This Week in Betting, A to Z
by Trevor Whenham - 09/15/2008
A - Armstrong, Lance. Bicycle racing is not a huge betting draw, but it will certainly get more attention now that the greatest Tour de France champion ever has announced that he will be back in 2009 to try to win another title. He's obviously and admittedly doing it in large part to draw attention to his cancer cause, but he's ridiculously competitive, obviously fit, and probably wouldn't come back if he knew he was going to embarrass himself. Deciding whether to bet on or against him will be a very entertaining endeavor.
B - Big Brown. We first heard of this impressive horse last year when he broke his maiden on turf in jaw-dropping fashion. It only seems fitting, then, that he tried the turf again this weekend. He won, but not in nearly as impressive fashion. He sprinted to the lead at Monmouth and held on through a tense stretch drive in his first race against older horses. This is the last time we will see this horse before his final race, the Breeders' Cup Classic, and your guess is as good as mine as to how he will fare there. I'd call myself cautiously pessimistic about his chances at this point.
C - Cougars, BYU. After their near loss at Washington last week it was easy to doubt BYU. Well, doubt no more. QB Max Hall threw seven touchdowns as his Cougars absolutely pounded UCLA lifeless by a 59-0 score. BYU's claim as a potential BCS Buster is alive and well. They are in 14th spot in the AP poll, so if they keep winning they will be well positioned for a big bowl. The sheer ridiculousness of the beating that UCLA took raises obvious questions about how good Tennessee, the team UCLA beat in their first game, actually is.
D - Davis, Butch. Davis was pretty lousy as a coach in the NFL when he was with Cleveland. His time at Miami, though, clearly showed he could coach in college. Some of that talent again became obvious this week when his Tar Heels beat up on Rutgers. North Carolina was a road underdog, yet they played the most complete, dominating performance in the year and a bit that Davis has been at the helm. It's still a long road ahead, but if Davis keeps it up he could be a force in a dismal ACC that is wide open for a power to rise up.
E - End of the world. It seems like Armageddon had arrived with the news that Tom Brady was out for the year. Bettors panicked, odds plummeted, and the futures market was turned upside down. It will definitely be a different era, but the rumors of a total collapse for the Patriots under Matt Cassel were greatly exaggerated. Cassel wasn't outstanding, but he was more than good enough to let New England's clear talent advantage shine over the Jets. The big question, though, is how long Randy Moss can stay quiet - he won't be happy about having just two catches for 22 yards.
F - Flag. Stop me if you've heard this one before - San Diego lost in the last second to a team they certainly should have beaten. That's two weeks in a row, though the loss against Denver this week was aided by the officials. A clear fumble by Jay Cutler late in the game was ruled an incomplete pass, so Denver maintained possession and went on to score. It was a rough call, but the fact remains that San Diego should not have been in the situation in the first place. If the Chargers had won the hero would have been Darren Sproles, with more than 300 all-purpose yards. Instead, it was Brandon Marshall, who returned from suspension with 18 catches and a touchdown.
G - Graham Harrell. There were some concerns that Texas Tech's stud QB wasn't physically right after a lackluster performance against Nevada in a game that was prime for a shootout. Harrell is the key driver of a team that is a legitimate contender in the stacked Big 12. You don't need to worry about Harrell any more. He threw for 418 yards and five touchdowns on his home field, which had been underwater hours before game time thanks to Hurricane Ike.
H - Houston Astros. It's deja vu all over again for the Astros. They had a rough weekend between the hurricane and facing a hot pitcher, but they have put together the best record in the league since the break, and despite a dismal first half they have climbed right into the playoff race, sitting just a game out of the wild card. This is the same storyline they played out in 2004 and 2005, when they started badly both years before making the playoffs. Just think what this team could do if they figured out how to play a whole season.
I - Implosion. I wasn't watching the Saints play the Redskins, but I had an eye on the score. New Orleans was up 24-15 with six minutes left and they seemed destined to cruise to a win and a cover. But then they imploded. The Redskins finally discovered an offense, scoring two touchdowns in two and a half minutes to win the game. The win is nice, but the big relief for new coach Jim Zorn has to be that Jason Campbell actually looked like an NFL quarterback for the first time since the preseason began.
J - Juan Manuel Marquez. Marquez moved up to lightweight for the first time to fight Joel Casamayor, and for a while it looked like he wasn't comfortable. He found his stride, though. The first 10 rounds of the fight were dull, but Marquez asserted himself in the 11th, knocking Casamayor down twice before getting the TKO and the world title - his third in different weight classes. As interesting as the fight was, the announcement that preceded it that Golden Boy Promotions, Oscar De La Hoya's shop, will be promoting mixed high-level boxing and MMA cards with Affliction in the future. Trust Oscar to see the future and embrace it.
K - K-Rod. Bobby Thigpen no longer has his name in the record books. The Angels star closer Francisco Rodriguez got the save on Saturday against Seattle to notch his 58th on the season. Thigpen had the previous record at 57. It's an impressive achievement, and K-Rod is a big part of why the Angels are so dangerous, but the accomplishment is diminished in my mind somewhat by the fact that his team hasn't played a meaningful game in weeks - saves are easier to get when there is no pressure.
L - Lee, Cliff. The further Lee gets into the season, the more trouble I have believing what he is doing. Lee won on Friday to move his record to 22-2 with a 2.36 ERA. It was his eighth-straight victory, and his 11th in 12 outings. The accomplishment is impressive by itself, but made even more so by the fact he plays for such a lousy team, and that last year he couldn't even stick with the major league club. From a month in Buffalo last year to the Cy Young this year - what are the odds of that?
M - Mountain West Conference. It hardly seems right to call a conference a mid-major anymore after they lay such a thorough beating on one of the big boys. The MWC played four Pac-10 teams this weekend, and they won and covered in all four games. Overall the conference was 7-1 straight up and 6-1 ATS. Both BYU and Utah are legitimate national contenders, and TCU could be dangerous as well. At this rate the powers that be should strip the Big East of their automatic BCS bid and give it to the Mountain West.
N - Nice one, Buckeyes. As a Michigan fan few things make me happier than seeing Ohio State lose. You can imagine my glee, then, as I saw them get completely, utterly, and irredeemably trounced by USC. As the cliché goes, this game wasn't anywhere near as close as the 35-3 score indicates. The USC offense was brilliant under Mark Sanchez, their offensive line immobilized the Ohio State defensive power, and the Trojans' defense was virtually perfect. Famous last words, I know, but I find it hard to believe that anyone can beat the Trojans this year.
O - Oklahoma Thunder. The former Seattle Sonics sold out all of their season tickets in just four days, proving that Oklahoma City has more interest in the team than Seattle did. Or maybe it just proves that fans in Oklahoma haven't seen the team on TV enough to realize that they aren't worth watching. This also proves that a truly ridiculous team name isn't an impediment to ticket sales. Could they possibly have picked a name that was any lamer?
P - Packers. Brett who? For the second straight week I thought that Aaron Rodgers might face a bit of a reality check, and for the second straight week he showed me how wrong I was. Rodgers threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns as his team ran away from Detroit. Before you get too impressed, though, remember that it is the Lions we are talking about. Matt Ryan looked like Superman last week against Detroit, but crashed hard against a real defense in Tampa Bay this week.
Q - Queen City. It was a very good football weekend for Buffalo. On Saturday the Bulls beat Temple with a miraculous last second Hail Mary. That puts them at 2-1, has them on course for their first ever bowl appearance, and virtually assures that Turner Gill will move on to greener coaching pastures next year. Then on Sunday the Bills showed that their first game was no fluke by going into Jacksonville and coming out victorious. Trent Edwards was impressively efficient in the win, and James Hardy showed his potential by making a circus catch for the winning touchdown.
R - Raiders. I thought Oakland was the worst team in the league. Now I think that they beat the worst team. They deserve credit for running for more than 300 yards, even if it was against Kansas City. Justin Fargas got hurt, so Darren McFadden stepped up and showed why he was drafted where he was. The downside to the win was the play of JaMarcus Russell. He was terrible - 6 of 17 for 55 yards - and showed little to make us think he'll be any better soon. Even with the win the team is still a total mess - reports are flying around that Lane Kiffin will be fired as soon as his week. If I were him I'd be thrilled to get out alive.
S - Sooners. USC is pretty clearly the best team in the country, but Oklahoma sure is making a case for being No. 2. They moved up to that spot in the poll on the strength of a huge win over Washington. They have been dominant offensively thanks to Sam Bradford, and stifling on defense. The combined score in their three games - 164-42. Looking way, way ahead, the potential Big 12 Championship Game between Oklahoma and Missouri could be one for the ages.
T - Terrapins. I hate Maryland - there is no team in the country that confounds me more. Every time I think they might be ready to play well they absolutely tank it. So then I write them off, and they pull something like they did on Saturday when they came from absolutely nowhere to beat California. It wasn't a pretty win - they sprinted to a big lead then tried to hold on - but it was still a statement against a ranked team. You might think that the win was a positive sign, but they will probably come out flat and useless against Eastern Michigan next week. If you ever hear me say I am going to bet on the Terps, slap me.
U - UNLV. Wow. I know just one UNLV football fan, and even he couldn't possibly have seen this coming. The Rebels went into Tempe to play the ranked Sun Devils, a team that was seen as quite likely the second best team in the Pac-10. Arizona State was favored by 25, but when the dust settled UNLV had blocked a field goal in overtime to seal the win. UNLV controlled the ball through the fourth quarter and never panicked even though it was certainly not a situation they are used to. This is definitely not the best way ASU could have prepared for their game against Georgia next week.
V - Vince Young. I don't want to say too much about this situation because I don't know what to say. It's a truly bizarre situation, and I am sure we haven't heard the truth from among all the versions of events we have been told. I think I know two things, though - it's going to be quite a while until Young is back behind center for Tennessee, and with Kerry Collins in the fold it doesn't matter one bit for bettors if he ever comes back.
W - Weis, Charlie. Weis feels so close to former pupil Tom Brady that he got the matching knee injury. It's not kind to say, but seeing him get bowled down on the sidelines was the most enjoyable part of a truly dismal game. Michigan proved conclusively that it's impossible to win if you turn the ball over every time you touch it. The win was ultimately one-sided, but don't mistake this for a return to form for Notre Dame. They were statistically outplayed, and only won because Michigan was so determined to lose. That won't be the case when Notre Dame plays real teams.
X - eXtension. West Virginia went out in the first real test of the Bill Stewart era and got beat badly by East Carolina. It was ugly. In response, the university did the logical thing - they gave Stewart, who looked helpless throughout the losing effort, a six-year extension. The reasoning, I guess, is that if he can undo that much progress in just two games then it would be really fun to see what he could do in six years. Ridiculous move by an increasingly ridiculous institution.
Y - Yikes. I've said it before and I'll keep saying it - Marvin Lewis is the worst coach in football. Yet again his team looked totally unmotivated, unprepared and pathetic. And yet again the Bengals didn't show up against an opponent that they should easily be able to beat. Rarely over the course of history has a guy been given so much, done so little with it, and yet been allowed to keep doing it. I guess the potential to actually be a good team was too much pressure for the Bengals' organization.
Z - Zambrano, Carlos. Remember not long ago - like a week - when we were talking about Zambrano's shoulder issues? Ignore that. Zambrano owned the Astros on Sunday, striking out 10 and walking just one en route to the first no hitter for a Cubs pitcher since 1972. The game was played under strange circumstances - relocated to Milwaukee thanks to Hurricane Ike hitting Houston. No matter where it was, though, the game was a huge boost for Zambrano and for a Cubs team that hasn't been looking much like a future World Series champ of late.