facing to get everyone on the same page out of the gate. Houston’s instability was only worsened by the weather disaster there this week.

Most Stable Teams (those returning head coaches, coordinators, experienced talent)
Georgia
Miami of Ohio
NC State
Syracuse
TCU

On the other side of the coin, stability doesn’t guarantee success. Returning a bunch of mediocre starters doesn’t make them great! But Georgia and TCU, in particular, are hoping to play prominent roles in their conference races this season. Will the betting markets properly weight their experience and talent in September action?

We hope you enjoy this week’s free edition of Point Spread Weekly. Remember that it will be even bigger next week when the NFL starts!

MLB: Yankees get swept by Indians, will now have to sweat Wildcard spot
The New York Yankees have blown hot and cold in fairly extreme fashion this season. Though they were just swept at home in a three-game series by surging AL power Cleveland at prices of pick-em, -135, and -180, the Yanks actually have a slightly better win percentage since the All-Star Break (.532) than they had before (.523). That all adds up to only eight games over .500 heading into a four-game series in the Bronx against the Red Sox that begins Thursday night. Boston just swept a three-game series in Toronto.

AL East Standings (using games over/under .500)
Boston plus 19
NYY plus 8
Baltimore plus 3
Tampa Bay -1
Toronto -11

Wasn’t Toronto just in the Wildcard race several days ago. The Jays have fallen by the wayside. Many others are still percolating in the pot.

AL Wildcard Race (two spots available)
NYY plus 8
Minnesota plus 6
LA Angels plus 4
Baltimore plus 3
Texas even
Tampa Bay -1
Seattle -2
Kansas City -2

Minnesota gets another home game against the collapsed Chicago White Sox before hosting the Kansas City Royals in a huge weekend series. Baltimore begins a four-game series with fading Toronto Thursday night. Texas finishes its stay at the Tropicana vs. Houston Thursday, then hosts the Angels this weekend. Tampa Bay has a chance to climb the totem pole with a weekend series against the ChiSox. 

In the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers are back within three-games of a Wildcard spot, and 3.5 games of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central after beating St. Louis Wednesday. 

NL Central
Chicago Cubs plus 12
Milwaukee plus 5
St. Louis even
Pittsburgh -8
Cincinnati -19

NL Wildcard
Arizona plus 17
Colorado plus 11
Milwaukee plus 5

Milwaukee begins a four-game home series against Washington Thursday night. Both the Cubs and Rockies will be rooting hard for the Nats! Arizona finishes its series with the LA Dodgers Thursday, then visits likely Wildcard opponent Colorado over the weekend. 

Clearly a HUGE weekend for the Brewers. A bad spell, and they could fall out of two different races. Some wins coupled with Colorado losses…and the NL Wildcard picture starts to get very interesting.

Overnight Thursday lines for games of interest:
LA Dodgers (Maeda) at Arizona (Greinke): Greinke pick-em, total of 9 Under -120
Washington (Gonzalez) at Milwaukee (Davies): Davies -110, total of 8.5 Over -125
Boston (Rodriguez) at NY Yankees (Sabathia): Sabathia -120, total of 9 Over -120

US Open Tennis: Shapovalov upsets #8 seed Tsonga in straight sets
We weren’t going to spend much time on the US Open until a window of opportunity opened in the middle of next week. But we had to follow up on yesterday’s post on Denis Shapovalov. The 18-year-old from Canada upset #8 seed Jo-Willfried Tsonga Wednesday evening as a 200 underdog. The final tally: 6-4, 6-4, 7-6. 

Shapovalov will face Kyle Edmund of Great Britain in the third round. The Canadian is in the same quarter of the men’s bracket as #5 seed Marin Cilic, but wouldn’t face him until the Round of eight. 

Immediately after Wednesday’s upset, Shapovalov moved to 2900 to win the event at the Betfair exchange overseas. That’s a price in the same neighborhood as Americans John Isner at plus 2500, and Sam Querrey plus 3300; but well behind favorites Roger Federer near plus 200, Rafael Nadal near 300, and Cilic near plus 650. 

That will do it for Thursday. Thanks for joining us each and every weekday here in VSiN City. Don’t forget that a subscription to this newsletter is FREE. Signing up gets you morning delivery in your email box, plus easy access to the daily betting sheets from the South Point. 

If you haven’t followed us on twitter yet, please click here for news and programming updates throughout the day. If you have any comments or questions about VSiN programming or this newsletter, please drop us a note, or leave a comment in the Facebook widget below. 

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