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.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

BIG TEN FOOTBALL FINAL


WHAT HAPPENED 

I went 0-2 last Saturday.  Ironically, my predictions for last weekend were pretty accurate except for the two games that qualified as plays. Seems to be a fitting way to end what has been my second worst ATS season ever (I went 7-18 one season years ago).
I don’t predict the championship game or any of the bowl games. Too many variables in the approach teams take in bowl games. Some don’t want to be there, others look at the game like it’s a reward or holiday and fail to prepare seriously, and then there are the coaches who use the game as a scrimmage for next year. So I’ll use this final post to not only recap last Saturday’s game, but to also submit some brief comments/opinions summarizing the season for each team. I may find the time in the next few weeks to submit some random posts pertaining to college football over on my other site, joetopic.
My predictions and pre-game comments can be found on my previous post, dated 11-25 (ATS Predictions - Week 13).
My Current Overall Record:  7-16



THE PLAYS
Ohio St. 42  Michigan 13   (Ohio St. -1)
I predicted Michigan to win, 21-14. The Buckeyes took ‘em to the woodshed. I was looking forward to an even match but my all-time favorite game to watch turned out to be a blowout. I still enjoyed the grey skies setting at Michigan stadium with both of the teams’ iconic helmets on the same field. And it was a competitive first half. But Ohio St. was just flat out better.
I predicted in the preseason that Ohio St. would lose a game. I guessed it might be this one but it turned out to be against Michigan St. The odds against an undefeated season are generally tuff to begin with, and it’s also difficult to maintain the necessary hunger that drives a team to a championship when following a successful season. I guess it’s fair say Ohio St. didn’t live up to expectations this season, but of course, much of  that is due to the fact that, given the amount of players returning from last season’s championship team, the Buckeyes were expected to go undefeated during the regular season. And to dominate opponents along the way. It didn’t quite work out that way. My contention is that losing last season’s OC, Tom Herman, is a huge reason why. Well, that coupled with the fact that his replacement is former Nebraska OC Tim Beck. While Beck was at Nebraska I found his play calling to be frustrating for the same reasons Buckeyes RB Ezekiel Elliot infamously pointed out after the Michigan St. loss. I don’t think it’s coincidence that three QBs played great while Herman was on staff, great enough for some to proclaim that whoever would start this season would easily be all-conference, and then played not near as great this season without Herman on staff. HC Urban Meyer is one of the best, but I disagree with his dismissal of the idea that “looking over your shoulder” can be a hindrance for a QB. But, criticisms aside, it speaks to how great Meyer and this Ohio St. program has become when one loss is considered a disappointing season. As long as Meyer is the coach, Ohio St. will be a conference contender, if not favorite, for years to come. And as a “by the way” to the Buckeyes’ season, I find former QB turned H-back Braxton Miller’s story kinda surreal. Here you have a kid who a little over a year and a half ago was the returning two time conference player of the year entering the season as a Heisman candidate and starting QB for what turned out to be a national championship team. And last Saturday, Miller’s name wasn’t even mentioned until midway through the second quarter.
I’m kinda proud to say that I predicted Michigan to go 9-3 this season. Most expected a few more losses, figuring that new HC Jim Harbaugh would need time to rebuild the program from the 5-7 team he inherited. So despite the disheartening loss to Ohio St., this season can still be easily considered a success. Good coaching is so integral to success in college football and Michigan picked up a good one in Harbaugh and, just as integral, unloaded a not so good one. Solid QB play is also important, so bringing in former two year starter Jake Rudock as a transfer from Iowa was a big score. Rudock is good, but not great. I think former QBs, such as Harbaugh, are significantly better at coaching and handling QBs than coaches who’ve never played the position. Contrast Harbaugh’s handling of Rudock to Urban Meyer’s handling of his two QBs, both of which are better talents than Rudock. While Meyer was testing his QB’s confidence as he pitted them against each other, Harbaugh stood by Rudock’s side after he threw three interceptions and played poorly in the opener. Told the media flat out, that Rudock is his guy. Heck, he even had his arm around Rudock on the sidelines immediately after he threw the picks. Rudock’s not going to be a pro QB and Harbaugh knows it. But later in the season he was openly pumping the kid up as he told the media that an improving Rudock has been playing at a pro prospect level. And it worked. I think it’s fair to say that Rudock ended up with a better season than any of the Ohio St. QBs. Rudock will be gone next season, but Harbaugh won’t be. I think Michigan will be a contender next season and for many seasons to come as Harbaugh recruits to and establishes his system.

Michigan St. 55  Penn St. 16  (Michigan St. -7.5)
I predicted Penn St. to win, 17-15. I shoulda regarded my “note to self- don’t pick Penn St.” pledge that I made earlier in the season. Actually, I was banking on a Michigan St. letdown more than I was considering a Penn St. highpoint. Michigan St. came out and scored on the first drive and Penn St. was, well, Penn St.
Five seasons ago Michigan St. HC Mark Dantonio was considered by myself, among others, to be the best coach in the conference. Now he’s probably considered third best by most. Dantonio and his program hasn’t gotten any worse, though. Only better. And considering his Spartans beat both Ohio St. and Michigan en route to a division title this season, a strong case could be made that Dantonio takes a back seat to no other coach in this conference, maybe even the whole country. Michigan St. was another team that most considered to be underperforming throughout most of the season as they won by small margins over bottom dwelling teams and even lost to a Nebraska team that finished 5-7. Yet here they are, playing in the conference championship game for the third time in five years. Dantonio has done some great things with this program, but this season’s win over top ranked Ohio St. at Columbus with a second string QB is his masterpiece. Hats off to Dantonio and the Michigan St. players.
Penn St. finished with a record close to what I predicted. Some expected better but I didn’t. In fact, the Nittany Lions actually looked better than I expected at times. HC James Franklin rubs me the wrong way. I don’t like his offense and I don’t much care for his persona. I think he’s a great cheerleader and a great salesman who will always be “pawwwsitive”. But I don’t think he’s a great “game day” coach/strategist. And I’ve always been hard on QB Christian Hackenberg. Which is probably unfair because most of my criticism stems from a reaction to the overhyping the media heaped on this kid since he came to Penn St. He ain’t all that. At least he hasn’t proven to be all that. And finally during this, his third season, the media has started to realize it. Not so much hype anymore. The problem with the hype and Hackenberg’s perceived potential is that I think Franklin, up until maybe recently, feels a sense of obligation to try to feature Hackenberg in his offense. To not do so might draw criticism for not tapping into the supposed potential. I think it would be best for both Penn St. and Hackenberg if he moved on. He has size and a big arm so he will always be considered a pro prospect. And in fairness to Hackenberg, he would have had a much better chance at succeeding under the HC he came to Penn St. to play for – Bill O’Brien, than he’s had running Franklin’s high school offense. As I said, Penn St. did look better at times than I expected, so maybe I’m being too hard on Franklin because I will say that this season was an improvement over last season’s debut. So the jury’s still out, I guess. 


THE NON-PLAYS
Iowa 28  Nebraska 20  (Iowa -2.5)
I predicted Iowa to win, 30-21. I could have just as easily reviewed my prediction write-up rather than watch the game ‘cuz I was pretty much spot on (ATS Predictions - Week 13). The score was almost exact, Armstrong served up four interceptions, and Nebraska was…well, dumb. Fourth and one at the Iowa 19 midway through the fourth quarter, down by 11, and Nebraska throws an incomplete 50/50 fade pattern into the end zone with a QB who’s completing less than half his passes. Hell, even the announcers, who are supposed to try to be somewhat neutral, were calling the play “dumb”. The difference in this game, which was pointed out by one of the announcers ad nauseam, was Armstrong’s poor decisions compared to his counterpart’s – Iowa QB C.J. Beathard – solid decisions. Beathard didn’t have a great game – he didn’t need to – but he didn’t make any mistakes and managed the game’s situations well.
Armstrong’s poor decision making has cost Nebraska more than once this season. The thing is, Armstrong has a great arm and is a dangerous runner, so on many occasions he’s made some great plays to help his team out. He just needs to be managed better. I mean, after so many mistakes (sixteen interceptions this season) you have to either make your point with the kid or sit him down. There’s no telling from the couch what actually goes on at practice or on the sidelines during games, but judging from press conferences and interviews I get the impression that new HC Mike Riley isn’t getting his players full attention. I mean, the man comes off like Fred Rogers. Sure, he’s a nice guy, the anti-Bo Pelini. But a college football coach has to have some fire or at least convey an image that commands discipline from his players, doesn’t he? I don’t see that in Riley. I also don’t see what would make anyone think that a lifelong .500 coach would suddenly become more than a .500 coach. Nebraska’s 5-7 record is exactly what they bargained for.
I’ve always liked Iowa HC Kirk Ferentz and defended him through some recent subpar seasons. Up until the start of this season, that is. After last season’s up and down performance I’d finally had enough and threw Ferentz under the bus in my preseason conference prediction post. Basically said he was washed up, his time had come and gone. Even during this season I was calling for Ferentz and his team to stumble at some point against lesser competition and spoil an undefeated regular season. But Ferentz has a history of doing well just when he’s about to be counted out and he repeated the stunt to perfection this season. QB C.J. Beathard has a legitimate shot at all conference despite not putting up eye popping statistics. In fact, the knock on Iowa from most fans and analysts is that there is nothing “eye-popping” about the Hawkeyes. I think that’s more perception, a result of coming out of nowhere with and offense that doesn’t throw the ball over the field, than reality. This team is the real deal and they’re getting better, especially on offense. Just because the schedule wasn’t as challenging as that of some other teams doesn’t mean Iowa isn’t as good as anyone in the country. It just means we don’t have the best barometer. Don’t count ‘em out in the Conference Championship game. Don’t count ‘em out at all.

Northwestern 24  Illinois 14   (Northwestern -1.5)
I predicted Northwestern to win, 24-17. Almost hit this one right on the Willy. I got “U’d” again so I didn’t get to watch this game.
Can only say good things about HC Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern Wildcats. My preseason outlook for this team was pretty much the same as what I envisioned for Iowa, nothing near as good as this season’s 10-2 record and national ranking. Mainly due to the fact that Northwestern’s previous season was, like Iowa’s, very sporadic. Gotta hand it to Fitzgerald. He did it with a new, young QB who didn’t really throw the ball all that well. The season featured an opening game upset against a Stanford team that’s currently ranked in the top fifteen. Can’t really count Northwestern among the top few teams in the conference given the two back to back blowout losses in the middle of the season, but they did bounce back and, unlike last season, remained consistent and took care of business the rest of the way.
Illinois got a fast start out of the gates and faded in the stretch. Finding an excuse to get rid of former HC Tim Beckman just before the start of the season was a blessing for this team. The team was a trainwreck under his watch and it wasn’t until his interim replacement, OC Bill Cubit, arrived a few seasons ago that at least some signs of improvement – all on the offensive side – began to show. The “interim” label has recently been removed thus making Cubit the official HC for next season. The two year contract is unusual, but in this case it makes sense. Illinois currently doesn’t have an athletic director in place and Cubit does have this team playing better than it ever did under Beckman, so he’s earned a longer look. But losing six of the last seven games is cause enough for caution.

Wisconsin 31  Minnesota 21  (Wisconsin -1.5)
I predicted Wisconsin to win, 27-20. Once again, I was pretty close with the score. After giving up an early pick six, Wisconsin was in control through most of this game. I was a bit surprised to see Wisconsin have so much success on the ground, but not a bit surprised that Wisconsin’s defense made things very tuff for the Minnesota offense.
Wisconsin did much better than I expected this season. I figured the transition to a new HC would set the Badgers back a bit. I’m impressed with the new guy, Paul Chryst. Chryst inherited an inexperienced offensive line and it showed most of the season when the Badgers struggled to run the ball. So Chryst adapted and used a more pass oriented offense and was successful enough to coach the team to a 9-3 campaign, which could arguably have been 10-2 had it not been for a horrible call from the officials in the previous Saturday’s game against Northwestern. Chryst, a former Wisconsin QB, is another example I would use to point out that former QBs are significantly better at coaching and, consequently, getting the most out of their QB. Wisconsin QB Joel Stave, who started two seasons ago, was benched prior to the beginning of last season and was visibly and admittedly lacking confidence. This season, Stave was at his best ever. Not perfect, but it could be argued that Stave, along with a very good defense, was the primary contributor to most of the nine wins. Chryst is a heckuva play caller. If he can recruit, the Badgers will be in the conference championship mix for seasons to come.
Minnesota had a season that can only be considered disappointing. After a promising campaign last season, the Gophers regressed to 5-7 and HC Jerry Kill resigned in midseason due to health reasons. Starting QB Mitch Leidner is a good enough competitor, but he started out poorly in the passing game and it hurt the Gophers. Leidner improved toward the end of the season, but still not good enough to say the issue is resolved. Losing Kill is an unfortunate blow to the program. I’m not sure what to expect from his replacement, Tracey Claeys, but my initial impression is to say that I’m not all that impressed.

Indiana 54  Purdue 36   (Indiana -8)
I predicted Indiana to win, 35-30. My prediction write-up was for the most part accurate. Purdue just didn’t keep pace as much I’d guessed. And in a game with defenses as porous as these two, a certain amount of guesswork has to be utilized.
I predicted Indiana would become bowl eligible. I also pointed out that I based this mostly on a soft schedule as opposed to any significant amount of improvement in the team. I’ve been complaining about HC Kevin Wilson for years now. Most all analysts say that Wilson has Indiana “on the right track”. I say it’s the same track Indiana has been on for the last couple of decades. Sure, they’ve been competitive in games against upper echelon teams that have gone down to the wire. But they never win. They’ve also been involved in competitive games against lower echelon teams that have gone down to the wire. They usually win those, but not always. Wilson has put together an offense that can score on anybody. But he’s never put together a defense that can stop anybody. Bottom line is they lose most of their games. About as many as most all of Wilson’s predecessors, the most recent of which was fired after four seasons. But somehow Wilson gets a pass for his flashy offense and gets to stay on for what will be his sixth season. There’s no argument the man puts together a great offense, but his teams aren’t going to win many games until he puts together a defense that’s at least slightly below average.
Just when Purdue seems to take a step forward, they seem to take a step back, leaving them right where they started, at the bottom of the conference. I thought Purdue would take a step forward this season ‘cuz they showed signs of improvement last season. But every time they seemed to take a step forward… well, you know. The Purdue decision makers gave HC Darrell Hazell an endorsement citing that more time is needed to get this program turned around, so he’ll be back for at least another season. I dunno. I will say that despite the poor records, Hazell never seems to lose his team. They’ll occasionally turn in some exceptionally bad performances, but they always seem to fight hard up to the last whistle of the season. But I’m not really finding much else to make me think that this regime will elevate the Boilermakers to anything more than maybe lower middle tier. For one thing, Hazell seems to have a difficult time deciding on a QB, or keeping a QB, or developing a QB. This season’s starter, or I guess I should say finisher (until he was injured), David Blough, showed promise. So maybe Purdue will improve next season if Blough stays with the program and Hazell stays with Blough. But, given the track record, that’s a big “if”.

Maryland 46  Rutgers 41   (Rutgers -2.5)
I predicted this game to go into overtime at 38. As I said in my prediction write-up, a couple of lousy defenses here and nothing really stands out to say one team is better than the other, so seven points either way would be a good enough point spread to make a play. And as it turned out, it would have been.
I thought it was kind of strange that Maryland would fire HC Randy Edsall only six games into the season. Maryland did better than I expected in the previous season, their inaugural season in the conference. But since the Terps are so new to the conference, I don’t know the history. And Edsall’s personality rubbed me the wrong way anyway, so good riddance as far as I’m concerned. Turnovers, more specifically interceptions, killed this team this season. Maryland will have to either get a new QB or work on the current candidates during the offseason. But first, they’ll have to hire a HC.
Rutgers made kind of a bad impression in this its second season as one of the conferences two newest members. The HC and multiple players were either suspended or flat out kicked off the team for inappropriate conduct. The roster wasn’t very good to begin with, so the aforementioned distractions had this team swimming against the current from the start. Rutgers has some talented players, just not enough of ‘em to be all that competitive in this conference. I guess the idea is that becoming a member of the Big Ten will attract enough talent from the New York area to turn the Scarlet Knights into a legitimate contender. Hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t by next season.

Stanford 38  Notre Dame 36   (Stanford -3.5)
I predicted this game to go into overtime at 31. Once again, my prediction was pretty close to the outcome. I’ve been saying for quite some time now that I don’t trust Notre Dame’s defense, so I was pretty much braced for this outcome when Stanford had the ball at its own 27 trailing by one point with 30 seconds left in the game.
I think Notre Dame HC Brian Kelly is possibly the best offensive play caller in all of college football and this season, even with his second choice starting QB for all but one game, had a championship offense at his disposal. It’s a shame to see it go to waste. The Irish need a new DC. And a good one. Kelly admits that he’s kind of a control freak, and that’s a good trait for a HC. But, save one season, defense has been a thorn in his side through most of his tenure at ND. I think Kelly needs to bring in a really good DC – and Notre Dame certainly has the status to attract one – and stay out of his way. Still, this was a good season for the Irish – only two plays away. But even though it’s been a while, undefeated seasons and or championships are still the definition of success at Notre Dame. Thanks to Kelly, the Irish are getting close.







ATS 

FTC DOLLARS
In this section I track the results of my predictions that qualify as “plays” ATS (any predicted point spread that differs from the closing line by seven or more points). I’ve also included the results (conference games only) of some unsuspecting prognosticators that I found on line. The standings are based on how many “FTC” dollars are won. For a more detailed explanation of this section and the definition of a “play”, please refer to the “FTC $ Q&A” tab at the top of this post or click here→ FTC $ Q&A.


The final results are in. Brent Yarina is this season’s overall winner with a total of 125 FTC dollars. My miserable season left me at the bottom for the first time ever. Glad it’s over.
Links to last Saturday’s predictions from all contestants can be found in the “Details” section below.


ATS  PLAY STANDINGS
LAST SATURDAY
TOTAL
FTC $
W
L
T
W
L
T
BRENT YARINA (btn)
0
0
0
8
5
0
$125
TOM DEINHART (btn)
1
0
0
10
9
0
$5
SEAN MERRIMAN (btn)
0
0
0
7
7
0
-$35
FROM THE COUCH
0
2
0
7
14
0
-$420






DETAILS

THIS WEEK'S PLAY DETAILS
WINNERS
LOSERS
WEBSITE
FROM THE COUCH
PSU,
MIC,
TOM DEINHART (btn)
NW,
BRENT YARINA (btn)
SEAN MERRIMAN (btn)

The full list of last Saturday’s predictions from each contestant can be found by clicking the link listed under “website”.









SEASON STATS
Listed below are this season’s final stats for various categories.
Again, links to last Saturday’s predictions from all contestants can be found in the “Details” section.


SPREAD RECORD
W
L
STRAIGHT UP
W
L
SEAN MERRIMAN (btn)
26
25
SEAN MERRIMAN (btn)
43
10
TOM DEINHART (btn)
26
26
BRENT YARINA (btn)
39
14
FROM THE COUCH
24
29
FROM THE COUCH
37
13
BRENT YARINA (btn)
22
30
TOM DEINHART (btn)
38
15
WITHIN 7
W
L
CLOSEST
W
L
SEAN MERRIMAN (btn)
23
30
SEAN MERRIMAN (btn)
25
26
FROM THE COUCH
20
33
FROM THE COUCH
22
31
BRENT YARINA (btn)
18
35
TOM DEINHART (btn)
21
31
TOM DEINHART (btn)
17
36
BRENT YARINA (btn)
20
32

SPREAD RECORD- This category disregards my seven point “play” system and simply displays the ATS record.
STRAIGHT UP- The outright winner, disregarding the spread.
WITHIN 7-This category tracks how many times a predicted point spread was within seven points of the actual final score differential. Why does this matter? Because one can never lose in the play category if the prediction is within 7 points. 35 percent is about average in this category. Close to 50 percent is excellent.
CLOSEST – This category tracks the number of times a predicted point spread was more accurate than the Vegas point spread. This category differs from the Spread Record category because it’s possible to be on the correct side of the spread yet not be as accurate as the oddsmakers. EX: If I predict Michigan by 12, the spread is Michigan by 6, and Michigan wins by 7, I get a win in the spread record category. I get a loss in the closest category because the oddsmakers’ point spread (7-6=1) was closer to the final score differential than my prediction (12-7=5).

Any games that go into overtime will be considered a tie when calculating the “closest” and “within 7” category. The actual score will be used, however, for the other two categories.



NOTRE DAME
I predict Notre Dame games along with the Big Ten conference games. My Notre Dame predictions aren’t included in the above standings and statistics because my competition doesn’t predict Notre Dame games. So I’ve separately listed the stats for my Notre Dame game predictions below.

PLAYS
SPREAD RECORD
CLOSEST
WITHIN 7
STRAIGHT UP
W
L
T
W
L
W
L
W
L
W
L
0
2
0
1
8
1
9
4
6
8
2



For a more user friendly comment section, click here → joetopic
For this season’s archives by title, click hereArchive by Title







CLOSING TIME

That’s all, folks!


  

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