At this point, projecting Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota’s value to the NFL is pointless. It’s a time-killing topic for sports radio and something worth writing about in the spring.
The same goes for Johnny Manziel, the loose cannon from Texas A&M. Mariota and Manziel each redshirted in 2011, so both will be eligible for the draft and dreading the thought of ending up with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But what’s most important to bettors is how to cash tickets this week and, in the big picture, how to handicap explosive offensive teams such as Oregon.
The Ducks, dressed in uniforms resembling Halloween costumes, scare the heck out of bookmakers, who are not setting lines high enough, and sharp bettors, who usually prefer to buy underdogs when the price appears inflated.
“The public loves a rolling favorite like Oregon that puts up big numbers and covers every week,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. “As far as slowing down the money, it’s not happening. Oregon is like the Denver Broncos.”
There are a couple of differences. The Broncos failed to cover the past two weeks, and Peyton Manning has been imperfect, throwing two interceptions.
Mariota, a 6-foot-4-inch sophomore with speed to burn and an accurate arm, has accounted for 25 touchdowns (18 passing, seven rushing) with no turnovers. The Ducks, by the way, are 6-0 against the spread and averaging 56.8 points per game.
Oregon was favored by 59 points against Nicholls State, 27 at Virginia, 28 against Tennessee, 38 against California, 39 at Colorado and 13½ at Washington, which stayed competitive in a 45-24 loss last week.
“Those are big numbers, and the sharps are not jumping on the ’dog every week,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “I look at those games and think, wow, that’s a lot of points. But then it’s 31-7 at halftime, and the Ducks don’t let up. We have not won an Oregon game yet.”
The Ducks host Washington State on Saturday, and the line is 40 at the LVH. I have not bet a double-digit favorite this season, and rarely feel eager to lay more than 3 in any game, but there is value in big favorites.
Sportsmemo.com handicapper Erin Rynning is primarily a ’dog player, too, but he has adjusted his philosophy for Oregon, Baylor and other bully teams.
“Sometimes it’s just simply easier to jump on the locomotive than jump in front of one. That’s the way of big college football favorites over the past five years,” Rynning said. “The market has caught up to some degree, but it doesn’t seem to be all the way there. An example is Oregon once again this year, at 6-0 ATS while virtually taking money every week.
“There are many reasons for the favorite run we’re seeing in the college game. The BCS system gives the best teams incentive to win by as much as possible. The top schools in the country have every advantage possible from multimillion-dollar coaching staffs, the latest and best facilities, along with the best talent. With almost every game involving the nation’s top teams being televised, the incentive to look as good as possible is there. The recent explosion and use of the hurry-up offense simply gives the superior team more plays to wear down the opposition and win by a bigger margin.”
According to Rynning, since 2009, home favorites of 21 points or more have covered the spread at 55 percent while winning outright at a 98 percent clip. Road favorites of 14 or more have covered at a rate of 55 percent, as well.
“The numbers are sick,” Rynning said. “So, basically, the past five years, if you’ve bet on home ’dogs of 14 or more, you’re betting with a 45 percent trend, which is almost impossible to overcome. My worst subset in all of sports betting the past five years is easily two-touchdown-plus underdogs in college football.”
Miller said he sees about a 10-1 ratio of tickets on Oregon each week, with the Ducks tagged on the tail end of most parlays. “I’m not getting wiseguy action,” he said. “The public loves a high-scoring team like that.”
The LVH posts advance lines for key games the remainder of the season. The Ducks are favored by 23½ over UCLA on Oct. 26 and by 11 at Stanford on Nov. 7. The Bruins and Cardinal rank among the nation’s toughest teams.
The Golden Nugget is offering Alabama as a 3-point favorite over Oregon in a potential Bowl Championship Series title game matchup. When the line has moved to 3½, Miller said, money shows on the Ducks.
“I could see Oregon being the favorite in the game,” Miller said.
Just for the sake of future debate, I make Mariota a significant favorite over Manziel when forecasting their NFL prospects.
■ CLOSING NUMBERS — Two weeks ago, I was on the wrong end of the Ohio State-Northwestern fiasco, one of the three worst football betting beats of the past year. My college season has been a combination of bad handicapping and bad luck. But the picks are back by unpopular demand, and here are three plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):
CLEMSON (+3) over Florida State; Washington (+3½) over ARIZONA STATE; NOTRE DAME (-3) over Southern California.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.