Ferringo Examines Early Line Moves
by Robert Ferringo - 10/02/2007
It's time once again for that weekly waltz that occurs between our friends over at the Las Vegas Sports Consultants and the sharp gamblers that pry apart the early college football spreads. Essentially, the LVSC recommends the lines to their clients, the sportsbooks, each week and the books respond by posting a suitable opening number. The sharps then come along like ravenous wolves encircling a wounded animal, ready to pounce on any number that they feel displays weakness or vulnerability. The result is an early week steam move on those seemingly weak lines, and that helps set the number that a majority of bettors in the general public will then have to wager on.
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Just as there is a science and an art to setting the lines, it also requires a certain amount of skill to be able to red these opening line movements. Like stockbrokers, handicappers and bettors can learn a lot about a game by the way the early line moves break. So while I am no J.P. Morgan, I am here to try to shed some light on some of the college football games with the most significant variance from the time of the spreads' release on Sunday to the open wagering on Monday morning.
Over the past two weeks the strongest initial college line movements have only precluded a win against the spread for the team getting heavy early action in four of 13 instances. Either the sharp money is getting a bit dull or the books are intent to short worthy favorites. To this point, sharp action has gone 14-14 against the spread in college movements and 12-7 ATS in the NFL movements. That's 26-21 ATS (55.3 percent) overall. Here are some of the most noticeable and significant early steam movements in both the college and pro football opening lines:
Wisconsin at Illinois (Noon, Saturday, Oct. 6)
Open: Wisconsin -1.0.
Current: Illinois -3.0.
No love for Bucky. The Badgers have been one of the least-impressive 5-0 teams in the nation, posting a 1-3 record against the number while slogging out wins against supposedly inferior competition. Wisconsin couldn't cover in either of its first two Big Ten games even though both were played at home, and now the No. 5 Badgers are dogged on the road against an unranked foe. That's a huge red flag. And the fact that the Illini possess the Kryptonite for burly Big Ten clubs - speed - tells me that this potential "upset" is just loaded with value.
Central Michigan at Ball State (Noon, Saturday, Oct. 6)
Open: Ball State -7.5.
Current: Ball State -12.0.
The Chippewas have been gashed by injuries this season and apparently the books believe their 35-10 thrashing of equally thin Northern Illinois was an aberration. Ball State has lost three straight in this series but has the talent on the home field on its side. CMU's secondary should be no match for Nate Davis and Co. and the Chippewas are just 21-43-2 on the road in conference play. Be wary if this line moves much more (I expect it to hit 14) because the last time the Cardinals were a double-digit favorite they were hammered, 38-14, at Eastern Michigan in 2003.
Georgia Tech at Maryland (Noon p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6)
Open: Maryland -1.0.
Current: Georgia Tech -2.0.
The three-point shift in the line isn't what got my attention in this ACC matchup. But the fact that Georgia Tech is involved with a crossover spread like this in back-to-back weeks did. Last week the Jackets opened as a small favorite but the line instantly steamed to Clemson laying a field goal in Atlanta. The Jackets sprung the upset easily. This week Tech is on the opposite end, laying points on the road to a conference foe.
Texas Christian at Wyoming (2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6)
Open: TCU -2.0.
Current: Wyoming -2.0.
War Memorial Stadium should be rocking when the defending Mountain West champs roll into town. TCU's margin of victory over its past two games (13) belies the fact that this clearly isn't as talented of a Horned Frogs club as the ones that posted back-to-back conference titles. Wyoming had an extra week to prepare, is 13-6 ATS as a home dog since 2001, and is 8-2 ATS with revenge off a win against an opponent off back-to-back victories.
Oklahoma at Texas (3:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6)
Open: Oklahoma -6.5.
Current: Oklahoma -10.0.
The Red River Rivalry brings us the most significant early line movement, as this number skyrocketed through several key numbers on the way to its present position. It's pretty clear which team the books feel is the best equipped to bounce back from an upset last Saturday (OU to Colorado; Texas to K-State) and the fact that each of the last nine meetings has been decided by double digits certainly bore consideration. Longhorn backers do have some hope: teams off a straight-up loss as a favorite of 20 or more points that were instilled as a favorite the following week are just 3-15 ATS since 1997.
South Florida at Florida Atlantic (4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6)
Open: South Florida -21.5.
Current: South Florida -16.0.
Is that a Let Down I smell? South Florida is coming off what most observers feel is a program-defining victory over West Virginia last Friday night. The Bulls were playing at home in prime time and now they're expected to go on the road against an inferior in-state school and maintain their intensity level? Doubtful. South Florida is 7-3 as a road favorite over the past six years, but not only do they have to fight against a possible let down but they also may get caught looking ahead to a underrated rivalry game against dark horse Central Florida next weekend. I'm not predicting a loss here, but FAU could make things interesting.
Cincinnati at Rutgers (8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6)
Open: Rutgers -6.0.
Current: Rutgers -3.0.
The Bearcats have been a wrecking crew this season and are one of my favorite teams in the country. But it may be time to sell on a team that's gone 4-0 ATS to this point in the season and coming off a 29-point road victory. Last year Cincinnati stunned Rutgers as a home dog just one week after the Scarlet Knights dropped Louisville (are you listening South Florida?) so there is a revenge factor at work. The bottom line is that this Cincy team may be even better while last week Rutgers may have been exposed. But are we getting enough points for optimum value?
Miami at Houston (1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7)
Open: Houston -4.5.
Current: Houston -5.5.
I didn't think that the LVSC came up short on the Texans, but apparently the public disagrees. The Dolphins are a mess and it's pretty clear that Trent Green was done about four years ago. However, if this number touches six, which I believe it will, I really think that the value shifts back to Miami. File it under "Least Likely Things To Happen This Week", and given that dogs have been covering and winning outright at a torrid pace to start the season I think that's exactly why it could be a worthy play.
Seattle at Pittsburgh (1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7)
The Seahawks are just 1-3 against the total and have seen an average of just 35 total points in its opening four games. Pittsburgh has also stayed 'under' in two of its last three games with an average of just 39.5 points in its opening four games. Both clubs are in the top five in scoring defense, with only a combined 25 points allowed per game. Other than that, I don't know why the total is trailing downward. That being said, the Steelers are a spectacular 12-3-2 against the total in their last 17 home games.
Chicago at Green Bay (8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7)
Open: Green Bay -4.0.
Current: Green Bay -3.5.
Sharp action on the Bears? Hey, it's been that type of season. The Packers are 4-0 ATS while the Bears are 0-4. Clearly the early bettors are anticipating a reversal of both trends. Chicago is in complete Desperation Mode while the Pack is flying high. If healthy, Chicago's defense is strong enough to keep this one within a field goal and if Brian Griese can avoid the inexplicable mistakes he made last week I think they could win outright.
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