From The Farm to The Strip

The Bootleg is pleased to present a new column by Stanford alumnus and FOTB ("Friend of The Bootleg") "cardinalmaniac08". This column may involve sports-relating gaming and odds-making information and opinions, but is presented for entertainment purposes only. Naturally, The Bootleg strongly discourages wagering on college athletics, legally or illegally.

From The Farm to The Strip

The Bootleg is pleased to present a new column by Stanford alumnus and FOTB (“Friend of The Bootleg”) “cardinalmaniac08”. This column may involve sports-relating gaming and odds-making information and opinions, but is presented for entertainment purposes only. Naturally, The Bootleg strongly discourages wagering on college athletics, legally or illegally. We saw what happened to Ohio State’s Art Schlichter and we don’t want to see a Bootie pursue a similar path of peril. Full Disclaimer: The content published on TheBootleg.com is made available for informational and entertainment purposes only. Visitors to this site assume all responsibility for adhering to the gambling laws of their jurisdictions. Any use of information posted on The Bootleg that may violate any federal, state, local or international law is strictly prohibited. Furthermore, The Bootleg assumes no responsibility for the outcome of wagers made based on the information published on this website.

Introduction

As some of you may know, I moved to Las Vegas exactly one year ago to work as a financial analyst at Mandalay Bay. Thankfully, I have managed to keep up with Stanford football and now that I have developed a greater understanding of sports betting, I thought I would write a column which combines my love for football with Vegas odds.  I would like to stress that the intent of this column is not to advocate gambling but rather use the betting markets to gain a better understanding of win probabilities, “surprise” teams, and the likelihood of various scenarios. Finally, I acknowledge that the betting markets include public perception and are not always efficient, but I think we can all agree that they provide a good starting point.

Pac-12 Season Win Totals

Arizona: 5.5 (-125/-115)
ASU: 5 (+105/-125)
California: 6.5 (-110/-110)
Colorado: 3.5 (-135/-105)
Oregon: 10.5 (-110/-110)
Oregon St: 4.5 (-280/+200)
Stanford: 8 (-110/-110)
UCLA:  6 (-135/+115)
USC: 10.5 (-135/+115)
Utah: 8 (-130/+110)
UW: 7 (-110/-130)
WSU: 5.5 (+130/-150)

The first number in parentheses refers to the line for the “over” and the second the “under”. I'll be throwing out American odds in this column like Brett Favre throws picks so a quick reminder: A "plus line" means that if you bet 100 you will win "x" and a "minus line" means you will need to bet "y" to win 100 and if you take USC under 10.5 you bet 100 to win 115. This is a typical 20-cent line (difference in payouts between the over and the under) and reflects the house edge which is commonly referred to as the "juice". Multiple lines are available for the more popular teams and I chose the one which had the most balanced over/under line. For example, you could also bet Stanford: 7 (-250/+210) but I chose to list 8 wins instead. Sometimes I wish everything was expressed in percentages so as a rule of thumb, +100 or even money, implies a 50% chance of winning, +150 (40%), +200 (33%), +300 (25%)and conversely -150 (60%), -200 (67%) and -300 (75%). And if you were parlaying two money lines...Just kidding. No more math for today!

If you had asked for my first impression of Washington going into the season, I would have said that 7.5 wins was a reasonable total given that Price might be the second-best QB in the Pac-12 and their defense couldn’t get any worse than last year. That was probably what the first online book to release win totals had in mind when they released a win total of 8 and pretty even juice on both sides. It was quickly bet down to 7.5 where it opened at most places and while some books adjusted the juice on the under, others eventually moved it to 7 after heavy action on the under. Upon closer scrutiny, they are playing in CenturyLink Field while Husky stadium is under renovation and have a trip to Baton Rouge on their non-conference schedule. When you consider that the Hilton opened Stanford as 4.5-point favorites at Washington, it’s no surprise that the under has been popular among the sharps. Editor’s Note: “Sharps” refers essentially to professional gamblers and “squares” refers to the usually less-informed general betting public.

UCLA was another big mover which opened at 5.5 at most places and received heavy action on the over (yours truly may have gotten the best price in Vegas at -150). Some of it was by UCLA fans thanks to the close proximity of LA. In fact, I know of a UCLA graduate who flew in for seven hours and proceeded to bet $10k on the Bruins over 5.5 and 6 wins. This was a little harder than one might think considering that books like the Hilton would not let him win more than $1,000 on his wager (i.e. he could only bet $1250 to win $1000 on the -125 over 6 wins line). Luckily, one of the newer books, Cantor Gaming, was a little more accommodating, but he had to lay -200 for the over 5.5 wins line. Considering I was able to get it at -150 three days after the lines came out, it goes to show the importance of betting fresh lines and getting a good price.

WSU also experienced a pretty big move from 5.5 (-130/100) to (+150/-180) at one book. For a relatively low-profile team, this typically indicates heavy sharp action on one side – possibly due to Leach dismissing a couple of players – as it is unlikely that the average bettor is betting on the Cougars and one reason why most books don’t offer them to begin with.

The under on USC stands out to me as even after factoring in the “juice”, it implies that they have a > 50% chance of winning 11 or 12 games (not including the conference championship or a bowl game). The line has moved partly because of LA action and the hype that results from being preseason #1 in the AP and having the Heisman favorite (Barkley is currently at +350 to win the Heisman).

Given that Penn State dominated the off-season news, I should mention that their win total opened at 6.5 wins (-110/-110) but was taken off the board the day before sanctions were announced. It has since opened at 5.5 wins (-140/100) in some places. Wisconsin which went from playing in a five-team division that, thanks to Ohio State’s bowl ban, had one less team to worry about and went from -200 to win the Leaders Division to -450 while also surpassing Michigan as the favorite to play in the 2013 Rose Bowl.

Week 1 Pac-12 Lines

Stanford -25.5 vs. San Jose St (93.4%)
UCLA -15.5 @ Rice (86.0%)
WSU +13 @ BYU (16.8%)
Cal -10.5 vs. Nevada (79.3%)
USC -40 vs. Hawaii (98.1%)
Arizona -10 vs. Toledo (78.3%)
Washington -14.5 vs. San Diego St (85.2%)
Oregon -35.5 vs. Arkansas St (97.0%)
Colorado -6 @ Colorado St (67.7%)

I’ve also included the Pac-12 team’s win probability to give you a sense of how spreads translate. Note: The spread-win probability conversion is not a monotonic function but one with jumps at key point differentials like 3, 7 and 10.

The most interesting line is Arizona vs. Toledo which opened at Arizona -4 but has been bet up to -10. It appears to be a function of QB Scott being a good fit for Rich Rod’s offense and Toledo returning only four starters on each side of the ball. San Diego State is an intriguing team whose coach Rocky Long declared that they would not punt inside the opposing team’s 50-yard line. From what I’ve heard thus far, Vegas is taking a wait and see approach to San Diego State lines and totals given that no one knows if this is a credible threat.

Taking a look at other game lines around the country, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Penn State. The line for their home opener against Ohio opened at PSU -15.5 after sanctions were first announced but before all the departures were official. It has since moved to PSU -6 which is as large a move as you will ever see. The contrarian in me would like to think that this is an overreaction but I stick to win totals and rarely take positions on individual games which I believe to be too high variance an approach for my bankroll. Of course, if I had been able to get the 9-point middle (taking Ohio + 15.5 and PSU -6) which would allow me to win both bets if PSU won by 7 to 15 points and pushing one of the bets if they won by 6, I wouldn’t be worrying about variance.

One of the first college football games of the year - South Carolina at Vanderbilt – is also worth mentioning. It was listed as one of the College Football Games of the Year by the Golden Nugget and opened with South Carolina favored by 10. Questions surrounding the health of preseason All-American running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered an ACL tear last season and will play but perhaps not at 100%, resulted in sharps betting it down to 7. On the other side of the coin, Vanderbilt’s QB (Aaron Rodgers’ younger brother) also seems to be inspiring some confidence. This week, I have even seen the line move to 6.5 at some places.

One other game that the sharps seem to like is Troy at UAB. Troy had a dreadful 3-9 season last year but returns a bunch of starters. Some think they could be an upset pick to edge out FIU in the Sun Belt. Meanwhile, UAB of CUSA is in full-on rebuilding mode. The line opened at Troy -4.5 and is currently Troy -6. Some have mentioned it closing at over a TD although the effects of Hurricane Isaac may come into play on this one.

The Cardinalmaniac08 Win Totals Index (CWTI) Fund

With my increased access to betting markets, it was only a matter of time before the CWTI fund was created. Win totals are one of the few aspects of football betting where I feel I have a significant edge.

The other is NFL game props where I use play-by-play data from the past 10 years to determine props such as “Will either team score three consecutive times in a game?” Any guesses of the probability of that happening from people who aren’t privy to the standard Vegas line?

THE CWTI fund consists of a portfolio of about 40 teams that I have taken either a long or short position with regards to their win total at a specific price (e.g. Stanford over 7 wins at -117 or Kentucky under 5 wins at -180). I won’t bore you by listing out every one of my 50+ positions but I’m long on Stanford (7, 7.5), Oregon (10), UCLA (5.5, 6), WSU (5.5), Wisconsin (9, 9.5) and Oklahoma State (7.5, 8.5) and short on Washington (7, 7.5), Cal (6.5), Kentucky (5, 5.5), South Carolina (9), LSU (10.5), Marshall (6.5), Miami (7), Arkansas State (8.5) and UAB (3.5).  The number of Pac-12 teams I have is purely a function of my model spitting out ROIs (returns on investment) that meet a certain threshold and not any personal input!

By my current calculations, if I compared the price at which I purchased these positions to the current market price, my fund would have a 10% ROI. Note that in some instances I’m also making the market (e.g. small conference teams) so that may be an overestimate of my true ROI. To realize that ROI, however, I would need to tie up cash for four months and pay more juice. No thanks. Throughout the season, I’ll be tracking the change in value of the CWTI fund right here as outcomes are known, future lines are set and future projections changes. Wish me luck!

Over/Under BootPool 2012 Analysis

Finally, if there’s any interest, I could also post updates on the BootPool standings based on outcomes, future lines and future projections. I would do the same for the Survivor Pool contest but if I’m going to retain my crown/Bootleg visor, I can’t give away all my secrets!
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