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I'm from Houston, a graduate of the University of Texas, a fan of the Houston Astros and Houston Texans. But this blog will be about the "greater sports", whatever that means.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

J.R. Ewing College Football Picks: Championship Weekend

Christmas party on me and my profits!
Well well well, it looks like I'll be taking a profit into the Christmas holidays for the whole season.  After a couple weeks of bleeding away my early season profits, things came together last weekend.  It wasn't a romp, but enough to keep the win train going!

Summary:
Previous Week: 3-2 (+80)
Season: 34-29-2 (+$210, 3.2% profit)

While normally I have a full slate of games to cherry pick, we can do nothing more than pick the Power Five Conference Championship Games (or the defacto version of the Big 12).  But before that, a short commercial break.  If you want to know how I feel about how the College Football Playoff committee should vote based upon results this weekend, check out this Blog.

But back to the picks, here we go!

Pac 12 Championship Game
Washington (-7.5) vs Colorado (Friday 12/2 9:00 p.m. EST - Santa Clara, CA)

Washington seems like a team that woke up when it had it's bell rung on the road against a surging Southern California team.  Throw out that game and they haven't been played in less than a TD.  They didn't seem to play scared last weekend in the Apple Cup, and their defense shuts down the Buffs to win something like 24-7 (take the under 58, too).


Oklahoma (-11.5) vs Oklahoma State (12:30 p.m. EST)

As this is a regular season game, it's in Norman.  The Sooners do well in Norman.  There have been times that Oklahoma State wrecked the Sooners hopes but this isn't one of those years.  Oklahoma muddled through injuries (and some suspensions) during the season but is peaking.  Oklahoma State has been more the category of doing just enough to win.  Explosive offenses abound, I take Oklahoma 42-31 (believe it or not, that's an under 77.5).

SEC Championship Game
Florida (+24) vs Alabama (4:00 p.m. EST - Atlanta, GA)

This just seems like too many points.  Alabama has been a machine at hitting games right near the line, so if I had my choice I would probably no play.  That being said, Florida's defense can be good, and Alabama has been winning more low scoring games lately.  So something like 28-7 would seem right.  That's also an under (40) play.

ACC Championship Game
Clemson (-10) vs Virginia Tech (8:00 p.m. EST - Orlando, FL)

Another big spread, but another veteran team against an upstart team that isn't the same level.  Clemson was in this situation last year and it was tight.  It won't be tight.  Clemson uses their talent advantage and I'm guessing a crowd outnumbering the opposition to win 34-21.  Under 58.

Big 10 Championship Game
Penn State (+2.5) vs Wisconsin (8:00 p.m. EST - Indianapolis, IN)

Penn State continues to get disrespected and they continously prove doubters wrong.  They haven't lost since September 24 and haven't won by fewer than 2 TD since October 1 (besides a stunning upset of Ohio State).  They are rolling.  Wisconsin has had an amazing season playing a tough schedule, but Nittany wins this one by a FG at least. 

So with this result, I would have: Alabama, Clemson, Washington, and Big 10 in the playoff.  I would take Penn State, but the committee seems to value Ohio State.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sportsman of the Week Ending 11/27/2016

Thanksgiving weekend was a football feast in both college in the pros, but perhaps the most playoff-changing scenario took place in Denver on the NFL Sunday Night Football.  With the Denver Broncos hosting the Kansas City Chiefs, both 7-3 teams desperately needed a win to keep their AFC West Playoff hopes alive.  The Chiefs won at the gun of overtime, but they would not have made overtime without an emerging rookie star.  The Chiefs scored three TDs in the game, one running, one passing, and one special teams.  The same player scored all three, the first individual to do it since Gale Sayers in 1965. Tyreek Hill didn't light up the Broncos with long plays, but was the one guy in the red zone who could solve the viscous Broncos defense.  He rushed for a 3 yard TD, scored on an 86 yard kick return (after a safety) and caught an 11 yard TD pass on the final play in regulation.  The Chiefs found a way to win, and they may have struck gold with their fifth round pick out of Oklahoma State via West Alabama.  He is our Sportsman of the Week!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

2016 College Football Playoff Breakdown - The year of Chaos?

Nobody should have expected the expansion of a 2-team playoff (BCS) to a 4-team playoff (CFB Playoff) would eliminate close decisions and 2016 might be the toughest year the College Football Playoff Committee (CFPC) faces.  As we enter Championship Weekend (including the defacto Big 12 Championship Game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State), the scenarios have narrowed as to what the top teams need to do to get the blessing of the CFPC a week from tonight.  I'm going to walk through scenarios and tell you who I think should be included and not and why.  This is not what I think the committee is going to do, because I don't know and I think they may go for bigger school names instead of following their charter.  But time will tell.

Here are a few groundrules / assumptions / references
1) In two years, no team has made the playoffs without a conference title.
2) With only two years of history, we do not know how the committee will react based on history.
3) We will reference the Sagarin Ratings (team and conference) .
4) The CFPC has a charter here.


The CFPC charter specifically lists as factors  for comparable teams (not necessarily in order):
  • Championships won
  • Strength of schedule
  • Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)
Note that quantity of losses are not specifically cited, but one would think that would figure into "comparable".

Snapshot of each team

1) Alabama - They are in, win or lose in the SEC Championship Game.  If they lose, there will not be enough 1-loss conference champion teams to knock them out which would be the criteria the committee could point to.  And of course the proverbial eye test has favored them all year with big wins against Southern Cal, plus the brutal SEC West (top rated conference division according to Sagarin).  One spot confirmed.

2) Ohio State - And here is where things get complicated.  The Big 10 featured the two highest rated teams last weekend, however, neither is playing for the conference championship this weekend.  The dreaded loss of tiebreaker for Ohio State vs. Penn State head to head in their one loss keeps them from Indianapolis.  At number 2 in all polls, plus a win over a Top 5 team last weekend, some are calling them a lock.  The CFPC criteria states that if teams are "comparable" then championships becomes a discriminator.  I would think Washington and Clemson, also with one loss, would be comparable, giving the Buckeyes lack of hardware is a strike.  Strength of Schedule is another criteria.  While adding Oklahoma out of conference helps, the Big 10 East is ranked below the Pac 12 North/Washington (but ahead of the ACC Atlantic/Clemson) according to Sagarin.  Within a point in
the rating system, might not be enough.  Another team to potentially bump them will be the champion of their conference, the Big 10.  If it is Penn State, then head-to-head dooms them.  I don't see the committee giving Ohio State the nod over Penn State since Penn State won head-to-head and won the conference (two of the four major criteria).  So that puts Alabama plus three more that might have CFPC criteria pointing away from them.  They may need help.  Also look at Ohio State's top three opponents (Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin).  They did not win any in regulation, with 2 OT wins plus a loss.  They also were headed to overtime against very disappointing Michigan State but the Spartans went for two and didn't get it.  Again, when looking to thrust Ohio State into the "comparable" category for which their lack of a title hurts them, these close calls show weaknesses.

3) Clemson - At 11-1, including out of conference wins against two SEC teams, they look like if they win the ACC Championship vs. Virginia Tech they are in.  If they lose, the door is opened for Ohio State and/or the Big 12 Champion.  They'll get that 13th game (which the committee threw in the Big 12's face in 2014 as a discriminator) against another quality opponent (that Ohio State won't get).  If you're going to exclude a 12-1 conference champion, it will be Washington (next).

4) Washington - Also at 11-1, their resume is great in conference (played the second toughest Power 5 Division according to Sagarin) as well as USC/Utah from the South (USC was a loss, but still).  Their biggest problem is a very weak out of conference schedule (picked the wrong Big 10 team to schedule in Rutgers).  A win over Colorado (again, 13th game) gives them
a huge SOS boost, however.  So it would come down to the committee's judgment on whether Washington and Ohio State are comparable, and whether their championship outweighs Ohio State's strength of schedule.  I think it is comparable and the championship means more.  The committee should give the nod to Washington in the playoffs if Washington wins.

5) Penn State - What a spoiler they are playing.  Given up for dead (at 2-2 coming off a 39 point loss to Michigan), they have rolled since.  They would clearly need a Big 10 Championship to be considered and that, with a head-to-head win over Ohio State, to me would mean the committee could not pass them up for the Buckeyes.  The committee has dismissed bad early season losses before (Ohio State in 2014).  Lose and obviously no chance.

6) Wisconsin - If Wisconsin wins the Big 10, they're suddenly with coveted hardware that gets them in the discussion.  Throw in an out of conference schedule that included Louisiana State and they drew Michigan and Ohio State from
the East (as well as Top 10 at the time Michigan State).  If they win, the CFPC should give Ohio State the nod over them head to head (OT loss was in Wisconsin).  But it might be closer than you think, as head-to-head is just one of the four criteria, conference title being the other.

This to me concludes the teams that have a good shot if they win on Championship Weekend.  Others would need a lot of help, mostly Clemson and Washington losing (giving clear nods to Alabama, Big 10 winner, and Ohio State with one spot left).  More analysis.

Big 12 winner - Would have that championship as something to point to as opposed to other teams.  I would think they would be the first one in over Michigan (more in a minute).  Besides Michigan, Oklahoma is the highest rated team not discussed above and they're trending up (which, again, was a factor for Ohio State in 2014).  As for Oklahoma State, they had a rule misinterpretation by a MAC officiating crew cost them a game on the last play (that should not have happened).  So if things go crazy, they could get in with the hardware over ACC runner up Clemson, Pac 12 runner up Washington, and Michigan who don't have titles.

Michigan - The best argument they have is that they lost to the number 2 team in overtime at their place and went toe-to-toe.  All true.  However, two losses and no conference title make it hard for them to get in.  Again, unless comparing them to the field if Washington and Clemson lose.  Especially since they beat Colorado (Pac 12 Champ in that scenario).  Only chance is if Armageddon takes place and the committee is willing to put three Big 10 teams in the playoff, which seems far fetched.  I'm a firm believer that you need conference diversity to figure out a champion.  You cannot definitively call one conference not worthy of a playoff berth based on a short sample of out of conference games by their rivals.  Michigan is no better than the third Big 10 team in, they don't go in over a conference champ and obviously not over Ohio State.

Colorado - As a two loss champion, they'd have trouble getting in over Oklahoma and Michigan, so not seeing any path here. 

So to summarize the eight scenarios and who I think should get in (regardless of SEC and Big 12 outcomes):
Winners: Playoff contenders (in order, I doubt even Alabama would slip much with a loss)
PSU/Clem/Wash: Bama, Clem, Wash, PSU
Wisc/Clem/Wash: Bama, Clem, Wash, OSU
PSU/VT/Wash: Bama, Wash, PSU, OSU
Wisc/VT/Wash: Bama, Wash, OSU, Wisc
PSU/Clem/Colo: Bama, Clem, PSU, OSU
Wisc/Clem/Colo: Bama, Clem, OSU, Wisc
PSU/VT/Colo: Bama, PSU, OSU, Big12
Wisc/VT/Colo: Bama, OSU, Wisc, Big12

At the end of the day, the closest resume's are:
Pac 12 Conference Champion Washington vs. #2 and 11-1 Ohio State.  It's a matter of overall season vs. conference title.  And geography, will the committee want to exclude the Pac 12.  Would not play well to be so midwest/southeast centric.

Wisconsin/Penn State Big 10 conference champ vs. #2 and 11-1 Ohio State.  How much does a conference championship mean?  How much does head-to-head play?  Can they take two of these?

At the end of the day, I think this is what happens:
Wisc/Clem/Colo: Bama, Clem, OSU, Wisc

Thursday, November 24, 2016

J.R. Ewing College Football Picks: 11/26/2016

I like rivalry week!  Big winners forecasted!
Early season winnings keep whittling away as another 2-3 week eats into profits.  Still ahead for the season and this with the house take.  Two weeks of picking left (before the Bowl pick special).  Here's how we stack up.

Summary:
Previous Week: 2-3 (-130)
Season: 31-27-2 (+$130, 2.2% profit)

There's some very curious lines this week that we'll take advantage of.  Gonna push up the profits just in time for the holidays!


Michigan (+6.5) at Ohio State (Noon EST)

Both of these teams are talented, both have had lapses where they lost, I see it as an even matchup.  At Ohio State I give them a field goal, not necessarily a touchdown.  Throw in a huge hunger by Michigan for losing this rivalry so much and I think they have an edge.  They might win straight up, but we'll take the points here.

Georgia (-4.5) vs Georgia Tech (Noon EST)

I guess Georgia Tech has won 4 of 5, but not against stellar competition (besides a surprise win over Virginia Tech).  Georgia is an improving team and historically handles the Jackets quite well.  The 4.5 points is almost as if it's seen as a push given the Dawgs are at home.  They win this by a TD, maybe two.


West Virginia (-7) at Iowa State (3:30 p.m. EST)

Just last week, West Virginia was playing a marquee game with an outside shot at the College Football Playoff.  An Iowa State was playing for their third win.  I get that this spread should be tight, but like 14 points tight, not a TD tight.  West Virginia has a plus QB and Iowa State still learning.  Seems like the Mountaineers take this by 10 at least.  Maybe 20.


Tennessee (-7.5) at Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m. EST)

Tennessee is playing for a New Years Bowl instead of a minor one.  And this is a rivarly.  The season has been disappointing for the Volunteers, but the talent is still there and Vanderbilt is overmatched.  Again, the 7.5 points seems too tight, I think 2 TD at least.


Florida State (-8) vs Florida (8:00 p.m. EST)

Florida State has three losses, two are to Clemson and Louisville, the other was flukeish to North Carolina.  Florida has battled in the SEC, but still has little offense to match up with the weapons in Tallahassee.  The game at Florida State makes it a tough win for Florida, who is looking forward to the SEC title game.  Seminoles by double digits.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend and rivalry week!  And may the gambling gods be with you!

-JR

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sportsman of the Week Ending 11/20/2016

The end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season provided drama to the very end, and a living legend rose to the occasion.  Hendrick Motorsports 48 car Jimmie Johnson set history on a number of fronts, but we'll get to that in a minute.  He outright won the final race of the Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami, FL, by holding off all the other Cup competitors, plus one or two that were just in it for the race payday.  He came from behind against the other three finalists to take the lead at the end, including the extra laps resulting from a yellow in a green/white/checkered finish.  With it, his 80th Series victory (seventh to reach that plateau).  But most importantly, seventh Sprint Cup Championship, only matched by NASCAR legends Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.  And the 41-year-old isn't slowing down.  And like other sports, you could argue that the field is much deeper and the edges are much more slight than the eras of Petty and Earnhardt. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

J.R. Ewing College Football Picks: 11/19/2016

In a small nosedive, but that stops this week
Well things are getting tighter here at the end of the year; the oddsmakers are catching up to me!  Could have easily one 3-2 last week if not for a fourth quarter collapse and a push.  But it is what it is:

Summary:
Previous Week: 1-3-1 (-230)
Season: 29-24-2 (+$260, 4.7% profit)

I'm mostly intrigued by a lot of close point spreads for big conference teams.  Always feel like that enables a good chance to win. 

Northwestern (-3) at Minnesota (3:30 p.m. EST)

Northwestern is playing really well late in the year as one of the most improved teams in the Big 10.  5-1 ATS the past couple of months, took Ohio State to the wire.  Minnesota defense is a little soft, wo look for a higher scoring game with the Wildcats winning by a TD.


Iowa State (+4) vs Texas Tech (3:30 p.m. EST)

Iowa State is improving, and even in losses to good teams (Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State) has kept it within a TD.  Texas Tech is up and down, and the weather will be cold and the wind will be howling.  That could neutralize the passing game and give Iowa State a good chance to control the ball against the worst defense in the Big 12.  I like taking the points.

Notre Dame (-2) vs Virginia Tech (3:30 p.m. EST)

An odd spread given the awful season Notre Dame is having vs. the surprising good season Virginia Tech is having.  Do the bettors know something or is this chasing bad money?  Virginia Tech has not covered the last 3 spreads, and this is a big stage for the young Hokies.  At this tight line, Notre Dame, at home, can win by 3 and cover.  I'm going Irish.

Washington State (+6) at Colorado (3:30 p.m. EST)

Washington State is hitting on all cylinders at this point in the season with eight straight wins.  And are getting nearly a TD against a good, but still unproven Colorado.  The Cougars are putting up tons of points and it seems like they can win this straight up.  I'll take the points.

Arkansas (+2) at Mississippi State (7:00 p.m. EST)


It seems like bettors are remembering the one good Mississippi State game and forgetting all the forgettable ones.  Arkansas is a better team.  They need this win for bowl positioning and won't let it get away.  The Hogs go down to Stark-Vegas and take care of the business trip.

Enjoy your chilly Saturday of College Football!

-JR

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sportsman of the Week Ending 11/13/2016

An amazing weekend of NFL football concluded with the almost certain Offensive Rookie of the Year and possible Most Valuable Player had a statement play and really game that demonstrated that the Dallas Cowboys are a force to be reckoned with.  Ezekiel Elliott made big play after big play in a see saw battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers to win what might be the game of the year.  In addition to an effective 114 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns, he also scored a TD on a pass while racking up 95 yards passing on two catches, the big blow an 83 yard TD.  The total puts him as the first running back over 1000 rushing yards in the NFL.  His 10 TD are also tied for third in the league.  He's a force, the Cowboys have the best record in the NFL, and for the third time, he is our Longhorndave Sportsman of the Week!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

J.R. Ewing College Football Picks: 11/12/2016

I don't like the looks of this week
A so-so week for sure, but a couple of bad beats in the SEC with LSU and Kentucky fighting close but losing the spread at the end.  No matter, you take the bad with the good.

Summary:
Previous Week: 2-3 (-130)
Season: 28-21-1 (+$490, 8.9% profit)

No good feelings this week.  Not many big games under a touchdown which is the sweet spot I prefer.  Plus I'm still on a "No Texas" stance, they are too unpredictable.  As it is, going to look at four out of five favorites and hope a few go off.

Oklahoma (-17.5) vs Baylor (Noon EST)

Baylor is in shambles.  Shambles.  Their depth is getting tested now that they're in the tougher part of their schedule.  And they go on the road to a surging Oklahoma team.  This is the beginning of the end for the Briles Bears era.  And this one won't be close.

Navy (-2) vs Tulsa (Noon EST)

Two very hot teams, actually, and I like picking this one because it's under a field goal.  The game is in Annapolis where Navy is undefeated ATS.  I just see Navy methodically taking it to Tulsa and winning by at least a FG.

Indiana (+7) vs Penn State (Noon EST)

I know Penn State is hot, but on the road, this is a game the Hoosiers can surprise. In three trips away from Happy Valley, Nittany is only 1-2.  Plus teams that suddenly get in the Top 10 playoff rankings sometimes feel pressure.  I predict Indiana catches Penn State sleep walking and at least keeps it at about a field goal.

Oklahoma State (-12.5) vs Texas Tech (3:30 p.m. EST)

Oklahoma State is quietly one of the improving teams in the Big 12.  After stumbling against Central Michigan, they've suffered a loss at Baylor but are undefeated since September.  Texas Tech is very very suspect on defense.  Really can't stop much and their offense isn't consistent enough to score.  Throw in a banged up QB and I see the Cowboys winning by a couple of TDs easy.

Texas A+M (-10) vs Mississippi (7:30 p.m. EST)

In a game with backup quarterbacks, I'll take the team with the guy who has experience and the team that's Top 10 and not teetering on bowl ineligibility.  Both teams are reeling, Texas A+M reels this time every year, but I believe at home they'll be able to run away from Ole Miss and a completely unproven QB (whoever he is).

Unfortunately this week doesn't seem to be one where upsets of top teams will be prevalent.  But I do think the above will at least get you a little profit!


Monday, November 7, 2016

Sportsman of the Week Ending 11/6/2016

The story in sports last week was the Chicago Cubs, and they were led by MVP candidate Kris Bryant.  With their backs to the wall in Game 6, Bryant set the tone in the first inning with a home run to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead that would balloon to 3-0 after the offense got rolling.  In Game 7, he chipped in two more runs on a hit and a walk.  Over the crucial games in Cleveland, Bryant was 5-9, 4 runs and a walk (.600 OBP).  Most importantly, he cluttered bases for the red hot Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist to keep the Cubs line moving.  And delivered the first World Series title since World Series V in 1908.  With Bryant, they won World Series CXII

Friday, November 4, 2016

J.R. Ewing College Football Picks: 11/5/2016

J.R. says "Don't mess with [betting on] Texas"
Sounding like a broken record, but another winning week last Saturday.  In this game, you take your 60% where you can get them.  I'm done betting on Texas Longhorns games, you would think if you just bet home vs. away you'd win every time but too unpredictable.

Summary:
Previous Week: 3-2 (+80)
Season: 26-18-1 (+$620, 12.5% profit)

As the College Football Playoff poll is released, there is sudden focus on the eye test where teams on the outside looking in may look to push the score up a bit more than in previous weeks with the new urgency.  Teams in the playoff suddenly are targets to upsets.  All that being said, I like five underdogs this week, all are between 2.5 and 7.5 points, many at home.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Miami (12:30 p.m. EDT)

This is a game of teams going in opposite directions.  Once the competition stepped up, Miami has stepped aside.  Meanwhile Pittsburgh is playing some good football, with a narrow loss to impressive Virginia Tech and a win over Penn State.  Meanwhile, Miami has lost four straight both straight up and ATS.  I like the better football team here, and that's Pittsburgh.  Home field is almost irrelevant since kickoff is so early.

Oklahoma State (+3) at Kansas State (3:30 p.m. EDT)

Oklahoma State has won four straight Big 12 games, including a throttling of previously undefeated West Virginia.  Kansas State is well coached, but under talented.  I would nod the Cowboys by a point or three, so if you're giving me points, I'll take the Pokes, even in Manhattan.

Arkansas (+4) vs Florida (3:30 p.m. EDT)

This is an SEC East vs. West play.  The East seldom beats the West, and Arkansas is a solid team.  They're coming off a humiliating loss at Auburn and will have something to prove.  Florida just keeps on playing defense and winning, but, again, give me some points at home with an East team playing at West, I'll go West.

Kentucky (+2.5) vs Georgia (7:30 p.m. EDT)

What is it going to take to get bettors to believe in Kentucky?  Three straight conference wins, 5-1 in their last six games, and five straight covers.  Meanwhile Georgia is struggling, which is what happens when you have a freshman QB and new head coach.  Georgia hasn't won on a Saturday since September 17, a one point squeaker over awful Missouri.  If you look at the rosters, Georgia should win this.  But Kentucky is playing some good football.

LSU (+7.5) vs Alabama (8:00 p.m. EDT)

It's rare that Alabama runs the SEC gauntlet unscathred, there's always a tough road game where they play a bit below par and the other team steps up.  LSU is playing well under Coach Orgeron and would love to play spoiler to their rival.  Given the betting line just above a TD, I'll take my chances on a wild game in the Swamp and a Tigers cover.

It's November, the peak of College Football season!  Enjoy your Saturday!