In this column during football season, we are going to talk about sports gambling lessons — situations that we can point out in order to help you become a better sports gambler. It will also be a chance to talk about subjects that many of you already know but can serve as a reminder to practice good sports gambling habits.
The lesson this week is about getting the best number possible, because as you see with my plays from this weekend, even a half of a point can be the difference in cashing a ticket or not.
If you follow my picks on our sister site, PlayPicks.com, you saw my five favorite plays for Week 1 of college football and the added bonus video pick for Auburn vs. Oregon. I was feeling good after nailing the under of Florida and Miami but then, things got a little crazy. After starting 1-0, I went 1-4 with two of the losses coming by a grand total of one point.
I easily hit on Wisconsin at South Florida where the USF defense couldn’t tackle my five-year-old running a stretch play. As predicted, the Badgers steamrolled. The line we got was -13 for Wisconsin and they cruised to a massive win.
We love tickets that cash that easily. But unfortunately, the rest of my plays burned down in horrific fashion.
Every half-point matters
Let’s first start with Oregon versus Auburn in Dallas. Most books in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Nevada went off with Ducks getting +4. However, in a situation that will be so fun to watch as the season progresses, Oregon sportsbooks had the Ducks laying 3 to 4 points. That’s a massive difference and it opened up an opportunity to middle the game if you had access to both Oregon and Nevada books. (We will discuss strategies on how to middle a game in future columns.)
However, Auburn had other ideas.
The game-winning touchdown was scored with 9 seconds left, lifting the Tigers to the win and past the four-point line they were laying at most US books. Up 21-6 late in the third quarter, it looked very likely that Oregon was going to give the Pac-12 a massive victory and cash my play. As is the case when the Pac-12 plays the SEC, it wasn’t meant to be. The Pac-12 is now 0 for their last 10 games against ranked SEC opponents.
The Michigan State line steadily moved up all summer. Getting the best number is really important. I didn’t get the best number but I got the second-best number. Most books opened Michigan State -21 and I got it at -21.5. I felt pretty good about the chances for the Spartans to cover, especially since their defense scored a touchdown in the game. However, the questions about Michigan State’s offense are still very much there as the Spartans couldn’t do much against a bad Tulsa team.
The final margin of victory for Michigan State was 21 (28-7) and a loss for me on the hook.
The next game isn’t even worth talking much about because I was dead wrong about Louisiana Tech at Texas. UT went up 24-0 and never looked back, easily covering the 21-point line they were laying.
Finally, and the most insufferable outcome of the six picks, was the Washington State and New Mexico State outcome. I had expected New Mexico State to have serious trouble scoring and they did. They scored only seven points in the game. I had expected Washington State to score a lot but I thought they would stay under 50. That didn’t happen but they only scored 58. I was on the under 64.5. The final total was 65.
Capitalizing on regional bias
Depending on what state you live in, you have to be aware of what number you are getting for each game you bet. A sportsbook in Oregon posting a line that was a full touchdown different than Vegas is not an anomaly. Look for the same thing to happen in the state of Iowa when Iowa versus Iowa State happens in two weeks. The same could happen in the state of Indiana when Purdue hosts Indiana in the last game of the regular season.
My advice is to look at the schedule of games a week in advance and start to imagine what you think the opening line for that game. Then, when the line comes out at your local sportsbook, you should be ready to spot a game or two that you like to potentially get the best number. If you like a team by +3 and they get +6, that’s a line you should take early. If you like one at -7 and it opens at -9, maybe that’s a game you wait to see if the line will drop in your direction.
As always, watch out for the darn hook. As you just read, I lost two bets this week by a combined one point. Getting the best number is often the difference between winning or losing a bet. Even the smallest of margins matter over the long run.