Information is important. Without it, especially in betting sports, you are largely lost. Whether it’s analytics or intel on rosters and injuries, having as much intel as possible is a necessity for prolonged success.
With that acknowledged, please don’t take what I am about to write as a counter for what amounts to reasonable thinking. In two instances last weekend, more information led many gamblers astray.
Weeks ago, I implored you to wait as long as possible before you bet on college football games this year. With COVID-19 and strict regulations about contact tracing -- coupled with college football coaches’ obsession with secrecy and misinformation -- it’s hard to know just how impacted a team’s roster will be until the team takes the field or the game is postponed
In two instances last weekend, late information on player availability produced rapid line movements. It was learned late Friday afternoon that Minnesota would be without about 20 players and coaches for its game against Purdue due to COVID-19. Before the news hit, Minnesota was a 2.5-point favorite and gaining steam. When the absences became public knowledge, the line swung five points, and Purdue was the favorite before kickoff.
The same ritual happened with Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. While the Hokies were 3.5-point favorites leading into the afternoon, it was learned that the Panthers were down 16 players shortly before kickoff. As such, the line jumped three points before the game began.
People reacted to information. Not just information, but critical information that understandably influenced behavior.
The final outcomes? Minnesota won outright in a thriller -- thanks largely to an assist from officials -- and Pittsburgh demolished Virginia Tech short-handed.
It’s not the first time this has happened this year. It won’t be the last time either. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the betting markets and will continue to do so.
Good information is still paramount. And as we know, good information -- or what feels like it in the moment -- doesn’t always translate. With COVID poised to affect games and rosters through the end of the year, that theme is likely to continue.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. The Tulsa cover. I’m not sure I need to say any more to those who bet Tulane last week. But I still can’t believe it. Down 14 points with its third-string quarterback, Tulsa connected on a Hail Mary to send the game to overtime and capped the comeback with a pick-six to cover the 5-point spread. I was on Tulane, and I can say it’s one of the crueler beats I’ve ever had. All-timer.
2. Except maybe this one. If you haven’t seen the end of Virginia-Abilene Christian yet, I implore you to watch it immediately. It’s a magnificent horror show.
3. I owe Indiana an apology. I didn’t love the game against Ohio State or the nearly-three-touchdown spread for either side. And I certainly wish I would’ve been more bullish on the Over. The more I explored this game, however, the more I thought Ohio State’s talent and speed would rule. And through about two quarters, the game was progressing as I thought it would. Then Indiana did its thing. And although the Hoosiers lost, it turns out this is a good football team with fun, talented players. Speaking of, how about wide receiver Ty Fryfogle? Seven more catches, 218 yards and three touchdowns. Ridiculous season for a breakout player.
4. We’ve talked plenty about Jim Harbaugh — and goodness, what a glorious mess that win against Rutgers was. But we should have that same conversation, if not a more pointed one, about Scott Frost. I thought Nebraska made a home-run hire. I thought he would return the Cornhuskers to a place of prominence — not to the Nebraska days of old, but something closer than we’ve seen in a while. The Cornhuskers are nearly a two-touchdown underdog to Iowa this week and just lost by 18 points to Illinois after closing as a 16.5-point favorite. Yikes. Frost was given, oddly, a two-year contract extension last December to help with recruiting. He’s not going anywhere. At least not yet. But what an underwhelming return it has been.
5. So we should probably start talking about Northwestern, yes? The Wildcats played an outstanding, super Big Ten-ish game against Wisconsin and won outright as 7.5-point underdogs. The Wildcats are 5-0 (5-0 ATS) and will close the regular season with games at Michigan State, at Minnesota and against Illinois. They’re double-digit favorites this week and seem likely to be a touchdown favorite or better moving forward. Potentially playing Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game is, of course, another story entirely. But this week showed the Buckeyes might be vulnerable, and Northwestern is solid. We need to start talking about this team as a potential playoff participant. If the Wildcats win out, they’re in.
5a. This is not a football observation. This is much more important. Please fry your turkeys. Regardless of what your Thanksgiving looks like this year, you deserve it, your loved ones deserve it and we all deserve it. If you’ve never fried a turkey, the time is now. (Also, don’t throw it in your deep fryer frozen because that will not go well. As long as you don’t do that, you’re in for a delight.)
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. Notre Dame (-5, 66.5) vs. North Carolina: What version of North Carolina will we get? As we dive into the week’s most intriguing game, a game that feels like it has a good chance to go Over the total, you have to start there. The Tar Heels’ two losses came to Virginia and Florida State (gross). But the offense, led by quarterback Sam Howell, can be dynamic. As such, UNC has hit the Over the last four games. The Irish have hit the Over in three of their last four games, the highlight being the 47-40 win over Clemson. Remember all those passing yards Notre Dame gave up in that game? Yes, so do I. The Irish will likely be a public pick if the line stays as is. This could be a fantastic football game.
2. Texas (-1, 56.5) vs. Iowa State: You could make the argument that Iowa State just delivered one of the most dominating performances in program history. Granted, the performance came against Kansas State. But the Cyclones dominated the Wildcats 45-0 as 13-point favorites, flashing balance on offense and an active defense. But, again, Kansas State. This promises to be a more competitive matchup, and Texas has put together three quality wins since losing to Oklahoma. Both teams seem to be rounding into form at just the right time. Both offenses should be able to move the ball. Texas is only 2-5 against the number, although it’s still getting plenty of respect. That’s nothing new. It’s Texas, after all.
3. Alabama (-24.5, 62.5) vs. Auburn: Somewhat quietly, Auburn has rebounded from a 2-2 start. The rebound has not come against the elite teams of the conference, but the Tigers are 5-2 (4-3 ATS) and have momentum. That momentum really doesn’t feel like it matters much in a matchup like this. Alabama, in most instances, is in a constant state of momentum. Even without wideout Jaylen Waddle, the Crimson Tide offense has remained explosive. And the defense has allowed a combined three points in the last two games. Despite being largely massive chalk on most Saturdays, Alabama has still covered in five of seven games. Their games have also gone Over five times. While it’s a lot of points to stomach, this feels like a nightmare matchup for Auburn, which remains a bit offensively challenged. It goes without saying that this might not feel like a rivalry game for long.
4. Texas A&M (-14.5, 64.5) vs. LSU: Before COVID postponed Texas A&M’s previous two games, few (if any) programs across college football had been trending better. That opening game, a perplexing 17-12 thriller over woeful Vanderbilt, feels like a distant memory. You could say the same thing about LSU’s national championship back in January. Given the exodus of talent, perhaps that was expected. While a 27-24 win over Arkansas doesn’t exactly ignite a great deal of confidence, especially when you consider the Tigers were 42-point favorites in that same game a season ago, it’s a decent win. The problem? The Aggies have covered the spread in three of four games, which could have easily been four of four. The unknown, however, is the layoff and what impact it could have.
5. Oklahoma (-10.5, 54.5) vs. West Virginia: This version of Oklahoma — the one that has outscored teams 198-64 over the last four games — looks a lot like the team we expected to see to start the year. The Sooners have covered their last five games against the spread, and the loss to Kansas State as a 27.5-point favorite feels like a sudden blip more than anything else. West Virginia, at the very least, poses an interesting obstacle the week after a rivalry game. The Mountaineers will be at home, and they are 5-2-1 ATS on the season. They haven’t lost a game against the spread at home all year. If Oklahoma plays like it did against Oklahoma State when it easily covered as a 6.5-point favorite, West Virginia will likely be overmatched. But this is the No. 13 scoring defense in the country, which should at least push back some.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
USC (-11.5, 64.5) vs. Colorado: We are approaching the halfway point of the Pac-12’s schedule, which is frankly bizarre. I still have no idea how good USC is at 3-0. I’m not sure this game will tell us that, but it’s a meaningful matchup nonetheless. Colorado, albeit in a limited sample size, is off to a nice start. I’ll say this: I didn’t expect these teams to head into this game unbeaten.
Boise State (-12, 58.5) vs. San Jose State: Fun one here, and if you followed this column over the last few weeks you know how we feel about high-quality Group of Five tussles. Boise State is back on track after being blown out by BYU, and San Jose State remains unbeaten. An upset here, and the Spartans will make a compelling case to be ranked.
Michigan (-2.5, 58.5) vs. Penn State: Pain. That’s what at least one fan base will feel after this game is decided, and it seems possible that even the winning fan base will be miserable after it’s said and done. For as bad as Michigan has been, Penn State is a mess. I don’t know how to feel about either side, but I am certain to watch the hilarity unfold.