The Reckoning Week #11 – College

by dave on November 19, 2012

I was once at a party in college when my roommate and I ran out to grab something to eat relatively late in the evening before returning to the party (full disclosure: I may have been talking to an attractive young woman before we left). When we got back pretty much everyone else had gone out to the bars, but we were both under 21 and without a decent fake ID, so it was just my roommate and me and the hosts. As the last two remaining, we were awkwardly out of place.

As FAU lost meekly to FIU on Friday night, I thought of this party because it is a pretty good parallel to my betting relationship with the Sun Belt conference. It started out pretty well, we were all enjoying ourselves, until without noticing, it was too late and I had awkwardly over-stayed my visit.

And so it was with Sun Belt teams. For weeks I had looked to the often ignored Sun Belt for value. For a while it produced; it was the cute girl at the party. But then things turned. The sports books started adjusting lines and the value dried up faster than a party clears out when the keg goes dry.

But I didn’t take the hint. I kept looking – there had to be a cute girl here somewhere. Alas, in the end I drunkenly stumbled around until I started talking to a coat rack named FAU.

It is easy to get comfortable with something that is working. When a team continues to beat the spread, it is simple to keep betting it. But, it is sometimes overlooked that you aren’t the only one with a stake in those games. The sports books don’t want any team consistently beating the spread (unless everyone is betting against it). They learn at the same time you do. With each win against the spread, the next line will be adjusted a little more. Over time, where value once existed, it is gone.

Another lesson for me is the dangers of relying solely on numbers for betting. I know professionals, to a certain extent, don’t value actually watching games but in the end numbers can only do so much for me. It is no coincidence that as the season has progressed the teams on which I have won the most are teams I have watched. Maybe early in the season you can ride a hot team being neglected by the books but by this point, there is too much precedent. By this point, calculations can only take you so far, you need to rely on your guts – and that is driven by seeing and knowing teams.

As an FSU fan I could insert here a rant about the fallacy of including computers in the BCS rankings but will try to abstain. I get that FSU has not had a challenging schedule, but nothing with even an ounce of college football understanding could have FSU ranked as the 40th or 50th best team in the country. It is just asinine and it isn’t proof of a team being overrated, it is proof that your computer system is flawed.

Ok well, I tried to abstain.

Bet #1 – FAU (-1.5) vs FIU

And so my betting on the Sun Belt has come to an end with this. A battle of southern Florida in a driving rain storm in Boca Raton. Two teams with a combined 5 wins coming into the game. One team a pre-season darling with a respected young head coach; the other with the Ozzie Canseco of coaches at the helm and little history of success.

I bet on FAU because they had put together a nice string of beating Vegas’ expectations and were coming off a comfortable win at Western Kentucky. FIU had done nothing all season after being a pre-season pick to win the conference. When FAU finally took the lead midway through the 3rd quarter, I thought it was time for the Owls to pull away…right up until FIU returned the ensuing kick-off for a touchdown. FAU never really got close again.

There were many mistakes made in laying this bet – chiefly betting on a team that I didn’t know well based solely on recent success against the spread. But I can’t overlook an even more critical mistake here; betting on a team coached by Carl Pelini.

Bet #2 – Northwestern (+7.5) vs Michigan State

My only mistake in betting this game was not betting enough. As I wrote last week, Michigan State hadn’t played in a game decided by more than 4 points since September. Having watched Northwestern several times, I knew they had a solid offense that MSU would struggle to contain. Getting this over 7 was a gift and one I should have laid a large bet on, not just a medium bet.

For much of the game, Northwestern’s defense was the concern, struggling to slow the power running game and play-action of Sparty. In the end they did slow the running game enough to put the ball in MSU’s young quarterback’s hands and not only easily covered but won out-right.

I should probably be lamenting not taking Northwestern’s moneyline but this is the Big Ten. I was still doing the math on how Northwestern could blow my 7.5 point spread with 2 minutes to play in the game. I didn’t need the added stress of trying to hold on for a win.

Bet #3 – Louisiana Tech vs Utah State OVER (73)

Rarely has a single bet been the roller coaster ride that this was. Combined with the teased bet on La Tech (+9.5 see Bet #4) this game took me through a full range of emotions.

First half: Utah State dominated the first half but neither high scoring team was putting up too many points, with USU leading 17-3 at the half. At this point I wrote off the Over as dead and had little hope for my LA Tech +9.5 bet.

Third Quarter: Finally the scoring arrives that we had been promised from the beginning. At end of the 3rd: Utah State: 41, La Tech: 24. Only 8 points short of a cover, my Over looks like a lock but my teased LT line is still barely breathing.

Fourth Quarter: LT scores by the 11 minute remaining mark, making the game 41-31 – 72 combined points. I am one point short of the Over and am kicking myself for buying a bad line (it opened at 69.5 but moved to 73 before I bought). I am also .5 points from LT covering my tease.

But there are still eleven minutes to play, surely two teams that combined for 45 points in the 3rd quarter will score more in the 4th. Even if Utah State is the team to score I can win the Over as I lose my Tease.

<cue 9 minutes with no scores>

Naturally.

I write off both bets once again. I hate to admit but I am actually sort of perversely excited to lose the Over by 1 and the Tease by .5. That is a fantastic bad loss story and a great lesson learned in buying at the right price. After a few bad weeks, I am numb to the lost money. It is all about the story at this point.

But then a funny thing happens on the way to a brutal loss.

Louisiana Tech takes over the ball deep in their own end and drives all the way to score a touchdown with under 2 minutes to play. Suddenly, I have won the Over and with LT trailing by only 3, I am in position to cover my Tease as well if they don’t let Utah State score a meaningless TD. I have gone from losing both to winning both in a matter of minutes.

In the end, Utah State doesn’t drive for a back breaking score; instead Louisiana Tech gets the ball back and kicks a field goal to force overtime where they eventually lose by seven. With the screwed up priorities of a gambler, however, I pay no mind to that. I got what I needed from the Bulldogs. Even if it was a little painful getting there.

Bet #4 – Three Team Tease: Northwestern (+13), Louisiana Tech (+9.5), Iowa State (PICK) at Kansas

Bet #5 – 2nd Half: Kansas (-1) vs Iowa State

With Northwestern and Louisiana Tech in the bag, it was all on Iowa State to beat Kansas on Saturday night for me to cap a perfect day that would wash away the stain of a bad Sun Belt Friday night which sounds like the worst Alan Jackson song ever.

I got to a sports book (this time – Belaggio) in the middle of the 2nd quarter of the game intent on finding a half time hedge to reduce the risk of suffering a loss if the Cyclones failed to win. As I walked in, Iowa State scored to take a 17-14 lead with 11 to play in the 2nd quarter. I sat down, ordered a beer and waited for halftime, hoping the Cyclones would keep the score in a place that a bet on Kansas would give me a hedge.

Then Iowa State scored again.

And again.

And again.

Suddenly, what was feared to be a close game was a 24-point lead for the Cyclones. My bet was all but locked because CHARLIE WEIS.

After KU scored a field goal as time expired to cut the lead to 21, I still wasn’t concerned but when the half time line was flashed as KU -1, I realized that the hedge I wanted to bet, while not necessary anymore also had a massive middle where I could win both bets. If KU could just cut into a 21 point Iowa State lead – an Iowa State team burning clock and starting to use back-ups – I could get another win (while guarding against an epic collapse).

Kansas did not cut into that lead, but given it was a small bet I wasn’t real broken up about it until Charlie Weis quit partway through the fourth quarter. This is not an exaggeration. With a 28-point deficit, Charlie Weis quit trying to win the football game. A man with an ego only out-matched by his waist band, Weis decided that he didn’t want to try and win the game. He would rather go to 1-10 on the season.

If you don’t believe me, check out the play by play chart. KU gets the ball with 12 minutes to play. They complete a 20-yard pass and then run 2 plays in a row before failing to convert on 3rd down pass attempt. That will be their last pass attempt of the night. On the next KU position with 8 minutes to play, they run the ball 6 straight plays. Not a single pass attempt with 8 minutes to play while trailing by 28. Sure, the odds are astronomical KU could pull out a victory but for your coach to give up on the game is an embarrassment. For the amount of money Weis is being paid, they should have to pry the offensive playsheets out of his hands and drag him from the sideline at the end of a game. He shouldn’t concede the game with over half of a quarter to play.

Does anyone but someone with a vested interest in KU losing by 20 or less, care? Probably not. I would guess there were few fans in the stands at that point. Besides, basketball season has started.

But a highly-paid coach should care. Facing a season with one win he should do everything in his power to keep his team motivated. By quitting on the game, he quit on his team.

Being a bad coach on a bad team is one thing. To give up on that job before a game ends is something worse.

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