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Gaming Guru

Jeff Haney

Gamblers who backed lowly Temple — as a favorite — may have been using a smart calculus, or just had lots of luck

4 September 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Perhaps the hoariest handicapping angle in college football betting — tallying a team's returning starters — paid off in a crucial matchup during the season's opening weekend.

Well, it was crucial for bettors who subscribe to the old returning starters theory, anyway.

In short, the angle dictates betting on the team with more returning starters than its opponent early in the season.

Gamblers who held their nose and backed lowly Temple — the only team with all 22 starters back — cashed their tickets when the Owls beat Army, 35-7.

More surprising than the final score was the fact that Temple entered the game as a 7-point favorite — a huge margin for a team that had been favored by any amount exactly twice in its previous five seasons.

A team that was unceremoniously booted from the Big East for lack of performance.

A team with a tradition of bungling that stretches back to Bill Cosby's playing days, when the Owls lost to Hofstra 800-0 every year and even Vassar wouldn't deign to schedule a game with them.

Yet Temple continued to generate action this week, attracting some early money at the betting window for Saturday's game against Connecticut. Last year UConn beat Temple 22-17 after Owls receiver Bruce Francis was ruled out of bounds while catching a deflected pass near the back of the end zone, a play that could have given Temple the lead in the final minute.

UConn opened as a 7 1/2-point favorite in this week's game before the line settled in at 7 points. That point spread is available at casinos throughout Las Vegas ... including the Flamingo, where Cosby's "Why Is There Air?" was recorded in 1965.

Of course, like any other betting angle, the returning starters theory is not always reliable. It's often built into the betting line. Other times it just doesn't mean much: What if most of a team's starters are back, but they all stink?

At the recent Vegas Insider football betting seminar at Red Rock Resort, handicapper Marc Lawrence recommended a twist on the theory that entails backing teams with five offensive linemen returning.

It didn't work out for Wyoming, though, which failed to cover a

14-point spread in its 21-20 victory against Ohio in Week 1.

Three other teams in the category — Ball State, Iowa and West Virginia — play their first "lined" games this week after opening against nonbetting-board teams. All three are favored. Ball State hosts Navy as a 7 1/2-point favorite Friday; Iowa hosts Florida International as a 27-point favorite Saturday; and West Virginia visits East Carolina as an 8-point favorite Saturday, in three games that had no substantial point spread moves in early wagering.

One team that did produce a sizable line move was Oklahoma State, which was bet up to a 16 1/2-point favorite against Houston after opening at 14. The Cowboys, No. 25 in the Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmakers' poll but way down in the "others receiving votes" section of the Associated Press poll, thumped Washington State, 39-13, as a

7 1/2-point favorite in Week 1.

Extra games

In Tuesday's "Odds 'N' Ends" column we noted that San Diego State's season-opening loss to Cal Poly was particularly ignominious because oddsmakers generally don't bother making lines on games involving teams from the Great West Conference, in which Cal Poly competes with Southern Utah, UC Davis and both Dakotas.

Jeff Sherman, the assistant manager of the Las Vegas Hilton sports book, pointed out the Hilton was taking bets on that game and other not-so-marquee matchups on its menu of "extra added" games.

The double modifier is intentional.

"Added games" has long been the accepted term in Las Vegas sports betting to describe games, often involving minor conferences, that are on the betting board but not part of the main rotation.

Betting lines on extra added games — matchups of interest beyond the main rotation and the usual added games — are typically posted on the board at the Hilton each Thursday, Sherman said, although this week they're scheduled to appear Friday.

The betting limit is $2,000 on added games and extra added games at the Hilton.

This past weekend, for example, San Diego State was a 7-point favorite against Cal Poly. In another extra added game without a widely distributed betting line, LSU was a 25 1/2-point favorite in its 41-13 victory against Appalachian State.

UFC odds

The offshore gambling operation Bodog set a betting line on the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title bout between Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar two hours after the fight was announced Tuesday.

Couture opened as a minus 160 favorite (risk $1.60 to win $1) with Lesnar a plus 130 underdog (risk $1 to net $1.30) in the fight scheduled for Nov. 15 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The odds were soon adjusted to minus 125 on Couture and minus 105 on Lesnar, an indication the betting marketplace views the scheduled five-rounder as close to an even matchup.

The round proposition opened at over/under the 2:30 mark of Round 3, with a heavy premium on the "over" of minus 260.

UFC President Dana White hyped the fight as the biggest bout in the history of the organization. Couture, a five-time champion and one of the most popular figures in mixed martial arts, returns to the UFC after settling a contract dispute that left him out of action for more than a year. Lesnar made his name as a college wrestling champ and in pro wrestling before pursuing MMA.

Expect similar odds in Las Vegas sports books, many of which offer betting on MMA events.

One notable exception: Officials with Station Casinos opt to keep UFC odds off the board because the Fertitta family runs both the UFC and Station Casinos.

Gamblers who backed lowly Temple — as a favorite — may have been using a smart calculus, or just had lots of luck is republished from