Greg’s Gambling Lines: College Football Futures Bets

With August only a couple days away and football season around the corner, I thought it’d be a good idea to go through a few futures bet markets. For the few of you who don’t know what futures bets are, I’ll explain it to you in the most basic terms possible: you are betting NOW on the outcome of something that can only be determined in the FUTURE; this is the gambling equivalent of a long-term investment. By betting in the futures markets, you can get decent value, have a greater ability to hedge and make money during the season, and also have something to root for in the long-term.

In this piece, we’ll be evaluating college football futures, focusing on team win over/unders and division/conference winners markets for the upcoming season. Do note that because I like the value, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m predicting the bet to be successful, but that the value of the odds is significant enough for me to bet it.

College Football (all odds courtesy of 5dimes)

Team Win Over/Under Market

Arkansas Razorbacks OVER 5.5 wins (5/7 odds)
The 6 win threshold seems very low to me here, and I like Arkansas’ chances to get to that mark. Bielema is a massive upgrade over John L. Smith at Head Coach, and he has a schedule that is rather favorable in the first few weeks. Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford, Southern Miss and Rutgers should give Arkansas a 4-0 start to the season. From there, they’ll only need two wins in their last eight, and I’ve got a sneaky feeling that one of those will come against Texas A&M at home on September 28. Should they lose their next four, they will still have two very winnable home games against Auburn and Mississippi State that should get them to six wins.

Michigan State Spartans OVER 8.5 wins (5/6 odds)
Michigan State has a very weak schedule and is coming off of a down year, finishing 7-6 (with a 3-5 conference record) that immediately follows a couple of seasons with double digit wins. This team reminds me a lot of Ohio State prior to last season: mediocre record, down year, great defense, bad offense and A LOT of close losses. Seriously, look at their Big Ten losses from last season: lost to Ohio State 17-16, lost to Iowa 19-16 in Double-OT, lost to Michigan 12-10 in Ann Arbor (Michigan kicked the game-winning field goal with 5 seconds left), lost 28-24 to Nebraska on a late TD, and lost to Northwestern 23-20. They were top ten in the country in terms of points against last season, and they return seven starters on that defense. In addition, the offense will return eight starters and will be battle tested. I like the Spartans to rebound this season, and I will back them heavily to get at least nine wins this season.

Nebraska Cornhuskers OVER 9.5 wins (even odds)
This mark is just a bit low. This team is probably gonna start off the season at 8-0, with its last game against Iowa at home. That’s nine wins right there, with only one win against the likes of Michigan (away), Michigan State (home) and Penn State (away) necessary to achieve ten wins. The value is there and I’d pounce on it.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights OVER 6.5 wins (11/10 odds)
I know that it is REALLY easy to hate Rutgers right now, but the value here is too good. The team is in a weak conference, plays against Norfolk State and East Michigan at the start of the season and then will only need 5 wins in its last 8 games to break the 6.5 win threshold, which is really low for a team that has made a bowl game in seven of the last eight seasons.

Tennessee Volunteers UNDER 5.5 wins (8/5 odds)
Tennessee has three easy wins in its non-conference schedule, which should be a solid case for them to finish with over 5 wins this season. Here’s the problem: the rest of their schedule is the equivalent of a murderous slaughter—they face Oregon, Florida and Alabama away, in addition to Georgia and South Carolina at home. That’s five potential losses right there, giving them four games to get another three wins. That’s gonna be rather difficult for a team that only won one SEC game last season, and that was against Kentucky at home in the final week. They will play Kentucky again (albeit on the road), but they’ll also play against Missouri, Auburn, and Vanderbilt. I find it difficult for them to get six wins.

Texas Longhorns OVER 9.5 wins (2/3 odds)
It’s not so much the value that I like here, but I think this is a sure thing and I would bet it HEAVILY. I’ll explain my thoughts on this bet a little more in a bit.

Texas A&M Aggies UNDER 9.5 wins (7/5 odds)
The belief in college football right now is that there’s the SEC and then there’s the rest of college football. So how exactly did Texas A&M fare in their first season in the toughest conference in college football? I mean, you can’t say it was all that bad, especially when you consider the 11-2 record, Cotton Bowl victory and the Heisman Trophy for Freshman QB Johnny Manziel. Oh, and they beat National Champion Alabama in their own house. Look, nobody is denying that A&M is a very good team, or that Manziel is a very good QB, but they’ve got a target on their back right now. The SEC will have more film on them and will take them more seriously headed into this season. I expect them to lose three or four games, with two of those coming against Alabama at home on September 14th and LSU away on November 23rd. I also expect them to lose one of their two road games against Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Tulsa UNDER 8.5 wins (29/20 odds)
Tulsa went 11-3 last year, but they won a lot of close games and return only ten starters. They also have a relatively tough schedule this season, with games away to Bowling Green, Oklahoma and East Carolina along with home games against Marshall and Iowa State. They’ll probably win two or three of those games, but that does make the margin rather slim with an over/under mark of 8.5 wins. Bet a small amount here and with a bit of luck it’ll cash.

USC Trojans OVER 10.5 wins (33/20 odds)
Notre Dame away and Stanford at home aside, the Trojans have a very easy schedule this season, especially when you consider the fact that they avoid Oregon for the first time since 2004. I know that it’s very easy to just bet against Lane Kiffen on historical and moral grounds, but the value here is actually rather good, and that is why I would put a small amount of money on this future.

Virginia Tech Hokies OVER 9.5 wins (7/5 odds)
This will be explained in the next bet.

Conference & Division Winners Market

Virginia Tech Hokies to win the ACC Coastal Division (81/20 odds) and ACC Championship Game (39/4 odds)
The Hokies are coming off of a 7-6 season after 8 straight seasons with 10+ wins. A big reason for that was an inexperienced offensive line, the loss of David Wilson to the NFL, and a young defense that struggled against the run the first half of the season. Logan Thomas was projected to be a Top 5 pick in last year’s draft before the season, but plans for the NFL were put on hold as a result of Virginia Tech’s down year. This season, however, the Hokies return nine starters on a defense that saw big time improvement at the latter end of last season. Another huge plus is that they will avoid playing Clemson and Florida State during the regular season, while also getting Miami and North Carolina at home. Their futures odds across the board are available at great value right now, and I’d put some money on them to win over 9.5 games, the ACC Coastal and ACC Championship Game because of that.

Michigan State Spartans (71/10 odds), Nebraska Cornhuskers (25/4 odds) or Michigan Wolverines (24/5 odds) to win Big Ten Championship Game
Even as a Buckeye, I’m placing money on one of these three to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. It isn’t that I’m not confident in Braxton Miller and Urban Meyer, it’s just that the value on these three is too good for me to turn down, especially when it comes to Michigan and Michigan State.

In the event of a Michigan-Ohio State Big Ten Championship Game ONE WEEK after a showdown in Ann Arbor, you get the feeling that something weird is gonna happen; there’s a distinct possibility of this showdown taking place, and if I’m getting almost 5/1 odds on a team to win a rivalry game, I’m taking it.

In the case of Michigan State, their conference schedule is REALLY weak with their only major challenges coming against Michigan and Nebraska during November; they have a very good chance of winning the Big Ten Legends Division (13/4 odds) because of that. If they make The Big Ten Championship Game, I like their chances against Ohio State, because Dantonio is a former Ohio State assistant who studies his alma mater intently to prepare for them.

As far as Nebraska is concerned, you put a bit of money on them just to do it. They’re a solid team that will contend for their division. Should they get through the division, you’re essentially getting over 6/1 odds on them to win a game against the Buckeyes. I like that value.

South Carolina Gamecocks (17/4 odds), Georgia Bulldogs (19/4 odds) or Florida Gators (12/1 odds) to win SEC Championship Game
As with the previous paragraph, I like the value a team could get in a one-game playoff against a National Championship contender. In this case, it’s South Carolina, Georgia or Florida against Alabama. All three have a very real chance of winning the SEC East, and as such each deserve a small amount backing them in the SEC Championship Game.

Texas Longhorns (3/1 odds) to win Big 12 Conference
They’re second-favorites behind Oklahoma State, but I like this Texas team to finish 11-1 and win the Big 12 Conference. The Longhorns return 10 starters on offense and nine on defense after finishing last season with a 9-4 record. If it weren’t for injuries last season, Texas would’ve had a much better defense and could’ve finished with at least 10 wins. I would also put a small amount on Texas to win the National Championship (20/1 odds).

Fresno State to win Mountain West Championship Game (51/20 odds)
Fresno State has always had a solid program, and this year they have a chance to be a legitimate BCS-Buster. Even if they don’t make a BCS Game, they’re a very good team that should be able to cruise through the MWC West Division into the MWC Championship Game. There, they will probably play against Conference favorite Boise State, who is also being touted as a BCS-Buster. With a one-game playoff being rather realistic and a team getting slightly over 5/2 odds to win the conference, the value here is rather good.

BCS National Championship Value Bets
Look, I could just cop out and give you Alabama or Ohio State to win it, but that’s just gutless. If you want a Championship pick with a bit of juice in it, here’s a list of four possible champions to choose from (small wager amounts, of course):

1) Texas Longhorns (33/1 odds)

2) South Carolina Gamecocks (25/1 odds)

3) Michigan State Spartans (100/1 odds)

4) Nebraska Cornhuskers (50/1 odds)

Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny

**Disclaimer: All odds and analysis provided is for entertainment and informational purposes only. Any use of this information in violation of federal, state, provincial or local laws is strictly prohibited.

Pepe Reina and The Liverpool Dilemma

Yesterday afternoon, as I was driving on the Garden State Parkway on my way to a Mets-Phillies game, I got stuck in horrible traffic. Like the kind of traffic that makes you want to get out of the car and go for a walk—which I would’ve done, except for the heat. I later found out that the 95-degree heat caused cars to set on fire spontaneously while on the road, causing this specific delay. As I was incredibly bored, I decided to pull out my phone and check Twitter for news headlines and updates, as well as checking up on my favorite sports teams. Rumors flashed across my timeline that Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina is about to go on loan to Napoli, who currently employ former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez and goalkeeper coach Xavi Valero.

As with all stories regarding LFC, fans on my timeline decided to use this headline as a stick with which to beat Fenway Sports Group (FSG) and Brendan Rodgers, or on the other hand, praise Rodgers without question. Keep in mind that many fans said throughout last season that Reina was past his best and should be sold this summer. When rumors in May surfaced that Barcelona were interested, these same fans were happy to offload him, where he was the starting keeper as a teenager and where the long-tenured reign of Victor Valdes is expected to end when his contract expires next year. But now, fans want to keep him because he’s not going to Barcelona—there’s seemingly no excuse for sending out a three-time gold glove winning keeper on loan to another club in Europe, let alone one with two men in charge who were successful at Liverpool. Napoli isn’t Barcelona, which makes the sale inexcusable—a rather condescending thought. At the core of the divide are two sides to the LFC fan base, both of which will interpret any story to fall in line with either their pro-FSG/pro-Rodgers or anti-FSG/anti-Rodgers view.

In my mind, the loan move makes perfect sense for all parties involved. Pepe’s save percentage the last few years has dwindled, he’s currently being paid £110K a week, and we just signed Simon Mignolet from Sunderland, who’s younger and at a similar, if not higher level than Pepe Reina. If you want a reason why Sunderland didn’t go down last season, it’s not Paolo Di Canio—it’s Simon Mignolet. Sunderland were 3rd lowest in the Premier League in goals scored last season with 41—just over a solitary goal per match. They conceded 54 goals in the Premier League last season, and Mignolet had 11 clean sheets. He was the main reason that Sunderland stayed up, because his saves allowed them to stay competitive in matches and salvage points. In the first nine games of last season, Sunderland’s only goal-scorer was Steven Fletcher. They scored six goals in the first nine games, five by Fletcher with one Demba Ba own goal, but they only conceded nine goals in that same span, coming away with six draws and a win. That’s what Sunderland had to put up with throughout the season, and Simon Mignolet enabled them to stay in the top flight.

Compare that with Reina, who had a better team around him last season than Mignolet. His form has declined since Xavi Valero left LFC in 2010. Yes, he kept us in games from time to time last season and made some rather important saves, but he did have his moments that cost us last season. Remember that goal he conceded against Arsenal that resulted from a point-blank shot right at him that he was unable to hold on to? What about the goal he conceded against Norwich away, which came from a rebound off of a soft shot that he really should’ve held on to? His howler against Hearts in the Europa League Play-off qualifier, a shot right at him that he was, once again, unable to hold on to? And, to top it off, what about that ridiculous goal he conceded against City that he conceded by being so badly out of position? He must’ve had more blunders last season than he had in the previous three, and these individual errors cost LFC greatly.

reina

Reina deserves a load of credit for sticking with Liverpool through such a difficult period and for openly criticizing Hicks and Gillett during the summer of turmoil that was the 2010 offseason. But quite frankly, Reina isn’t the keeper he used to be. If Rodgers prefers Mignolet over Reina, then I trust his decision as Liverpool’s manager. That being said, if this proves to be true, I’d rather not have a keeper making £110K a week sitting on the bench, and believe that it would be in the best interest of both Reina (with the World Cup in 2014, he’s going to need plenty of matches to make the Spanish squad) and the club if he played somewhere else in this upcoming season. Since Liverpool consider Mignolet to be the starting keeper at the moment, a loan move makes the most sense.

The move also makes sense for Napoli, as Rafa and Valero have worked with Reina before, and got the best out of him at Liverpool, with his quality having declined significantly since they left. With Reina in goal, Napoli will have a reliable keeper in net with a wealth of experience who can act as a leader both on and off of the pitch. It also gives time for their new 23 year-old Brazilian keeper Rafael, recently purchased for €5m by Napoli after 114 appearances for Santos, to settle in to life in Italy before becoming the new Napoli #1 in 2014-2015.

Despite the clear line of logic leading to a Reina departure, Liverpool fans are still angry. They see Reina as the player he once was rather than the player that he is now. They see the move as one that simply saves wages rather than one that enables Reina to play elsewhere and allows us to move on and upgrade at the position. They see it as another version of us replacing Javier Mascherano with Christian Poulsen rather than it potentially being a modern day parallel of a young Bruce Grobbelaar replacing an aging Ray Clemence. It’s not that club isn’t grateful for what he’s done and doesn’t respect him as a servant. It’s that the club wants to try and upgrade from a player that was once great, but isn’t what he used to be despite the fans still loving him. Arsene Wenger has been doing that for a decade now, and last time I checked, they were a Champions League side.

The problem with football is that no matter how much the fans love a player because of what he’s done for them in the past, the job of the manager is to get the best out of the players at his disposal and do whatever it takes to win. At times, one needs to be ruthless and throw romanticism to the side in order to accomplish that. The sacking of Kenny, while incredibly unfortunate, is a great example of that, and also epitomizes what I call “The Liverpool Dilemma.”

Liverpool Football Club has a great history that it’s very proud of. The club also has extremely passionate fans who want to return to their days of glory. When people talk about LFC, they bring up the names of great players and managers who did fantastic things and built the club into one of the biggest in the world. Names like Dalglish, Keegan, Thompson, Clemence, Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Benitez, Rush, Fowler, Gerrard, Heighway, Hughes, Fairclough, and Hunt—that list of famous names synonymous with the club is almost endless. They bring up all of those famous European Nights, fantastic away days, successful trips to Wembley, and the trophies they’ve won. The fans are proud of their history and they embrace it, which they have every right to do.

The club’s extremely successful history, however, makes it tough for the current squad and coaching staff to work under realistic expectations. LFC fans want to see the club back in the Champions League, back in the title race, and back in every Cup final. The fans today think of being patient with a new manager as three months without scrutiny. They think that we shouldn’t have to lower our expectations because of the simple fact that this is Liverpool Football Club, and to expect anything less than the best is to be accepting of mediocrity, rather than being realistic and willing to adjust standards to fit unfortunate circumstances. LFC fans, much like the fans of every other club, embrace players that are successful for them and perform very well for them. That also makes it very tough for them to let go of players when they are past their prime. They view selling a fan favorite past his prime as the club not having respect for players who were successful rather than the club trying to upgrade. Liverpool fans view their icons in a light that makes them demi-gods rather than human beings with flaws.

Kenny Dalglish being sacked caused an incredible uproar from fans, and an even bigger uproar occurred when he was replaced with Brendan Rodgers, a manager who had only been the Premier League for one season. You also can compound that with the fact that Rafa Benitez was out of work, wanted the job, and was passed over. They view these acts as a disrespect for their history and icons. Dalglish’s tenure featured two Cup finals, three trips to Wembley and a trophy, but also a horrifying league form and the PR disaster that was the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra racism row. Yet overall, the fans were happy because Dalglish was in charge and the club was making cup runs like they had in the old days. At the same time, they were unable to say that LFC was progressing because they simply weren’t. A 7th place league finish doesn’t lie. All LFC fans had a decision to make: choosing between having their favorite personality ever in charge again or the club making a clean break with the past for the sake of progression. It’s like having a man be told by his wife to choose between her and his dog: regardless of which option you choose, you’re not gonna be completely satisfied with the decision you make.

With The Liverpool Dilemma, it’s tough for fans to view moves like Reina’s loan in a logical manner. But their passion isn’t a bad thing, and neither are their opinions or high standards. Sometimes, however, fans should try to be more reasonable about the current status of the club and be more supportive. The majority of fans won’t be reasonable any time soon, but that doesn’t mean those of us in the minority should stop crusading for logic. It’s not a hopeless fight. It just seems like it.

Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny