Friday, December 15, 2017

College Football: It's Bowl Season!!!!! (Part I)

40 Bowls (Not counting the Championship game)

So many bowl games, and so little time to watch them given your, likely, busy year end work schedule, Holiday Parties and gift wrapping, getting ready for Santa etc.

Fortunately, for you, I've taken a look at most of them and am ready to offer up totally irrational opinions here.  I won't be watching all of them, but I will be watching most of them.  Unlike some I love bowl season. It's like the dessert we earned from stuffing ourselves on the buffet of the College Football season.

R +L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. 1PM ET Saturday, Dec 16th.

[10-2]Troy (-7) vs. [9-4] North Texas  T: 62.5

The RLC New Orleans Bowl is the crown jewel of the SunBelt conference. They play in it (every year) and they often win the dang thing.  This year the SunBelt gives us Troy, of the 'we beat LSU at home' Trojans who are favored by a touchdown over North Texas.  Both the Mean Green and the Trojans feature strong offenses, and little in the way of defense.  As such this game is expected to be an offensive showcase to kick off the bowl slate.  I don't see anything to dispute that except for the fact that North Texas will be missing their leading rusher (Jeffery Wilson) due to a foot injury.

Pick: Troy to cover -7 and OVER the total of 62.5.

AutoNation Cure Bowl. 2:30 PM ET Saturday, Dec 16th.

[6-6] Western Kentucky vs. [6-5] Georgia State (-6.5) T: 53.5

I think it's safe to say that both of these teams are coming off disappointing regular seasons as both expected themselves to compete for their respective conference championships. These teams had remarkably different seasons to boot.  Western Kentucky started off strong, then faltered down the stretch before beating rival Middle Tennessee State in the "100 miles of hate" game to become bowl eligible.  Georgia State, on the other hand, struggled at the beginning (Maybe they were shell-shocked in their new stadium) before charging down the stretch to finish with a winning record. The problem for Georgia State in this game is that they aren't good at stopping what Western Kentucky does well, passing the football, and they don't have the offensive firepower to take that much advantage of the Hilltoppers shaky defense. This feels like a ho-hum bowl game which should still draw just under a Million viewers on TV.

Pick: Western Kentucky to win on the ML and UNDER 53.5

Las Vegas Bowl. 3:30 PM ET, Saturday, Dec 16th.

[10-3] Boise State vs. [7-5] Oregon (-7)  T: 61.5

This is the first bowl game that we'll see which features a "great player who won't be playing" in the person of Oregon running back Royce Freeman.  Oregon will also be without former coach, and new Florida State head coach Willie Taggart. Still, these are two good teams and since Oregon's QB Justin Herbert will be playing the Ducks are much better than they would be otherwise.  Oregon's problem? They won't be "up" for this game and Boise State (the Mountain West Champion) will. Because the Broncos pride themselves on beating Power 5 teams.  Should be a close game however, and I have it pegged as the best game of the day.

Pick: Boise State to WIN on the ML and Under 61.5

Gildan New Mexico Bowl. 4:30 ET, Saturday, Dec 16th.

[7-5] Marshall vs. [7-5] Colorado State (-5.5)  T: 58.5

Here's the thing about this game. If you watch it you're going to be subjected to those truly awful Blake Shelton underwear commercials and that's just harsh. Another thing is that Colorado State's offense is very, very sputtery and Marshall's defense fell off a cliff in the last half of the season. Both of these teams are incomplete, especially on defense and both teams come into this game with something to prove (to themselves and their respective fan bases) so this game certainly comes with barn-burner potential.  I, for one, am intrigued by the match-up at QB between the Rams Stevens and the Herd's Litton.  Points will be plentiful.

Pick: Marshall to cover +4 and OVER 58.5

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. 8:00 PM ET. Saturday, Dec 16th.

[6-6] Middle Tennessee State vs. [7-4] Arkansas State (-4)  T: 62

The line for this game started at -3.5 for Arkansas State and has slowly slid toward the Red Wolves since.  Part of the reason for this is that it's widely speculated that Middle Tennessee State has severe "mail this one in" potential after a disappointing season. The Blue Raiders do have a potent offense and Brent Stockstill makes the game worth watching, but I think that the Red Wolves have too much on defense and Stockstill could have a long night behind a bad offensive line who's going to struggle to stop an Arkansas State pass rush led by NFL prospect Ja'Von Rolland Jones.  Still, there will be a LOT of flinging the ball around the yard in this one.

Pick: Arkansas State to cover -4 and OVER 62.

Enjoy the beginning of Bowl season. There's still some fun football to play.

Monday, December 11, 2017

2017: The year in Gambling

Now that my last gambling trip for the year is complete I thought I'd share some thoughts after what was a moderately active year for me. Remember, these are worth exactly what you paid for them. These are the results of Vegas visits and reading news reports. Some are what happened, some are what I think might happen.

On a personal note, it was a good year in that I ended up only slightly down after 9 gaming trips, 3 to Las Vegas and Six to the local.  I finally broke my Royal Flush cherry, and then hit one again in Vegas. Slots were brutal this year with zero hand pays but, to be fair, I played a LOT less of them this year than in years prior. Still, it seemed like I would lose a ton of money on slots, and then have to fight back on VP almost every trip.  I played a lot fewer table games this year than I had initially planned, which is something I plan to remedy in 2018. I also never found the time to play craps, which is something that was on my "gambling to do" list for 2017.

The casinos are getting tighter. Shocker right?  It's a trend I've noticed as good games seem harder and harder to find, at least in certain locations.  The Strip and Downtown Las Vegas are especially horrid right now, almost unplayable except for as a time-waster and while their are still good games to be found at so-called "locals" casinos in Vegas (Boulder Hwy, South of town, off-Strip etc.) getting to them can be a chore so it's a give and take.  It's the opposite for casinos outside of Vegas, where competition is less and the casinos there have figured out they can have their machines set at the minimum allowed and the rules at the tables can be crap and people will still come.

But there is heartening news.  The decisions being made at the Cromwell are promising and we should all reward them for it by playing there. Hopefully if the casino execs see an increase in handle as a result of improving the rules/payouts more casinos will follow.

Addressing the so-called "Millennial problem". One thing the casinos are constantly getting wrong is the so-called "Millennial problem".  They don't gamble (false) or they want so-called "skill-based" slots (false).  What they really like are social games like craps, roulette and some of the carny table games. They want to be able to Instagram or Snapchat their wins immediately on the casino floor.  And they want reasonable odds while doing it.  There's a reason gaming $$$ continue to drop on the strip and it's not because the entire casino floor isn't littered with Gamblit tables. It's because the odds are horrid and people are slowly figuring that out.

Vegas as outlet mall. In retrospect, the Fashion Show mall was about a decade too early. With word coming out that WynnCore has purchased the former Alon casino site and that a planned casino resort that is heavy with upscale retail is the most likely use of it there is now more actual or planned shopping on the Strip than ever before.  Retail is the new night club and pools are the new social lounges.

The continued scarcity of comps. Drink monitoring systems are in place currently at almost all of the Strip bars with VP and I predict that by 2020 comped drinks on the casino floor will be a thing of the past, except in the VIP/High Roller areas. I'm not entirely opposed to this since it should free up the VP terminals and will lessen "drink vultures" who are just trying to swoop in and get free drinks for nothing.  The bad thing is getting rid of drink comps entirely would probably put thousands of cocktail servers out of work. If nothing else, I could see it go away for the penny slot area but remain for dollar slots, table games and the high limit lounges.

New rooms bring higher room rates. You don't think all of this renovation is going to occur in a vacuum do you?  With high occupancy rates and Vegas attracting a record number of visitors per year I expect rates to continue to climb. It's to the point now that you HAVE to have recently upgraded rooms on the Strip to compete, and they have to have an increased supply of chargers, outlets, etc.

Resorts are copying the airlines, and it's going to get worse.  Resort fees, parking fees, baggage handling fees you name it and the resorts are going to find a way to charge you for it. As a matter of fact, some casinos have reportedly hired people from the airlines to duplicate their success in charging and marketing fees as a "win" for customers, even if the customer's aren't buying that line of reasoning.

"Locals" casinos will start doing better business. I look at it like this: You want to stay on the Strip because the rooms are nice and all of the entertainment is there, but you're going to want to be playing elsewhere. This is true if you pay attention to odds and paybacks. Unfortunately most don't. It would be nice if more people would tell NYNY "Thanks for the $5 blackjack, but I'm not touching 1:1 with the dealer hitting on soft 17, no DAS, and only double on 10 or 11"  or tell Sands "Appreciate the $5 Roulette table but you can take that 3rd house number and shove it up Sheldon's ample backside." but they won't.  Because most people don't gamble enough to really pay attention to the odds and pays, they only see the low minimum bets.  That said, there are enough people out that that do care and understand the difference between  getting 9/5 DDB and 7/5 of the same and will elect to take their money elsewhere.  This is why the Cromwell should be rewarded for their better odds.

PASPA being shut down by the SCOTUS will have minimal effect on Vegas. And I do think it will be shot down.  But for all of the articles and all of the doomsday predictions I don't see any sign of the sportsbook boom going away.  People will still go to Vegas because of the atmosphere, the total uniqueness of it all and the amenities that you really can't get anywhere else.

and finally.......

Most states with casinos in place will approve sports betting, those without mostly won't. The casinos will HAVE to push for it or they will be left out. Feelings are once PASPA is ruled unconstitutional New Jersey and Pennsylvania will be the first to get things up and running (New Jersey would probably only take about a week) with most of New England following.  Surprisingly, Oklahoma should move pretty fast because the Indians don't need enabling legislation. California, Louisiana and New Mexico, followed by Mississippi would be the next dominoes to fall, with Arizona somewhere in there. I'd be very surprised if a non-casino state allowed it. For those of us in Texas, forget it. It took a miracle to get horse racing and the lottery approved and it's still not certain how much longer either lasts with an active arm of the Texas Lege trying to undo what they consider to be damage.

So, that's my thoughts on the state of gaming in 2017.

What say you?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Open Letters: Dear NFL, It's not me, it's you.

Hello "The Shield."

Rough game last night.

In fact, Rough few years.

For all of the sturm und drang surrounding Colin Kaepernick, President Trump, your multi-Million dollar contract with the Military that's forcing all of this on us, my real problem with you of late is that your on-field product is increasingly unwatchable.

And violent.

By now, with all of the information that we have at our disposal surrounding concussions and CTE there's no reason that the 'kill shot' tackle is still a part of the game. There's no reason you haven't taken college football's admittedly flawed targeting rule and implemented it in a better way to clean up the game and prevent shit-shows like we saw last night from appearing on our TV.

I don't tune in to watch people get hurt, although I understand that's an unfortunate part of any sport, nor do I like listening to your paid analysts and team employees telling me, "It's just part of the game" or that it's "AFC North Football".

No, it's not.

Cheap shots and projectile "tackling" with the head down isn't a part of any football, nor should it be.

Now, granted, I give you that us, as fans, shoulder some of the blame. For a few years there we cheered mightily (and some still do) at "big hits" and ESPN ran "Jacked up" with players getting eight bells knocked out of them and we cheered. I think that all stopped though with the Junior Seau tragedy and it certainly has no place in the modern game.

The problem is that the "Modern NFL" game isn't all that good. You give us a slew of bad teams in prime time games in a league where maybe only a third of the teams put forward a really good product. You can't even fill a playoff bracket with 12 teams that deserve to be there.

Beyond the hits, the quality of play is atrocious. The coaching is overly conservative (Another field goal?) the offenses are stale and the defenses, when they're not busy knocking their opponents out, are about as sophisticated as the Wing-T offense of old.

There's little drama, an even smaller chance of upsets (have you seen how the favorites are doing in Vegas lately?) and no compelling reason to tune in.  In fact, there are more reasons to not watch your product than there are to spend most of my Sunday watching sub-par, poorly officiated, socially inept football players competing in a game that's feeling more like a grind than entertainment.

Everything you do is manufactured. You can't even get touchdown celebrations right. No one knows what a catch is or isn't any longer to the point that so-called "rules experts" for the networks are incorrect over half the time regarding the results of instant replay.

You've done a great job of creating an arbitrary rules framework for a game built on the precise. The result of this is an unwatchable product that drones on, 4 yard play after 4 yard play with the "wildcat" still being considered edgy. You're a copycat league, trailing behind college football innovation by around 5 years.

All of this and we haven't even mentioned Roger Gooddell yet.  Your commissioner seems to view the rules and norms of punishment and investigatory best practices to be annoyances to his wish to pursue and punish at his whim. But he's very good at negotiation apparently, which is why your labor contract is head and shoulder's more owner friendly than any other sport.

You think this is a good thing but the result is that there's a level of distrust between the players and the league that permeates every thing you do, every decision you make and taints every so-called "player friendly" action you take.

That you're mostly a bunch of unlikable sots only adds to the dysfunction. Every community outreach, charitable event that you hold feels forced, like you're only catering to the fans suddenly because you feel the need to after years of ignoring them.

The problem, NFL, is that many of us have decided that it's past time for us to start ignoring you.

I, for one, am finding better things to do on my Sundays, and I'm noticing that my life is no less fulfilled without you in it than it was when I was watching.

That should worry you, but I know it won't as long as the money is coming in and the taxpayers are still willing to be fleeced for Multi-Billion dollar shrines to your glory.

By the time you do worry it will probably be too late.  It might already be. (for you)

Monday, December 4, 2017

College Football: Bowl Hits and Misses.

40(!!!) Bowl Games. (Not counting the Championship Game)

If we're being honest that's about 10 too many. Despite this, there were three teams that obtained bowl eligibility but whose seasons are over.  Sorry Buffalo, Western Michigan and UT-San Antonio. (To be fair, they should be allowed extra practices the same as other teams who are eligible AND going to a bowl. Unless you're in the CFP, those practices are the main perk in becoming bowl eligible)

As is always the case we have some duds, and we have some games that should be a ton of fun to watch.  Here's my ranking of the bottom 5 and top 5 of all the bowl games. Staring with the worst.

***Note: I'm not saying these games are going to be BAD, only that the odds are they're going to suck. They could turn into instant classics and they sometimes do.***

40. Boca Raton Bowl:  FAU vs. Akron.

In a way you have to feel a little sorry for the folks running BR, the two teams they originally targeted were selected in front of them and they had to pivot to two conferences to which they had no ties and what we're stuck with is a dog of a game.

39.  Independence Bowl: Florida State vs. Southern Miss.

It's a Florida State team that had to reschedule UL-Monroe to keep their bowl streak alive, and playing with an interim coach to boot.  Meh.

38. Belk Bowl:  Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M

A pedestrian Wake Forest team against an Aggie team with Jimbo just watching who took this game specifically to avoid playing UT-Austin in Houston.  Blech.

37. The Fiesta Bowl: Penn State vs. Washington

Two offensively challenged teams who both feature fairly decent defenses.  The final score could be 3-0. On the bright side: The mid-afternoon start time should allow for a Saturday nap.

36. The Alamo Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU

On paper this bowl isn't that bad but in reality we all know that this bowl is always the "Disappointment Bowl" as both teams are coming off of humiliating losses in their respective conference championship games.

The theoretical "best".

5. The Cotton Bowl: Ohio State vs. USC

JT Barrett vs. Sam Darnold.  Count me in.

4. The Liberty Bowl:  Memphis vs. Iowa State

A good matchup between a high-scoring Group of 5 team against everyone's underdog this year. Very interesting data point surrounding the relative strength of the American this year.

3. The Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon.

Herbert is back for Oregon, and Boise State has a history of showing up big against P5 opponents in bowl games.  Both teams should be motivated in this game. As a matter of fact, it's a good thing that Boise drew a Power 5 opponent or their game would have been in the bottom five.

2. The Birmingham Bowl:  Texas Tech vs. USF

These two teams could break the scoreboard. Neither really plays very good defense and offensively they both have the ability to score a TON of points. If you're a college football fan this game is must-watch TV.

1. The Peach Bowl: Auburn vs. UCF.

This is a good test for UCF against the runner-up in the SEC. Yes, the SEC was down this year, despite the fact that the CFP Committee decided to put two of their teams in the playoff, I think Auburn is a great matchup for the Knights. Offensively will Scott Frost be able to crack the Auburn code and can his defense do enough to stop the Tiger's power offense?  Easily the best of the NY 6 games.

The good news?  We have 42 games of FBS football left to play (Army/Navy y'all) and that's better than not having 42 games left.

The bad news?  We only have 42 games of FBS football left to play.

College Football: Nine Angry Old Men.

Nine Men.

That's all it takes to undo years of competitive messaging, send a firm message to teams that scheduling soft will be rewarded and make totally irrelevant the regular season.

Nine. Men.

And it's not just that Alabama beat out Ohio State for the fourth spot, and inclusion, in the College Football Playoff although that's what people will point to the most.  But the fact is that the decision between the two was a false choice between two horribly flawed teams, neither of whom probably deserved inclusion in the party.

But, by dropping Auburn below Washington, AND elevating Alabama AND dropping Miami behind Penn State the CFP committee has given the signal to teams that you are far better off scheduling soft (Alabama's strength of schedule was 57th) than you are scheduling tough (Imagine if Ohio State had played say...Mercer, instead of OU) or sitting home instead of playing in a championship game. (Penn State benefited from not playing, as did Alabama for that matter).

We've also been sent the message that rivalry weekend didn't matter at all.  The Crimson Tide looked outmatched, and were overran by Auburn, who ranked 7th in the final poll, they had no wins over a team in the final top ten and their best win was over No. 17 LSU, yet they got in.

The fact is that the best argument for Alabama was nothing that they themselves did, it was OSU's loss column.  The best argument against Alabama was their win column, and that one ugly loss to Auburn.

What we are, sort of, forgetting is that, in order to get Alabama in (the only team to be in all four years) the committee had to ignore all of their talking points from prior years.  Suddenly not playing in the championship game doesn't matter (to be fair, they did the same thing with Ohio State a few years back) nor does the now-mythical "body of work" argument that they used against Wisconsin and, to a greater extent, UCF all year.  Depends on whose body of work is being analyzed one guesses?

In fact, the biggest problem with the CFP is that it's showing itself to be nothing more than the B(C)S minus the lie of computer rankings and plus two teams. In short, it's a farce. A farce to ensure that the blue bloods of the world (Sorry Baylor and Oklahoma State) keep a stranglehold on the sport.

What the CFP IS NOT is a way to determine who the top four teams in the country in order to determine a National Champion.  The CFP IS an organ grinder, whose job is to focus your attention on the dancing monkey. Their job is to try and get the four biggest revenue generating teams possible into the dance, to ensure the blue-bloods have a hammer lock on the seats at the table. Their job is to be fluid in their requirements and rules so that no one can seriously question who the number 4 team in the country is in any given year.

In a way, it works, because I'm writing, and people are talking, about them despite the fact that, outside of the B1G and American, "Championship week" turned out to be a string of duds. Oklahoma destroyed an over-matched TCU team, Georgia thumped Auburn and Clemson utterly dominated a Miami team that had to kick a sad-field-goal just to not get blanked. Thank goodness that Ohio State and Wisconsin remembered to both play, and for the American which gave us the game of the year for the second week in a row.

Which brings us to UCF and the so-called "Group of 5".

Is UCF one of the "top 4" teams in the country?  No, I don't think so.

Does UCF deserve a shot at the crown?  Yes, I think they do.

But, they finished ranked number 10, which is just another data point in the argument that no matter what the best group of 5 team in the country does they are NEVER going to get to play in the CFP. While they have to schedule hard, the CFP has just told the Power 5 teams to schedule pillow soft.

They might want to sit out their conference championship games as well.

Finally: It is ironic that, during one of their worst seasons on record the CFP decided that the SEC was so dominant in the college football landscape that they were able to secure two slots.

That logic alone is enough for people to call for the entire committee to be relived of their duties.

College football is the best sport in the world and it is also one of the most poorly ran. (This excludes soccer, which is at a dysfunction level all it's own)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Open Letters: Dear UNLV, A small school rebuild is HARD.

Hello Rebels,

I know it hurts. Coming THIS close to a program-altering bowl bid and falling short by losing to your rival stings.  Many of you are angry, frustrated, wondering what can be done to right this ship and propel yourselves to Mountain West glory.  I understand, because I've seen this journey before.

But first, why I'm writing to you today.

You see, I'm a newly converted fan.

Granted, not a fan like I am a Michigan fan. As a matter of fact, if you played Michigan I'd be hoping that the Wolverines beat you by 40.  But against every other school in the country I'd be pulling for you.

Part of the reason is that I like your story, a school with little football success trying to build a program out of the nothingness of the desert in a town fueled by tourism and just starting to understand, and embrace, it's community.  In an effort to grow you've hired a local high-school legend to coach your team in what must feel, to some, like a last-ditch effort to save FBS football in your town.

In short, you're the Houston Cougars before Art Briles came to town. With, one major difference.


Houston is geographically advantaged in that they're in Texas. All they need do every year is recruit a 150 mile wide circle and they can compete in, and sometimes win, the American.  They can also grab enough talent to occasionally knock off the big boys.

You don't have that advantage, so you have to work a little harder.  So you scratch, and claw (my wife has dubbed you the Desert Rug Rats) and hope to build a winner.  And I think you can.  Because over the past 13 years that I've been a Vegas regular I've grown to like you, a lot. I think you have one of the better fields in the country (The Big Roulette Wheel) you have great uniforms, a good mascot and, until recently, a good logo.  You also represent my 2nd home town. Las Vegas. A city that I love probably even more than my actual home town of Houston.

And I don't just mean the casinos. I love the things that locals do, I've even been to a UNLV hockey game for chrissakes.  You are my new #2, team that is.

But there are some things we need to discuss.....

1. If not Sanchez, then who?

I realize that there are quite a few of you who are ready for Sanchez to go.  The losses to Air Force, BYU and especially Howard were hard to swallow. Top all of that off with a loss to Nevada - Reno and you had to be crying in your Mimosa on Sunday morning.

The problem with this is who would you hire that is a better fit? When Art Briles took over at Houston he went 7-6 then 3-8 and then 6-6 before he started his run that got him the Baylor job where he got all rape-enabling and was rightly drummed out of coaching. UNLV however is a different animal altogether. You've never been nationally ranked to end a season and you've only had 3 bowls in your history, we're not counting the forfeited 1984 California Bowl, and you've never won a bowl not played in Las Vegas. You have zero winning tradition and zero history to fall back on. To counter that you need a coach like Sanchez who does have a winning history at Bishop Gorman, and who knows how to win championships.

2. 5-7 is better than last year.

I realize it's not much, but the team has shown steady improvement over the last 3 years of Sanchez coaching them.  You were 2-11 in 2014, then Sanchez took over and you finished 3-9 in 2015 and then 4-8 in 2016 before finishing 5-7 in disappointing fashion this year.

But the point is, you believed. You believed, even after the Howard loss, and especially after the Fresno State win, that you belonged, that you were going to be bowl bound after all this time.  Remember though, you've only been playing football since 1968, many schools have title droughts longer than that.

3. For the first time, you have talent.

Armani Rogers is going to be a great quarterback for you and Lexington Thomas might just end up as the best running back in school history. Oh yeah, you're loaded at the WR position as well.  Yes, you need a serious talent upgrade on defense, and on the offensive line (hiring a new strength and conditioning coach, a better one, would do wonders) and your special teams are not, but there's a base there that could compete in the Mountain West provided the young players develop.

I, for one, like the idea of Andre Collins Jr. and Kendall Keys lining up on the outside next year with a host of options in the slot. And I really like the young talent on this defense, they just need to get stronger. I think you have the makings of a good season next year, and an improvement on your 3rd place divisional finish this year.

The thing to remember is that you're on pace.  Yes, it's hard being a fan of the Desert Rug Rats, and it's going to continue to be hard as long as you remain in a Group of Five conference. But that's life in college football today.

What I can say is that you're about to graduate to the big leagues when the Raider's new multi-Billion dollar play-pen is built and you are allowed to play there.

But, be careful with that.  Many teams have moved off of campus only to look back wistfully at their old digs.  I, for one, LOVE the Big Roulette Wheel and will be sad to see that field go. You're doing some great things embracing an emerging city culture, don't goof it up.

Go Rebs!!



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