Don't Side With Vegas


I was watching “College Gameday” on Saturday morning when Lee Corso said that he was going to pick Illinois over Wisconsin--despite the Badgers having the longest active winning streak in the nation and the fact that Illinois hadn’t been 3-0 since 1990--because the oddsmakers had made the Illini the favorites in the game.

It got me thinking. How good of an indicator is the line? I didn’t think on acting on it until this score came across my phone: “Illinois 31, Wisconsin 26.”

So there’s the perception that Vegas is wise because bettors always lose. But how wise is it as a journalism practice to pick college games straight up based on betting favorites?

The answer: Not as good you think. Or Corso thinks.

Before I combed through the lines of the 54 college football games this weekend with the scores in my hand, I made up a number. That number was the number of games I thought the oddsmakers should have been able to call outright. Just winners. Favorites win. Underdogs lose.

I thought that the line should tell me whose going to win about 80 percent of the time. That means that 46 of the favorites should win. I wasn’t even close.

Despite the fact that people will focus on the Illini’s win over Wisconsin and Tennessee’s win over Georgia as indicators that the folks in Vegas know what they are talking about, the data from this week shows us that the favorites winning outright were only a little bit better than flipping a coin.

Perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about -- I don’t bet, I just follow the industry -- but I would think that a 61 percent number (favorites only won 33 of those games this week) would be more like the percentage the favorite covered, not the percentage of the time the favorite won outright.

You see, at the same time we have Illinois and Tennessee, we have USC, which at 40-point favorites is now the biggest favorite to ever lose a game. And we have two 20 ½ point underdogs in Rice and Notre Dame that both won this weekend.

Some advice to Lee Corso this weekend?

If you’re going to go with Vegas favorites, you better start predicting NFL games. NFL favorites hit 77 percent this weekend.

Those South Florida Bulls

While we're on odds, the University of South Florida is now the No. 5 football team in the country. If you bet on them to win the national championship at the beginning of the season, you could have locked them in at 100-to-1. Meanwhile, if you're a South Florida fan and you want to bet on them getting to the national championship at a cheaper price, go to Ticket Reserve and plunk down $15 and you'll be able to guaranteed a face value ticket to the game.

Questions? Comments?