We had our first losing week last
week, going 4-6 with 1 tie (or push). That brings our season record to 15-13-1 (53.5%). This week we will continue our look at the net yard-per-point statistic as a predictor of a team's success on the field.
But first, let's discuss the issue of how much skill and how much luck is involved in betting on sports. After discussing this matter with the sharpest handicappers in Las Vegas, I have come to the conclusion that 50% of handicapping is skill and 50% is dumb luck -- an unpredictable bounce of the football, an interception, a bad snap. Last week's games illustrate this conclusion.
Let's start off with one of my winning picks,
San Diego State
plus 2 over
. Air Force scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to take a 22-21 lead and went for the 2-point conversion. The Flyboys failed. In this game, dumb luck favored me with a win. The
game went the other way. I had Illinois plus 2 1/2. Illinois led 28-7 with seven minutes left in the third quarter. A critical fumble by the Illini led to an Indiana touchdown and Indiana converted every fourth-down situation, winning by 3 points in overtime. Dumb luck frowned on me with a loss.
game, I had Army plus 12 1/2 points. Army scored a touchdown with 3:44 left in the game to cut the Pirates' lead to 26-14. Army tried an onside kick. Nine out of ten times, East Carolina would recover and fall on the ball. This time, however, East Carolina ran the onside kick back 46 yards for a touchdown and the final score of the game was 33-14 -- a point-spread loss. In the
game, I had "under" 52 points. The score was 18-17 into the fourth quarter -- a score that usually assures a tightly played, low-scoring fourth quarter. But Texas kept on turning the ball over and the Wildcats scored 17 points in less than 2 1/2 minutes in the fourth quarter. I ended up with a push when the final score ended up 35-17.
The lesson? Even the best handicappers have to rely on dumb luck on a regular basis.
Let's take a look at this week's Efficiency Top 10:
Notice the correlation? Of course, as the mutual fund advertisements say: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Perhaps now you can see why I like yards per point as a statistic that I can rely upon in my handicapping.
This Week's Picks
Michigan St. (plus 2 1/2) over Michigan
Yes, I do read
column. This game matches two teams in the Efficiency Top 10. The game is being played in East Lansing, the home of the Spartans. The oddsmakers perceive that Michigan has played the tougher schedule and thus have made the Wolverines the favorite. I think the oddsmakers are wrong. I think Michigan State is more versatile than Michigan and will win the game outright. The Spartans have outrushed their five opponents by 927-214 and average 4.5 yards per rush. Freshman fullback Tico Duckett looks like the real deal. The Wolverines average just 3.2 yards per rush and will not be able to control the game if they get the lead. Michigan has won and covered the last three games between these teams, but over the last 12 years the home team is 9-3 ATS. Look for the Spartans to get their triple-revenge against Michigan.
Mississippi State (minus 3) over Auburn
Mississippi State is another Efficiency Top 10 team. It meets an Auburn squad that's forced to start a third-string QB, Jeff Klein. Last week Klein threw four interceptions as
held the Tigers to 75 yards rushing and 147 yards passing. The Bulldog defense is almost as tough as the Vols'. The defense has allowed only 42 points in the season's first five games and sacked Vanderbilt's quarterback six times last week. I have had my doubts about Mississippi State QB Gerald Madkin, but last week he had an outstanding game against Vandy. If he can repeat his performance and avoid interceptions, this game won't be close. We think Jackie Sherrill will have a game plan that doesn't put too much pressure on Madkin. MSU is 22-10 ATS in regular season road games since 1993. Auburn is 8-19 ATS in its last 27 home games.
North Carolina State (plus 1 1/2) over Clemson
I'm puzzled by this line. N.C. State did not play last Saturday and has now had an opportunity to heal some nagging injuries, including those to QB Barnette. Clemson's starting quarterback, Brandon Streeter, was injured last week and his backup, Woody Dantzler, came on to perform admirably in Clemson's victory over North Carolina. The Wolfpack is 7-2 ATS against Clemson in their last nine games in Raleigh. We imagine that N.C. State coach Mike O'Cain will have some surprises for the Tigers and the special teams of the Wolfpack are among the best in the country. Clemson is not a good enough team to be favored on the road, particularly if Dantzler goes down for any reason.
Kentucky (minus 8) over South Carolina
The injuries to South Carolina are becoming overwhelming. In addition, the coaching staff (Lou Holtz and his son Skip) has been seriously distracted by the illness of Lou's wife. South Carolina has the highest negative net yards-per-point differential in the country. The Gamecocks' defense gives up a point every 12.7 yards, while their offense scores one point every 55 yards for a negative YPP of 42.3. This is the type of team Dusty Bonner and the Hal Mumme-led offense can exploit, and we expect the Wildcats to score a lot of points. South Carolina is now 0-10 ATS in its last 10 home games.
Texas Tech (plus 3) over Oklahoma State
There is a huge coaching differential in this game. Last week both teams were coming off bye weeks. Tech defeated
as a 16-point underdog. It also discovered a viable replacement for injured Ricky Williams in Sammy Morris, who ran for 170 yards against a good A&M defense. Oklahoma State was torched by Nebraska 38-14 in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. We feel Tech is the better team and the coaching differential is at least 3 points. This play is conditioned on OSU QB Lindsay not playing. That appeared to be the scenario when this column was being written. One caveat: The Red Raiders are 1-6 ATS in their last seven games after playing Texas A&M.
Texas-Oklahoma (over 61 points)
The Sooners have a lousy defense this year, but QB Josh Heupel is the best thrower Oklahoma has had since Cale Gundy. The Sooners are averaging 37.7 points per game. Texas has a good defense (18.2 points per game) and also has a great offense (37.3 points per game). Last week QB Applewhite had a miserable game, throwing three interceptions and losing three fumbles. We think he will bounce back from that poor performance and we expect this to be an old-fashioned shootout at the OK Corral in Dallas. Last team with the ball wins.
Georgia (plus 11) over Tennessee
Last week, Georgia didn't play well -- escaping with a 23-22 victory over a struggling LSU team. However, the lack of focus was understandable, in light of the sudden death of the Bulldogs' offensive line coach, Pat Watson, the week before. Georgia will be focused for this game and with QB Carter and tailback Sanks giving the Bulldogs an athletic and balanced attack, we think they can match scores with Tennessee. The Vols are struggling on offense this year because they have only one quality receiver and opposing teams can gang up on RB Lewis. Tennessee is also banged up on the defensive side of the ball and we think Georgia will be able to hang around until the end of the game and might even pull the upset. Georgia is 11-6 ATS in its last 17 road games. Both teams sport positive net YPP differentials -- Tennessee 7.3 and Georgia 6.3.
Texas A & M (minus 29 1/2) over Baylor
A&M's national title hopes were dashed last week by Texas Tech while Baylor got its first victory of the year. The Aggies still want to go to a big bowl game and the only way they can is to pulverize opponents and move back up in the polls. We noted earlier this season that the presence of QB McCown, a good passer, allows the Aggies to score points in a way that they haven't in a long time. They will take out last week's frustration on an overmatched and worn-down Baylor team. The Aggies are 12-0-1 straight up against the Bears in their last 13 matchups and, more importantly for this bet, are 10-2 ATS in games following a loss.
Northern Illinois (minus 9) over Ball State
Neither of these teams is a world beater. Ball State has been outscored in the first half of its first five games by a 101-14 margin. Last week Northern Illinois ran up a 45-7 lead in an easy victory against the worst team in Division I-A football, Buffalo. More importantly, it has been competitive this year against Vanderbilt and Western Michigan. This is the kind of game it will be focused on -- a home game in a winnable situation. Ball State gives up too much yardage and is getting banged up on defense. We do not think that Northern Illinois will let up in the game.
Alabama-Birmingham (minus 3) over Memphis
Last week I bet on Memphis and lived to regret it. Its defense is one of the best in the country, but its offense cannot get untracked. UAB has been a surprise team. Most impressive is that it is the eighth-best team in the country in YPP; it's 4-0 ATS. In light of those statistics, a 3-point spread in a home game doesn't seem likely to slow down the Blazers. If they avoid the dreaded turnovers, the Blazers ought to cover the spread easily.
Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years.