Sharing and comparing my method for trying to beat the spread

I live in the Midwest which is Big Ten country. Once conference play starts virtually every Big Ten game is televised in my region and I commit myself to try and watch all of them. I have three televisions set up as some games are being played at the same time. I have no bias or affiliation to any Big Ten team as I am a lifelong Notre Dame fan (I include ND games in my viewing schedule as well). My comments and reports are qualified only by my love of the game and an extreme commitment to watching and following Big Ten football.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


All teams in the Big Ten were home favorites last Saturday as the conference went 10-2. Another full slate to watch as all games were televised, so again, some games drew more attention than others. I was able to watch at least a portion of all but one game.
Nebraska took care of business in a 42 to 13 win over Arkansas St. QB Taylor Martinez bounced back from last week’s second half meltdown and returned to the form he displayed in the first six quarters of the season as he completed 13 of 14 passes. Martinez and the Huskers didn’t seem quite as sharp in the second half, but that could be due to letting up against a weaker opponent or the effects of HC Bo Pelini’s absence. Pelini was taken to the hospital at halftime for undisclosed reasons. It’s reported everything checked out OK and that he was back to work on Sunday.
Ohio St escaped with a 35 to 28 victory over Pac-12 opponent California. California missed three field goals and had a touchdown called back in this game and outscored the Buckeyes in the second half. The Ohio St defense continues to lack consistency as they gave up big plays and allowed receivers to find openings. QB Braxton Miller played as well as he has all season. Although he is improving weekly, I still think the downfield pass is a weak spot. When California tied the game in the fourth quarter and things got tense, Miller missed some throws and eventually threw an interception.  Still, his short to intermediate passes are accurate and give him credit for keeping his cool and connecting on the game winning 72 yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith. There wasn’t much to it, though, as the California-what are you thinking?-defensive back came up in run support, leaving Smith yards behind him.
I saw very little of Purdue’s 54 to 16 pasting of Eastern Michigan. Had it not been for such a weak opponent, this would have been a prime spot for a “letdown” loss as the Boilermakers were coming off a tough loss to Notre Dame and heading into a bye this week. They were a little sloppy and the game was actually close midway through the second quarter, but against Eastern Michigan; no worries.
FCS games usually don’t get much of my attention but I wanted to get a good look at Illinois so I watched the first quarter of their 44 to 0 win over Charleston Southern. I know it’s a big score, but Illinois isn’t very good right now. But, QB Nathan Scheelhaase is due back soon, and considering it takes time with a new coaching staff and starters will eventually return to a roster that’s depleted with injuries, all hope is not lost. College football teams can change dramatically over the course of a season.
Minnesota improved their record to 3-0 with a 28 to 23 win over Western Michigan. Backup QB Max Shortell replaced an injured Marquis Gray late in the second quarter with the Gophers trailing and lit the place up with two consecutive touchdown drives. Shortell’s insertion into the game prompted Minnesota to launch a passing attack that exposed an up to that point undiscovered weakness in Western Michigan’s defense. The running game opened up as a result. 3-0 is a great start so I don’t know why it’s taking me so long, but I’m not ready to jump on the Gopher bandwagon just yet. This was a good win, but Western Michigan QB Alex Carder isn’t himself this year as he missed on several passes. The Gopher’s defense did get a big stop at the end of this game but from the couch they look slow and at times sluggish. And other than at quarterback I don’t see much offensive talent.
Northwestern remained undefeated with a 22 to 13 win over Boston College. The Wildcats are on a roll as they have now defeated three teams that would have been considered 50-50 games in the preseason. The defense continues to tackle well and for the second week in a row the opposition failed to take advantage of the secondary’s inability to cover the long pass. Although he put up good numbers, QB Kain Colter seems hesitant to throw, opting instead to pull the ball down and run. Northwestern had to settle for field goals in the red zone when Colter’s lack of patience affected his ability to spot open receivers. Leading rusher Venric Mark left the game late with an injury.
After two weeks of heartbreak and unlucky bounces, Penn St got their first win with a 34 to 7 victory over Navy. QB Matt McGloin continues to impress and the defense turned in another solid game. Navy is not a very good team, but going into the season I didn’t think Penn St was either. I said last week that it looks like Penn St will do better than I projected and I saw nothing in this game to change my mind.
Iowa turned in a ho hum 27 to 16 victory over FCS opponent Northern Iowa. True, this is the same opponent that gave Wisconsin fits a couple of weeks back, but as it turns out, that ain’t saying much. While quarterbacks tend to get too much credit, they also get too much blame. James Vandenberg is no exception as he has no help around him. Poor pass protection and receivers that couldn’t catch a cold in a blizzard are making him a target for some analysts when they discuss Iowa’s lack of offensive production. FCS or not, still a victory and despite where the offense is right now, the schedule makes it very possible for the Hawkeyes to be 4-1 heading into Spartan Stadium a month from now.
Wisconsin was a 37 yard field goal away from losing their second consecutive game, but the Utah St kicker missed wide right allowing the Badgers to escape with a 16 to 14 victory. The common opinion leading up to this game was that the Badgers were going to “snap out of it” and return to “Wisconsin” football. Even the “experts” listed them as 14 point favorites. But the fact is that right now this team isn’t very good, particularly the O-line. HC Brett Bielema yanked QB Danny O’Brien at halftime but he might as well be grabbing at straws. He also fired the new O-line coach last week so obviously there are issues that won’t be fixed after one week. As I said before, college football teams can evolve considerably over the course of a season but right now Wisconsin is way behind where I thought they’d be.
Michigan St fell to Notre Dame 20 to 3 in this week’s marquee matchup. No shame for the Spartan’s as Notre Dame has a pretty good team this year. The difference in this slugfest was in the trenches as the Michigan St O-line was no match for Notre Dame’s front seven. Spartan RB Le’Veon Bell, whose name has surfaced in the Heisman Trophy discussions, was held to 77 yards on 19 carries and QB Andrew Maxwell was either sacked or harassed all evening. Michigan St’s defense played well, but Notre Dame made plays when they needed them while the Spartans did not.
Indiana’s 41 to 39 loss to Ball St was one of four games going on at once so I was only able to catch the wild finish. The little that I did see was consistent with what I’ve seen of Indiana so far as they gave up an 18 yard pass with seven seconds left that set up Ball St’s game winning 42 yard field goal. Allowing the pass to be caught is one thing, letting the receiver slide out of bounds with one second left is another. The Hoosiers are going to have to play smarter and improve fundamentally if they are to have any success in the conference, particularly with starting QB Tre Roberson out for the season. His backup Cam Cameron left the game with a hip pointer.
I didn’t see one second of Michigan’s 63 to 13 massacre of Massachusetts. Judging by the score, everything went as planned. Nothing to see here.



 WEEK OF 9-22-2012




Check me if I’m wrong, but if you kill all the gophers….
Hindsight is 20/20 but I swear by the stars that I said to myself before it happened that it won’t be long before Minnesota QB Marquis Gray goes down with an injury. Time and time again he ran the ball into the middle of the Western Michigan defense to be stood up by several defenders until the officials eventually blew the whistle. I know, I know, I’m incessantly critical of Michigan HC Brady Hoke for not using QB Denard Robinson as a runner in key situations. But I wouldn’t suggest sending him straight into the heart of the defense to clack helmets with the middle linebacker, which is exactly what Minnesota was asking of Gray. The play in question, which was run on several occasions, was basically a read option, but unlike most read option plays, it was designed to hit the one hole. I’ve seen this play run effectively by several “spread offense” teams but it’s usually used sparingly and usually behind a better offensive line than Minnesota’s. Gray is one of many “dual-threat” quarterbacks in the conference and he is a good one. Use his legs, yes, but I would think you’d want to get your athlete in space rather than use him like a fullback. Maybe that’s the reasoning. Minnesota doesn’t have a great fullback at this point. In fact, Marquis Gray is the running game. No way for me to know but maybe  Minnesota HC Jerry Kill figures Gray is big and strong enough to handle it and the program needs wins so badly that it’s worth the risk, especially when they have a good backup QB in Max Shortell. The irony is that when Gray left the game Minnesota was prompted to use Shortell’s strengths as a passer which opened up an as of yet undiscovered weakness in Western Michigan’s defense. I don’t know if it was due to game planning or poor pass coverage but Western Michigan could not stop Minnesota’s throwing game. When they attempted to do so, the running game suddenly opened up. Shortell is obviously the better pocket passer as he completed several throws, but I believe that under the same offensive strategy, Gray could have completed many of the same passes. Gray’s injury happened to occur on a designed quarterback draw as opposed to the read option play I mentioned, so I guess I’m not the psychic I’m making myself out to be here. It appears as though Gray will be out for a few weeks so the bad news is that the Gophers have lost their most valuable player for a while. The good news is, if last Saturday’s game is a valid indication, his replacement is the second most valuable player who can solidify a passing game which may take some of the pressure off of Gray’s running game upon his return. 



In last week’s post (9-11) I submitted an introduction to the KIS (Keep It Simple) ranking system. If you haven’t seen it, please refer to it as this post is an extension of last week’s. If you click on the KIS Rankings tab you’ll see this week’s rankings, the totals of the components that make up the KIS system, and the team’s won-lost record. The explanation of the components will always be listed under the updates but for this week I’m going to list them in this section as well:
A team’s ranking is determined by the TOTAL column which is the sum of the WIN%, OPP% and ROAD columns. 
WIN % represents a team’s winning percentage against FBS (Division I-A) teams only. Games against non FBS opponents are not counted regardless of the outcome. The won-lost column at the far right represents a team’s record against FBS opponents only.
OPP % represents the winning percentage of a team’s opponents against FBS schools. Again, non FBS games are disregarded.  A team’s game against a particular opponent is not counted in this calculation to prevent a team from being penalized for winning. (Ex: If LSU beats Auburn, the loss is not charged to Auburn when figuring LSU’s OPP %).
ROAD represents the percentage of a team’s games played on the road divided by four. I think road games should be part of the equation but not with the same weight as the other two categories, so I diluted the percentage. Neutral sites are considered half of a road game. 

Obviously this system is very basic and could probably use some adjustments. But it’s a good starting point if you consider the following objectives:
1)    Assumptions and opinions don’t matter. As was noted in the previous post, there’s no place for voting. Leave the voting in politics where it belongs. One of the great things about the game of football is that it’s not political. Unfortunately the game is becoming increasingly surrounded by politics due to the revenue it generates.
2)    Make it understandable (Keep It Simple). Jeff Sagarin-author of one of the BCS computer rankings- explains his schedule rating (strength of schedule) as follows: The SCHEDULE ratings represent what the rating would have to be for a hypothetical team to have a mathematical expectation of winning precisely 50% of their games against the schedule played by the team in question in the games that it has played so far. Huh? The average football coach, player, and fan does not have a degree in mathematics, nor should he need one. Coaches and athletic directors should be able to figure out why their team is ranked where they are so they can make adjustments in the future to attain higher rankings.

The KIS system is based strictly on percentages so early season versions produce results that probably won’t hold up for long as smaller numbers are prone to larger fluctuations. It’s kind of like posting Major League Baseball averages after 3 games. A batter may go 6 for 8 in that time but it’s unlikely his .750 average will hold up over the course of the season. This is probably why the current BCS system waits until later in the year to reveal results. But for discussion purposes I plan to post some early versions.
This week’s ranking lists Iowa St in first place. This is the result of a perfect 2-0 record (keep in mind that games against non-FBS opponents are not counted in any category), their opponents perfect record (opponents games against Iowa St are omitted), and having played one of their two games on the road. It’s that one road game that separates the Cyclones from Stanford, Arizona and Florida St as all three teams are perfect in both categories as well, but have yet to play a road game. The rest of the teams in the top ten are undefeated and are separated by a combination of opponents win percentage and road games. 
I like that the system doesn't care that Iowa St is not a team that would garner many votes in the polls. As I mentioned, the numbers are small right now (Florida St only has one legitimate game to consider as they opened up the season with not one, but two non-FBS teams) so a few more games will have to be played to get more separation among the teams.


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