Tomahawk Nation presents "For Entertainment Purposes Only 2009": The Pre-Season Edition. Florida State is the Atlantic Favorite, but the Value Lies with Clemson

If you're a sports fan, you know that nothing is guaranteed.  The inherent drama of sport is what makes viewing so compelling.  Sports are about probabilities, not absolutes.  Guy's offering guaranteed victories on seemingly evenly matched teams are fools.  When we evaluate a team, we attempt to ascertain just how good that team is.  When sports fans talk about a prime-time matchup, they often make a prediction as to the outcome.  They weigh the positives and negatives of each team, add in some other factors like injuries, home field advantage, weather, or jersey color.  And it's even possible to make a great evaluation and still be wrong.  Any number of non-skill factors could swing a game, like fumble recoveries, or whether an interception is returned for a touchdown.  When I handicap a game, I try to answer the question "which outcome would happen more often?"  I don't deal in absolutes, I deal in value.  Understanding the Vegas line can offer a lot of insight into a team's true talent level.

With that, I welcome you to a season-long feature I like to call "For Entertainment Purposes Only."  Last year, 251-190 (57%) +41.0 That's 251 wins and 190 losses for a winning percentage of 57%.  If you were wagering $100 fake dollars per game, you would have netted $4100 at season's end.  But since these are fake wagers, we refer to our wager amount as "units."  First though, a disclaimer: 

I want to emphasize that we don't endorse gambling at this site, and anything on here is for entertainment purposes only.  Always check with your local, state, or federal laws to determine the legality of wagering.

[Editor's Note:  This post discusses wagering but has a lot of football information, specifically about the 'Noles divisional opponents]

Yesterday, some of the major online casinos released their odds for the college football season.  If it were legal, you could wager on who teams to win their division or conference.  I provided a few of my selections, and they inspired a lot of discussion in the comment section.  Inside, you'll see what got everyone so hot and bothered, and I'll give some further analysis on the initial wagers in the 2009's first edition of "For Entertainment Purposes Only!"

So, those picks...

 

If you find gambling tougher to understand than Chinese, don't worry,  Understanding Sports Odds. In relevant part:

Step 1: Identify the type of line you are looking at. All online sports books offer you the chance to have your lines in an "American" or "Money line" version. If I were you, I would use this as my standard. An "American" line uses either a + or - before a number to indicate odds. So a -120 and a +120 are two very different odds on a team... I will explain the differences shortly. Two other less common variations exist: decimal odds and fractional odds (these are superior but Americans have trouble understanding for whatever reason, so in the interest of simplicity, I will not get into them)

Step 2: Identify the favorite. Lines with a "-" before the number (i.e. -200) indicate the favorite. A -200 should be read as: "For every $200 wagered, I win $100." When there is a negative sign, the line should always be read with relation to 100. That does not mean you have to bet that much, it's just easiest to understand! When a + sign is present, just reverse the reading, always keeping reference to 100:

Examples:

1) -150: For every $150 wagered, I win $100 ($50 wagered would win $33).
2) +300: For every $100 wagered, I win $300 ($50 wagered would win $150).
3) 100 (can be either +/-): For every $100 wagered, I win $100 ($50 wagered would win $50).
4) Most commonly: -110: For every $110 wagered, I win $100.

You see "4" most commonly because the extra $10 you have to bet to win $100 is called the "juice" that the books keep as a fee for making the line available to you.  Think of it as a commission.

The most important thing you can teach yourself early on is: "Just because the books assign one side to be the favorite (even large, -200 or -300, favorites), does not mean that they will win." We have all seen favorites get upset, and it is important to avoid the temptation of finding comfort in the fact that the lines makers put one team as a favorite.

Got that?  Good.

Here were the opening odds (I assume they have changed by now, much like stock prices would, but we'll visit what those changes mean for certain team's fortunes next week).  Go ahead and look 'em over.  Remember to use the more accurate method of picking games (proportional win shares).

To win the Atlantic Division
Boston College 5000
Clemson 350
Florida State 120
Maryland 800
North Carolina State 200
Wake Forest 300

To win the Coastal Division
Duke 2000
Georgia Tech 250
Miami 300
North Carolina 250
Virginia 1200
Virginia Tech 175

To win the Big 12 North
Colorado 500
Iowa State 2500
Kansas 175
Kansas State 650
Missouri 300
Nebraska 175

To win the Big 12 South
Baylor 1500
Oklahoma 150
Oklahoma State 600
Texas 100
Texas A&M 2000
Texas Tech 850

To win the SEC EAST
Florida -800
Georgia 500
Kentucky 2500
South Carolina 800
Tennessee 1200
Vanderbilt 5000

To win the SEC WEST
Alabama 200
Arkansas 650
Auburn 500
LSU 200
Mississippi 350
Mississippi State 1500

To win the ACC
Boston College   8000
Clemson   1000
Duke   5000
Florida State   250
Georgia Tech   650
Maryland   2000
Miami   500
North Carolina   500
North Carolina State   800
Virginia   2500
Virginia Tech   250
Wake Forest   1200

To win the Big East
Cincinnati   800
Connecticut   800
Louisville   1500
Pittsburgh   250
Rutgers   500
South Florida   250
Syracuse   5000
West Virginia   250

To win the Big 10
Illinois   600
Indiana   5000
Iowa   500
Michigan   1000
Michigan State   500
Minnesota   2000
Northwestern   2000
Ohio State   150
Penn State   250
Purdue   7500
Wisconsin   800

To win the Big 10
Baylor   2000
Colorado   1500
Iowa State   7500
Kansas   250
Kansas State   3000
Missouri   800
Nebraska   250
Oklahoma   150
Oklahoma State   800
Texas   150
Texas A&M   3000
Texas Tech   1200

To win the PAC10
Arizona   3000
Arizona State   1800
California   300
Oregon   300
Oregon State   800
Stanford   3000
UCLA   1000
Southern Cal   -300
Washington   7500
Washington State   10000

To win the SEC
Alabama   300
Arkansas   1500
Auburn   800
Florida   -300
Georgia   650
Kentucky   5000
LSU   200
Mississippi   500
Mississippi State   7500
South Carolina   1200
Tennessee   2000
Vanderbilt   7500

Take a look, figure out what you like, and we'll talk about what I went with.  Ready?  Here ya go:

 

 

Clemson to win the ACC +1000
VTech to win the Coastal +175
Nebraska to win the Big 12 North +175
Ole Miss to win the West: +350
Rutgers to win the Big East +500

I'll take them in order from least controversial to most controversial:

Rutgers to win the Big East +500  Rutgers is probably the 3rd best big east team, but they get 5 conference home games, their conference road games are @ UCONN (lost everything, unlikely to make a bowl), @ Louisville (again, terrible), and @ Syracuse (one of the worst teams in all of college football).  Because they draw all their tough games at home, and because they get Cincinnati in their first game (the bearcats lost 10 of 11 defensive starters), they are a decent pick to win the division.  That their odds are better than Pitt, USF, or WVU is a bonus.  Again, scheduling matters.  Also, they are strong along the lines despite lacking sexy named-skill position talent.  There's value in +500.

Nebraska to win the Big 12 North +175  This is a schedule pick.  The odds say that Nebraska and Kansas are the two favorites.  This is a case of Vegas anticipating the public's laziness.  It's a smart move on their part.  Nebraska has by FAR the best offensive and defensive lines in the Big 12 North, and hey have excellent DB's as well.  Kansas has terrible defensive linemen and linebackers.  But the crux of this pick is again, scheduling. 

Nebraska has:  @ Missouri (who lost EVERYTHING, after a double bye week), Texas Tech at home, Iowa State, @ Baylor, Oklahoma, @ Kansas, Kansas State (the team that will finish 2nd in the north), and @ Colorado.

Compare that to Kansas' murderous schedule:  Iowa State, @ Colorado, Oklahoma, @ Texas Tech, @ Kansas State, Nebraska, @ Texas, Missouri.

Nebraska dodges Texas and gets the rebuilding teams EARLY, before they can rebuild.  Kansas plays Texas and has to play the rebuilding teams late (Missouri).

I wasn't sure I'd play this one, but then I saw that Colorado lost its best player (WR Smith, transfer).  That sealed the deal. 

VTech to win the Coastal +175  Virginia Tech is probably the best team in the Coastal division.  I don't think there's much separation between them, GT, UNC, and Miami, and to be honest, I really am not comfortable calling them the best.  That said, let's again go to the schedule, specifically each of the fout team's three Atlantic division games:

VT:  Boston College, @ Maryland, NCST

GT:  Clemson, @ FSU, Wake Forest

Miami:  @ FSU, Clemson, @ Wake

UNC:  FSU, @ BC, @ NCST

I'm very confident in saying Clemson and Florida State are the most talented teams in the Atlantic division.  VT avoids both.  They get NCST in Blacksburg.  The other three contenders have difficult Atlantic division schedules.  Thus, VTech is the pick.

Ole Miss to win the West: +350 Ole Miss is this year's sexy pick.  Our readers remember that I was on them last year, even after they lost @ Wake Forest.  I think the public is a year late on this team, but I still see value here.  I don't believe Ole Miss is the best team in the SEC West.  I think Bama is better and that Bama will have the 2nd best defense in the country (UF #1).  This might come as a shock, but again, this is a schedule play.  Ole Miss doesn't play UGA or UF.  They get Bama, LSU, Arkansas, and Tennessee all at home.  their conference road games rad at South Carolina (rebuilding year, and they get them early), @ Vanderbilt (not a likely bowl team), @ Auburn (should be better but not a ton better), and @ Mississippi State (awful). 

I dismiss LSU's chances to win the division because they play @ UGA and also play UF, which Ole Miss and Bama do not play.  This comes down to Ole Miss v. Bama.  Ole Miss is +350, Bama is +200.  I do not think that Bama is twice as likely to win this division as is Ole Miss, and thus I select Ole Miss as a value selection, despite not believing they will actually win the division.

 

Now to the pick y'all care about:

Clemson to win the ACC +1000  Hold on Noles fans.  Let me explain!  Where is the value in football?  Along the lines and on defense.  Quarterbacks are sexy.  Linemen are not.  This guy will never be on the cover of GQ:

Bj-raji_medium

 

But he'll be paid millions upon millions of dollars because he weighs as much as a small elephant yet has the feet to win dancing with the stars and that wins games.

And Vegas has to overrate Quarterbacks, Wide receivers, and running backs because they have to create betting lines that don't make them susceptible to overexposure to certain highly public wagers.  And where does the public form their opinion?  The media, and most importantly, ESPN.  And who produces content for ESPN?  Writers, most of which don't necessarily scout these teams very well.  And why should they?  The average person doesn't want to know about a lineman.  They want the running back. 

Why else doesn't the public know about linemen?  Sportswriters don't know what to look for.  As you'll see in an upcoming piece (later this month) about FSU center Ryan McMahon, who is largely a product of FSU's media hype and playing as a freshman.  ESPN's Bruce Feldman also comments on this:

If one coach really makes a strong case to some media members, he can get a certain player on or off an all-conference or even All-American team, especially if the player is a linemen or defensive back. Those positions are more dependent on the opinions of guys who have coaching insight.

Fantasy football has skewed the perception of what makes a quality football team.  Ever draft an offensive lineman in your 12 team league?  Didn't think so. 

Honestly, ask yourself, when did you start hear about the linemen drafted in this past draft?  March, right?  Around the time of the combine, and long after the college season was over? 

So back to Clemson, and I don't want to write an entire Clemson preview here, but I want to explain the justification for my wager. 

Let's start with Talent.  Clemson has that in bunches.  You'll remember our article on FSU's failed 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes, where Jeff Bowden and his horrible staff failed to evaluate recruits and then took wild chances on kids who didn't want to play for FSU or who had serious academic and character issues.  FSU has only 9 starters form those two recruiting classes.  Only 9 senior or junior starters?  Ouch! Recruiting really helps or hurts a team 3 and 4 years down the road.

Clemson's recruiting classes in 05-07 ranked 15th, 13th, and 16th nationally.  FSU's ranked better, but those rankings don't account for kids who never qualify.  In terms of who is still here from those classes, Clemson blows FSU away.  Where FSU has 9 starters from the 05-07 classes, Clemson has 15.  That's 15 physically mature grown men who were very talented to begin with. 

And Clemson isn't sexy.  They lost their best wide receiver (Aaron kelley) and the 2nd leading all-time rusher in James Davis.  They also lost their quarterback.  Similar to UGA, people are writing Clemson off because they lost their recognizable players.  They did not, however, lose their best players, and that's what I care about. 

The Tigers were widely picked to dominate the ACC last year and flopped so poorly that their coach was fired.  Clemson was as overhyped last year as they are underhyped this year.  To understand why, let's review what happened to Clemson.  They got smoked by an Alabama team who nobody realized was elite until much later in the season, then they suffered huge injuries to both lines, particularly on the offensive line where they had 9 different guys start a game!  Their QB had serious personality issues, and he was a pocket passer type who suddenly had no pocket.  They were 3-1, but then lost three very close games @ Maryland, @ Wake Forest, and against Georgia Tech by an average of less than a field goal.  Know what I call that?  Bad luck, and it's proven that everyone wins about half of their games decided by 7 points or less.  Winning or losing a huge percentage of those is truly, variance.  Clemson was 1-4 in games decided by less than a touchdown.  If they had gone 3-2, they'd probably be ranked in the top 15 to start this year. 

So, did anything good come of their season? You bet.  First, they got an excellent defensive coordinator in Kevin Steele to replace an already excellent defensive coordinator in Vic Koenig.  Steele was at FSU forever, is considered one of the best defensive coordinators in America, and knows FSU's defensive scheme inside and out.  Second, Clemson already played excellent defense last year.  They were the 4th best defense in the country.  Their points per game numbers don't show it because the offense set them up in horrible field position after horrible field position, but that ultra comprehensive system (linked above) shows their true performance level.  Clemson will, have a defense that is in the conversation for "best in America", and I expect as many as 7 of these defenders to eventually be drafted in the first 3 or 4 rounds of the NFL draft.    Finally, they got a lot of guys experience on the offensive line.  Much like FSU, their offensive linemen took their lumps last year and will be much better this year.  Clemson's OLine is probably more talented than FSU's, though I am not prepared to call them better.  They received far less press because they didn't become so inexperienced until later in the season (brought on by injuries), while the Noles were very young from day one and got a lot of preseason press.  This year, they bring back all 5 of their main starters and these guys are very talented and experienced. 

At receiver, they return 2 of the top 3, and also have Dye (high 4* Junior), Jones (high 4* soph), McNeal 5* frosh, and Rendrick T aylor (Unproven, but a a greg jones/ cornelious ingram type athlete at tight end).  Jamie Harper (another high 4* RB) is more than capable of replacing James Davis at running back to go with CJ Spiller.  And at QB, they have Willie Korn and Kyle Parker (5* and 4* respectively).  Both are very talented players and the chance is that one WILL play pretty well.  Plus, Clemson's staff won't ask them to do much at all.  Behind a very talented line, and a great running game (likely), they will be asked to manage the game, throw play action passes, and make plays with their legs.  It's been proven that if you play NFL style ball (ultra conservative, defense, field position) in the ACC, you’ve been successful.  Eventually, that’ll stop because teams like FSU or Miami will just be better than folks and will play offense AND defense, but for my money, not this year.

What about the schedule? Clemson starts off @ GT on a Thursday night, but they play Middle Tennessee state before that, so it's effectively a bye week, they then get BC at home, go @ Maryland, get a bye week, play Wake Forest at home, then travel to Miami.  They then come home and get Coastal Carolina (a bye week) before hosting FSU.  FSU hasn't won at Clemson since before Chris Rix!  They then play @ NCST, and finish at home with Virginia. 

FSU's schedule, as you know, does not have Virginia or Duke and that is a major detriment.  Clemson gets de facto bye weeks before their two most difficult games, and draw Virginia out of the Coastal, which is HUGE, which means that in addition to playing FSU in Clemson, the Tigers do not have to play 3 difficult Coastal games, but rather two.

I believe FSU is as good as Clemson and that the 'Noles have a decent shot to win the division, but Clemson has the better schedule to win the division.  Florida State faces a massive battle with attrition as they trek through this schedule.   The Noles do not have quality depth because while Jeff Bowden was busy being one of the worst coaches ever, Tommy was busy killing his dad and brother in recruiting (when you consider who actually made it into school and not prison). Those players, from 2006 and 2007 are now Seniors and Juniors, and their veteran talent is much better than ours. Playing at home, getting a bye week before FSU, and getting to play UVA gives Clemson a shot to win the division.

Let's play guess a team, okay?  In 2007, this team:

*Went 0-3 in games decided by 4 points or less (the bad luck factor) (Like Clemson)
*Was loaded with talent from a coach who was a great recruiter (like Clemson)
* Went 3-10, including 0-8 in conference despite high expectations.
* Fired their coach at the end of 2007. (Like Clemson)

In 2008, this team: 

* Returned 16 starters from those elite recruiting classes, including 9 on defense. (Clemson returns 15, including 8 or 9 on defense)
* Had a Five-Star QB who hadn't played before (Much like Clemson's Willie Korn)
* Had an elite defense, especially their defensive line. (Much like Clemson)
* Had a new coach to energize the program, including quality coordinators.  (Like Clemson)
* Brought back an offensive line entirely of talented upperclassmen (Like Clemson)
* Had a distinct lack of name skill-position talent (Like Clemson, except spiller)

 

 

 

And won the cotton bowl.  This team was Ole Miss. 

The point of this exercise is that just because you haven't heard of the talent on a squad doesn't mean that the talent is not there.  Sometimes all it can take is a new coach or a lack of really bad luck to allow that talent to shine through.  Ole Miss won games with excellent defense, and a 5* QB who had tons of time behind a talented and more experienced OLine, despite Jevan Snead being a first time starter.

But this does not mean I am picking Clemson to WIN the division.  Rather, this means that I believe Clemson has about a 40% chance to win, as does FSU.  NCST has about a 15% chance (I don't buy their defense yet), with everyone else having major rebuilding years in the Atlantic. The reason I make this wager is value.  If I feel two teams have an equal or similar shot to win something, I will choose the team with the +350 odds over the team with the +120 odds.  It's just value.

But I didn't pick them for the Division at +350, I picked them for the conference, at +1000.  The rationale is simple:  If I like them for the division, would I like them for the championship game as well, and if so, how much added value is needed to make the Conference wager more attractive than the division wager?  I do like them for the division at +350, and +1000 is 50% more than double +350 for a game they'd probably be slight underdogs in, so the conference selection is more attractive than the division selection. 

The Noles can beat the Tigers for the Atlantic, but they have work to do and will need to catch a few breaks as well.  You can bet Jimbo Fisher knows this.  I've had multiple readers tell me he believes Clemson is the team to beat in the Atlantic. 

Until next time...

GO NOLES!!

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