Ness Notes: Thursday, Oct 29

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 8: Arizona, Houston, Jacksonville and Washington are on their bye weeks. 5-2 Arizona is "right in" the postseason hunt in the NFC West, tied with the Rams as both teams are chasing 5-1 Seattle. Ironically, 2-5 Washington is also "right in" the postseason hunt because it plays in the sad-sack NFC East where 2-4-1 Philadelphia resides in first-place. As for Houston and Jacksonville (both 1-6), it's "wait until next year." 

The Thursday Night schedule in 2020 has been underwhelming, to say the least. Week 8's matchup features the 1-6 Falcons playing at the 3-4 Panthers. The Falcons came one play away from improving to 2-0 under interim coach Raheem Morris last Sunday, who said the team needs to recover emotionally from the latest result, a one-point loss to the Lions. Detroit drove 75 yards in 1:04 and scored the winning touchdown (and extra point) with no time remaining. Carolina's defense let the team down regularly last Sunday in a 27-24 loss at New Orleans, allowing the Saints to convert on 12 of 14 third-down situations. 

These teams met in Week 5 with the Panthers winning 23-16 in Atlanta. That outcome pushed the Falcons to an 0-5 record, prompting the firing of head coach Dan Quinn. Carolina's win over Atlanta was the team's THIRD straight but the Panthers have lost two straight, since. The Panthers were hoping All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey would be able to play in this one, after more than a month's absence caused by a high ankle sprain. McCaffrey hasn't played since the second week of the season but the Panthers announced Tuesday that McCaffrey has been designated to return from injured reserve. However, he was not activated from IR on Wednesday. The Panthers faced a 4 p.m. ET deadline Thursday to call him up in time to face the Falcons but just as I was ready to post this article, Carolina announced that McCaffrey will NOT play. Tonight's game kicks off a 8:15 ET (FOX/NFL Network) with Carolina favored by two points (over/under is 51 1/2).

NCAAF: The new CFB week opens with a pair of games on Thursday night. South Alabama is at Georgia Southern in a SBC contest and will air on ESPN at 7:30 ET (Ga Southern is favored by four points). The MWC features Colorado St at Fresno St in the other matchup. There are three Friday games, highlighted by a Big Ten contest featuring Minnesota at Maryland on ESPN at 7:30 ET (Gophers are favored by 20 points). The other two are East Carolina at Tulsa and Hawaii at Wyoming. 

No. 19 Marshall was scheduled to play at FIU on Friday but the game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues. For FIU, the Panthers have had more games postponed (four) in 2020 than they have played (three, going 0-3). As for 5-0 Marshall, the Thundering Herd have now lost THREE games to postponements. Saturday's North Texas at UTEP game has also been postponed but the biggest virus-related news comes in the fact that No. 9 Wisconsin's game at Nebraska was canceled (NOT postponed) due to COVID-19 breakouts to Wisconsin players and coaches. The Big Ten just returned to play last weekend and Wisconsin led things off with a 45-7 romp over Illinois on Oct 23. However, as has been well reported, the Big Ten's late start date has allowed NO 'wiggle room' in its schedule of EIGHT games in eight weeks. The Wisconsin and Nebraska game can't be "made up" and it's likely that Wisconsin's Nov 7 home game with Purdue will also be canceled. It's a stark reminder that the college football season is hardly being played on 'firm ground.' Fingers crossed as we look forward. 

Saturday CFB: There is only ONE game this Saturday in which ranked teams square off and that's No. 3 Ohio State at No. 18 Penn St. The then-No. 5 Buckeyes made 'short work' of Nebraska last Saturday, rolling to a 52-17 win but then-No. 8 Penn St's 36-35 OT loss at Indiana was to say the least, a real shocker. It was Indiana's first win over a top-10 team since 1987! Ohio St is favored by 12 points in Happy Valley and I will note that in meetings between ranked teams this season, 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, the dynamic of ranked teams against unranked opponents has seen markedly different results. Ranked teams did win 10 of 12 such matchups last weekend but were able to go just a modest 6-6 ATS, although that was a MAJOR improvement over the numbers Y-T-D. Entering Saturday, 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. Will this trend continue throughout the 2020 season? I noted in last Thursday's Notes that following a theory called "regression to the mean," we are overdue to see the ATS record swing back in favor of the ranked teams. However, we are still waiting. Is this the week?

Only FIVE ranked teams are NOT in action this weekend, including No. 9 Wisconsin and No. 19 Marshall (see above). No. 12 Miami-Fl is idle, while No. 14 Oregon and No. 21 USC are Pac 12 schools which have yet to begin their respective seasons. Both open their SIX-game schedules next Saturday with Oregon at home vs Stanford and USC at home vs Arizona St. No. 3 Ohio St is playing at No. 18 Penn St and No. 9 Wisconsin had its game at Nebraska canceled but the other remaining eight top-10 teams are in action, all playing unranked opponents. No. 1 Clemson can extend its regular-season winning streak to 39 games with a home win over Boston College (Tigers are favored by 31 points). No. 2 Alabama hosts Miss St, which has lost THREE in a row (averaging just 10.0 PPG), after upsetting defending champion LSU 44-34 in its season-opener. The Tide are also favored by 31 points. No. 4 Notre Dame owns the nation's longest-active winning streak (11) and will be at Ga Tech, where the Irish are favored by 20 points. No. 5 Georgia is coming off a bye week and has to be motivated to bounce back from its 41-24 loss at Alabama on Oct 17. The Bulldogs are favored by 15 1/2-points. No. 6 Oklahoma St is the lone unbeaten team in the Big 12 and will host Texas in Stillwater, where the Cowboys are favored by 3 1/2-points. No. 7 Cincinnati hosts Memphis and is looking for "double-revenge" from back-to-back losses at Memphis in 2019's regular season final and then the following week in the AAC championship game. The Bearcats are favored by 6 1/2-points. Texas A&M hosts Arkansas (Aggies are favored by 12 1/2-points) and No. 10 Florida hosts Missouri in its first game since losing 41-38 at Texas A&M back on Oct 10. The Gators are favored by  12 1/2-points.

10 more ranked teams are in action on Saturday vs unranked opponents, including 6-0 and 11th-ranked BYU at home vs Western Kentucky, which is nation-worst 0-6 ATS. The Cougars are favored by 28 1/2-points. No. 20 Coastal Carolina continues it's 'magical' season, when it plays at Georgia St (Chanticleers are favored by three points).

Good luck...Larry

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