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, October 8, 2013

BIG TEN FOOTBALL WEEK 7


WHAT HAPPENED

Another big win for Ohio St. over a very good Northwestern team. Michigan St. came up with some offense, Nebraska some defense, and Indiana put themselves back in a position to go bowling. It doesn’t seem fair to me that Northwestern may be the best team in the Legends, but may not win the division due to a tougher crossover schedule than some of the other contenders. 

THE PLAYS (1-0)
Ohio St 40  Northwestern 30   (Ohio St. -6.5)
I predicted the Buckeyes to win, 42 to 28. And it happened just the way I envisioned; Ohio St. falling on the ball in the end zone on the last play of the game to cover the spread. Even the announcers (Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit) had something to say about the bizarre ending that ignited both celebrations and cries of anguish over a touchdown that was meaningless to the teams and fans who don’t care about such foolishness. But I’ll take it ‘cuz I’ve been on the opposite side of that spectrum. Truth is, I figured Ohio St. to come in a little flat after the big win over Wisconsin, fall behind late in the third, and pull away from a wore down Northwestern team in the fourth. So I guess I was partially correct as the Buckeyes were behind by ten points in the third quarter. But, despite some turnovers by Ohio St. QB Braxton Miller, I didn’t really get the impression the Buckeyes were flat. And although Northwestern had difficulties stopping Ohio St.’s bruising RB Carlos Hyde, I didn’t get the impression the Wildcats were any more exhausted than the Buckeyes. In fact, Northwestern stood up the consensus preseason conference favorites and traded punches to the end. Ohio St. does have some great athletes though, a few more than Northwestern, and once again did what they had to do to win a big game. Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian played a great game (I think he’s the best passer in the conference) but had a costly turnover in the fourth when Buckeyes DB Doran Grant jumped an out route and intercepted Siemian’s pass deep in Northwestern territory. Ohio St. eventually punched it in for the go-ahead touchdown, but give Siemian and Northwestern credit because they drove right down the field and regained the lead in less than three minutes. Ohio St. punched back with a touchdown on the next drive and then stopped Northwestern as QB Kain Colter fumbled the snap on fourth and one. Great game between two good teams. I think there’ll be a rematch in December. Not a slam dunk, though. Northwestern has some challenges ahead, starting next week. I think the Wildcats are at least as good as Wisconsin, but heading into Camp Randall after a tough loss to face a Badgers team that’s coming off of a bye week is a tall order. 

THE NON-PLAYS
Indiana 44  Penn St. 24   (Penn St. -3.5)
I predicted Penn St. to win, 41 to 31. I don’t think I underestimated Indiana, they did what they do- hurry up and throw the ball. But I did overestimate Penn St.  Sure, Indiana unexpectedly stopped the run, but the Nittany Lions kinda helped ‘em out as they continually called running plays out of the spread formation while the Hoosiers were loading the box. Five blockers against seven defenders is tough sledding for a RB, yet on some occasions Penn St. backs actually did make something out of nothing. QB Christian Hackenberg put up some decent numbers I suppose, but I dunno, I think we’re going to be hearing the phrase “but he’s just a freshman” quite a bit this season. He’s got a great arm, but he’s also got a lot of growing up to do. I know, I know,… he’s just a freshman. I know Indiana’s offense can wear a team out, but aside from WR Allen Robinson, Penn St. seems to be missing the heart and desire that was so evident in last season’s team. I’ve always been indifferent to the significance of a team having good leaders on the roster, but from the couch it appears that this team is lacking in that department and it hurt them on Saturday. And despite my comments on Hackenberg, I don’t think leadership should have to come from a freshman QB. It’s gotta come from the upper classmen.
Michigan 42  Minnesota 13   (Michigan -18.5)
I wasn’t too far off on this one as I predicted a 31 to 13 Michigan victory. Unlike Michigan’s previous two games, the Wolves won how they were supposed to-by a big margin. But I wouldn’t say they made huge strides in this game. The Wolverines only led by seven at the half, and QB Devin Gardner is still off on a lot of his passes. And both the O-line and D-line struggled at times. But a nice enough win for Michigan as Gardner was turnover free for the first time as a starter. The Gophers started Mitch Leidner at QB this week and had some early success. But as I’ve said before, at this point I don’t think there’s much difference between Leidner and last week’s starting QB, Phillip Nelson. Minnesota just doesn’t have the horses yet to challenge the upper echelon teams in the conference. They might be able to sneak up on a team that’s looking past them, but right now there are only a couple of games left on their schedule where they might not be double-digit underdogs. HC Jerry Kill had another seizure and had to miss the game. And the media is starting to make it a point of contention. Personally I don’t think it’s relevant to cite reasons like a pre-existing health condition or some undercover recording of a rant (right, Nebraska fans?) as an excuse to dismiss a coach. A team’s poor performance on the football field, however, is a perfectly legitimate reason.
Michigan St. 26  Iowa 14   (Iowa -1.5)
I predicted Michigan St. to win, 17 to 16. Aside from the Spartans putting up 26 points, this game went pretty much as I expected. A couple of good defenses against improving offenses. In the end it was Michigan St.’s defense that shined the brightest as the Spartans picked off Iowa QB Jake Rudock twice and held the Hawkeyes to 23 yards rushing. I didn’t lose any respect for Iowa, though, on either side of the ball. Michigan St.’s defense is just really good. And Rudock had his moments as he completed 11 passes in a row at one point. Despite the interceptions and the loss, I think the kid is still improving. And Iowa played hard enough on defense, but Michigan St. turned in what is arguably their best offensive game of the season. The O-line was blocking, receivers were catching the ball, and - presto! - a good quarterback magically appeared. There were still a few dropped passes, but more importantly, there were some nice catches as QB Connor Cook threw for a career high 277 yards. I think he and backup Andrew Maxwell are both fine quarterbacks; they just need the kind of support that was displayed on Saturday. Neither of these teams is good enough offensively to get by with taking an opponent lightly, but both are capable of beating any team in the conference.
Notre Dame 37  Arizona St. 34   (Arizona St. -6.5)
The Fightin’ Irish surprised me as I predicted Arizona St. to win, 35 to 30. Obviously not too surprised, though, as I was pretty close with the score. Great win for the Irish, and despite the 34 points, their best defensive effort of the year. That includes DE Stephon Tuitt, a kid I’ve been criticizing the past few weeks. The Irish defense forced three turnovers, returned an interception for a touchdown, and sacked the QB six times. And some of that enthusiasm spilled over to the offense as George Atkinson III ran with more determination than he’s displayed all season, even though it didn’t show up statistically. That’s a good sign for the Irish because, aside from RB Cam McDaniel, the running game has been lacking in “yards after contact”. This was a step forward for a Notre Dame team that, until Saturday, hasn’t lived up to expectations.
Navy 28  Air Force 10   (Navy -13)
My prediction was Navy, 23 to 10, so I was pretty much right on it. I had to look close to see who was who ‘cuz these teams are mirror images of each other. It was also difficult to tell which team had the better game plan. You don’t get much double-wing option these days so I’m out of practice when it comes to trying to dissect a game in which both teams employ it. Good old fashioned football that basically comes down to which team tackles the best on the edge and which team makes the least mistakes. Air Force looked poised for the upset when they took a 10 -7 lead into the half. But Navy scored on the opening drive of the third quarter and held the Falcons scoreless the remainder of the game to improve their record to 3-1.
 
THE ALMOST PLAY
Nebraska 39  Illinois 19   (Nebraska -7.5)
I don’t have ESPNU so I was unable to watch this game (seems like the “U” always gets me for one conference game a year). I predicted Nebraska to win, 45 to 27. Which qualifies this game as a winner in the play category. But I had to back off of this game due to a stipulation I established in previous posts regarding the “play” category:
 
“…my method is to make my predictions on Sunday, before I look at the spreads, to keep from being influenced subconsciously. As far as I know, none of the other contestants do this. Therefore I make one disclaimer: If a report comes out during the week (after Sunday) that there is an issue involving the starting quarterback (an injury I might not have known about) or the coach (health issues, scandal, etc.), I won’t count the game.
 
Now I could easily point out how accurate I was with the score, add the much needed win to my record, and no one would know the difference. No one but me, that is. Truth is, I handicapped this game under the assumption that, although Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez may be hobbled, he would be available for this game. As it turned out, he was a late Thursday scratch.
The good thing about this is that I can use this instance as a testimony to my honesty regarding the stipulation. And my honesty will have to do, because the stipulation really isn’t as black and white as it looks. The intention is to basically say that I’m going to back off of a game that involves any surprises that I didn’t know about when I handicapped the game. But there is some grey matter that counters the printed stipulation because technically you could say that I would have to disregard the Minnesota game as well, since HC Jerry Kill was absent due to a seizure. But even though there was no way I could have known Kill was going to miss the game, I did know that the possibility existed, that Minnesota had a plan for it, and that it really doesn’t affect the way I see the game playing out.  There are also instances where I might consider a banged up starting QB (like Braxton Miller a few weeks ago) to be only about as effective as his healthy backup, so no matter which QB plays, my prediction still stands. So it’s really a judgment call on my part. And if in the future it happens to work out in my favor, I’ll most definitely refer to this instance to support my honesty.
Btw, I still may have come up with a score that would have qualified for a play if I’d have known Martinez was out. But I can’t say for sure, because that’s not how I handicapped the game.
 
 

CRYSTAL BALL

WEEK OF 10-12-2013

MICHIGAN
24
PENN ST
20
MICHIGAN ST
36
INDIANA
23
WISCONSIN
31
NORTHWESTERN
24
NEBRASKA
48
PURDUE
21

 

 
ATS 

FTC DOLLARS 
In this section I track the results of my Crystal Ball selections that qualify as “plays” ATS (any prediction that differs from the closing line by seven or more points). I’ve also included the results of some unsuspecting prognosticators that I found on line. These gentlemen (I’ve given them nicknames) predict every Big Ten game throughout the season. All predictions are considered with the exception of games involving non-FBS opponents. The standings are based on how many “FTC” dollars are won. For a more detailed explanation of this section, please refer to the “FTC $ Q&A” tab at the top of this post.

I predicted seven games this week while my competition looked at five. The closing lines are shown above in the “What Happened” section of this post.

I was the only one to win any FTC dollars this week with a single winner, Ohio St. I usually reverse the cliché to say “I’d rather be good than lucky”, but hey, I’m not opposed to lucky, either. But I was a bit unlucky as I backed off of a winning selection - Nebraska, for reasons I explain in the above game recap. One win was enough to move me into third place as the other contestants either lost ground, stayed the same, or got “juiced”. Wolverine (a.k.a. Chad Godfrey from isportsweb.com), who is proving to be the boldest with his predictions, split with four qualifying selections. His winners were Nebraska and Ohio St., his losers Penn St. and Minnesota. Boilermaker maintained his .500 overall batting average as he split two games, winning with Nebraska and losing with Minnesota. Wildcat sank even deeper in the basement as he lost with his only qualifying prediction, Penn St. Horned Frog lost one game with Northwestern but remains at the top of the standings as the only contestant ahead in FTC dollars. And for the second week in a row, Cardinal did not have any qualifying predictions. 

ATS  PLAY STANDINGS
LAST SATURDAY
 
TOTAL
FTC $
W
L
T
 
W
L
T
 
 
HORNED FROG (btn)
0
1
0
 
5
3
0
 
$85
BOILERMAKER (btn)
1
1
0
 
6
6
0
 
-$30
FROM THE COUCH
1
0
0
 
2
4
0
 
-$120
WOLVERINE (isportsweb)
2
2
0
 
7
9
1
 
-$145
CARDINAL (espn)
0
0
0
 
2
5
0
 
-$175
WILDCAT (espn)
0
1
0
 
2
7
0
 
-$285

 

 
STATS 

Check out the “ATS stats ‘13” tab at the top of the page and you’ll see that, despite sitting at the top in the “play” category for the season, Horned Frog is tied for third in the “spread record” category. So does it make sense that he’s a winner in the “play” category, yet a big loser in the “spread record” category? I think so, for the reasons I describe here:

One of the categories in the stats section is “Spread Record”. This category simply reflects the results of a contestant’s predictions against the spread. This is different from the “play” category as it includes every prediction regardless of the point differential between the prediction and the closing line. The reason I prefer the “play” method instead of an all- inclusive ATS method is the difficulty involved in finishing on the positive side when wagering FTC dollars. There’s no such thing as a sure thing when predicting football games. Too many variables that can’t be accounted for. No way to predict when a 90% field goal kicker is gonna shank one from 25 yards out. And while some turnovers can be anticipated while handicapping, most cannot.
And if, for example, I’m predicting a team to win by seven and the closing line is five, I’m really not seeing things much differently than the oddsmakers. A wager on this game seems to me like flipping a coin. The problem with wagering on games that I feel are basically a toss-up is that a 50% win ratio is not only a waste of time, but an FTC dollar loser because of the 10% juice that is charged to all losing wagers. So to be successful I must win more than half of my selections.
Another thing to consider is the scoring structure of football. Since touchdowns are worth seven points, a one to six point differential between my prediction and the closing line isn’t all that significant when you consider the possibility of a random, freak touchdown like we saw at the end of the Ohio St.-Northwestern game. So I think at least a one touchdown cushion is needed to feel confident enough to risk my FTC dollars. 

 

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