College Football Handicapping: Betting on the Arkansas Razorbacks
by Trevor Whenham - 10/4/2012
We have seen some teams that entered the college football season ranked in the Top 10 fall from grace before. However, at this rate we may never have seen anything like what is going on at Arkansas right now.
A month ago they were ranked No. 8 and were being talked about as the biggest threat on Alabama’s schedule. Now they are 1-4, they have found new ways to embarrass themselves every week, and the season is totally spinning out of control.
They have played two SEC games, and they lost them by an average of 50 points. 50! I didn’t even know that that was possible. It’s a season like nothing we have seen in a long time, and there is room for it to get much, much worse.
For bettors this team presents a real puzzle. Can they get back on track or is the season lost? How big will spreads get? Is there still value in betting against them (they are 0-4 ATS and only came even remotely close to covering one spread) no matter how high the price gets? Here are four factors to consider when looking at this team:
John L. Smith
There is so much to talk about here that I don’t even know where to start. Smith has done an absolutely terrible job with this team. Horrible. The players obviously haven’t bought into his message, he has been bizarre and erratic in press conferences, and he looks so bored that he is at risk of falling asleep during games. It’s ugly, and no matter how hard he works there is no reason to think that it is going to get any better.
Of course, are we supposed to believe that he was going to do any better? He was hired well into the spring after the divisive distraction that was Bobby Petrino’s affair. He was clearly hired as a seat warmer, and there was little doubt that he would be nothing more than an interim. He was a substitute teacher, and the next time a class respects a substitute will be the first time. He was doomed from the start — and that’s not even considering that he didn’t have nearly the time to prepare with his team and his staff that his opponents all had.
While Smith was put in an impossible situation, you really do have to question what athletic director Jeff Long was thinking when he decided to go this way. Smith had ties to Arkansas and had worked under Petrino. The truth is, though, that he’s not up to the challenge of coaching at this level — as he showed beyond doubt at Michigan State. He probably didn’t have the game to thrive here in the best-case scenario, but being an interim is far from the best case.
On top of that, Long should have done at least a cursory background check before hiring him. His bankruptcy proceedings are a massive distraction, and it has now come out that he owes $40 million. Combine that with the death of his younger brother earlier in the season, and it’s no wonder that he hasn’t exactly been the most focused coach on the planet.
So, what does it all mean? Well, Long seems determined to stick with Smith all season long. It’s obvious to everyone on the planet, though, that there is no future beyond that. He is the ultimate lame duck, so there is virtually no chance of him getting control of this team and motivating the players to shine. It would be hard to be terribly optimistic about this team at the best of times, but with Smith at the helm this Titanic has already been pierced by an iceberg.
The bright spot?
Frankly, there really hasn’t been one. They have been bad all over the field. The only thing they have going for them is that Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis are both NFL-caliber players — albeit ones who have seen their value plummet this year. Wilson has struggled with a concussion and the after-effects, and Davis has been very ineffective after returning from an ankle injury that cost him last year. Both have major upside, though, and could be big assets if they get into gear. It’s not much, but at least it’s something for fans to believe in.
Arkansas Football Schedule
This is where it gets ugly, but not nearly as bad as it could be. They lost to Alabama, 52-0, and Texas A&M, 58-10, so there is no real reason to think that they are up to the challenge of competing against even pretty strong SEC teams right now. That means that they are likely doomed in trips to South Carolina, Mississippi State, and at home to LSU. Those three games finish the season, so their spirit should be totally zapped from them by then.
Between now and then, though, are four pretty reasonable games. They play at Auburn this weekend. The Tigers’ freefall would be the biggest story in the SEC if it weren’t for Arkansas, so there is at least a chance for them there. Auburn is only favored by 9.5, which is remarkably few points given how bad Arkansas has been. After that they are home for three — Kentucky, Mississippi and Tulsa. If they were the team they were supposed to be then that stretch would have been a virtual holiday to recharge for the final stretch. Now it’s their only chance of winning a game or two.
If they aren’t totally beyond hope then they should be able to get 2-2 over their next four. That’s a big if, though.
Whenever an extreme story like this gets a lot of national media attention you need to be as concerned by how the public is going to respond as anything. Actually, you know exactly how the public will respond — they will overreact like they always do — but you need to be aware of the impact that will have on how college football lines are set and how they move.
The worse the team does, the more enthusiastically the public will bet against them — regardless of who they are playing. For example, two-thirds of bets have been placed on Auburn this week despite the fact that the Tigers are a 1-3 team without much going for them. That doesn’t mean that you can’t bet against Arkansas if it makes sense to do so. It just means that you need to know that the odds are going to be affected — perhaps significantly — by the blind public action.
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