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Penn State at 11-1 Odds

   by Al McMordie - 10/13/2008

If you’ve every played billiards or chess, you know that the best players don’t simply go shot to shot or move to move. Rather, they think two or three moves ahead. A pool player uses the current shot to smartly set up his next shot, and so on. There’s a similarity in sports wagering, as well. A successful handicapper should have a good eye for short term wins, and to think moves ahead for potential long term gains.

For instance, last Thursday I bought a ticket on Penn State, at 11-to-1 odds, to win the national title. With so many No. 1 teams dropping like flies, it’s a good idea to examine undervalued teams that may have a shot at the BCS title game. I had Penn State circled to beat an overrated Wisconsinteam on Saturday, knowing that once Wisky was dispatched, the odds on PSU would drop significantly from 11-1. Moreover, PSU's schedule the rest of the way is not that difficult.

The only game they might not be favored is at Ohio State, October 25th. A win there, and they are likely to run the table unbeaten. And even a defeat isn’t a death knell to their chances as a one-loss team is likely to be playing for the title in January. After all, LSU had two losses last season and still won the national title.

Penn State (7-0) made its most definitive statement of the season, waxing Wisconsin 48-7 before 81,524 stunned fans in Camp Randall Stadium. “I thought we’d win,â€쳌 said Joe Paterno, who won his 379th career game. With losses by No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Missouri and No. 4 LSU on Saturday, the Nittany Lions have jumped to #3 in the polls. Having an above average coach is another factor to think about when placing futures bets.

Some teams can get fired up to beat an opponent, then get so focused on celebrating, they are ripe to be upset down the road. Penn State won’t be overconfident, as Paterno has been down the undefeated road (two national titles) many times. Penn State is 7-0 for the 11th time and the first time since 1999. They also have a dominant defense, another factor to consider. “We just wanted to get out and play physical,â€쳌 one Penn State player said. “Make sure that they didn’t push us around at the line of scrimmage, make sure we dictated the tempo of the game, and I think we were able to do that.â€쳌

The Nittany Lions gave the Badgers various looks -- base defense, nickel (five defensive backs) and both four-and five-linebacker packages -- to help stack the box against bruising running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay. Teams that win with defense are a better bet to run the table to end the season than those that rely on offense, especially with bad weather just around the corner.

In fact, a year ago I had another great defensive team, LSU at 8-to-1 to win the title, and the Tigers rewarded me by defeating Ohio St for the Championship. Another reason to look at value in the short AND long term is that it gives a bettor the opportunity to hedge his bet. I actually wagered a small amount on Ohio State when they met LSU for the title, so I was guaranteed a profit no matter who won the game.

The final factor to look at for futures wagering is scheduling. Penn State has that one big clash with Ohio State, some winnable games, and then no Big 10 title game, which is a disadvantage for the Big 12, SEC, ACC and Big East schools. Penn State's two main threats will be Alabama and Texas. Alabamais off a well positioned bye week smack in the middle of a long season, which will be a nice break for the Tide. They also have an easy schedule with the exception of a game in November at LSU, but they'll certainly be tested in the SEC title game.

And there’s Texas, a team that was 10-to-1 to win the title before the season started. But the Longhorns still have a tough schedule, playing offensive powerhouses Oklahoma State, Missouri, Kansasand Texas Tech - then perhaps even a Big 12 title game. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Nittany Lions and USC Trojans play for the title (if so, I'll hedge). So that’s how you gauge wagering value and potential title teams, weighing the team strengths, the schedule, the defense and coaching staffs. And don’t be afraid to hedge your bet down the road -- the idea is to turn a profit, not simply cash in a long shot. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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