Rob Osentoski, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Brutus the Buckeye.
LAS VEGAS — Rivalry games are especially tough to bet but bettors in Las Vegas traditionally love a good challenge, so while most players would have a hard time saying this is a weekend that they are rewarded for their efforts, it still does big numbers behind the window.
Last year, Auburn turned the entire college football season upside down by upsetting Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Another upset seems unlikely — ‘Bama is a 24-point favorite Saturday — and there doesn’t seem to be much interest in the game around town. Probably because people are still licking their wounds from last season.
Even if the Iron Bowl ends up being a dud on the field and at the window, this weekend will generate a massive handle in Vegas.
Notre Dame (-11) at USC | Over/Under: 54
Notre Dame passed a big test last Saturday with a 36-3 shellacking of Syracuse at Yankee Stadium. That sets the Irish up with a win-and-in game at USC.
Some people around town are saying this could be a trap game for the Irish or they could be coming down off a big high with last week’s win. But with their eyes focused on the prize of a College Football Playoff berth with a win and finishing with an undefeated record, it’s hard to imagine a Notre Dame hiccup against a disappointing USC team.
It’s worth noting that the Trojans did pull off an upset against Washington early this season but bettors aren’t giving them a chance against the No. 3 team in the country.
The overwhelming betting support for the Irish has Jason Simbal, sportsbook manager at CG Technologies, a little concerned.
“This game worries me the most for Saturday. It has Notre Dame, which is a very public side, and it’s around primetime meaning everyone will be paying attention,” Simbal said. “The fact the bettors were all over Notre Dame early is reason for us to be concerned. This game opened at -10. [Bettors] immediately laid the 10, then laid the -10.5 just as quickly and then we jumped the line right to -11.5.”
Not only are straight bets flying in on the Fightin’ Irish, but they will certainly be a popular parlay team on Saturday. All of this is setting up some serious liability with Notre Dame.
“The ticket count when things slowed down a little was already 17 to 1 for the Irish. This means the public and the pros are all over Notre Dame. Considering the amount of parlays that will be focused on the big games, this certainly being one of them, I think we’re going to need the Trojans badly,” Simbal added.
Westgate SuperBook supervisor Cameron Coombs doesn’t see the action slowing down, either.
” Our line opened at -9.5 and quickly went to -11. I honestly expected it to keep climbing. My estimate was -13. It might still get there Saturday since we’re seeing no push back anywhere on USC,” Coombs explained.
LSU at Texas A&M (-3.5) | Over/Under: 48
There was a point in the season where LSU would have been the favorite in this game but things have changed over the past few weeks with the Tigers losing to Florida and Alabama.
Even though Texas A&M has a worse record and is ranked 15 spots lower than LSU, this line continues to climb in the Aggies’ favor.
“Our liability is on Texas A&M right now.” Coombs said. “The largest bet we’ve taken was at -2.5 which pushed the line to -3 which is where we have it now. My feeling is that A&M has the advantage simply because they’re playing at home.”
It was all A&M money at CG early in the week but Simbal saw some buyback on the Tigers and thinks public bettors will take LSU on Saturday.
“We opened the line at -1.5” he said. “Then they quickly bet the game up to -2.5 here. The game eventually got to -3 here as well. However we have taken some decent bets on LSU and I do think that as long as this number holds until Saturday, the public may come in on the Tigers. I could see this number tick back down to -2.5 but we were all surprised how quickly the early bettors were all over the Aggies.”
Michigan (-4.5) at Ohio State | Over/Under: 55.5
Saturday’s headliner features two teams with everything to play for after Ohio State survived a scare against Maryland in Week 12.
The Buckeyes still have a chance to make the playoff, but they’ll likely need some help. Michigan, on the other hand, appears to be sitting in the driver’s seat and control its own destiny with wins against Ohio State and Northwestern.
This game also has Simbal concerned as early sharp money came in on Michigan.
“When I see the sharps jump in early on the favorite, that doesn’t sit well with me because we know the public will likely be in on the favorite here too,” Simbal said. “It puts us in a spot with the busy weekend where there’s a ton of parlays and the late money games will all be focused on the favorite as well.”
With recreational and professional money backing Michigan, CG will almost certainly be rooting on the home underdog in “The Game.”
“With the sharps on Michigan we’re going to have a ton of liability here,” Simbal continued. “The number opened at -3.5 and we took sharp bets laying -3.5, -4, AND -4.5. The line went to -5 for a bit and nobody touched it. Things went pretty quiet for a couple of days. We took a little money on Ohio State so we pushed the line back to -4.5 and we took a big limit bet from one of our sharper players on Michigan at -4.5.
“I thought at some point we had to get some significant push back on Ohio State laying over a field goal at home but that wasn’t the case and I’ve discussed before that you can tell how a game might go based on what people aren’t betting as opposed to what they are betting. The fact that people are off Ohio State makes me believe that this game won’t be nearly as close as people think it may be,” Simbal added.
Coombs said the Westgate hasn’t seen huge action yet on this game but that they have some liability on Michigan -5.
Other Key Liabilities
Coombs said the Westgate has seen some sharp action on Iowa (-8.5) against Nebraska, Marshall (-1) at FIU and Rice (+10) vs. ODU. The SuperBook’s largest liability at the time of writing was on Troy (+11) at Appalachian State thanks to one bettor dropping $14,000 on the Trojans.