LAS VEGAS – The BCS Selection Show this past Sunday night was anti-climactic from the standpoint that everyone knew Alabama would be playing Notre Dame for the national championship in the BCS title game on Monday, Jan. 7.
But the bombshell came when it was announced that little ole Northern Illinois had crashed the BCS party by making the Orange Bowl as the Huskies had been given a spot because it finished in the top 16 of the final BCS rankings and ahead of a champion of an automatic qualifying conference (and they actually finished ahead of both Wisconsin of the Big 10 and Louisville of the Big East).
Of course, if you’re a regular reader of “Tuley’s Vegas Beat” here at predictionmachine.com, you weren’t among those caught off-guard as we layed it out last week that this could happen as Kent St. was ranked No. 17 heading into last weekend and Northern Illinois was No. 21 and that Kent St. just needed UCLA to lose to Stanford while NIU also needed Texas to lose to Kansas St., and both those were underdogs. We also pointed out that while Kent St. was ranked ahead of NIU, the oddsmakers and bettors here in Vegas certainly thought the Huskies were the better team and more likely winner as they opened as a 5-point favorite in the MAC title game and were bet up to 6 by the time the article was written. By kickoff on Friday, NIU was a 7-point favorite and ended up winning 44-37 in overtime. UCLA lost on Friday night and Texas lost on Saturday night and then it was just up to the voters and computers to do the right thing and move NIU up in the rankings, which also included leaping over idle Michigan and Boise St., which beat unranked Nevada.
There has been plenty of criticism of NIU for getting a BCS bowl bid over teams such as Oklahoma, Georgia and LSU. While I’d love to debate that (though NIU is my alma mater so anything I say will be viewed as biased), the ViewFromVegas is that any such argument is trivial as we can only bet the games that are in front of us. Besides, the current system is only in place for one more year so that also makes such debates irrelevant.
The Wynn Las Vegas sports book opened NIU as a 13.5-point underdog against Florida St. in the Orange Bowl and it’s no surprise that it got bet up to 14, especially as some offshores opened at FSU -15.
In the national title game, Alabama re-opened (and I use that because the line has been up in Vegas books for a few weeks as this was looking like the likeliest title game) as low as -7.5 vs. Notre Dame and as high as -10.5. As of early Tuesday morning, the line has met right in the middle with just about every book in Vegas having the Tide favored by 9.
The lines are up on 35 of the 36 bowls (Navy-Arizona St. in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29 is the only exception) and we’ll take a closer look at some of these in the coming weeks here on the “Vegas Beat.”
The NFL returned to an underdog bettors’ paradise again in Week 13 as dogs went 10-5-1 against the spread with seven outright upsets (Seahawks, Rams, Chiefs, Colts, Steelers, Bengals, Redskins). When I grade these, I used my website’s ViewFromVegas.com Consensus Closing Lines and there were several games that others might grade differently. Some people (including the LVH SuperContest) used the line of Packers -9 and that ended in a push with the Packers winning 23-14, but the consensus closing line in Vegas was Pack -7.5 so I had them as one of those rare spread-covering favorites. A lot of people bet the Broncos -7 and -7.5 and got the win with Denver’s 31-23 victory, but the VFV consensus was Broncos -8 so that was the push in my final mark. For most of the week, the Bengals were a small favorite at the Chargers, but late money turned San Diego into a 1-point favorite at kickoff and also turned the Bengals into a spread-covering underdog.
We talked early in the seasons about the Ugly Puppy Society (UPS), of which I’m a charter member. The Eagles covered Sunday night as the only double-digit underdog of Week 13 (and they’re 11-7 ATS overall on the season). Home underdogs were 4-2 ATS and are 35-32-2 on the year after a hot start and then cooling off during mid-season.
This weekend’s card kicks off Thursday night with the Raiders as the UPS poster child as a double-digit home underdog (23-2 ATS the last three years). We also see the Dolphins and Cardinals as double-digit underdogs (both on the road) on Sunday. The home dogs look like they’ll be the Jaguars +2.5 vs. the Jets, Vikings +3 vs. Bears, and Panthers +3.5 vs. Falcons. The Redskins might also qualify as their line against the Ravens is just coming off after their Monday night win over the Giants. It’s looking like it’ll be a pick-em and could go -1 either way.
Good luck this weekend (and every weekend).
Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper in Vegas and has written for Daily Racing Form since 2000. Tuley started his own website, ViewFromVegas.com, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including ESPN.com. In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 45, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas.