Gambling is something I’ve always been interested in. How does Vegas know where to set the lines? Why do the lines move — is it the big money bettors coming in or are the “Joes” laying silly money for parlay bets? Where do these guys get their information?
Fortunately for me, my information comes from the Almighty in the from of a Vegas-based gambler John, the Football Jesus. Ok, maybe a bit too much praise, but John was a frequent and candid quest on my podcast, “Heatin’ Up,” missing just two games in the SEC all season — one of which came with the disclaimer that it was not a game he was going to bet.
Over the course of this season, I’ve learned an unbelievable amount about gambling and what’s truly important. Motivation is much more important than whether A.J. Green will be playing in the game. Traveling sucks, especially on a Thursday night. Winter weather for an SEC team is even worse. When in doubt, take the points is a phrase I frequently dropped during my picks column, a phrase which I’d like to amend: When in doubt, don’t bet the game (unless you write a picks column and don’t know what to do, then take the points). You should also lean to the Pac-10 because the odds are that you haven’t seen them play very much if you live on the East Coast, and Vegas knows it. Of course, a lot of these come with exceptions. And that’s why it’s handy to have the Football Jesus.
(Side note: I’ve also learned that I will have a future gambling problem. Notice the “odds are that you haven’t seen the Pac-1o play” in the last paragraph. Yup, gambling has infiltrated my daily speech. I’ve caught myself saying things like “The over/under is 20 on how many times they show Tebow on the sideline this game,” or “I think I’m going to parlay a workout with lunch then head back to my place.” Does the latter even really make sense? I don’t know, but it’s happening. Although after thinking a bit more, do you really have a gambling “problem” if you win? Ok, I’m digging myself a bit too deep now. Back to the column.)
I spoke with John today about a few things that were on my mind about the upcoming Bowl season. He told me he hadn’t bet any games so far, except for his free pick, Oregon -3 over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl — a game he has picked correctly for the past 12 years. The closer we get to the big games, the more information he’ll get (duh) but also so he can gauge the “conventional wisdom” of the masses.
Think about it. How many people will throw down money in Vegas this winter? People get holiday bonuses, have free time to actually make bets — most of whom haven’t been paying as much attention as I have (let alone John) — and the Bowls are a popular event to bet: it’s not just your ordinary game. Some of the “conventional wisdom” he’s been hearing is the SEC and Pac-10 are getting a bit too much respect (told you there were exceptions) because of their strong performances last season (combined 11-2) and the Big 10 isn’t getting much at all after laying a stinker last post season (1-6). But there were a few specific questions I had.
First, I wanted to know how Brian Kelly bailing on Cincinnati would effect the way he bet this game. Initially, I thought that it meant Cinci would be screwed, but then thought it could motivate the team to prove that they didn’t need him as it seemed they were pretty upset about him leaving so abruptly. As John told me early in the season, “People tend to overthink these games.” Prime example. Lets face it, Florida is the better team. They have more talent top to bottom. That’s the team to look at in terms of motivation. “It’s whether or not Florida is excited to be there because last year they were involved in the National Championship game and that was their goal for the season…It’s all about Florida’s motivation.” said John. Will Urban Meyer rally the troops? I don’t think so. Not with Charlie Strong also leaving. It’s high-time the team started rolling their eyes at Tebow and that whole team is basically NFL bound. Talk about over looking. But as I mentioned, we have to see where the line will go. I like the Bearcats +11 right now and I’d definitely bet it if the line goes bigger, which I think it will.
Getting off track a bit, I also wanted to know how the Bowden situation would effect Florida State. John told me it was a weight off their shoulders. The players know what’s happening next season and they don’t feel the added pressure of winning one to save his job. The team can be relaxed and also play the win-one-for-Bobby card. Not to mention they’ll be in Florida. Safe to say John likes the ‘Noles +3. For now.
I brought up Kentucky and Clemson and told John I loved Kentucky +7.5. Kentucky is always pumped to play in any bowl game whereas Clemson is coming off a tough ACC championship loss and didn’t even get a whiff of a BCS game. Their best player, CJ Spiller, is probably going to be saving himself a bit for the NFL inspections coming up. After all, what more does he need to prove in this one after his 4 touchdown 233 yard rushing game against Tech? John wasn’t as eager as I was but did agree with my rationale, “Well, I don’t know if I love Kentucky but I would certainly be looking toward Kentucky. It’s more of a play against Clemson as this is more of a disappointment bowl for them.” John did note that he’d wait on more information for this one to see how motivated Clemson would be.
And of course, we talked about the Georgia game. I tweeted before the spreads came out that I liked Texas A&M plus the points. Georgia doesn’t have any defensive staffers left over besides the Line Coach and really left everything on the line in the last game against Ga. Tech. Does beating A&M add anything to the season? No. Most people already view this season as a disaster anyway. People have questioned Coach Richt as a motivator this season. Think he’ll be able to get the boys fired up about a tiny little bowl in Shreveport? I don’t think our fan support will be that great especially considering it’s twice as far away for us as it is A&M. I brought up all these factors and John said, “Hey, you’re not telling me anything that will convince me to bet on Georgia.” Turns out, the line is A&M +7 and that’s the direction John and I will be looking.
(See how much I’ve learned?! We just agreed on two in a row.)
Now lets see if I can actually apply what I’ve learned in the rest of the SEC games. My regular season total was 34-24 against the spread in the SEC and I’m sticking with Cinci +11, A&M +7 (I reserve the right to take a higher line as I think both will get bigger closer to game time) and Kentucky +7.5.
The Outback Bowl, Auburn vs. Northwestern. Admittedly, Northwestern is a team I haven’t seen play all year. I mean, it’s Northwestern. So I’m not even going to apply anything I’ve learned from watching Auburn play this season and go with this: John told me the SEC was getting too much love and that the Big 10 wasn’t getting enough. Advantage Northwestern. Most “Joes” will see Northwestern and think exactly what I did. Vegas adjusts accordingly and it’s advantage Northwestern again. Auburn is probably thinking this is a bit of a cake walk. They were phenomenal at overlooking teams this season (see Kentucky, Georgia and you could throw in the spanking Arkansas delivered, too). Translation: they play to the level of their opponents. Advantage Northwestern. Northwestern +7.5
The Peach Bowl, Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech. This is one of the games I’m most looking forward to watching. People will wonder how much the distractions surrounding Tennessee will affect them but you have to remember, they’ve been one big distraction all season and still played fantastic in big games. They’ll have no problem getting up for this one. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has not played especially well in the big ones despite having a much better record than UT (9-3 vs. 7-5). I like the Vols + 4.5.
The Capital One Bowl, LSU vs. Penn St. Another Big 10 vs. SEC matchup here, so you already know what that means. I don’t like the way LSU ended the season at all. Les Miles is facing a storm in Louisiana for his play calling against Ole Miss and many are calling for his head. A lot of people are picking the Tigers to win this one easily which spells disaster for the Tigers. It just looks like a mess. I’ll take Penn St. – 2.
The Liberty Bowl, Arkansas vs. East Carolina. I looked at this one and thought, “huh?” No idea. I like Skip Holtz but I like Ryan Mallet more. But 8 is a lot of points and I think most people will see East Carolina and think, “huh?” So, I’ll take the points. ECU +8 (again reserving the right to take the higher number when it comes).
The Cotton Bowl, Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma St. This one is right in the Vegas Zone where they’re not quite sure where to put this one. Oklahoma State did beat Georgia quite convincingly, mainly because we forgot how to run the ball and Joe Cox was sick. Ole Miss had a similar transformation during the middle of their season and also have a much better quarterback in Jevan Snead. I’m also bias because I don’t like the Big 12 or their lack of defense. And because they beat Georgia. Ole Miss -3.
The National Championship, Alabama vs. Texas. I feel a bit bad even naming this “The National Championship” because it really occurred when ‘Bama put the hurt on Florida. I was so unimpressed by Texas all season that there’s no possible way I can pick them. Bama should control the ball by running it down their throats with sprinklings of Julio Jones. I don’t see this one being in much jeopardy, similar to how Florida dominated Oklahoma late in the game. Two philosophies you could throw out there in this situation: this is what a lot of people are picking and you generally want to go against the “conventional wisdom” OR don’t overthink it. If you’re not even going to give me a full score then I think the Tide Rolls, ‘Bama -5.
That will wrap it up for my SEC picks column. It’s quite sad to see football disappearing and I will be eager to get ready for next season, especially with hopes that Washuan Ealey and AJ Green can carry us to a spectacular rebound year. Hope you had as much fun as I did with this column and good luck with your bowl picks.
Until next time, Ball Hard.