Ness Notes: Monday, October 26

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 7 will conclude tonight with 5-1 Bears in LA to take on the 4-2 Rams at 8:15 ET on ESPN (Rams are favored by six points and the over/under is 44 1/2). Just one of Chicago's wins this season have come over a .500 or better team (Tampa Bay), while all FOUR of the Rams' wins in 2020 have come against NFC East teams, which are a combined 7-20-1. You make the call. Full Week 7 recap in Tuesday's Notes but Pittsburgh's 27-24 Sunday win at Tennessee moved the Steelers to 6-0, while the Titans fell to 5-1. When the Cardinals came back Sunday night to edge the Seahawks, Seattle fell to 5-1 leaving the Steelers as the NFL's lone unbeaten team. The Jets lost 18-10 at home to the Bills and remain the NFL's lone winless team at 0-7 but they covered to give them their first ATS win of the season (1-6 ATS). The Cowboys lost 25-3 at Washington and Dallas now stands alone as the NFL's lone winless ATS team (0-7). How 'bout dem Cowboys!

3-Day World Series recap: With the Series tied at one-all, Walker Buehler allowed just ONE run over six innings with 10 Ks in Game 3. He became the first pitcher in World Series history to record double-digit strikeouts in six innings, as the Dodgers won 6-2. The Rays' Charlie Morton allowed five ERs over just 4.1 innings, after entering the game having won all FIVE of his starts in the playoffs for Tampa Bay over the last two years while recording a minuscule 0.70 ERA.

Game 4 was a World Series "classic," as the Tampa Bay Rays won Saturday night's contest with one of the wildest finishes in World Series history. The Dodgers broke a 6-6 tie in the top of the 9th by scoring their seventh run of the night, all coming with two outs. Then, with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning, Brett Phillips, a seldom-used outfielder, hit a single to center field off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, bringing in the tying run. However, Chris Taylor kicked the ball and Randy Arozarena, who started on first, never stopped running. The relay to catcher Will Smith had Arozarena out by 30 feet but Smith dropped the ball and the ricochet allowed Arozarena to dive home with the winning run. The 8-7 Tampa Bay victory tied the Series at two-all.

Game 5 saw Clayton Kershaw take the mound with the fifth-worst postseason ERA among pitchers with at least 70 innings, since the advent of the wild card in 1995. Kershaw was excellent in LA's Game 1 win (one ER allowed in six innings with eight Ks) and was treated to an early 3-0 lead. Kershaw allowed two runs in the third but lasted 5.2 innings, while surviving an attempted steal of home by Manuel Margot in the fourth with two outs and LA leading just 3-2. Then, LA used THREE relievers (NONE named Jansen) to pitch 3.1 scoreless innings for the 4-2 victory. Game 6 is set for Tuesday with a pitching rematch from Game 2 of Tampa Bay's Blake Snell and LA's Tony Gonsolin. See Tuesday's Notes for a preview.

CFB recap: Saturday featured four games between ranked opponents, No. 6 Oklahoma St at home against No. 17 Iowa St, No. 9 Cincinnati at No. 16 SMU, No. 14 No. Carolina home to No. 23 NC State and No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota. The higher ranked team won all four and also went 4-0 ATS. That continued a trend in which of the 15 games featuring ranked opponents in 2020, the higher ranked team has gone 14-1 SU and 13-2 ATS (the lone SU loser was then-No. 3 Florida losing on Oct 10 at then-No. 21 A&M). However, ranked teams against unranked opponents have seen a very different dynamic. Ranked teams did win 10 of the 12 such matchups this past weekend but were able to go just a modest 6-6 ATS, although that was a MAJOR improvement over the numbers Y-T-D. Ranked teams are 54-18 (.750) SU when taking on an unranked opponent so far this season but remain a 'money-burning' 26-45-1 (.366) ATS.

No. 19 Va Tech losing at Wake forest was a surprise but No. 8 Penn State losing 36-35 in OT at Indiana was a real shocker. It was Indiana's first win over a top-10 team since 1987! The Indiana shocker was just ONE of seven Big Ten games, as the conference took the field for the first time in 2020 this past weekend. Illinois started things off with a 45-7 rout of Illinois on Friday, as Graham Mertz, the highest-rated quarterback recruit to ever sign with Wisconsin, made quite a 'splash' in his first career start. He entered the year as Jack Coan’s backup but when Coan suffered a serious foot injury in preseason practice, Mertz got the start. He lived up to his billing, completing 20-of-21 passes for 248 yards and five TDs. His 95.2% single-game completion percentage mark set an all-time Big Ten mark. However, Ohio State's Justin Fields would match it the very next day, as he also completed 20 of 21 passes for for 276 yards (two TD passes and one rushing TD), as Ohio St beat Nebraska 52-17. Ohio State has now won 13 straight Big Ten games by double digits! Also making news in the Big Ten was Michigan's dominating 49-24 win at Minnesota. Michigan's junior QB Joe Milton completed 15 of 22 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 52 yards and another score, in his first career start (had 11 pass attempts in his first two seasons). While Indiana's upset of Penn St garnered the biggest headlines out of the Big Ten, let's give a shout out to Rutgers' Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights won 38-27 at Michigan St, snapping the school's 21-game Big Ten losing streak in the first game of his second tenure as head coach at Rutgers.

6-0 Clemson remained No. 1 in the AP's latest poll (52 of 62 first-place votes), winning its 38th straight regular season game, 47-21 over Syracuse. A win at home over BC this coming Saturday and the Tigers will match Miami's 39-game streak set from 2000-03, leaving only Oklahoma's 45-game winning streak (1953-57) to beat. No. 2 Alabama got the remaining 10 first-place votes after beating Tennessee but the Tide lost WR Waddle on the opening play of that game on his kickoff return (ankle). Ohio St moved up from No. 5 to No. 3, as Notre Dame fell to No. 4 after winning a nation-best 11th straight game, 45-3 at Pittsburgh. Idle Georgia rounds out the top-5.

Falling out of the rankings were No. 19 Va Tech, No. 21 Minnesota and No. 23 NC State. Indiana enters the poll at No. 17, matching the school's highest ranking since being ranked No. 17 in 1993. The Hoosiers snapped a 25-year absence from the AP top-25 in 2019 but their stay lasted just one week. Will Indiana remain ranked next week, after playing UNDEFEATED Rutgers this Saturday? Also new to the latest poll is Oklahoma, which returns after a three-week absence. That three-week poll drought was the longest for Oklahoma since the Sooners were left out of the final SIX polls of the 2009 season (Oklahoma finished 8-5 that season). Checking in at No. 25 is Boise St, which beat Utah St 42-13 in its first game of 2020. Boise St finished No. 23 in the final AP poll of 2019 and the Broncos are no strangers to being ranked. In fact, it's the 19th straight season in which the Broncos have been ranked for at least ONE week, tying them with USC for seventh-best all time.

Closing shout outs. Joining Clemson at 6-0 in 2020 are BYU (ranked No. 11) and Liberty. The Flames are coached by Hugh Freeze and he led them to an 8-5 season in 2019 (his first at the school), including a 23-16 Cure Bowl win over Georgia Southern. Liberty received 85 points in Sunday's AP poll, second to Memphis' 105 points, among "others receiving votes." Boise St, the 25th-ranked team has 113 points. Let's NOT forget the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, who were ranked (at No. 25) for the first time in last week's poll. The Chanticleers beat Georgia Southern 28-14 this past Saturday and are now up to No. 20. Is there a 'ceiling' for how high they could climb? How about this? Coastal Carolina will host Liberty on Dec 5 in the season- finale for both schools. Could it be a "Showdown of Unbeatens?"

Good luck...Larry

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