I guess this is a good time to explain why the blog is called the Just Cover Blog.

It goes back to cold, rainy November Saturday in Chicago in 2002. I was drinking the day away in a bar of ill repute on the north side. Our bookie managed the bar, and he typically gave us free reign of the place Saturday afternoons. Our group was really the place’s only customers on those Saturday, and he purchased the college football pay per view package so we could watch all our bets the games. 

 Of course, I was also fixed that day  on the raging battle between Wisconsin and Michigan.  And why not, the noon kick was broadcast by Pam Ward, so who wouldnt be hanging on every play? Michigan had just used most of the third quarter on a touchdown drive to make it 21-14 in their favor,  and Lloyd Carr was spending the rest of the second half  taking head on the challenge of trying to win the game by exactly that score. A couple fruitless runs up the middle, punt, play field position, get the clock to zero. I was on edge as a fan, but our  local guy was beside himself at Carr’s strategy.  The Wolverines were 11-point chalk, and I was able to gather from his mannerisms that the whole city of Chicago took the Badgers and the points.  I think it had been a tough stretch for our book, at least as it pertained to people betting on Michigan games. In Chicago, the three alum/fan bases that go to the window the hardest behind their teams are Notre Dame, Iowa and Wisconsin fans. Already on the year, Iowa and Notre Dame pantsed the Wolverines, likely impacting that weekend’s bottomline in the wrong direction for local books. And now, with the time ticking away in the fourth quarter and the Lloyd Carr game management strategy out in full force milking the more talented Wolverines to a victory, it was about to happen again. Sometime after watching another BJ Askew plunge into the mass of humanity go for less than 3 yards, our book snapped, looked at me at the other end of the bar and exclaimed in his irasicble, Bostonian accent, ‘come on Michigan, just cover the spread once you choking dogs.’ Or something like that. But, years later when I started this blog and was stuck on naming rights, I remembered the books plea for my Michigan to ‘Just Cover’ and BOOM, we had a name.

Anyway, I was thinking about that exchange again this past weekend. The Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas, for the fourth year in a row, got the jump on everyone by releasing point spreads for upwards of 100 college football ‘games of the year’ for the upcoming season. It might be overkill to be betting games when its still technically spring, but the Nugget wouldnt release odds if there wasnt a market for it. They book close to 130K this first weekend in college football bets and have won money in two of the three years they have done this. If they want to make it another winning campaign on their early lines, however, then they are going to need a big season out of the Michigan Wolverines.

Two things caught my attention with the release of college football lines. One, there isnt a single Ohio State game listed anywhere on the board. And, two, everybody is betting against the Michigan Wolverines. Along with Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and TCU, the Wolverines were a popular bet against team among the betting professionals. And, hey, why not?  Until further notice, the defense still sucks, the potent offense from a year ago is undergoing a makeover and, well, did you see last year? The Wolverines went 0-8 against the number in Big 10 play and have been one of the best teams to bet against during the ill-fated, three-year Rodriguez tenure. The coaching change isnt enough to inspire betting confidence.

The Golden Nugget released lines on five Michigan games and in four of them, after a crazy initial weekend of betting, have moved significantly against the Wolverines. Nobody is betting them, at least nobody among the crowd of sharps and wiseguys who do this for a living, so much so that they pack the Golden Nugget in early June in to get bets down before most of the college football betting public has even bought a preseason annual. The critiques are that Michigan remains a soft team, the Golden Nugget overrated a typically public program and sharp bettors love betting against first year head coached installing a new system.  The Nugget is going to take a bath unless the Wolverines, as my old bookie once urged them more than a decade, can just cover the spread. Let’s take a quick look at the four games currently on the board and in question.

Notre Dame at Michigan. Opening Lines, UM -2, Now ND -3

When the Nugget released their lines, they installed Michigan as slight point 2-favorites in their annual clash with Notre Dame. Bad move, Golden Nugget. That caught everyone’s attention early. Sharps hammered Notre Dame so much that the Book actually took the game off the board for a couple of hours, re-released it later in the day, making the Irish a 3-point favorite. Makes you wonder how many max $1000 bets they took in a row on the Irish before they decided on a new strategy.  I think this line movement initially has as much to do with Notre Dame as it does with Michigan. Wiseguys love themselves a little Brian Kelly. At Central, at Cincinnati and even down the stretch last season at Notre Dame, Kelly’s teams have won gamblers money, and I get the impression a lot of sharps feel a major leap coming from the Irish in Year 2 of the Kelly regime. To some, the Irish are finally underrated.  But, Notre Dame money keeps pouring in on this contest. Reports are now this line is up to Notre Dame -6. An 8-point swing from the opening line? I dont think the Irish are underrated anymore, at least not here. Look, I never put any analysis into the Michigan-Notre Dame games. The underdog always covers, wins more than half the time and typically plays its best game of the year in this classic rivalry. I’m taking the points, regardless. So, folks please keep betting the Irish all summer long, and maybe I can get a full TD head start.

Michigan at Northwestern. Opening Line, UM -4, Now Pick ‘Em

I have thought all along this game could be potential trap bait for the Wolverines. For the wiseguys, its set up perfectly for a play on the purple. Sharps love playing against teams making their first road start after a run of homes game to start the season. For Michigan, the trip to Evantson comes after five home games in a row right out of the chute. Sharps love playing against teams they feel are looking ahead to a more important game the following week. With Michigan trying to break a historic 3-game losing streak to Michigan State the very next week, the Wolverines indeed are in a classic look-ahead spot. Sharps love betting against programs in spots that have been a longstanding bugaboo for them. In Michigan, you have the Wolverines woeful 10-22 ATS mark in their first road game of the year, dating back to 1979. Its a tradition  at Michigan as old as world class flankers wearing the #1 jersey. Sure, the Wolverines covered and won famously a year ago in their first roadie a year ago, but sharps know the long term history here and a few of them have probably sent a kid or two through college on the proceeds alone from fading the Wolverines the first team they trek away from Ann Arbor every fall. This year appears to be no different. One scary thought on this game. Northwestern led the nation in drives of 10 or more plays a year ago. Michigan’s defense was 119th in allowing drives with 10 or more plays. Will Michigan ever have the ball in this one? They’re going to lose time of possession like 40 minutes to 20. Doomed, they are.

Michigan at Michigan State. Opening Line, MSU -3.5, Now MSU -7.5

I really dont have anything to say here. I do know that during most of 2010, Michigan State was a moneymaker for a lot of sharps in big spots. Maybe some of them expect the Green and White gravy train to continue, so long as they arent playing Alabama or anything. I expected MSU to be chalk in this one by 3-5 points, so initially there is no shock at the original line. But seeing this, like every other Michigan game on the board, sky rocket the other way was amazing. At 7.5 points, its the most MSU has been favored over Michigan in football in, like, well, maybe ever. I dont have spreads from the 1950 and 60s archived anywhere, so the JCB research team will have to work overtime to determine the validity of that statement. I am sure Coach Mork loves this line settling in at 7. I see a lot of my fellow Michigan fans rushing to call 2011 MSU a carbon copy of the disappointing 2010 Iowa team, but there is as much mythology to those hopes as there is reality. I have my own two thoughts on Michigan/MSU  in June, more than four months in advance of kickoff. One, despite the lopsided final score a year ago, I thought Michigan actually played MSU closer–at least on offense–than they had the previous two years. I’m sure MSU fans will pick a bone with that, but hold on for my other statement before chiding me. Two, if I could, I would switch rosters right now with Michigan State, mostly because of a deeper, more successfully proven defensive depth chart. Now, all my Michigan fans will hate me. I’ll go into depth on both theories in posts later in the summer.

Nebraska at Michigan. Opening Line: NU -1, Now NU -3

Are the Cornhuskers primed to be Big 10 frontrunners? The oddsmakers think so. Per The Greek Sports Book, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are heavy chalk to win the Big 10 Legends Division. At -250, with nobody else better than 3/1, oddsmakers are expecting a Husker walk through this division. I had a feeling when the Golden Nugget opened the Nebraska at Michigan game at just -1 Nebraska,  that some Cornhusker money could come trickling in. I mean, they are so chalky to win the division because the sharps are all over them there, it stands to reason the same bettors would be all over the team in a ‘pick ’em’ situation, even on the road. Nebraska favored by a field goal, maybe even a little bit more, this far in advance of the contest seems dead on to me.

The one available Michigan line that didnt see any movement was the Book’s curious decision to list the San Diego State tilt. They probably think the angle of Hoke going up against his old team makes it worthy of summer betting and discussion. The Wolverines opened as 8-point chalk against the Aztecs and its stayed right there. Via Twitter, JimHarbaughScramble digs the Wolverines in that game, but I stand by my response to him. I am not going anywhere near that game or anywhere that has Michigan as legit chalk. At least not yet.