Ness Notes: Monday, Nov 23

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. 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."

NFL Week 11: A detailed recap will be featured in Tuesday Notes but Week 11 was highlighted by Pittsburgh moving to 10-0 with a 27-3 win at Jacksonville, as the Jags have now lost NINE in a row. However, the Jets one-upped Jacksonville by losing 34-28 at the Chargers to fall to 0-10 to open the 2020 season. The Jets have lost 10 straight games in the same season for the first time in club history and they are two losses from matching their longest losing streak ever, a 12-game skid that bridged the 1995-96 seasons. Week 11 featured two overtime games, the Titans beating the Ravens 30-24 in Baltimore (no "playoff revenge" for the Ravens) and the Colts edging the Packers 34-31, after holding Green Bay to THREE points after halftime (GB led 28-14).

MNF concludes with the Rams at the Bucs (8:15 ET on ESPN). The 6-3 Los Angeles Rams need a win to keep pace with the 7-3 Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West and the 7-3 Tampa Bay Bucs need a win to stay just a half-game back of the 8-2 Saints in the NFC South. I'm "old school" and can remember the Rams beating the Bucs 9-0 at Tampa in the 1979 NFC championship game (can you say Chuck Knox & John McKay?). Fast-forwarding to 2020, the Bucs are favored by 4 1/2-points and the over/under is 48 1/2.

CFB recap: Unfortunately, I begin with the fact that 18 games were either postponed or canceled due to COVID-related issues. The list includes SIX ranked teams, as No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 Texas A&M (for the second straight week), No. 12 Miami-Fl, No. 15 Marshall, No. 21 Texas and No. 24 ULL. It hardly bodes well that San Diego St at Fresno St and Washington at Washington St (both scheduled for Friday), have already been canceled. 

There were three games between ranked teams in Week 12, all played on Saturday. The higher ranked teams had gone 17-3 SU and 16-4 ATS in meetings between top-25 teams entering Saturday but only No. 3 survived on Saturday, edging No. 9 Indiana 42-35 (didn't come close to covering). In the other two matchups, No. 10 Wisconsin lost 17-7 at No. 19 Northwestern and No. 14 Oklahoma lost badly at No. 18 Oklahoma,41-13. Updating the Y-T-D numbers we find the higher ranked team 18-5 SU and 16-7 ATS in meetings between top-25 teams.

Moving on to ranked teams vs unranked ones. Ranked teams went a perfect 14-0 SU against unranked opponents from Nov 3-7 but still could NOT win more than 50 percent ATS, going 6-7-1. However, when 'all the dust had settled' from the week of Nov 10-15, ranked teams had gone 12-1 SU against unranked opponents (then-No. 19 SMU's loss to Tulsa being the exception) and more significantly, a MONEY-MAKING 11-2 ATS! That trend continued in last week's games (Nov 17-21), as ranked teams went 11-1 SU and a solid 8-4 ATS. That's a three-week run of 37-2 (.949) SU and 25-13-1 (65.8%) ATS. The Y-T-D numbers are 105-24 (.814) SU and 61-66-2 (48.0%) ATS. Can (will) ranked teams finally go over .500 ATS after this Thanksgiving weekend?

Recapping those three games between ranked teams, Ohio State QB Justin Fields looked 'human' for the first time in 2020, as did Ohio St's pass defense. Fields entered the game with as many TD passes as incompletions (11 each) but while he did throw for 300 yards with two TDs and a rush TD, we saw signs of mortality. He had more incompletions (12, going 18 of 30) than in his first three games combined plus threw THREE interceptions, after entering the game with ZERO in 83 attempts (he also was sacked FIVE times!). The Buckeyes were favored by three TDs but won by just SEVEN, as Indiana QB Pennix passed for 491 yards and five TDs. Ohio St did beat Indiana for the 26th consecutive time and won for the 18th straight time over a top-10 Big Ten opponent but the Buckeyes' run of 16 straight double digit wins in Big Ten play came to an end. Wisconsin redshirt freshman QB Graham Mertz 'exploded' on the scene by completing 20 of 21 passes while throwing five TDs in his college debut back on Oct 23 (45-7 win over Illinois). However, while Wisconsin routed Michigan 49-11 last Saturday, he threw for just 127 yards and against Northwestern's D on Saturday, was picked off THREE times. Northwestern moves to 5-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1996 (the year after the team's 1995 Rose Bowl trip). Oklahoma's Mike Gundy has led Oklahoma to a bowl game in each of the last 14 seasons (and will make it 15 straight in 2020) but he fell to 2-14 in the "Bedlam" series with Oklahoma, as the Sooners routed the Cowboys 41-13.

No. 1 Alabama beat Kentucky 63-6 and has now scored 35-plus points in 20 straight games, the longest streak in FBS history. No. 6 Florida won 38-17 at Vandy (eighth straight game of 35-plus points) as Kyle Trask threw three TD passes and now has 30 in his first seven games, the first QB in SEC history to do so. No. 7 Cincy eked out a 36-33 win at UCF, as the Cincinnati defense held the Golden Knights to 359 yards (entered the game averaging 619.1 YPG). It's not easy to cover a 51-point spread but No. 8 BYU did just that, beating North Alabama 66-14 to move to 9-0. Some lowlights of the weekend were Penn St losing 41-21 at home to Iowa, as the Nittany Lions fell to 0-5 for the first time in school history (program began play back in 1887!) and Tennessee losing its FIFTH in a row (30-17 at Auburn) after a 2-0 start. The Vols opened 2019 at 2–5 start but won their final SIX games of the season, including a 23–22 comeback victory in the Gator Bowl against Indiana. The Vols opened 25th in the preseason AP poll and started 2-0 in 2020 and were up to 14th when they visited then-No. 3 Georgia on Oct 10. The Vols led 21-17 at the half "between the hedges" but would get shut out in the second half of a 44-21 loss. NOTHING has gone right since, as the team's five straight losses have all come by double digits. That's the first time that's happened in school history (FB program started in 1891).

New AP poll: The AP poll began back in 1936 but unanimous No. 1 rankings are pretty rare, as it's happened just 80 times in poll history. However, 67 of those times have come since 1992 and it will come as no surprise that Alabama leads the way. The Crimson Tide received all 62 votes in Sunday's poll, claiming a unanimous No. 1 ranking for the 22nd time (most of any school), with 21 of those coming since 2012. Four ranked teams lost this past week but THREE lost to a ranked opponent, so there was little change in the current poll. In fact, the top-8 teams remained the same for the second straight week. Falling out of the top-10 were No. 9 Indiana (fell to No. 12 after losing to Ohio St) and No. 10 Wisconsin, which fell to No. 18 after losing at Northwestern. Miami-Fl moved to No. 9 (from 12) and Oregon to No. 10, up from No. 11. Northwestern jumped EIGHT spots to No. 11 with its first 5-0 start in the Big Ten since 1996. Coastal Carolina had a tough time vs Appalachian St (won 34-23) but moved to 8-0, falling just one spot to No. 16. However, the season's other 'Cinderella' team, Liberty, lost for the first time in 2020, 15-14 at NC State and fell out of the poll (was No. 21). Climbing back in at No. 25 was North Carolina, which back on Oct 11 was 3-0 and ranked No. 5. However, the Tar Heels will host No. 2 Notre Dame on Saturday (Irish own the nation's longest-active winning streak at 14 in a row). Two other top-25 showdowns are No. 1 Alabama hosting No. 22 Auburn in the latest edition of the Iron Bowl (24th time both teams are ranked) and No. 15 Iowa St playing at No. 20 Texas. The Cyclones can clinch a spot in the Big 12 championship game with a win. The last time Iowa St WON a championship game was back in 1912, capturing the MVC championship.

I noted above that the AP poll began back in 1936 but in reality, yesterday's poll is the last time in 2020 that it will be relevant. The first CFP rankings will be revealed Tuesday night and will take 'center stage' the rest of the way. Alabama, Notre Dame , Ohio St and Clemson are 1-2-3-4 in both current polls (Coaches' poll being the other), and it would hardly be surprising if that's the order we will see on Tuesday. Recap of the CFP rankings covered in Wednesday's Notes.

Good luck...Larry 

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