The month of September comes to an end at the stroke of midnight on Sunday evening and that means that the first full month of the college football season will be in the books. Thus far, we’ve had a rather high-variance environment, as we’ve seen some stunning upsets from underdogs with point spreads in the 20s and we’ve seen some traditional powerhouses slip up for a variety of reasons.
Setting numbers right now isn’t easy because we don’t have a lot of trustworthy teams. The beauty of this business is that the oddsmakers have to put up a line on every game and the risk managers have to attempt to balance the books for every game. We don’t have to bet every game, but we can pick and choose our spots.
Every Sunday night and on into Monday morning, sharp bettors are out there picking their spots to massage the markets and light up games on the odds screen. Initial moves aren’t always true positions, but they are important to note as we inch closer to kickoff. Getting an idea of how teams should be rated and evaluated is always beneficial, even if you aren’t quite ready to fire on those numbers yourself.
Here is the Opening Line Report for Week 5:
Memphis (-14) at Tulane – There are three weeknight games this week and we’ve seen minimal movement on all three of them. The one of note is Memphis at Tulane, as the Tigers have gone from 13.5 to as high as 14.5 at Pinnacle, The Greek, and Matchbook, which are three of the sharpest offshores out there. Memphis has been a sharp darling over the last few weeks and appears to be one here again today. It makes sense, as Memphis has hung at least 50 in every game except the Navy game, in which the Tigers had 378 yards while running just 49 offensive plays because Navy owned the time of possession edge 42:47 to 17:13. Memphis’s offense is getting a lot of respect and deservedly so.
Army at Buffalo (-7.5) – Army gave Oklahoma a College Football Playoff-sized scare last week by taking the Sooners to overtime. The Black Knights are now on the road against a Buffalo team that got steamed in a road Power Five game last week against Rutgers and responded with one of the most lopsided wins in program history. Buffalo is up from -6 to -7.5, which should be a point of resistance because laying big numbers against the option is scary. The favorite needs to be extremely efficient on offense and that can be a big ask.
Northern Illinois at Eastern Michigan (-3.5) – When you talk about strength of schedule, you look at Northern Illinois. The Huskies have already played three Power Five teams plus the MAC opener against Central Michigan. CMU is terrible, but the Huskies have played Iowa, Utah, and Florida State. Say what you will about Florida State, but that is a talent mismatch. This number actually opened 2.5 at some offshores, but the market-wide number is up from 3 to 3.5. We’ll see if that holds because NIU should stack up better here.
Old Dominion at East Carolina (-5) – It is always interesting to see competing groups of sharps going at it early in the week. East Carolina opened in the 5.5 range at BetOnline before the rest of the market opened 6.5. This line did touch as high as 7 at some shops, but has since come back down to 5. It doesn’t take much too move a low-limit line early in the week, but the way this line has seesawed in less than 18 hours of being open is fun.
South Carolina at Kentucky (-1) – The function of the line is to attempt to put up a number that will get two-way action and then the books can take positions after seeing how the action shakes out. It felt like the books wanted to let the market decide where to put this one, as it opened PK at BetOnline and moved to South Carolina -2. Bookmaker opened SC -1. Kentucky is mostly -1 across the board now. This is not a significant move by any means, but I think this is a game that will catch some people off-guard with Kentucky ranked for the first time since 2007. Nobody remembers what South Carolina did to Vanderbilt last week. They remember the beatdown in Columbia by Georgia.
Nevada at Air Force (-6.5) – Nevada has been a popular bet thus far. BetOnline actually opened this number at 10, with the rest of the market coming in around 7.5. 5Dimes is the only book still holding 7, but that’s with -125 on the underdog. Everybody else is at 6.5 for this Mountain West Conference showdown. The Wolf Pack are in a tough travel spot after going to Toledo last week, but Nevada was the better team offensively in that game and has had the Air Raid humming for the most part this season.
Toledo at Fresno State (-8) – Speaking of Toledo, they’re getting some attention this week heading out west to Fresno State for an intriguing Group of Five non-conference clash. Toledo opened 10, but some shops are as low as 7.5 with Bookmaker, Bovada, and Heritage among the first to take the plunge. We haven’t crossed any number of consequence here, so this isn’t one of the more notable movers of the week, but any time you get a team in a weird travel spot taking early-week money, it draws your attention.
Ohio State (-3.5) at Penn State – This was a fun one to watch for those that hop on BetOnline openers around 3:30 p.m. ET on Sundays. This game got posted and then there was about a 15-minute delay before the next game. This one banged back and forth from 3.5 to 4.5 to 4 to 3.5 to 4.5 for a good 20 minutes. It seems like it has settled now, but this will be the most bet public game of the week without a doubt. We’ll see if we get a sharp vs. public split, but it seems like we do have some sharp conflicts on it. Even Pinnacle, which managed to hold -4, moved the juice around a fair amount, while The Greek bounced up to 4.5 and back down. Monday morning money dropped some notable offshores to 3.5.
Louisiana at Alabama (-49) – Alabama is laying half-a-hundred against Louisiana. The scariest part of this whole equation is that my personal power ratings line is actually higher and this line did open on the other side of 50. It has come back down, as Alabama probably won’t be all that invested this week, but the Crimson Tide juggernaut is hard to stop. Inflated lines are nothing new with Alabama, as last week’s line was also inflated against Texas A&M, but they’re basically a double-digit favorite over anybody in the country on College Football Playoff look-ahead lines, so the hype is justified.
Texas (-8.5) at Kansas State – At time of writing, this one lit up like the Griswold house in Vegas Vacation. A respected group appears to have hit the Longhorns side of the ledger for this trip up to Manhattan. With wins over USC and TCU, Texas is looking the part finally and Kansas State is fading pretty fast.
Louisiana Tech at North Texas (-8) – This could be something of a sharp vs. public split game. North Texas looks phenomenal, but there is a lot of trust between Skip Holtz and sharp bettors. I would expect this line to close closer to a touchdown on Saturday. The Bulldogs covered against LSU last week and represent maybe the best team North Texas has faced with the myriad of problems in Fayetteville for the Razorbacks. Don’t be surprised if this line comes down.
Florida at Mississippi State (-7.5) – Why is box score study so important? Look no further than Florida vs. Mississippi State. The Bulldogs did struggle last week in the loss to Kentucky. Florida blew out Tennessee. But, the Gators were +5 in turnover margin and had a bunch of short fields. On the Mississippi State side, they’ll face former head coach Dan Mullen, which is an interesting situational angle, but early-week bettors are expecting a bounce back.
Florida Atlantic (-5) at Middle Tennessee – The Owls were clearly outclassed and outplayed by the UCF Knights last week. But, bettors are looking for a FAU bounce back this week against MTSU. This number opened 3 and has blown up to 5. Keep in mind that, while this is something of a significant move, we’re going to see a high total here, so it would be in the best interest of risk managers to be more aggressive in going up on FAU. MTSU money will be a tough sell with how they’ve looked so far, so it makes sense to push to 5 and 6 probably hits sooner rather than later.
USC (-3.5) at Arizona – Off of last week’s win over Washington State, the Trojans are taking money for the trip to Tucson in Week 5. Arizona won, but JJ Taylor went off as Kevin Sumlin’s team finally looked the part. It wasn’t Khalil Tate. It’s hard to tell if Sumlin knows how to use Tate. Furthermore, Arizona beat up Oregon State, who is better, but still the worst team in the Pac-12. It seems like public opinion and perception got too low on USC and the market is self-correcting.
Stanford at Notre Dame (-5.5) – Ian Book changes the dynamic for the Fighting Irish. Book accounted for five touchdowns in the rout over Wake Forest. With Book now behind center, adjustments have been made for Notre Dame and the money has been one-sided on the Irish. My guess here is that this is a move by sharp bettors to get out in front of Notre Dame piggybackers and that this line closes somewhere in the 4.5 or 4 range. I think Stanford ultimately becomes the sharp side here, even though it looks like it is Notre Dame based on the early action.
Michigan (-13) at Northwestern – Michigan has been the preferred side in early action this week, as this line has gone from 11 to 13. Northwestern is a little bit disappointing thus far, but Pat Fitzgerald’s team is off of a bye, so I would expect some buyback to hit the board at some point in the middle of the week. Michigan is beating up on dregs and hasn’t been tested since the Notre Dame game in Week 1. Maybe things are going better, but Western Michigan, SMU, and a brutal Nebraska team aren’t a good barometer.