Handicapping double-digit point spreads, Part II

September 13, 2019 10:59 PM

Before the 2019 college football season began, there were hopes that Saturday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference clash featuring #1 Clemson at Syracuse (ABC, 7:30 p.m. ET) would be a potential headline-maker. 

The Carrier Dome has hosted countless home dog upsets in its long history. Clemson would be in a potential letdown spot after facing a talented opponent from the Southeastern Conference in Texas A&M. Syracuse hung tough at Clemson a year ago, losing a 27-23 heartbreaker before the Tigers’ offense ignited over the last two-thirds of the season. 

Sure, Clemson was going to be a double-digit favorite (true for all their regular-season games). Summer estimates pegged the Orange in the range of a 17- to 21-point underdog. But at least there were some suggestions that lightning could strike. Upsets do happen in that price range when super-motivated dogs catch overconfident favorites flat-footed. 

All that changed dramatically after Syracuse (plus 1) was slaughtered 63-20 at Maryland last week. Fans and bettors were reminded of the Orange’s vulnerability in a game that missed the spread by six touchdowns:

  • Syracuse fell behind 42-13 in the first half, while allowing long touchdown drives of 67, 75, 75, and 86 yards. This speaks to poor preparation and an inability to make in-game adjustments. 
  • Syracuse was ultimately outgained 650-400 on 7.9 to 5.7 yards-per-play,  even though the opposing Terps were mostly running clock with a big lead in the second half. Maryland won extended garbage time 21-7. That margin by itself would have been embarrassing if it hadn’t come on the heels of the first half debacle. 
  • Syracuse made it clear that it hadn’t improved at all defensively from a sorry 2018. Last season, the Orange ranked #116 in pass defense, and #88 in total defense. 

How could Syracuse stop the now-potent Clemson attack if inconsistent Maryland could move the ball and score at will? 

Once last week’s action was in the books, Clemson went up on the board as 26-point road favorites. Early money came in on the Tigers, raising the number to 28. There was some midweek sharp buy back on the dog at that price. Be sure you monitor game-day pricing for a read on sharp sentiment. Early indicators suggest pro bettor preferences for Clemson at -27 or less, but Syracuse at plus 28 or more.

Yesterday, we discussed handicapping college games with double-digit spreads. Those factors are clearly in play here. Handicappers must consider:

  • Dabo Swinney’s interest (if any) in running up the score. The Clemson coach may be more focused on keeping everyone healthy with a playoff berth virtually certain at full strength. 
  • Syracuse’s ability to score from behind. The Orange lost the ball on downs or punted on its final five second-half drives at Maryland. 
  • Schedule dynamics. Clemson is in the projected letdown spot after controlling Texas A&M last week in a high-profile TV game. It could come in overconfident. Syracuse is a least in a bounce-back spot with conference revenge in front of what could be an influential home crowd. 

Handicapping garbage time will be a recurrent theme through the coming months, even in prime time TV showcases.

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