Ferringo Examines Early Line Moves
by Robert Ferringo - 09/04/2007
Being able to properly read and assess the opening line in college and professional football seems like one of the most basic and simple components of football betting. However, analyzing the opening line and initial movements off of it is a skill that takes years to master. In fact, even handicappers that have been in the game for decades still have difficulty explaining why a certain line may move a certain way during the week - and even more trouble still deciphering what that movement portends.
Basically, the opening lines are created by institutions like the Las Vegas Sports Consultants and then passed on to their clients, the sportsbooks. The books then open their lines to sharp bettors and players who wager tens of thousands of dollars. Those players get their initial action on certain sides and totals, and the books then adjust the lines before releasing them to the general public in an attempt to balance out the action. It's a constant shadow dance between the books and the betting public.
Each week we're going to analyze the opening lines with the greatest variance from their original release from the LVSC. These "steam" moves are indicative of where the "smart money" began and is usually a predictor of where the money will continue to roll. Our goal is to make sense of exactly where the value is on some of these situations for either the underdog or the favorite. Again, this is a delicate science and I'm not going to presume to have all the answers. But together we'll try to sift through the games that the sharp action is on and see if we can't uncover some useful trends as the season progresses.
Here are some of the most noticeable and significant early steam movements in both the college and pro football opening lines:
California at Colorado State (2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: Cal -17.0.
Current: Cal -14.0.
It appears as if sharp bettors are looking for a letdown out of the Golden Bears after their convincing 45-31 victory over Tennessee last weekend. That win was retribution for a beat down in Knoxville last year, and there may have been so much focus on the Vols and the SEC that Cal could overlook a feisty Rams team. Colorado State brought back 18 starters and are 12-1 in home openers, but there are huge question marks about whether their secondary can hold up against Nate Longshore.
Boston College vs. North Carolina State (2:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: Boston College -16.5.
Current: Boston College -13.5.
What is interesting about this line is that it has moved the Wolfpack's way even after finding out that starting running back Toney Baker is out for the season. This game marks the return of coach Tom O'Brien, now with N.C. State and formerly of B.C., and should be an emotional one. The coach certainly knows the weaknesses of his former players - but does he have the horses to exploit them?
Michigan over Oregon (3:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: Michigan -6.0.
Current: Michigan -9.0.
Apparently people are expecting a strong statement out of the Wolverines this weekend as they take on a hotshot crew out of the Pac-10. Had App. State not taken down the Wolverines this line would likely have been -12 or -13, so there actually is some value for Michigan. But I still think that last weekend was more of a red flag than it was an anomaly.
Penn State over Notre Dame (6 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: Penn State -14.5.
Current: Penn State -17.0.
If you feel like the Nittany Lions are in the same class as Georgia Tech - and people clearly do - then there's no reason to think that PSU can't match the Yellowjackets' 30-point margin of victory against the feeble Irish. Oh, and don't forget the whooping (41-17) that Notre Dame gave a weaker Penn State team last year in South Bend.
Virginia Tech at LSU (9 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: LSU -8.0.
Current: LSU -12.0.
Whatever the reason may be, there is no denying that Virginia Tech was less than impressive in their opening 17-7 victory over East Carolina. Maybe the emotion was a distraction. Maybe they were playing possum. Or maybe they just aren't very good. Regardless, this is the biggest mover of the week and it looks like a clear statement about how much more highly regarded a top SEC team is over a top ACC club.
New Mexico State at New Mexico (9:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: New Mexico -10.5.
Current: New Mexico -7.0.
This is a rivalry game that will hang under the radar, but the sharps have clearly taken a position. The visiting Aggies are one of the nation's more improved teams and have an offense capable of putting up a lot of points. But can they stop anyone? New Mexico absolutely dominated UTEP last week but were stunned in a 10-6 defeat. I think the entire key to this game is the Lobos' mental state after that extremely disappointing home opener.
Northwestern over Nevada (Noon, Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: Northwestern -5.0. Current: Northwestern -8.0.
Toledo at Central Michigan (7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: Central Michigan -6.0. Current: Toledo -3.0.
Indiana (+3 to Pick) at Western Michigan (8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8)
Open: Western Michigan (-3.0). Current: Pick 'Em.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
New Orleans at Indianapolis (8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 6)
Open: Indianapolis -6.5
Current: Indianapolis -5.5
Apparently the public hasn't been impressed with the Colts this preseason. This movement is significant because it crossed a key number. It's also surprising to see the lack of respect being paid to the Super Bowl champions playing at home. However, I think it shows the erudition of the sharp bettors; they know that this isn't the same team that was toting the Lombardi Trophy around Florida in February.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: Pittsburgh -3.0
Current: Pittsburgh -4.5
I will be very surprised if 4.5 is where this line stops and I think it will hit six by kickoff. Pittsburgh has dominated its AFC North rival lately, posting a 7-0 ATS mark versus the Browns. The Steelers have lost just once in Cleveland since 1999 and have won by a touchdown or more there in three of the past four years.
New York Giants at Dallas (8 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: Dallas -4.0
Current: Dallas -6.0
There are a confluence of factors at work on this line - and I think it could be a trap. Dallas has looked exceptional during the preseason, while the Giants have languished and seemingly been wrapped in off-field drama. However, the Cowboys are 0-5-1 against the Giants over the past few years and New York has four straight up underdog victories in Big D over the past seven seasons.
Detroit at Oakland (4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
This appears to be a classic overreaction by the general public to The Hype. First, there is all of the buzz about Detroit's "explosive" offense. Next, there is the specter of All-Hype Team Hall of Famer Daunte Culpepper at quarterback for Oakland. Those two factors seem to be driving this 'over' betting. However, the Raiders still boast the No. 3 defense in the league and have seen 11 of their past 12 contests stay 'under'. Also, the Raiders are 6-12 over the past two seasons with a total of 40.0 or higher.
Houston over Kansas City (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: Houston -1.0. Current: Houston -3.0
Miami at Washington (1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9)
Open: 37.0. Current: 34.5
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