5-at-10: Fab 4 picks, NCAA gambling rules need changing, free agent starts for Dansby, Braves

Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson warms up as he takes part in batting practice before Game 3 of baseball's National League Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Fab 4 picks

OK, we are two weeks into our afternoon gambling foray. And Wednesday, we had a 2-0 day to get off the success-setback seesaw.

The under 48.5 in some Western Michigan-Northern Illinois MACtion and the Clippers cruising by the Lakers. We still have Tony Finau shooting 68 or better in today’s first round, so we’re not perfectly in the barn yet.

But the Lakers are the corollary to today’s Fab 4 picks.

The Lakers are one of those teams in sports that almost always gets shaded by Vegas. Last night the number was Clippers minus-3. Yes Kawhi Leonard was "out" because NBA players take more time off than federal employees.

But the comps are staggering.

The Lakers are 2-14. They are 28th (out of 30 NBA teams) in points per game at 107.7 and 24th in points allowed at 116.1 per. You can make a hard argument they are simply the worst team in the NBA.

The Clippers are 7-5 and have the worst offense in the league but a top-five defense.

Early in my journalism career, Charlie Hood, the longtime and legendary basketball coach at Marietta High School told me the word Marietta on the front of their jerseys was worth 8 points a game. Yes, he was paraphrasing several sentiments from coaches of all levels, but the idea is true.

What does this have to do with the Fab 4 picks, which are always college football connected? Glad you asked 

In Vegas’ eyes, it’s not the names of those traditional powers as much as the fan base’s overwhelming inclination to wager on those traditional powers. How many people do you know that the only way they will wager on a game with Alabama or Notre Dame or the Dallas Cowboys or the New England Patriots is backing those big names?

This is not the Alabama team to which we have become accustomed under Nick Saban. In fact, it’s a bizarro Bama, one that covers against overmatched foes and struggles against motivated teams that can compete athletically. Other than blasting Arkansas, the Tide’s lone cover against a Power 5 team that is bowl bound is a 30-6 win over Mississippi State.

Now, let’s add in the very real fact that some of these cats will be making business decisions since for the first time since the start of the 2011 season, Alabama is playing a regular-season game that has zero impact on the national championship.

Like the right fielder on your rec baseball team with the bunched briefs and the tight pants, let’s get to pickin’ shall we?

Ole Miss plus-12 over Alabama. I like the over here too, but not as much. Lane Kiffin relishes moments like this. Alabama’s staff and players are strangers to moments like this. Edge Rebels. Research alert: Ole Miss has won 14 in a row in Oxford and after a tough five-game start to his time with the Rebels, Kiffin is 22-5 since. Hmmmmmmmm. The moneyline at plus-320 (bet $100, win $320) for the Rebels, too.

Auburn-Texas A&M over 48.5. OK, dang it. More research. Did you know that each of these teams is in the bottom 20 nationally against the run? Hmmmmmmmm. Did you know each of these teams like to run the football? We’ll say it again, hmmmmmmm. The over has hit in four straight for Auburn and three straight for the Aggies, and when your season has unraveled to the extremes it has for these two teams, the motivation for defensive players decreases more quickly than that for offensive players. As Ron Burgandy said, it’s science.   

Kentucky-Vandy over 47.5 (FanDuel). OK, I know this would normally be out of character for the very stoic, the very traditional and the very football-coachish Mark Stoops, but there is value for the Wildcats’ program to let Will Levis eat here. I have pshawed all the lavish Levis love from the start of the season, but Kiper and the draftniks think he’s a dude. Well, after a stinker against UT and with a nightmare matchup looming against the best defense in college football next week, this is the chance for Levis to be the toast of the Saturday night/Sunday morning highlight reels with something akin to a 27-for-34, 400+ yards and four scores. And now know this: Vandy’s been little more than a seven-on-seven challenge for Power 5 foes. With the exception of a 17-14 loss against Missouri, Vandy has surrendered 45, 55, 52, 55, and 38 points in such match-ups. And none of them had the magnificent Will Levis pulling the trigger.

Wisconsin minus-1.5 over Iowa. Hey, Chuck Long is not walking through that door, Hawkeye fans. And know this: The Iowa offense is really bad. How bad? Glad you asked. For starters, the over/under is 35.5. Seriously. Who’s playing, Broncos-Texans? Iowa has committed more penalties than its opponents, has a negative turnover differential, is 124th nationally in scoring offense (17 points per) and third-down conversion percentage (34-for-119, which is 28.6%) and next-to-last among Power 5 programs in passing yards at 159.2 per game. Since the coaching change, Wisconsin has been much better offensively and overall. The success will continue.

Michigan minus-30 over Nebraska. Yeah, I’m a bit gun shy about laying 30 in a conference game, too. But Michigan has been the most consistent team in college football all season. They are balanced and deep, and Coach Khaki has enjoyed a relatively calm autumn. Not the case in Lincoln, where Nebraska has an interim coach and a staff that will almost all be replaced. It’s a roster filled with transfer portal guys who assuredly are not going to be super jazzed about heading to Ann Arbor to get punched in the face. A lot.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread (40%)

This season: 28-28-2 against the spread (50%, check my math there Spy)

More betting

OK, the proliferation of sports wagering around the country and within the major sports associations should have forced the powers that be to reassess their by-laws by now.

And naturally, the last operation we should ever expect to make a thoughtful or preemptive move in matters of leadership is the NCAA.

That’s my fault I suppose, because my mom used to have a saying. If someone is standing in your yard, she would begin, and they are swinging a 2x4 in big circles over their head, and they hit you with that 2x4, well, the first time I suppose you can be angry about it. You keep walking into that circle and keep getting hit in the head by that 2x4, and eventually that’s on you.

She’s right, so expecting the NCAA to lead with wisdom is a fool’s errand that leads to headaches, a lot like the 2x4 scenario.

But, with all the money the leagues and its broadcast partners are making with legalized sports wagering, suspending Alan Tisdale, a Virginia Tech linebacker, for six games for legally wagering on the NBA Finals last year is head-scratching. Even for the NCAA.

Yes, if Tisdale was playing a college picks parlay sheet, it’s an issue that must be addressed and enforced.

I also understand — and support — that rules are rules, and if Tisdale was aware of the rules and broke them anyway, then punishment is applicable.

This lament, though, is a call to address the rules. Or don’t be there with your hand out the next time FanDuel and the rest are buying ads during your games or the NCAA tournament.

Anything but free agency

So, free agency in baseball starts today. The best I can tell, there are a slew of big questions, but for a large majority of us across the South, it centers on three things:

— Where will Dansby go, which also leads us to

— Who will play short at Truist next year if it’s not Dansby, and

— How much money did Aaron Judge make by saying no to a lower offer before last season’s record-setting production?

Let’s go with the third item first. Judge was offered an eight-year, $230 million contract before the season. He declined and bet on himself. 

And he won that bet. Handsomely.

Judge hit .311 (fifth in the majors), with MLB-leading numbers in homers (62), RBIs (131) and OPS (1.111). Judge’s neighborhood will be around the seven-year, $300 million range, and that’s a mighty nice neighborhood.

Then, the only question is will there be another suitor to push the Yankees even higher. If the Mets get involved, the above number could just be the starting point. 

Either way, here comes the Judge, and he’s bringing a fat wallet with him.

As for Dansby, projections from a very insightful write-up at The Athletic (pay site) has Swanson looking at a seven-year, $168-170 million deal.

Personally, I think that’s too much. That makes Swanson by far the highest paid Braves player — Austin Riley averages $21.2 million, Charlie Morton makes $20 million per — and it’s a simple question: Is Dansby the Braves best player? Is he even the most valuable Braves player?

Which leads us to the next hundred million-dollar question: If he does not write the big checks for Dansby’s dollars, where will Alex Anthopoulos spend his free-agency coins?

There are four star shortstops in the pool, but Swanson likely is the most affordable of the Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Trae Turner crew.

And what about adding a bona fide ace to the front of the rotation? That would be more expensive than Swanson too.

But how good would Jacob deGrom look as the opening day starter for this Braves bunch? Or Carlos Rodòn?

If the Braves let Dansby walk — and replace him in house with Vaughn Grissom or move Ozzie Albies back to his natural spot at short — and decline the option on Morton, that would be in excess of $40-plus million to spend, and that does not count whatever additions the club was planning to make to the payroll.

Give $30 million (or more) to deGrom — his presence gives the Braves its first true ace since Smoltz started to decline, and makes your chief divisional rival weaker — and figure out a way to address shortstop in another direction.

Thoughts?

This and that

— So we have had our first transgender person win a Miss America-sponsored event. 

— You know the rules. Here’s Paschall’s picks column, which is almost always filled with a hearty zinger or three.

— Watched the CMAs last night. I know, Spy, I’m a sucker for awards shows. Enjoyed parts of it. Hated other parts of it. And as big a fan as I am of Peyton Manning, man he and Luke Bryan were awkwardly stoic and stoically awkward. And Elle King’s tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis was terrible. 

Today’s questions

Anything goes Thursday people. Fire away as we still await final tallies in some elections.

As for today, Nov. 10, happy birthday to my cousin Olivia. 

Also, Miranda Lambert is 39. In our conversations about country music, I am a big fan of Ms. Lambert’s.

Walton Goggins is 51 today. He was in my homeroom in high school when were freshmen and sophomores. 

Gene Conley, one of the first multi-sport professional athletes, would have been 92 today.

Rushmore of multi-sport stars. Go and remember the mailbag.