Doc's Friday Public Action Report
by Trevor Whenham - 09/07/2007
When it comes to handicapping sports in general, and football in particular, there is one thing you can take to the bank - the public just isn't very good at it. With a week between games, the general public has a long time to hear the hype and act on it. With the benefit of hindsight, it's amazing how often you see a team that had an overwhelming amount of public support fail to cover, or even lose. There are a lot of reasons for this, but they all boil down to overreacting to a situation - a streak, an injury, a benching, a nasty schedule.
Though the public is often wrong, they obviously aren't always wrong. There are some cases where a game is so clear-cut and one-sided that even a blind monkey could land on the right side. Other times, though, a good case can be made for the team that is getting no public love. In a lot of cases the oddsmakers know which teams the public are going to love, and they will set their lines accordingly. The public will, for example, play the Colts against virtually anyone at virtually any spread, so the books can set the point spread at a point where they are willing to take the risk of backing the weaker side. If they are willing to do that then it often makes sense for you to do the same.
Each week I will be looking at some of the games that the public is jumping on to see if there is value on the unpopular side. We'll analyze why the public is so infatuated and if their love makes sense or if it is doomed to be unrequited. The further we get into the college and pro seasons the more we will know about the teams, and the more the public will have heard, and the more opportunities we will find. There should be some interesting opportunities right from the start, though.
West Virginia (-24) at Marshall (11:00 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 8) - 95 percent of bets placed on the game have been on West Virginia. That's the most one-sided action on the week, so Marshall obviously doesn't have a lot of fans out there. I'm not going to stand here and make the case that the Thundering Herd are going to shock the world, because I really don't think that that is true. West Virginia is clearly the better team. What is intriguing, though, is the line movement. Despite the overwhelming support for the Mountaineers, the line has moved from -25 to -24. That's not exactly the normal move of books that are afraid of lopsided action. Based on that you could deduce that the line is a bit higher than it should be, and there is some value in Marshall.
Nebraska (-8) at Wake Forest (12:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8) - It's apparently hard for a defending conference champion to get any respect. Wake Forest won it all last year, weren't ravaged by graduations, and yet they are more than a touchdown behind the Huskers. This would make more sense if it was one of the top teams from the Big 12 South instead of the weaker Big 12 North. The point of interest isn't the comparison between the ACC and the Big 12, though. It's the fact that the line started at -6.5 and has moved through the key number of seven. If your opinion is that the Huskers are a touchdown better than Wake Forest then this line movement is very intriguing.
Miami (+10.5) at Oklahoma (12:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8) - Four out of five bettors have been on Oklahoma, but the line isn't moving. Both teams looked absolutely dominant in their first game - Miami against Marshall and Oklahoma against North Texas. The showing by Oklahoma was particularly impressive, and it got a lot of coverage. Miami is coming off of a couple of disappointing seasons, and the public is still down on them. The biggest factor here, though, may be that freshman quarterback Sam Bradford is going to see a real defense for the first time. Miami is a heck of a lot better than North Texas, and Bradford may not be nearly as effective as he was in his debut. For that reason, this game has the looks of one that the public could have wrong.
Troy (+26.5) at Florida (6:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8) - Here's another one where the line is moving against the public. 81 percent of bets have been on Florida, yet the line has fallen from -28 to -26.5. That either means that the books want more action on Florida, or some serious sharp bettors are backing Troy. Or some combination of the two, most likely. Troy stayed within 20 points of Arkansas and their ridiculously good running game last week, so it isn't impossible that they could stay close here.
California (-13.5) at Colorado State (2:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8) - 88 percent of bettors are on California, yet the line is dropping like a rock. It started at -16.5 and is down below the key number of 14 now. It seems surprising given that Cal handled Tennessee nicely, and Colorado State lost to Colorado in overtime. Still, it seems clear that books aren't afraid of California action.
Atlanta (+3) at Minnesota (1:00 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9) - The Falcons are the biggest public team there is so far, but not in a good way. The obvious loss of Michael Vick and all the problems surrounding it will mean that the public will avoid them until they see otherwise. The strength of the public distaste could create an opportunity in the first weeks of the season, including here. Atlanta has some problems, but so does Minnesota. They are starting an incredibly raw quarterback, and their running game relies on a player making his NFL debut. Bobby Petrino will be looking to pass more than the Falcons did last year, and the Vikings pass defense was terrible last year. An argument could certainly be made that the public has forced this line to be higher than it should. If you agree with that then there is value with the Falcons.
Tampa Bay (+5.5) at Seattle (4:15 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9) - This is another case where the public is clearly on one side (83 percent on Seattle), yet the line has moved from -6 to -5.5. Though it might not make a lot of sense to a lot of evaluators, a case could be made that there is value on Tampa Bay given the way the action is playing out.