Christmas in late May is an apt description for the excitement shared by bettors and bookmakers alike last week when a pair of Las Vegas books released their college football Games of the Year.
Tony Miller, executive director at the Golden Nugget, and his first lieutenant, Aaron Kessler, unveiled lines on 100 games at high noon on Thursday.
The games — featuring high-profile matchups such as Alabama-Auburn, Ohio State-Michigan and TexasOklahoma — are spread out fairly evenly over the entire course of the regular season, beginning with the Aug. 24 sunshine showdown in Orlando, Fla., pitting rivals Florida and Miami against one another and ending with one of the most underrated treasures in all of sport, the Dec. 14 classic between military rivals Army and Navy in potentially snowy Philadelphia.
The Golden Nugget, a stand-alone sports book located in downtown Las Vegas, threw its hat back in the business of posting college Games of the Year after sitting out 2018.
Miller, Kessler and Bruce Marshall, editor of The Gold Sheet, used their collective knowledge, extensive experience and love of college football to collaboratively arrive at the point spreads rolled out Thursday.
“The Games of the Year are great publicity for the Golden Nugget,” Miller said a few days after the dust had settled from this year’s unveiling. “We don’t win a lot and we don’t lose a lot. But we do create new guests visiting our property and establish new relationships for the football season.”
About 15 minutes short of noon, a relatively small group of sports bettors — probably a dozen or so, including myself — formed two lines in the Nugget’s book. The betting bonanza began and players had the ability to make up to three plays for up to $1,000 a game before having to retreat to the back of the line.
The third bettor to get a shot at the numbers, my first play was Navy 13 over Army in a game which will not be played for more than six months.
Miller said this year’s opening day handle fell short of some previous years.
“We had pretty solid numbers (betting lines) this year,” the veteran Vegas bookmaker said, “which resulted in one of our lowest handles ever. We were just shy of $100,000 (on the first day of betting).”
One day earlier with no previous announcement, CG Technology, which operates sports books at the Venetian, the Palms, Cosmopolitan and other Vegas locations, had released more than 80 college Games of the Year. Many of the marquee games offered by the properties were not surprisingly the same.
Although I wager on other sports, primarily late-season college basketball and PGA Tour matchups, college football has historically been my strongest suit.
Fairly regularly, I get asked when I start preparing for the next college football season. The answer is I never stop consuming information about the sport. Almost daily, I will read something regarding college football. If it relates to personnel — perhaps another entry into the ever-growing transfer portal or an injury which could impact a player’s availability for the upcoming season — I will make handwritten notes in one of two or three old-fashioned spiral notebooks I might have in play at any given time.
To paraphrase a popular saying, college football, for me, has no finish line. It’s a journey, not a destination.
Some time around the end of March Madness this year, I ramped up my process, making notes on college football’s royalty — those Top 20 or so teams one would expect to be included in at least one Game of the Year.
Ultimately, I will set my projected line for games I anticipated may be included. My approach at this time of year — more than any other — is fundamental handicapping: out-work the linemaker; have a deeper understanding of the teams; and, thus, be able to spot an off number.
One of my general rules of thumb in betting Games of the Year is only play a game if you believe the line you’re getting today is better than the one that will be widely available the week of the game.
There’s at least a couple of reasons for this. One, bettors — at least this one — are hopeful of having enough line value in some games to create opportunities for “middles” where you bet the other side of the same game, hoping to win both bets. Two, if the line you’re getting in late May is not superior to the one that’s ultimately available in mid-December, why tie up a portion of your bankroll for more than half the calendar year?
Following are my 19 bets made last week:
• at Central Florida -2.5 over Stanford Oct. 5
• Michigan State 14.5 at Ohio State • Auburn 7 at Florida Oct. 26
• Auburn 7.5 at LSU Nov. 2
• Georgia -3.5 over Florida
• Utah 6 at Washington Nov. 9
• at Wisconsin -2.5 over Iowa Nov. 16
• Michigan State 13.5 at Michigan Nov 29
• Washington State 9 at Washington Dec. 14
• Navy 13 over Army CG Technology Aug. 31 • Northwestern 8.5 at Stanford Sept. 14
• Florida -6 at Kentucky Sept. 28
• Virginia 16.5 at Notre Dame Oct. 12
• at LSU -3 over Florida Oct. 26
• at Michigan State 2.5 over Penn State Oct. 31
• at Baylor 3 over West Virginia Nov. 2
• Virginia Tech 15 at Notre Dame Nov. 9
• Tennessee 6 at Kentucky Nov. 16
• at Auburn 8 over Georgia
Paul Stone is a Texas-based college football handicapper and VSiN contributor.