SabreBetrics: Week 7 Betting Guide – No One Is Safe

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Through six weeks of college football, we have seen unprecedented calamity. So far, 40 ranked teams have lost games this season. That is the most losses for ranked teams since 1936 when The Associated Press first started publishing polls for college football. However, no upset was more shocking than Texas A&M’s victory over Alabama this past weekend. After losing to Arkansas and Mississippi State, the Aggies used a back-up quarterback to win a thrilling 41-38 game against the Crimson Tide. In doing so, Texas A&M has upended the College Football Playoff picture and served notice to other overwhelming favorites. No one, not even the great Nick Saban, is immune from chaos.

Mailbag Question

“How can you sort out dumb money from the sharps? Timing?” ~ Page105

This is an intriguing but complex question. For those new to gambling, “sharps” are experienced sports bettors. Many of these bettors are professionals who use advanced data modeling and are backed by private investments. Sharps tend to place larger bets, and as a result, have a greater influence on how sportsbooks manipulate their lines.

Everyone else falls into the category of “the public.” In contrast to sharps, the public bets recreationally and with significantly less money on the line. In general, the public has betting tendencies that can be more easily exploited by sportsbooks. For example, public bettors disproportionately pick favorites to win compared to underdogs. In professional leagues, the public also tends to bet on popular teams with recognizable stars, such as the Cowboys, Packers, or Lakers. There are many sports betting websites with subscription services that provide you with detailed information on bet slips as they come into certain sportsbooks. Unless you are ready to quit your day job and move to Las Vegas, I do not recommend investing in these services.

So, how can the rest of us tell if line movement is caused by professional money or the wisdom of the masses? Here are a few tips when sleuthing for sharp action:

  • Watch the timing of line movement. Sharps tend to bet early (when lines are initially released) and late (within a few hours of kickoff). If a line opens at -3 and immediately jumps to -4, it is likely because sharp bettors see value. This information is publicly tracked at a number of websites.
  • Compare the percentage of bets placed to percentage of money spent. Some websites provide basic information on the difference between the percentage of money on each side and the percentage of bets placed. When these numbers diverge, it is often the result of large bets placed by sharps that contradict public opinion. For example, if 90% of bets placed are for the favorite but only 60% of the money is accounted for, you know that larger bets have been placed on the underdog. This can lead to something called “reverse line movement.” This means that the line is going the opposite way you would expect based on the public consensus.
  • Look for lines that do not move. Sometimes you will find lines that do not move at all despite heavy public interest in the game. This can occur when the public is choosing the side that the sportsbook sees as weaker. Though sportsbooks often try to get equivalent value on both sides of a line to minimize risk, this is not always the case. Sportsbooks have their own modeling systems and are willing to take on greater risk when their numbers do not match what the public is betting on.

These are imperfect strategies for determining how you should bet, but they can help you make more informed decisions. Keep in mind that professional bettors aim for an accuracy of approximately 54% with their bets. This means that even if you can correctly assess which side sharps are on, you will often find yourself on the wrong side of the bet.

Virginia Week 7 Forecast

  • Duke +11 at Virginia
  • Under 69.5

Of all my predictions this year, my preview of the UVA-Louisville game was the most on point. I predicted a “nail-biting, soul-draining 31-27 Cavaliers victory.” My soul was about a quart low as I watched a game-winning field goal sail past the left upright for the second week in a row. Now Virginia returns home to face the “manageable” part of its schedule, beginning with Duke.

On paper, the Blue Devils do not look as scary as some of the other opponents Virginia has faced this season. However, Duke is a well-coached team with a competent offense. That is reason enough to take the Blue Devils seriously. Senior quarterback Gunnar Holmberg is an accurate passer who can also test the defense with designed running plays. He has at least 30 rushing yards in four of the five games Duke has played this year, including a four-touchdown performance against Kansas. The Blue Devils also have a talented running back in Mataeo Durant, who has been an increasingly important part of the offense in recent weeks. Against Georgia Tech, he had 43 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Duke has struggled to get stops at critical junctures, giving up late leads in losses to Charlotte and Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils rank 86th in scoring defense and 118th in passing yards allowed per game. Virginia will be successful offensively if it can avoid costly turnovers. As much as Brennan Armstrong has impressed this season, this is still a weakness in his game.

I like Virginia’s chances especially following a galvanizing come-from-behind victory against Louisville. However, Duke’s offense should be potent enough to keep things close. Though the Cavaliers have improved defensively since the UNC game, there is plenty of work still to do. Duke’s defense will not be able to keep up with Virginia for a full four quarters. I predict a 38-28 Cavalier victory.

Week 7 Best Selections

  • Record to date: 15-16-1

After a 3-3 week, I continue to hover just below the .500 mark. However, I am 2-0 with NFL picks for The Sabre. It’s time to go on a winning streak before I must seriously re-evaluate the focus of this column.

Fresno State -3.5 at Wyoming

The bye week could not have come at a better time for Fresno State. After surrendering a two-touchdown fourth quarter lead to Hawaii, the Bulldogs were able to regroup and rest ailing quarterback Jake Haener. Haener has been a revelation for Fresno State, throwing for 18 touchdown passes through six games, but he has also dealt with hip and foot issues that have hindered his performance. Laramie is a difficult place to win, but the Bulldogs already have the experience of playing a competitive game against Oregon and winning at UCLA this season.

Indiana +5 vs. Michigan State

Michigan State is the No. 10 team in the country with a 6-0 record and a Heisman-caliber running back in Kenneth Walker III. Meanwhile, Indiana sits at 2-3 with a banged-up quarterback in Michael Penix Jr. This game seems pretty straightforward. Maybe a little too straightforward? Given the circumstances of each team, I would expect the Spartans to be at least a touchdown favorite. As I’ve said before, when a line stinks, you need to run to the smell. As impressive as Michigan State has looked, its best win of the season is against Miami. Meanwhile, Indiana has the experience of playing elite competition in Cincinnati and Penn State. The Hoosiers are 4-1 against the spread in their last five home games. I will take the points and hope that the game is decided by a field goal.

Kansas State +7 vs. Iowa State

Kansas State is a different team when quarterback Skylar Thompson is at the helm. After suffering a knee injury against Southern Illinois, Thompson was questionable to return this season. He managed to heal in time for the Oklahoma game and played well, throwing for 320 yards and 3 touchdowns. Both teams have top 10 defenses against the run, suggesting a low-scoring game. The Wildcats have covered both games this year as a home underdog, and Iowa State has not won in Manhattan since 2004. Expect this version of the “Farmageddon” to be a close contest.

Pittsburgh -4.5 at VPISU

This is a pivotal game for the ACC Coastal race. The Panthers have played great football all season, save for one inexplicable defensive performance against Western Michigan. The team is filled with senior leaders. That includes quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has thrown for 19 touchdowns and only 1 interception this season. Virginia Tech had two quarterbacks get injured last week against Notre Dame, though starter Braxton Burmeister is expected to play. With wins already at Tennessee and Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh will not be intimidated by the noise of Lane Stadium.

Kentucky at Georgia Over 44

This point total is low because Georgia has the best defense in college football. Therefore, for this game to go over, you will need the Bulldogs’ offense to do most of the work. Georgia has scored at least 34 points in its last five games. Between the arm of quarterback Will Levis and the speed of running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., I think Kentucky has enough offensively to get a couple scores. This is a similar play to the over in the Iowa-Penn State a week ago. As good as Georgia’s defense is, 44 points is very low total in the modern college game.

Specialty Bet of the Week

  • Record to date: 3-3

My cross-league teaser (aka the “Texas Two-Step”) came home despite the Longhorns choking away a 21-point lead. With this renewed confidence, I have decided to swing for the fences with a money-line parlay of two home underdogs. Statistically, this is unlikely to win. However, parlays remain a hot topic on the message boards, and I am, if nothing else, a man of the people.

  • Utah ML vs. Arizona State After struggling out of the gate, Kyle Whittingham has righted the ship in recent weeks. The Utes will also be playing with the added emotion of playing for slain teammate, Aaron Lowe, who was memorialized in Mesquite, Texas on Monday afternoon.
  • Boston College ML vs. NC State: NC State has yet to prove it can win on the road this season. At Mississippi State, the Wolfpack faltered offensively, scoring only a field goal until the final minute of the game. The Eagles nearly won at Clemson a week after the Pack’s statement home upset.
  • $10 pays $35.88

Random Facts to Impress Your Fellow Tailgaters

Alabama’s improbable loss against Texas A&M snapped several lengthy winning streaks for Nick Saban. You may have seen the statistic mentioned on the CBS broadcast that it was Saban’s first loss against an unranked team in 100 games, a stretch dating back to 2007. However, it was also the Crimson Tide’s first loss in 80 games when favored by at least 10 points. The school with the new longest active winning streak as a 10-point plus favorite is Kentucky, with 38 straight wins.

The SabreBetrics column is written by a Virginia graduate and long-time fan of The Sabre. The opinions expressed in this article are not directly associated with and are intended for recreational use only.

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