Ness Notes: Thursday, Oct 15

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." 

MLB's most-dominant team during this COVID-shortened season was the LA Dodgers but they found themselves in an 0-2 'hole' against the Atlanta Braves, who were a perfect 7-0 in the playoffs to-date after an 8-7 win in Game 2.  Atlanta pitching had allowed just SIX runs (five came in its 9-5 Game 1 win over Miami) heading into the 7th inning of Game 2 (that's over 64 innings), before FIVE relievers allowed SEVEN runs over the last three innings. The Dodgers were not able to complete their ninth-inning comeback against the Braves on Tuesday night but in what was a clear "must-win" situation in Game 3, LA hitters 'took no prisoners against Atlanta starter Kyle Wright, with an 11-run first inning that set a record for the most in any inning in postseason history. The Dodgers compiled 18 total bases in that 32-minute top of the first, the most in postseason history for any inning. Their three HRs and five extra-base hits each tied records for single postseason innings. However, a 15-3 doesn't count any more than a 2-1 win does.

Kershaw's back is "good to go" and he'll get the start after opening the 2020 postseason by going  2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. Those two successful starts are in stark contrast to his checkered postseason history (9-11 with a 4.43 ERA in 32 appearances, including 25 starts) before this year. Getting the nod for Atlanta will be the 22-year-old Bryse Wilson. He's made just 15 career appearances (seven starts), posting a 3-1 record but with a 5.91 ERA, 1.80 WHIP and .306 BAA. Wilson has never pitched west of Milwaukee in his three-year, major league career and has never started a game against an NL West team. Needless to say, this is his first start in the postseason. Kershaw is 5-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 11 career starts against Atlanta with his ERA against the Braves marking his best against any NL team. Surprise, surprise. The Dodgers are favored -213 and the over/under is 9 runs. 

Over in the AL, the Astros were able to avoid getting swept by the Rays by winning 4-3 last night. Altuve hit a solo HR in the 1st and then doubled in a run in the second for Houston but Tampa Bay's Arozarena hit a two-run HR to tie it in the fourth, before George Springer's two-run HR put the Astros up 4-2 in the 5th. Zach Greinke got into trouble in the top of the sixth but Dusty Baker went with his 'gut' and decided to leave Greinke in and he delivered by getting out of the inning. Tampa Bay scored once in the 9th but left a runner stranded on third when the game ended. The Rays still own a commanding 3-1 lead but the Astros have 'lived' to 'fight another day.' Not much to report on Game 5, as Baker has yet to name a starting pitcher, though John Curtiss will be the first of a slew of "relievers" to toe the rubber for Tampa.

The CFB week got an early start, as a pair of Sun Belt unbeatens met last night in Lafayette, La. It was 3-0 Coastal Carolina and 3-0 UL-Lafayette, which was ranked No. 21 in the latest AP poll. The game had been pushed back four days because of the threat to Louisiana from Hurricane Delta. It was 13-all at the half (both teams had a missed extra-point) and was 27-all before Massimo Biscardi kicked a 40-yard FG with four seconds remaining to give Coastal Carolina a 30-27 upset victory. The victory makes Coastal Carolina 4-0 and should move the Chanticleers closer to the AP top-25. They have received votes in the rankings each of the last two weeks for the first time in the program's four-year FBS history. It was yet another example of a ranked team falling 'victim' to an unranked team (more in a bit).

There is one game on Thursday, as 1-1 Georgia St is at 2-2 Arkansas St (Red Wolves are favored by 3 1/2-points) but Friday features a doubleheader on ESPN. It's No. 17 SMU (4-0) at 2-2 Tulane at 6:00 ET and No. 14 BYU (4-0) at 1-0 Houston at 9:30 ET. The Mustangs opened last season 4-0 as well (actually opened 8-0) and by repeating that start in 2020, have recorded the school's first back-to-back 4-0 starts since 1983-84 (remember "The Pony Express?"). SMU is favored by 6 1/2-points. BYU head coach Kalani Stake was 'feeling the heat,' as the Cougars were coming off seasons of 4-9, 7-6 and 7-6. However, the Cougars opened with a light schedule in which they won their first three games by an average of 41.3 points, before unexpectedly struggling in a 27-20 win over visiting UTSA last Saturday. The Cougars find themselves 4-0 and with a very favorable schedule ahead of them. Friday's game at Houston and a Nov 6 visit to Boise St seem like the only possible pitfalls. Houston is coming off a 4-8 season and its 49-31 home win on Oct 8 over Tulane was its FIRST game of 2020. The delayed start was due to contests against Washington State, Rice, Baylor and North Texas being canceled due to various COVID-19 reasons, while a game with Memphis was postponed and rescheduled for Dec 5. Houston was predictably rusty in the win over Tulane, as it committed four of its five turnovers in the first half before recovering from a 24-7 deficit to win by 18 points! BYU looks to notch its first 5-0 start since 2008  and is favored by five points.

Getting to Saturday's action, let's first acknowledge that COVID-19 has 'raised its ugly head.' It was revealed on Wednesday afternoon that Alabama head coach Nick Saban has tested positive. Earlier in the day, the game between LSU and No. Florida was postponed due to the Florida program's issue with the virus. Having already been postponed for Saturday were No. 7 Oklahoma St's game at Baylor, Vandy's game at Missouri at Appalachian St's game at Georgia St (has already been rescheduled for Dec 12). The news about Saban comes with No. Alabama hosting No. 3 Georgia. It is the LONE game on Saturday's schedule in which ranked teams were playing each other and it is easily the 'biggest" game of CFB 2020, to-date.

There have been just 10 games so far in which ranked teams have me and the higher ranked team has gone 9-1 SU and 8-2 ATS (the lone SU loser was then-No. 3 Florida losing last Saturday at then-No. 21 A&M). No. 3 Georgia visits No. 2 Alabama Saturday night (8:00 ET on CBS) in Tuscaloosa. These two national powers haven't met in the regular season since 2015 and believe it or not, the last time the Bulldogs played in Tuscaloosa was 2007. That happened to be Nick Saban's first season with Alabama and Georgia won 26-23 in OT. Georgia's defense ranks first nationally in rushing (38.3 YPG), second in total defense (236.7 YPG) and is tied for fifth in scoring defense (12.3 PPG) but will surely be tested by Alabama's offense, which lead the nation with an average of 51.0 PPG (note: Alabama put up 723 yards last Saturday vs Ole Miss!). However, Alabama's defense was shredded at Ole Miss last Saturday, allowing 647 yards and 48 points. That's the most points the Tide have given up vs an unranked team since 1936! Georgia's Kirby Smart was an Alabama assistant under Saban from 2007 to 2015 and is 0-2 vs his former boss. That's not exactly news, as Saban is 21-0 against his former assistants. Is it possible Saban will be on the coaching sidelines on Saturday? Alabama was a solid six-point choice prior to the news about Saban's positive test but as of Thursday morning, Alabama is down to a four-point favorite.

While Georgia/Alabama is the lone game between ranked opponents on Saturday, 11 ranked teams will be playing an unranked opponent either Friday or Saturday. That includes top-10 teams No. 1 Clemson at Ga Tech (Tigers are favored by 27 points), No. 4 Notre Dame home to Louisville (Irish are favored by 17 points), No. 5 North Carolina at Florida St (Tar Heels are favored by 13 1/2-points) and No. 8 Cincinnati at Tulsa  (Bearcats are favored by 3 1/2-points). Wednesday night saw unranked Coast Carolina upset No. 21 ULL, making ranked teams 37-13 (.740) SU vs unranked opponents in 2020 but an abysmal 15-34-1 ATS (that's just 30.6%). Let the buyer beware. 

I should talk, right? I used ULL as my SBC Game of the Year Wednesday night. However, I have gone 9-3-1, +$5,230 (at $100/unit) the last three CFB Saturdays and serve up an action-packed five game card on Oct 17. The "featured" play will be my 1st "signature" LEGEND Play of CFB 2020, having gone 5-0 with LEGEND Plays in all sports since July 23.
<p>
Good luck...Larry

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2020 Al McMordie's BigAl.com. All Rights Reserved.