Ness Notes: Monday, Dec 21

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."

MNF: NFL Week 15 concludes with the Steelers looking to break a two-game losing streak (after an 11-0 start) with a MNF contest in Cincinnati (8:15 ET on ESPN) against the 2-10-1 Bengals. My NFL Week 15 recap will be featured in Tuesday's Notes but with the KC Chiefs moving to 13-1 with a win at New Orleans on Sunday and the Buffalo Bills moving to 11-3 with a Saturday win at Denver, the Steelers BADLY need a win here to move to 12-2. The Bengals should play "the perfect foil" but the Steelers can make a quick call to the Rams and ask how their game with the 0-13 Jets went on Sunday? Spoiler Alert, the Jets (+17) won 23-20 at the Rams, who fell out of first-place in the NFC West. The Bengals have scored just nine, seven and seven points in the three games since rookie QB Joe Burrow was lost for the season but also note that the Steelers have averaged only 18.0 PPG over their last three games, a 19-14 win over the COVID-ravaged Ravens plus back-to-back losses to Washington and Buffalo. Pittsburgh is favored by 14 1/2-points and the over/under is 40 1/2.

Before getting to college football, here's a quick check on college hoops from Friday through Sunday. There were three matchups over the weekend that featured games between ranked teams. No. 1 Gonzaga beat No. 3 Iowa 99-88 and No. 12 Wisconsin beat No. 23 Louisville 85-48 on Saturday (both higher ranked teams covered). However, No. 13 Illinois lost 91-88 at No. 19 Rutgers on Sunday as a small road favorite. Then again, was it really an upset. The victory keeps the Scarlet Knights unbeaten so far this season at 6-0 and the team is now 23-2 SU since the start of last season at the RAC (Rutgers Athletic Center). Higher ranked teams are now 12-6 SU but just 9-9 ATS on the season in ranked vs ranked contests. As for ranked teams playing unranked opponents, they went 9-3 SU but just 4-8 ATS Fri-Sun. No. 18 San Diego St lost its first game of the season on Friday (72-62 at home to BYU) and No. 15 Florida St lost its first game this season 86-74 at home to UCF on Saturday. This deserves a comment, as the Seminoles saw their 27-game home winning streak snapped, as well as a 41-game home winning streak at home against a non-conference opponent. No. 4 Michigan St was the third ranked team to lose to an unranked opponent this weekend when the Spartans lost 79-65 at Northwestern. Ranked teams are now 101-16 (.863) SU but a more modest 63-52-2 (54.8%) ATS against unranked opponents Y-T-D. There are no Monday matchups  between ranked opponents but FIVE ranked teams will host unranked foes, including No. 1 Gonzaga (4-0) at home vs Northwestern St and No. 2 Baylor (5-0) at home vs Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Both Northwestern St and Arkansas St come in with identical 1-7 records Should we issue an "Upset Alert?"

CFB Weekend Recap: The AP released its final regular season poll about an hour before the CFP rankings came out and I'll start with that, as I've used the AP rankings all season-long in charting matchups between ranked teams and ones between ranked and unranked opponents. 11-0 Alabama remained an unanimous No. 1 for the FIFTH straight week, followed by 10-1 Clemson (AP's preseason No. 1) moving up to No. 2 (from No. 4) after impressively beating then-No.2 Notre Dame 34-10 (Fighting Irish lost for the first time this season to fall to 10-1). Ohio St remained at No. 3, after a less-than-impressive 22-10 win over Northwestern, giving the Buckeyes a 6-0 record (lost three games to COVID issues). 8-1 Texas A&M was No. 5, 9-0 Cincinnati was 6th, 6-1 Indiana 7th, 8-2 Oklahoma 8th, 11-0 Coastal at 9th (had its game with 9-1 ULL canceled due to COVID) and 8-3 Florida completed the top-10. The biggest falls were USC falling from No. 13 to No. 21 with a home loss to Oregon and Iowa State falling from No. 8 to No. 12 after losing to Oklahoma. No. 24 Buffalo dropped out of the poll by virtue of its 38-28 loss to Ball St, while Oregon (AP's preseason No. 9) got back in the poll at No. 25.

Higher ranked teams entered the weekend 23-7 (.767) SU and 21-9 (70.0%) ATS in matchups of ranked opponents. However, in the five meetings between ranked opponents this weekend (all were conference championship games), the higher ranked teams went 3-2 SU (No. 2 Notre Dame lost to No. Clemson and No. Iowa St lost to No. 12 Oklahoma) but all FIVE failed to cover (0-5 ATS)! That makes the Y-T-D numbers sit at 26-9 (.743) SU and 21-14 (60.0%) ATS. Only two games between ranked and unranked foes got played (many cancelations), with No. 5 Texas A&M winning and covering at Tennessee and No. 13 USC losing at home to Oregon. The Y-T-D numbers stand at 135-33 (.804) SU and 84-82-2 (50.6%) ATS in favor of the ranked teams. That ATS number looks 'sad' but don't forget that through Oct 31 ranked teams were just 36-53-1 (40.4%) ATS against unranked opponents.

CFP Rankings: Not sure how anyone could have reasonably been surprised as to how the final top-four came out. There was NO suspense regarding 11-0 Alabama being ranked No,. 1 (23rd time in CFP history, more than all other schools combined!) and Clemson coming in at No. 2 after it POUNDED Notre Dame. The committee had LONG ago made it clear that Ohio St was going to be a 'Final Four' team if the Buckeyes had played TWO games, so a 6-0 Ohio St team which had just won the Big Ten championship game was SURELY not going to fall out of the top-four. If there was ANY suspense to be had, it came over which school got the No. 4 spot, 10-1 Notre Dame or 8-1 Texas A&M? Jimbo Fisher can whine all he wants about going 8-1 in the SEC but his team was routed by Alabama (52-24) and didn't have a win over a top-notch team all season. If Fisher thinks a 31-20 win over Auburn counts, he has GOT to be kidding! The 6-4 Tigers lost 27-6 to Georgia and 42-13 Alabama plus for good measure, lost 30-22 at a South Carolina team that finished 2-8! Notre Dame did get the No. 4 spot and SHOULD have.

My biggest takeaway from the rankings was that a two-loss Oklahoma team (No. 6) and a three-loss Florida team (No. 7) both came in ahead of 9-0 Cincinnati. The Bearcats finished in the top-20 in both scoring D (16.0 PPG ranked 8th) and total D (314.4 YPG ranked 13th) plus also finished 15th in scoring (15th) on 467.2 YPG (19th). The ONLY other school to accomplish that feat in 2020 is Clemson, which is headed to the CFP for a SIXTH straight year and has gone 79-6 (.929 ) SU since 2015. The CLEAR message that was sent is; "Group of Five schools need NOT apply" for a CFP 'Final Four' berth. The 2020 bowl season doesn't wait for anyone, as it kicks off today with 8-3 Appalachian St taking on 4-5 North Texas in the Myrtle Beach Bowl from Conway, SC. ESPN airs it a 2:30 ET with the Mountaineers favored by 21 points (over/under is 68).

There is so much on my plate right now with the NBA tipping off Tuesday, that I'll have much more on the bowls in Wednesday's and Thursday's Notes. With NFL Week 16 not beginning until Christmas, I'll have my NFL preview on Friday. That said, my closing thought is an 'ugly' reminder of how little respect given our military. I never served but my father fought in the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Purple Heart and Bronze star. By virtue of being a direct descendant (I've ridden my dad's coattails often), I'm an associate member of his Purple Heart Chapter here in Florida. I remain close with a number of the 'real' members and often attend meetings and conventions. Riddle me this. How is it possible  the "powers that be" could not find (rather, DEMAND) a bowl berth for a 9-2 Army team?

I don't want to paraphrase, so I'll quote directly from an article written by ESPN reporter Adam Rittenberg. Here's the 'SAD' tale.

The Black Knights had posted a 9-2 record, capped by Saturday's victory over Air Force that secured them the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Army had an agreement to play in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl against a Pac-12 opponent. By mid-afternoon Sunday, Army thought it would have the matchup secured. "OK, we should know something by 2:30,' but 2:30 came and went. 'We should know something by 3 o'clock,' but 3 o'clock came and went," head coach Jeff Monken told ESPN on Sunday night. "And then we started getting word that we were getting shut out." After a surge of Pac-12 teams opted out of bowl season and other teams, according to Monken, threatened to opt out if paired against Army, the Independence Bowl canceled its game and the Black Knights were left without a postseason destination. Monken and Army administrators informed the team following dinner at a 6:15 p.m. ET meeting. "We had guys in tears," Monken said. "We pulled off the biggest wins of these seniors' career, they just won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy back, that's going to be their legacy, and they're looking forward to playing in a bowl game one time together, before they go off in the United States Army, and we're sitting here telling them, 'Sorry, guys, you can't play.'

"Thanks for your service!"

Good luck...Larry

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