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Cutting Through the Hype

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/22/2007

There is endless hype in sports each day. Players predicting that they are on the way to winning a championship after one big win, college football fans storming the field after an upset screaming about heading to the BCS, or NFL players talking championship after a national TV win. It’s the job of successful sports bettors to cut through the hype to see what is really going on.

Weren’t the Dallas Cowboys recently intimating that they are the best team in the NFC? One player remarked about getting popcorn ready because he’s going to put on a show? Then the Patriots smacked them, after which they spoke of “meeting them again in the Super Bowl.â€쳌 It’s essential for sports bettors to look very carefully at stats, matchups and team strengths to get a clear picture of what is really happening.

When Rutgers and South Florida met on Thursday night, South Florida was one of the few remaining unbeaten teams in the country. They were one of the new “hypedâ€쳌 teams. In my analysis of the game I noted, “We’re not buying into the national ranking of the Bulls being the second best team in the country. Don’t get me wrong, they are an excellent team. Top 10 maybe, but not better than LSU and a host of others more deserving.

“But the way the polls drop qualified teams after losses they are put up on a pedestal by not yet suffering a defeat. Let’s take a closer look at the stats of the Bulls and you decide if they are an overrated squad or deserving of being a road favorite at Rutgers. This team is ranked 58th in the country offensively and 11th in the nation defensively. They are 55th in the country in net punting, 64th in punt returns and 95th in the nation returning kicks. They are outstanding in two areas, both on defense.

“They rank first in the nation in tackles for loss and 10th in the country in turnover margin. One major reason for their tackle for loss average is that they have played with a lead virtually all season. When the other team is behind they need to pass more and try to increase their big plays in the running game. As for the turnover margin of plus 8, last year they ended the season with a negative 4 margin. With 7 returning starters on defense a large increase in turnovers cannot be expected. For the most part turnovers are random.

“In 2002 the Bulls ended the season with a plus 21 turnover advantage in an excellent 9-2 year. Two years later they finished at -10 in the turnover department and finished at 4-7. In their two most impressive showings this season against Auburn and West Virginia, the Bulls had a plus 7 turnover advantage. As we saw earlier, the game statistics don’t point to this being a dominant football team.

“By contrast, we really gained a great insight into this Rutgers football team last week. They were a 17-point favorite at Syracuse and trailed early on against the Orangemen. Off back to back losses against Maryland and Cincinnati this team could have folded up like a tent. But they didn’t give up. In fact they dominated play in the final three quarters in a 38-14 road victory.

“Rutgers is on a 17-10 spread run at home even off those two losses to the Terrapins and Bearcats. They are 11-4 as a home underdog under coach Greg Schiano. When looking at the rankings we find that Rutgers is 11th in the country in total offense and 14th in the nation in total defense. Last week the Scarlet Knights made a change on the offensive line which really helped standout running back Ray Rice. Highly touted freshman Anthony Davis, 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds, moved into the lineup at right guard. Ray Rice is a small back that literally hides behind this massive offensive line. Defenses have a hard time picking up the diminutive back. Because of this we highly doubt the Bulls will have their normal tackle for loss success. South Florida is a good football team that has taken advantage of better football teams falling in the rankings. They join them this week.â€쳌

I had a play on Rutgers as a home dog, a team that not only got the cover but won the game. Take a close look at the box score: Rutgers rolled up 400 yards on this (formally) No. 2 ranked South Florida defense. Ray Rice dominated with 181 rushing yards, while the Rutgers defense held the Bulls to just 3.0 yards per carry. See what the oddsmakers had done? They looked at South Florida’s No. 2 ranking and made them a road favorite assuming the public would think they are the superior team over a 4-2 Rutgers squad. But looking inside the numbers gives you a better understanding of who is REALLY better: as long as you know how to look inside those numbers!

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