Is Michigan Worth a Bet?
by Trevor Whenham - 09/21/2006
I'm as much of a Michigan fan as a guy can be, but even I had no idea that we were going to see the Wolverines completely dismantle and embarrass Notre Dame on Saturday. Like many people, considering that the line fell from -7.5 to -4.5, I was fairly confident that the Wolverines would cover the spread, and even hopeful that they would be able to win. But I certainly wasn't expecting the 26-point destruction that we saw.
If it's possible, the game wasn't even as close at the score indicates. If you watched the game you got to witness both the end of a dream of a national championship for a media darling, and a crashing end to Brady Quinn's Heisman campaign.
Michigan scored the second most points that have ever been scored at Notre Dame Stadium, and the most since 1960. Chad Henne was the best he has been in more than a year, the running game ran at will and Mario Manningham put on a clinic on how to juke out a DB and make great catches look easy. On the defensive side of the ball, Prescott Burgess pumped up his draft position, LaMarr Woodley was a complete beast and Leon Hall showed he is a top cornerback in the country.
Now that the smoke has cleared and we have had time to digest what happened on Saturday, we are left with some challenging situations. What do we do with Michigan from now on? It's clear now that they are not the flat and uninspired team with little creativity or passion that we saw in their first two games against Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. It's equally unlikely, however, that they will be able to be as dominant on both sides of the ball as they were this week. The true Wolverine team lies somewhere in the middle, but deciding where can be challenging, and it is important as we decide how to bet on them in coming weeks.
The first challenge we will face in the next few weeks is a line that will be bigger than is likely reasonable, or at least ideal. The big win likely had only a slight impact on the line set by bookmakers in the Michigan - Wisconsin game, which opened at 14 points. That line is likely to shift more than it probably should once public money starts to hit Michigan as the week progresses, however. With all the media coverage and excitement around Michigan's win, especially since it was over a team that gets more media attention than any other, the public will likely jump on the Michigan bandwagon heavily. There's a big difference between liking Michigan (-14) and Michigan (-16). This week, and as long as they keep winning, you'll have to decide whether they are good enough to cover the fatter line.
To further complicate things, the win against Notre Dame was the first time all season that Michigan covered the spread. Last season Michigan was 5-7 ATS. They had the same record the year before. In other words, they historically aren't a great team ATS anyway, so now they will likely be facing even bigger spreads than they otherwise would have. But then, they are a much better team than they have been in recent years, so it's not a simple decision either way.
The more games Michigan wins, the worse the situation will get. According to bookmakers at Bodog, the action on a team gets heavier the longer they stay undefeated. There is a very real possibility, given what looks like a soft Big Ten Conference, that Michigan could remain undefeated until their showdown with Ohio State in the last game of the year. The closer they get to that game, the more the media attention will be focused on them. The public will be betting them more heavily each week and the lines will be altered accordingly.
The over/under creates another, different situation to evaluate. Michigan came within a couple of points of going over just by themselves their last two games. The number in the Notre Dame game was 49.5 and the Wolverines scored 47. Against Central Michigan they scored 41 with a posted total of 44.5. Wisconsin, their next opponent, went over in their first game and well under in their most recent game. Yet, despite the offensive power of Michigan recently, the total for Saturday's game opened at 45, but it has fallen steadily since, and is now at 42.5. If the Michigan scoring explosion was an aberration, then that move makes sense. If it was a sign of a maturing offense and an explosive defense, then the decreasing number represents a bargain. One more decision to make.
Unless something goes wrong for Michigan, there are a lot of wins left on their schedule. Wisconsin and Minnesota should fall to the Wolverines to end the month. Michigan State could be a challenge if only because they have a mobile QB and Michigan has traditionally struggled against pivots that can run. The Spartans play Notre Dame this week, so we should have a better idea of what kind of a team they are after Saturday. After Michigan State, Iowa will likely be a challenge, but Northwestern, Penn State, Ball State and Indiana shouldn't be. Each game will be a challenge to pick, and the effects of the heavy action won't make it any easier.