Friday, August 15, 2014

College Football: 10 Games Introducton

Many people are pointing at August 28th as the first "day" of the 2014 College Football season. That's not true.  The first game to be played is Sam Houston State University vs. Eastern Washington University pitting the pre-season number 1 ranked FCS team in all the land against the National runners-up the last two years running.

Eastern Washington has a great college QB and a heck of an offense.  Sam Houston has a lot of questions with a new coach (and new players at key offensive position) so this game could either be a back n' forth monster (Remember: EWU is going to have very little game tape on Sam) or it could be a blowout either way.

Unfortunately, there are no lines on FCS football (yet) so we'll omit them from our weekly 10 game ATS challenge and focus instead on the games that begin August 28th.

This year, to reflect wagering reality, the lines in question will come from the LVH Superbook as reported by the linemakers for Sporting News.  Bets and predictions are accurate as of the day of the post only, and I'm not going to track any line moves.

The goal, as you've seen before if you've read my blogs for any length of time, is to spend just an average amount of time on 10 games per week in an effort to crack 50% and (theoretically) turn a profit.

As a reminder: Since I don't live in a State where sports gambling is legal and my day job would not look kindly on me engaging in illegal activity I will not actually be placing these bets. Consider this more a social experiment to see if a normal schlub can obtain similar results as the so-called "services" which really just exist to take your money.

I won't spend more than 10 minutes researching each game, and I'll always provide a Michigan prediction (because I'm a fan) although I'd never lay money on them.  I'll also try to include Texas teams (when possible) because I live in Houston.

It's important to remember that I'm not predicting these to be the 10 "best" games of the week.  These games will be the ones that I think have profit potential.

Right now I'm in the process of selecting the 10 games for the first game of the week.

Good luck this year, and make some money.

Monday, August 11, 2014

College Football: The New Playoff should be easy to predict....

...provided the members of the panel are honest brokers.

IF you believe, as do I, that winning one's conference is a prerequisite to winning the National Championship then 4 of the 5 winners of the major conferences should get an invitation to the dance.  Yes, there will be exceptions if, should one year, two conferences have a down year or a 4-loss division winner pulls an upset but, for the most part, it should be pretty clean.

If you run on that assumption then it makes sense that your College Football Playoff predictions would mirror your Conference predictions.  This lies outside rankings, numbers, 30 people meeting in a room etc.  It's just simple math.

Because of this I'm predicting the following 4 teams will receive invitations to the newly minted College Football Playoff:

1. Ohio State (Champions - B1G)
2. Florida State (Champions - ACC)
3. UCLA (Champions - PAC 12)
4. South Carolina (Champions - SEC)

I think SC goes in with 2 losses but, by upsetting Alabama, they get the 4th seed. UCLA (with one loss) probably deserves the 2 seed but will get the 3 seed because....West Coast.  Florida State and OSU will battle all year long for the first seed, with OSU winning out after an impressive B1G Championship rout over Iowa.

In the Championship Game I think it will be Ohio State and UCLA with the Bruins coming out on top for the championship in 2014/2015.

And yes, I've backed that up on a futures wager in Las Vegas.  That would be the Bruins at 25/1


The weekly pick-em and odds tracker will be up before the first games are played on the 28th of August. At that point I'll continue my mission to prove you can beat 50% (and turn a profit) without an expensive gaming service and with just a modicum of research. (after all, we all have jobs right?)

Good luck this season, make a ton.



Houston Texans: Pre-Season game 1 has changed the conversation.

Before Saturday, the Houston Texans had roster full of talent that just needed to be coached up. After Saturday the new mantra is that this roster is so bereft of talent Rick Smith is a goner after the season. How quickly things can change in what pundits are now suggesting is a "meaningless" game (just a few days after telling us how important that it was to the team.)

Despite Bob McNair's Drayton-like proclamations to the contrary, the Texans are in a rebuilding mode. If McNair can't see that then he's part of the problem. The biggest problem with the Texans 32-0 loss against the Arizona Cardinals is that the team was so inept there were several players who didn't even get to play.  This makes analysis difficult.

That said, here's my quick and dirty review of where they stand position by position....

Quarterback: The prognosis for this position is grim. If there's a place beyond grim then that's where the Texans are. We've known (when being honest with ourselves) that The Fitz is not the answer. Neither is Keenum, and it's way, way to early to tell w/Savage. If things continue on this path then I've a feeling that the Texans game 1 starter might not be on the roster right now. That's dismal.

Running Back: Alfred Blue has promise, Grimes is an OK back-up, Arian Foster will not be with the team past this season (good riddance) and Brown was a no-show. One of the few things the Texans did well on Saturday was run the ball. Had Notre Dame not invented the forward pass way back when they might have had a chance to win.

Wide Receiver: This team's receiving corps is still Andre Johnson and his back-up brigade. I haven't had a chance to view the All-22 game film yet but, from what I could see on the pitiful ABC 13 broadcast, this group of receivers sticks to corner backs like Elmer's glue.

Tight Ends: Salary cap hell forced the Texans to give up most of their good ones. That's pretty much all you need to know.

Offensive Line: Duane Brown & Chris Meyers are good, everyone else would be either a back-up or on the practice squad (or worse) for almost any other NFL team.  This is a horrid unit that's been both a victim of bad drafting, and Rick Smith's inability to manage the salary cap. No matter who's your QB, they're going to struggle behind this line.

Defensive Line: The starting DL has a chance to be pretty good. JJ Watt is excellent and with Crick, Powe and Nix (if healthy) there's some depth here as well. Probably the best unit on the Texans roster.

Linebackers: Whitney Mercilus is looking more and more like a bust or, more probably, a bad fit for the 3-4.  He's a 4-3 DE who is lost playing at the OLB position. Brooks Reed is a back-up, and the rest of the LB corps is desperately waiting for Cushing to return.  The talent is so thin on this group there's a chance it's among the worst LB groups in the league. Clowney had a good play, and looked lost for the rest of the game. He's got talent but he could be another Mercilus if not handled correctly.

Defensive Backs: This is the worst unit on the field, behind QB, that the Texans have. They might have heard of the concept of covering WR's, but they don't seem to have any idea how to put it into practice.

Special Teams: Who knows? The kickers didn't kick, the return game was anemic and the coverage game was spotty.


As hard as it is to believe, Saturday's game wasn't as close as the 32-0 score suggests. The Cardinals didn't play as well as I think they can and they dropped a couple of should-have-been-sure-fire interceptions to boot.

Perhaps the most telling series of the entire game was the first Texans offensive possession in the 2nd half. They started off with a delay of game penalty, and then proceeded to be penalized on the next five plays. It was an inept performance by a team that didn't seem like it was ready to suit up for the game.

If there's a silver lining to all of this it's that this was the first game the Texans played under a brand new system so you would imagine that things will get better as they move forward. It's tempting to say they can't get any worse but that's not true. We still haven't seen a pick-6 after all.  This week means that the Atlanta Falcons (and HBO's Hard Knocks) come to town so we'll get a good picture of the Texans talent two Tuesdays from now.

Hopefully this was just first-game jitters, that the team is not this much of a disaster. Maybe playing at NRG helps them out a little bit?

Or maybe, we're seeing just what this team really is. It's more likely that 2-14 wasn't a fluke and that dodgy drafts and bad cap management have placed the Texans in a big hole. If that's the case then they're really starting all over again. For a team that's done that twice in the last 12 years that's a pretty awful thing for Texans fans to have to face.

Fingers crossed that things get better.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

College Football: The Also-Rans

I've made the prediction previously that College Football is on the doorstep of a major sea change.  What we currently think of (falsely) as "Division 1" (Or FBS, whatever) is really an amalgamation of 5 'power' conferences and 5 conferences who's members really just want to migrate to one of the big 5.

Because of this dichotomy, fans of universities who are members of the AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt Conference delude themselves into thinking they are playing big-time college football when, in fact, they just aren't.  This doesn't mean that they're at the Division 1-AA level (or, FCS, whatever) but that they're not really competing against the SEC, PAC-12, ACC, B1G or Big-12 even.

None of the champions of these conferences has much chance of being included in the College Football Playoff even IF they go undefeated.  That said, they're still going to play so I'm still going to predict champions, and also where Texas teams will finish.

Let's go alphabetically:

American Athletic Conference:

Champion: Cincinnati - The Bearkats have been a pretty good program for quite a while now, despite not having the resources many of the top teams possess. They are, in my opinion, pretty clear favorites here.

Texas Teams:

Houston (3rd): Picking the Cougars any higher than 3rd is a reach. Yes, they have a lot of talent but UCF and Cincinnati have more. It will be interesting to see if the defense can continue to turn the ball over at the same rate as last year. On offense the O'Korn/Greenberry connection will be exciting.

SMU(6th): I want to pick SMU higher here, but I just can't.  Coach Jones needs to find a QB and a defense stat. Still, with their offense (a combination of the Air Raid and Run n' shoot) they should pile up some gaudy statistics.


Conference USA:

Champion: Marshall - Like Cincinnati the Herd are simply the best team in the conference by a mile on paper.  They also have a head coach in Doc Holliday with the best coaching name in recent memory.

Texas Teams:

Rice(1st Western Division, runner-up) Rice will make the conference championship game (again) but will lose to Marshall. HC David Bailiff has done a great job here.

UTSA (2nd Western Division) - That we're even seriously considering the fact that UTSA plays in a bowl speaks volumes regarding the job HC Larry Coker has done.  5 years ago this was a team on paper only.

North Texas (4th Western Division) - With a new stadium, new conference and revamped facilities North Texas could be a directional school on the rise.

UTEP (6th Western Division) - It's hard to rebuild in El Paso.  This school could be on the bottom for a few years.


Mid-American:

Champion: Bowling Green - They have the most talent, and a good HC in Dino Babers. Fortunately for Babers, former HC Clawson left the cupboard stocked with talent.


Mountain West:

Champion: Utah State - I'm going out on a limb here and saying that Boise State will NOT win the conference championship. Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton is a Cy-Fair ISD product who is coming back from injury and is probably the most talented player in the conference. He'll get that small conference, not a real chance-in-hell Heisman talk.

Sun Belt:

Champion: University of Louisiana-Lafayette. - The Rajin' Cajun's have been around or near the top of this catch-all conference for a while now. This is really just a home to teams with no natural fit, or those teams trying to make the jump from D-1AA to D-1. (See: Texas State)

Texas Teams:

Texas State (6th) - Coach Dennis Franchione has some youth issues this year but I think the Bobcats are still positioned to pass UH as the top lower-tier Texas college football team sometime in the near future.


Other thoughts: Once the Big 5 conferences change to the Really Big 4 (consisting of either 16 or 18 teams) then these five conferences will form the nucleus of Division II. (or whatever silly name they'll call it.)  I still think they'll play in the smaller bowl games (omitting the former B(C)S bowls and some other key bowls which will remain the exclusive domain of the top tier) and they might even contest their own championship.

There will be, of course, much wailing and gnashing of teeth but for most of these schools uncoupling from the bigger football powers will be a financial blessing not a curse.




Friday, August 8, 2014

College Football: The SEC is the lead dog, everyone else has the same view.

No Conference in College Football took advantage of the B(C)S than the SEC.  Not only did they win 9 of the 16 B(C)S Championships, but they won 7 in a row and parlayed that into a lucrative partnership with ESPN to create the SEC Network which is launching on August 14th.

These are the salad days for the SEC. They have the best talent, the best coaching and the best facilities across the board. They make policy in college football and they (along with the ACC) will drive the sport either forward or backward as they please.

That said, I don't think they will be as dominant in the new 4-team playoff system for a couple of reasons: One, part of their dominance was due to the fact that both Urban Meyer and Nick Saban are the best in the business when given a lot of lead-time to prepare. 2. These things run in cycles, and expansion/realignment is going to have a big effect on who has power going forward.

For 2014/2015 the SEC will consist of 14 teams divided equally into two divisions. (East and West).  I'll get to my picks shortly but first, a bold prediction:

Alabama will not receive an invitation to the 2014/2015 College Football Playoff.

East:

1. South Carolina - Steve Spurrier (The Old Ball Coach) is having fun in SC. He's also got one of the better teams he's ever had at his disposal this year.

2. Florida - They get this spot, sort-of, by default.  The East is not very strong this year.

3. Georgia - I expect the "fire Mark Richt" movement to pick up some steam. Georgia is an against-the-SC-grain pick for the top spot but I think they're replacing too much.

4. Missouri - A good coach in Gary Pinkel, some decent talent. Overmatched against the bigger schools.

5. Tennessee - Showed some signs of life last year. Will take a small step back this year but could be a team on the rise soon.

6. Kentucky - Is it basketball season yet?

7. Vanderbilt - Lost their coach and all of their NFL quality players.  Starting the next 5-10 year rebuilding plan.  Does wonders for conference academic ratings however.


West

1a. Alabama 
1b. Auburn
1c. LSU     

Yes, I realize this is a cop-out, but all three of these teams are filling huge holes left by the NFL draft. It will be impossible to get a real feel until some actual games are played.

4. Ole Miss - At some point all of that talent has to pay off.

5. Texas A&M - As much as people are obsessing over the loss of Johnny Manziel, I actually think that QB is one position where the Aggies are OK. What they had better do is learn how to play defense. The jury is still out on whether or not HC Kevin Sumlin can field one.

6. Mississippi State - The Bulldogs just don't have the resources to compete consistently with the rest of the conference.

7. Arkansas - Karma I'm not a fan of Bielema as a coach. I think he rode the coattails of Alvarez after Barry retired (Alvarez was still a part of Wisconsin for Bielema to fall back on after he retired.) and I think we're seeing just how out of his depth he is.


Conference Champion: South Carolina (Receives invitation to College Football Playoff)


Other thoughts: The SEC is given the title of "best conference" but, for quite some time, this has only been true at the very top.  The fact is the bottom 10 of this 14-team conference are not very strong.  This has been a hidden problem for the SEC for a while now, something that they've taken to covering up with hilariously weak OOC scheduling.

This year there are so many questions surrounding the top teams that I don't see a possible scenario (as some are suggesting) that they receive a 2nd playoff berth.  As a matter of fact, I'm fairly confident they only get one, and might even lose in the first round depending on seeding.

One thing in their favor: The rankings people (who's thoughts will be taken into consideration by the committee) love them some SEC regardless of how many flaws it appears they have.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Soccer at NRG: A bad field, a bad crowd, a bad report.

Last night Italian Serie A power AC Milan beat Mexican League stalwart Chivas 3-0 in a game that will be remembered more for horrible turf and turnout than it will be remembered for good play. In fitting with the horrible conditions and crowd, the Chron's soccer beat writer mailed one in when reviewing the game:

AC Milan's 3-0 win over Chivas marred by poor field conditions, Jose de Jesus Ortiz, Chron.com
You don't risk ruining your Ferrari on a country road in Porter, and that's exactly the dilemma AC Milan and Chivas faced while contemplating whether to play their friendly match at the Texans' stadium.
Mario Balotelli and AC Milan ultimately took the pitch and beat Chivas 3-0 before a crowd of 14,871, the smallest attendance figure for an international match at NRG Stadium.

Not mentioned in the article is the fact that, despite the horrible field conditions, Balotelli was awesome, scoring two goals and proving too much for the CONCACAF fueled Chivas de Guadalajara to handle.

How bad was the field?


That bad.

In fact, it was an embarrassment to the folks that run NRG.  The stadium was also dumpy looking on TV, with all of the bunting and padding removed the stadium more closely resembles a bomb-shelter. Add to this the fact that it was 2/3 empty and you have a failure on a massive scale. Why there wasn't an effort to play this game at the Dynamo/Dash stadium (Compass Bank Stadium) I'll never understand.

As is his wont, Ortiz doubles down on being incorrect by throwing in this nugget:

Houston soccer fans are sophisticated. AC Milan took Houston fans for granted. Subsequently, the promoters got what they deserved, a crowd worthy of their horrendous pitch.

Houston soccer fans are NOT sophisticated. They're just about on par with the fans in Portland who were chanting "USA!" as a multi-national group of "all-stars" eeked out a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich.  That's right, the best and brightest of the entire American professional LEAGUE struggled to beat one TEAM from the Bundesligua.

And fans chanted USA! to a group of players that included representatives from Europe, South America, the Caribbean, Canada and Nigeria.  American soccer fans, as passionate as they may be, are NOT sophisticated. These are people who think that blocks of four behind the ball is somehow less defensive of a set up than a flat five or six. (Seriously, I had someone argue that with me on Twitter)

Not that it's the Houston fans who were at fault here. The real problem was the promoters: Texas Lone Star Sports & Entertainment and SNG-NRG Park. Both of these companies mailed it in to a degree that there was no advertisement to speak of, and almost no-one knew that AC Milan would be in town.

Ortiz, mysteriously, blames AC Milan for this.  Now, it is his M.O. to prop up the Mexican Leagues as Gods among men, so you really shouldn't expect anything different here.  Fortunately, you don't get anything different.  What you get is a fluff quote from Chivas suggesting that they "heart Houston" and then a bunch of conjecture that AC Milan just blew Houston off. Given that we don't know how the promoters (who got everything else wrong) drew up the itinerary this is a preposterous statement to make. It's opining on the part of the reporter and any decent editor would have sent it back for re-writing.

For a city that yearns to be "world class" I'm never amazed when Houston is frequently less than so. Whether it's poorly planned or executed events or the sub-par media coverage of them, the norm in Houston is to do things half-assed and then blame others for the failure.

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