From The Farm To The Strip: Week Five

Guard Kevin "Rythym Is A" Danser

Gamblers unite! In time for Homecoming, our "sharp" '08 alum is here to update us on his exploits, his profit margins and what it all means for Stanford football.

Introduction

I moved to Las Vegas 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.

Note: Standard disclaimers apply: This is for entertainment purposes only. Any money you wager is at your own risk. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Coffee may be hot. Etc.

Week Five Recap

With a Thursday night game which saw the smart money predictably pouring in on Washington as the spread crossed the seven-point threshold to close at 6.5 on game day, it was no surprise to me that Stanford stumbled in Seattle. The offensive ineptitude was surprising but it was presumably at the lower bound of Stanford's scoring capability (if the game was played multiple times) just like Alabama putting up 6 points against LSU in their first match-up last year was their lower bound too. I think the moral of the story is that any time a fan base is convinced that they should be favored by more on the road after winning convincingly or beating a top team at home, the home dog is the right side. It happens routinely in the NFL as well. I don't have any stats at hand but I guarantee you that the home dog covers more than 50% of the time in such situations.

For those of you who tuned into College GameDay, Lee Corso picked Ohio State to win. It was not too big of a surprise as they were they heavily favored Corso pick. This week's feature game is South Carolina vs Georgia with South Carolina currently favored by a point. The line for which team Corso will pick is Georgia +150 / USC -190.

Week 6 Pac-12 Lines
Utah +14 vs. USC (15.4% implied win probability)
Stanford -9 vs. Arizona (76.2%)
Cal +2.5 vs. UCLA (46.8%)
Oregon -24.5 vs. Washington (93.0%)
Oregon St -15.5 vs. Washington St (86.0%)

As some of you may know, USC blew open a close game with an 83-yard TD pass and pick-six to go up by 17, but the final score was 38-28 as Utah got the backdoor cover touchdown with 1:20 left. I caught the tail end of the game at the Venetian sportsbook and to say that the USC bettors were unhappy with the final score would be an understatement. I'm sure the books were just happy that last year's USC-Utah debacle did not repeat itself. Link.

UCLA at Cal feels like the classic trap bet where anyone who follows college football would expect UCLA to be favored by more than a measly 2.5 points. UCLA (4-1) just won convincingly on the road, 42-14 at Colorado, while Cal (1-4) dropped a home game to ASU (17-27). UCLA's only loss has been to a better than expected Oregon State while Cal's only win was against Southern Utah. The sharps do not appear to have touched it all week and if I did bet on spreads, it would be the classic stay-away game. And if you put a gun to my head, I would have to go with Cal.

Finally, Stanford opened as a 12-point favorite over an Arizona team that lost to Oregon State (35-38) on a touchdown drive with less than two minutes left in the game. I don't think too many people are surprised that it has been bet down to nine points.

The Cardinalmaniac08 Win Totals Index (CWTI) Fund

Note: I bet only on season win totals, as I believe there is the most value there. Therefore, instead of tallying wins and losses on individual games throughout the season, I am tracking my projected return on the 50-plus season win totals bets I made before the season started, which comprise the "fund".

My preseason projected ROI for the fund is 30 percent, and I will be the first to admit that it seems very high. The upside, however, is that my projections can be off and still result in a reasonable return. I will use my preseason projections as the starting point of CWTI's value since I will be using the same methodology to value it going forward.

It has been a disastrous two weeks for the CWTI with a 55% decrease thanks to Washington State's (over 5.5 wins) fourth quarter collapse against Colorado a couple weeks ago, Oklahoma State (over 7.5 and 8.5) losing narrowly to Texas, and Miami's (under 6.5 and 7 wins) charmed wins over Georgia Tech and NC State. On the bright side, my expected EV is still positive and would represent a 12% ROI.

Speaking of Miami, for those familiar with Pythagorean win calculations which factor margin of victory, Miami is 1.15 wins above expectation. Teams winning more than their expected share of close games include Louisville (1.24), Ohio (1.24), Louisiana Tech (1.22), Northwestern (1.17) and Ohio State (1.16). If you factor in games played, Oregon State takes the cake with 1.06 wins above expectation out of 3 games! Note that strength of schedule is not taken into account. Also, these numbers are calculated on a per game basis and then aggregated because the prevalence of blowouts in college football does not lend to the Pythagorean calculation methodology commonly seen in baseball and the NFL.

Stanford's lofty expected wins have been grounded by the Washington game. My new numbers show that an eight-win season (34%) is most likely with a nine-win season (28%) more likely than a seven-win season (20%), as Stanford's projected win total fell from 8.8 wins to 8.1 wins since the USC game.

SEC Football

My annual pilgrimage to watch SEC football took me to Athens for the match-up between Tennessee and No. 5 Georgia. It was an overcast Saturday in Athens but that did not dampen the tailgating festivities or the pregame walk. The walk featured heavy band involvement before and after the team walked through a narrow corridor of fans into the stadium with onlookers peering on from overhanging bridges and staircases. I thought it would be hard to top Alabama's team getting off the bus in suits, walking through the plaza in front of the stadium engulfed by throngs of adoring fans and finishing off with "Sweet Home Alabama", but I think UGA might have them beat.

The game was a high-scoring affair that saw more points than my previous three games combined (BYU/Boise State, Oklahoma/Kansas State, Stanford/Washington). While UGA was a 14-point favorite, it was a close affair and my three-game streak of witnessing top-eight teams receive their first loss of the season finally ended as UGA held on for a 51-44 win.


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