Ness Notes: Thursday October 22

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." 

World Series Update: The 2020 World Series got underway Tuesday night and the Dodgers looked every bit the part of a team with MLB's best record in this COVID-shortened season with an 8-3 victory. Three-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw shrugged off his rocky playoff history to give up just ONE run on two hits over six innings with only one walk and eight strikeouts. He retired 13 consecutive batters until Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier hit a solo HR in the fifth. In contrast, the Ray's Tyler Glasnow allowed three hits and SIX walks (three would eventually score) in 4.1 innings of work in which he allowed SIX runs (all earned). Cody Bellinger gave the Dodgers an early lead with a two-run HR (two days after his go-ahead HR in Game 7 of the NLCS) and Mookie Betts hit his first postseason HR for the Dodgers in the sixth to open a 7-1 advantage. Betts, Muncy and Taylor each had two hits. Tampa Bay had just six hits, while LA struck out 10 Rays as opposed to allowing just ONE walk.

However, Game 2 told a very different tale, as Blake Snell took charge from the mound in the first four innings, while Brandon Lowe took charge at the plate. Lowe came in batting .083 (4-for-48) with one HR in his previous 13 postseason games but ended his slump in dramatic fashion. Lowe jump started the Rays' offense with a solo HR in the first inning off Tony Gonsolin, then hit a two-run shot in the fifth inning off Dustin May, as the Rays led 5-0 into the bottom of the 5th. Snell didn't allow a hit through four innings, while striking out two Dodgers in each of the first four innings. However, Snell's dreams of a no-hitter ended in the 5th. He walked Kiké Hernandez with two out and served up a two-run HR to Chris Taylor. A walk to Mookie Betts and a single by Corey Seager ended Snell's night. Four relievers held off the Dodgers, allowing two runs over 4.1 innings, as Tampa Bay evened the Series at one-all. The Rays had 10 hits, the first time they reached double digits since Game 3 of their ALDS against the New York Yankees, a single-digit-hit skid that had lasted 10 games. The Dodgers used SEVEN pitchers in the loss but the good news (for both pitching staffs) is that Thursday is an "off day." Game 3 is set for Friday and it features the best pitching matchup of the series, LA's Walker Buehler vs Tampa Bay's Charlie Morton. Early price is LA (-155) with an over/under line of 7 1/2.

Note: My 10* MLB Game of the Year is already posted for Game 3. BATTER UP!

NFL Week 7 kicks off with another uninspiring contest (way too many already this season), when the 1-5 NY Giants visit the 1-4-1 Philadelphia Eagles (FOX/NFL Network at 8:20 ET). That said, with the 2-4 Cowboys atop the sad-sack NFC East, the winner of this game is "right in the mix" for the division title. The division as whole is 5-18-1 SU and 8-16 ATS. Actually, the two 1-5 teams (NY Giants and Washington) account for SIX of the division's eight ATS wins. The Eagles have won SEVEN straight games against the Giants and haven't lost at home to their NFC East rivals since a 15-7 setback in 2013. Philly is favored by 4 1/2-points and the over/under is 45. Good luck to all who dare play this one. I'll pass and wait until Sunday, when my card will feature my 1st 10* "Signature" 37-Club Play of NFL 2020 (represents my 37 years as a professional handicapper).

The college football weekend also kicks off tonight, as 3-2 Arkansas St visits Boone, NC to take on 2-1 Appalachian St. ESPN will be there to televise at 7:30 ET. App St is favored (-13.5) and the over/under is 68. The biggest storyline of the weekend in the college ranks is the return of the Big Ten. CFB's oldest conference (established in 1895) announced it was canceling its fall football season back on August 11. However, a little over a month later (in mid-September), the conference announced that it had adopted “significant medical protocols,” and would return to play the weekend of October 23-24. So here we are and someone had to be first. Kicking off the 2020 Big Ten schedule will be Illinois and Wisconsin, with the 14th-ranked Badgers hosting the Illini in front of an empty Camp Randall Stadium in Madison Friday night at 8:00 ET on the Big Ten Network. The Badgers had won the last nine meetings and 13 of the previous 14, with Wisconsin having outscored Illinois by a combined 145-46 in the four meetings since Paul Chryst took over the Wisconsin program in 2015. So what happened in 2019? James McCourt converted a 39-yard FG as time expired, as Illinois upset Wisconsin 24-23 as a 30 1/2-point underdog. Methinks the Badgers will remember? Wisconsin is favored by 19 points and the over/under is 51.5.

The remaining 12 Big Ten schools (six games) will all be in action on Saturday. Top-10 schools Ohio St (No. 5) and Penn St (No. 8) are home to Nebraska and at Indiana, respectively. However, the Big Ten's marquee Game of the week is No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota. Most feel as if Harbaugh has underachieved since returning to his alma mater to coach and the Wolverines are coming off a 9-4 season, including a 35-16 loss to Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. As for Minnesota, PJ Fleck's Gophers 'rowed the boat' to an 11-2 season (including a 31-24 win in the Outback Bowl over Auburn as a 7-point dog), the school's first 11-win season since 1904. It's safe to say this is a "big one" for the Golden Gophers, as the last time Minnesota was involved in a matchup of ranked teams to start a season was 1968. Michigan is favored by three points and the over/under is 54 (kick off is 7:30 ET on ABC).

Michigan/Minnesota is one of four games featuring ranked opponents. The other three are No. 6 Oklahoma St at home against No. 17 Iowa St (Cowboys are favored by 3 1/2-points), No. 9 Cincinnati at No. 16 SMU (Bearcats are 2 1/2-point underdogs) and No. 14 No. Carolina home to No. 23 NC State (Tar Heels are favored by 15 points). There have been just 11 games featuring ranked opponents in 2020 and the higher ranked team has gone 10-1 SU and 9-2 ATS (the lone SU loser was then-No. 3 Florida losing on Oct 10 at then-No. 21 A&M). 

As for playing on ranked teams when matching up against unranked opponents, it has been a 'money-burning' proposition so far. Through games played Oct 17, ranked teams are 44-16 SU (.733) against their unranked opponents but only 20-39-1 (.339) ATS!  Friday's game (Wisconsin hosting Illinois) is the first of 12 games in which a ranked team is squaring off against a ranked opponent. Keep the above stat in mind before getting involved with any of the 12 favorites this weekend. That said, following a theory called "regression to the mean," we are overdue to see the ATS record swing back in favor of the ranked teams. Is this the week? Top-10 teams facing unranked opponents are No. 1 Clemson (-46) home to Syracuse, No. 2 Alabama (-21) at Tennessee, No. 3 Notre Dame (-10.5) at Pittsburgh, No. 5 Ohio St (-26) home to Nebraska and No. 8 Penn St (-5.5) at Indiana. 

Good luck...Larry

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