Ness Notes: Thursday, Dec 3

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."

The NFL finally completed Week 12, as the Ravens and Steelers took the field on Wednesday. A COVID-19 outbreak in Baltimore forced the NFL to push the game back three times; first from Thanksgiving to Sunday, then from Sunday to Tuesday, and eventually from Tuesday to Wednesday. The teams kicked off in the afternoon to not interfere with NBC's annual Christmas special at Rockefeller Center. Naturally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called it "a great game," although anyone watching "without blinders" may like Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin's assessment. He called it "junior varsity"-level play. RG III tried to "turn back the clock" but completed just 7 of 12 passes for 33 yards and threw first-quarter "pick-6." However, he did run for a game-high 68 yards before leaving in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. The Ravens finished with just 219 total yards and 10 FDs but of course, earned the ATS win. Trace McSorley, one of 11 players promoted from the practice squad, came on for Griffith. With 3:30 left in the game, Baltimore had the ball at its own 16-yard line, trailing 19-7 (Ravens closed as a 10 1/2-point dog). Up until that point, McSorley had riddled the Pittsburgh pass D by completing 1 of 5 passes for seven yards. However, on 1st-and-10 from the Baltimore 30-yard line, he connected with Marquise Brown for a 70-yard TD with 2:58 to go for the 19-14 final. NEVER in doubt. My Week 12 recap and Week 13 preview will be featured in Friday's Notes.

CBB: There had been just five meetings of ranked opponents entering Wednesday, with the higher ranked going 3-2 SU but 2-3 ATS. There were THREE games such games on Wednesday, including the nation's No. 1 (Gonzaga) and No. 2  (Baylor) teams playing in the Jimmy V Classic at Indianapolis. Gonzaga trailed No. 11 West Va by five at the half but outscored them 53-43 in the second half for an 87-82 win (ATS loss). Baylor led No. 5 Illinois by just one at the half but with FOUR players in double digits, outscored the Illini 51-39 in the second to win (and cover) 82-69. Think anyone will be interested in Saturday's showdown between Gonzaga and Baylor? No. 17 Texas blew a 16-point lead and fell behind No. 14 North Carolina late but won 69-67 on Matt Coleman's step-back jumper with 0.1 seconds left. It marked Texas' first Maui Invitational title in its fifth appearance, although I think the Texas players were aware that the game was played in snowy Asheville, NC. Higher ranked teams are now 5-3 SU but 3-5 ATS when facing a ranked opponent. There are no games between ranked opponents on Thursday.<p>No. 21 Oregon played its first game of the season against Missouri and No. 22 Florida  St also took the floor for the first time against an 0-3 North Florida team on Wednesday, while No. 23 Ohio St (2-0) was home to Morehead St. The Ducks lost 83-75 to Missouri (game was played in Omaha) but FSU and Ohio St both won and covered. In games between ranked teams and unranked opponents, ranked teams are off to an impressive 47-5 (.905) SU start, while going 31-19-2 (62.0%) ATS. Thursday will feature FOUR games between ranked and unranked opponents, including two top-10 teams being in action. No. 3 Iowa welcomes Western Illinois (playing its first game) to Iowa City at 2-0. Luka Garza, the nation's Preseason P-O-Y will likely not top his most recent performance, as he scored 41 points and made 14 of 15 FG attempts in last Friday's 103-76 rout of Southern. Iowa is favored by points. No. 7 Kansas is 2-1, after losing to No. 1 Gonzaga but beating St Joe's and No. 20 Kentucky, 65-62. I'm guessing that 3-0 Washburn does not have them worried. The Jayhawks are favored by points.

CFB: The season has moved into December and there are only three games scheduled on Thursday (two) and Friday (one), with No. 20 ULL (8-1 / 6-1 SBC) visiting Appalachian St (7-2, 5-1) being the lone contest of note. Louisiana has already secured a spot in the conference championship game as the SBC-East champs, while Appalachian St's loss to Coastal Carolina (9-0 / 7-0) means it will not have a chance to defend its back-to-back SBC title game wins over ULL in 2018 and 2019. However, the Mountaineers are favored at home by 2 1/2-points. 

Moving ahead to Saturday, the ULL/App St game is one of 18 games between ranked and unranked teams, including SEVEN top-10 teams playing an unranked opponent. I'll get to those matchups in a bit but I'll start with Saturday's two games involving top-25 opponents (remember, I continue to use the AP rankings, not the CFP ones). No. 10 Indiana will be at No. 18 Wisconsin plus it's a showdown of 'Cinderella' teams when No. 14 Coastal Carolina (9-0) hosts No. 25 Liberty (9-1). Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. has a torn ACL and is done for the season for the 5-1 Hoosiers. Sophomore Jack Tuttle, a four-star recruit from San Marcos, Ca, transferred to Indiana from Utah before the start of the 2019 season and will get the start. Wisconsin averaged 47 points in wins over Illinois and Michigan but lost 17-7 at Northwestern in it's only other game this season. The 2-1 Badgers have had as many games canceled (three) as they've played. Wisconsin is favored by 14 points. As for Coastal Carolina vs Liberty, only the Flames' 15-14 loss at NC State has prevented this contest from being a 'battle of unbeatens.' Even so, this much-anticipated matchup has drawn ESPN's "College Football GameDay" show to Conway, SC. It's deserving, as Coastal Carolina is No. 18 in the current CFP standings and its No. 14 ranking in the AP poll is not only the highest in school history but also the highest-ever for any SBC team. As for the Flames, they are off to their most successful 10-game start to a season, breaking the previous best of 8-1-1 to start the 1979 season. Coastal Carolina is favored by 11 points. Higher ranked teams sit 21-5 (.808) SU and 19-7 (73.1%) ATS in meetings between top-25 opponents in the college football season to-date.

Now to the 18 games between ranked and unranked teams. Ranked teams were 68-22 (.756) SU when taking on an unranked opponent but just 36-53-1 (.404) ATS through Oct 31. We were waiting for a "regressions to the mean" and got it in the first three weeks of November as ranked teams went 37-2 (.949) SU and 25-13-1 (65.8%) ATS. Ranked teams did go 8-2 SU in November's final week but were just 5-5 ATS. Doing the math, ranked teams (when facing an unranked opponent) are now 113-26 (.813) SU but still sub-500 ATS at 66-71-2 (48.2%). The top-six schools in the AP and CFP rankings are the same, except for Ohio St being No. 3 in the AP poll, while Clemson is No. 3 in the CFP standings. Here's a quick 'peek' at these six schools.

No. 1 Alabama is at LSU on Saturday, a contest that originally was scheduled to be played Nov 14, but was postponed because LSU had a shortage of players due to COVID issues. LSU had a "season for the ages" in 2019, going 15-0 to win the national championship, while QB Joe Burrow won the Heisman. This year's LSU team is a 'mess' and enters 3-4 while Alabama is well, Alabama. The Tide are favored by  29 1/2-points. The Fighting Irish (9-0, 8-0 ACC) have already clinched a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game by virtue of a scheduling change this week and own the longest active winning streak among FBS teams at 15 in a row. 1-9 Syracuse visits South Bend with Notre Dame favored by 33 1/2-points.

No. 3 Ohio St has played just four games and needs to play Saturday at Michigan St and Dec 12 at home against Michigan to meet the minimum six games to be eligible for the Big Ten title game. Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker is in his first season at East Lansing and while his Spartans are just 2-3, Michigan St has beaten Michigan 27-24 as a 21 1/2-point underdog and Northwestern 29-20 as a 13 1/2-point underdog. A third upset against Ohio St in this one (Buckeyes are favored by 23 1/2-points) and Ohio State plus the CFP committee will no longer need to worry about how many games the Buckeyes do or do not play! No. 4 Clemson (remember, No. 3 in the CFP) will play at Va Tech, coming off a 52-17 victory against Pitt in which QB Trevor Lawrence returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with COVID-19 and passed for 403 yards and two TDs. Clemson advances to the ACC title game against No. 2 Notre Dame, which beat the Tigers earlier this season, with a win. Clemson is favored by 22 points.

No. 5 Texas A&M will play at Auburn and No. 6 Florida will play at Tennessee, as both SEC teams hope for one of the above teams to lose. A&M owns a 41-38 win over Florida but the Gators are in better shape, as they will almost assuredly get a chance at Alabama in the SEC title game. A win over 'Bama and it would be hard to keep Florida out of the 'Final 4.' Texas A&M is favored by seven points over Auburn, while the Gators are favored by 17 1/2-points over the Vols. Remember when Fla/Ten was a real rivalry? The Gators enter Saturday's contest having won 14 of the last 15 meetings with Tennessee.

Good luck...Larry

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