After hitting close to 70 percent last year - and that was with a staggeringly bad 1-8 mark in picking games that involved Clemson (Stupid Clemson) - we have staggered out of the gate this year.
We're 9-6 through three weeks. We've lost some close ones, and we've identified some trends. But mainly we have ignored the fundamental rule of picking games against the spread: It's not about picking teams; it's about picking winning bets.
With that in mind, here are some fundamental reminders about point spreads.
1) The spreads, also known as the lines, are not set as the house's idea of the difference between the two teams. Sure, those often work, but those lines are set to try to get an even amount of betting on each side. If team A is playing team B, the perfect world for the casino is having $1 million on A and $1 million on B. That's a locked-up $100K and turn the game off. That's how the lines are set, to try to get equal amounts of money on each side.
2) When you see a point spread that looks too good to be true, it generally is. If you're thinking, wow, can't believe Arkansas is getting 21 points at home, that's nuts. Well, try to remember rule 1 and memorize rule 2.
3) If the line is less than 10 do not take the underdog unless you believe they are going to win the game out right. Banking on points is part of gambling, but banking on a single score is a dicey deal.
4) Here's our guideline for bigger spreads. Let's take a complete hypothetical: Let's say Auburn was struggling pretty badly. And let's say No. 2-ranked LSU was coming into town rolling. OK, let's make LSU an 18-point favorite. How many points would it take for you to bet on Auburn? If the answer is close to the actual point spread, then keep looking for your bet. We believe we'd need Auburn plus-28, and if you can find a game that has a 10-point curve in either direction, well, you're not going to get much better than that.
On to the picks....
Florida minus-23 against Kentucky: Let's go to Rule 4. How many would it take for you to feel comfortable with the Gators? Would you take Joker Phillips and Co. plus 33? How about Florida minus-40?
Georgia minus-14 against Vandy: We'd buy the half and take our chances. Vandy couldn't beat South Carolina in arguably the biggest home game in program history. They couldn't beat Northwestern on the road. So the Commodores are going to have an answer for Georgia? At night? In front of 92,000-plus against an Aaron Murray-paced offense and one of the nation's five best defenses?
LSU minus-19 at Auburn: The best bet is under 48 because Auburn may not get a TD. In fact, how many first downs do you think Auburn gets?
Clemson plus-14.5 at Florida State: And desperate times call for desperate measures. We have picked Clemson for crying out loud.
West Virginia minus-26 against Maryland: The over the 62 is worth looking at too. We think West Virginia is going to score a truck load of points every chance they get.
And remember, gang, this is for entertainment purposes only.
Braves new ace
OK, we're on board. Kris Medlen is the Atlanta Braves ace. Period and end of discussion.
Whether it was the flat-billed hat or the grin of a 12-year-old or the unassuming physical presence, we had doubted Medlen time and again. In fact, when asked earlier this month who the Braves should start in the one-game, win-or-pack-the-equipment wildcard playoff, we said Tim Hudson because of experience.
Well forget that. Experience has taught us that the last 21 times Kris Medlen has taken the ball to the mound to start a game for the Braves, Atlanta has won. Yes, 21 consecutive wins. That's mind-bending.
Medlen has not been charged with a loss in 26 consecutive starts. He lowered his ERA to 1.51 after throwing 66 of his 99 pitches for strikes in eight scoreless innings. In his 10 starts since July 31, Medlen is 8-0 with an 0.76 ERA.
So the Braves are 6.5 games ahead of St. Louis for the top wildcard spot and 8.5 games clear of the Dodgers with 12 games to play.
And this September's surge - the Braves have won 12 of their last 17 - has a great deal to with Atlanta's new ace. Flat-billed hat and all.
Weekend of challenges
There are a slew of intriguing games this weekend.
Baylor-McCallie is Friday night. So is Red Bank-Cleveland and South Pittsburg-Signal Mountain.
Saturday has the blood-bath that should be UT getting well against Akron.
Arguably the biggest game on the slate is UTC hosting App State on Saturday.
Our ace columnist Mark Wiedmer writes about it here http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/sep/20/mark-wiedmer-will-app-state-game-defi-utc-football/.
It's time for a Mocs moment. It's time for a helmet-hanging win. Getting close to the upper-crust teams was a big step. The next step is beating them. It's time for the next step.
UTC coach Russ Huesman told Weeds that winning Saturday is not "a program-defining game, win or lose." And we can accept that. But everyone needs to know that UTC and Huesman need to find a program-defining moment sooner rather than later
Let's break down the five key points to Saturday for Jomo's Mocs:
1) Handle the moment. UTC believes it's ready for games like this. App State knows it is because it has been in so many of them.
2) Account for Jeremy Kimbrough. As our UTC beat ace John Frierson told us today http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/sep/20/appalachian-state-utc-have-elite-lbs-chattanooga/, App State linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough is among the best at his position in the FCS. He single-handled decided last year's 14-12 ASU win.
3) Big play. We understand Huesman's caution and need for this not to be viewed as a program-defining game win or lose. That puts the stakes too high and even if the Mocs win, that does not mean a secured playoff spot. But this could be the game that defines a season in which the Mocs change their course. And if that's to occur, they need a play to change this game. One big play made by one of the usual suspects or by some unknown.
4) Josh Williams, it's time to show up like the All-American that you are. And bring Wes Dothard with you, will you?
5) Start fast. The nerves will be there. The pressure will be there. The opportunity will be there. And the presence of all of those things is a great thing for this team, this program and their fans. That's the true mark of how much Russ and Co. has accomplished, that games like this matter. Now those chances are limited, because, as Weeds wrote, at some point those hopes are rewarded with wins. And with all of the emotion in the air, a quick start will magnify the moment every bit as much as 14-0 hole could mute it.
Whatcha' got UTC?
This and that
- Imagine that: Chipper Jones and Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig records. Chipper matched Gerhig's career hit total at 2,721 and Jeter matched Gerhig's Yankees' record of eight seasons with 200 hits.
- Jalen Rose claimed he intentionally injured Kobe Bryant in the 2000 NBA Finals. Why? Not, "Why did you do it Jalen, since every third time you open your pie hole you prove yet again how big a punk you are?" No, our question is why share this now, 12 years later and apparently devoid of anything close to a pertinent reason? Other than baggy shorts, Jalen Rose has not added much to the social discourse. (Although, looking back at John Stockton, et al., the addition of baggy shorts was a high quality move.)
- Proving yet again that true love is as elusive as Barry Sanders in his prime, Chad Johnson and Evelyn Lozada divorced. Johnson, the former NFL receiver and former reality TV star who used to be known as Chad Ochocinco (now that's an appositive phrase that can fill up a resume), met Lozada on a reality TV show and lost his jobs after being arrested for head-butting his former wife. Side question: If the going divorce rate is a tragically high 50 percent, what is the rate of reality TV relationships that split up? Is this the first time someone can say 110 percent and be truthful?
- Wow R. Kelly now has a record-setting 21 career nominations for the Soul Train Awards. OK, you have a few questions, and we'll try to answer them. Yes, there is such a thing as The Soul Train Awards Show, and apparently it has been a round for a few years - or at least long enough for R. Kelly to get almost two dozen nominations. No, "Most likely to bring a 13-year-old girl to the ceremony" was not a category. Yes, Michael Jackson and Beyonce previously held the record for most nominations. No, George Strait has never been nominated. Yes, Don Cornelius, the long-time host and creator of the TV show Soul Train, is on the award statute. No, Soul Glo, the hair-care product by Darryl Jenks and his family in "Coming to America" is not a sponsor. Let your soul glow. And as always we wish you love, peace and soul.
Tonight, two great quarterbacks take the field when the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants play.
If you had the choice between Cam Newton or Eli Manning, who are you taking?
Manning turned 31 last January, so using him as the old guy ceiling, who are the best quarterbacks in the NFL 31 and younger? Here are some reminders - Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Mike Vick are older than 31. Cam, Eli, Aaron Rodgers, RG III, Matt Ryan, Phillip Rivers and Andrew Luck are not.
Remember, this is not who is the most accomplished. Picture this as redraft of the QBs in the league right now. Who do you take Nos. 1-5?