Odds-On Favorites

I don't gamble. Much. Meaning, I don't play cards, I don't go to casinos, and save for picking a square at the occasional Super Bowl party, I have never laid a dime on a sporting event. Honestly. It's not that I'm opposed to gambling, it's just that it does nothing for me. No juice. If someone offered me a free trip to Vegas, I'd probably spend the time playing golf, and then maybe go see Blue Man Group.

I've taken part in fantasy leagues, but only in those sports that I feel I know better than most - the NBA and golf. To me, that's not gambling, because with enough homework, there's no such thing as "chance." Our Sports Talk Live fantasy football league (for entertainment purposes only) is a great way to create some content for our shows, and it compels me to follow the NFL more closely, but it's pretty much a diversion for me. It better be, because I already stink at it - see previous posts.

So, with this unbiased and untrained eye, I happened to catch the betting lines for each of the Big Three's conference games this weekend. Again, without much experience in the matter, I was surprised.

First, I read up on Miami and Clemson. It was David Lamm - or maybe Todd Wright - who pointed out on Sports Talk Live this week that Miami is 3-4 in its last seven games, including ACC losses to North Carolina, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Florida State in that span. As all good Seminoles know, it took FSU the better part of a decade to reach four losses in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Miami got there in eleven months. But that's history. Tell me about the now.

Okay. After the Florida State game, Miami finds itself ranked third in the nation in total defense, and first in pass efficiency defense. They're also 91st out of 117 Division I teams in total offense, 102nd in rushing offense, and 109th in scoring offense. One game, I know, one game.

Clemson, on the other hand, is the second-best team in the ACC in terms of passing efficiency, and has averaged 344 total yards of offense and 24 points per game. However, their two wins over Texas A&M and Maryland have come by a total of five points. In short, there is absolutely nothing in the stats that shows a clear favorite - other than Kyle Wright making only his second start at quarterback. And yet, Miami is favored by a touchdown at home.

Personally, I wouldn't touch that game with Kevlar gloves. Miami didn't look great against Florida State, but they did look decent, and they're still Miami. Clemson, off to a nice start this year, was a 6-5 team last season, with a loss to Duke (and an overtime win over UM). If Miami's defense keeps Charlie Whitehurst in check - a taller order than containing a redshirt freshman making his first collegiate start - and Wright plays with the same confidence and poise that he showed in the second half against FSU, that game, to me, is a wash. Seven points? I'll keep my money, thank you.

Speaking of Florida State, the Seminoles go to Boston College for BC's first-ever ACC game, on national television, at home in Chestnut Hill. The Olde Towne will be rocking. Having spent several years of my life in New England, I can tell you that BC's success in football comes as a pleasant surprise to them. Basketball rules among the Northeastern schools, with hockey and football fighting for second. Boston College, already a media darling this year, sees this as a chance to prove that they belong with the big boys. They've rolled up an average of 414 yards of total offense in two games, allowing only ten points in the process (granted, one of those two games was against Army). On the flip side, Florida State's confidence was bolstered with 59 unanswered points after The Citadel shocked them with a 10-3 lead on Saturday. David Lamm thinks I'm dead wrong, but I say Drew Weatherford did indeed benefit from a big game against the Bulldogs (and Charles Davis, the only STL panelist on Monday night who actually played college football, agrees with me). Florida State has run through the gauntlet against Miami, and aired out their kinks against The Citadel. Seeing as how the guys in Vegas have BC as only a one point favorite at home, I'm comfortable with my assessment.

And by the way - this is not only the ACC opener for Boston College, but a potential eye-opener as well. In the last five years, BC is 2-8 against current members of the ACC, including back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and four straight losses to Miami from 2000 through 2003. Welcome to the big time, fellas. You wanted it, you got it.

Here's the kicker, though - Florida favored by six points at home over Tennessee. Something about this caught my attention, as well as the attention of many Gator fans on the message boards. A five-minute perusal of the official game notes from Florida yielded these numbers:

In the last five meetings, the cumulative score is Florida 167, Tennessee 165. Five of the last seven games have been decided by four points or less. Since the SEC's inception in 1933, the two teams have met 28 times in the regular season. Record in those games? 14-14.

There's also a note about the running game - the team that has run for more yards has won 13 of the last 15 meetings - but that's true for almost any college football series. To me, Florida-Tennessee should be dead even, but it's not.

Why? Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer calls his quarterback situation a "conversation piece," but I don't think you can blow it off so easily. Rick Clausen will start in place of Erik Ainge, who struggled against UAB. That may not mean much to coaches, but it means something to the media, and the fans, and those who like to place a wager now and then. With Chris Leak making his 24th career start on Saturday, the edge seems to go to Florida - and that, in my opinion, is the primary reason why the spread has gone to six points. There's also the matter of Phil Fulmer's five losses to Florida coming off a bye week - he only has six such losses total in his Tennessee coaching career - but I believe that the QB question is driving the line, along with a national affection for head coach Urban Meyer.

What's the point? In my mind, all three of these games could be pick'ems, and probably should be. Toss a coin, and you'll have just as good a chance of being correct as if you spend the next three days buried in drive charts. That, friends, is one reason why I don't gamble on sports - because you just never know.

But on Sunday, we will.

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