Explanations for changing odds of CFP winner


LITTLE ROCK — Decades ago, when mutuel windows at Oaklawn Park were denomination-specific and the color of a ticket corresponded to a particular wager, a couple of guys with limited resources heard about a doctor from Little Rock who was in the know.

Somebody pointed out the man and a plan was hatched to hang out near the $50 window, listen closely to his wager, hurry to the $2 window, and take advantage of the inside information.

In consecutive races, $1 per partner bought a minimum win ticket. Down $2 each when the man doubled up, they tripled their ante for the rare purchase of a green ducat that signaled $2 across the board. After throwing down the $6 ticket, the colleagues decided the man was no better handicapper than them, that he simply had deeper pockets.

Watching the tote board these days, you can sometimes see a large wager move the odds in the final minutes before the race. Based on the conclusion that “somebody knows something,” late money is often called smart money.

Sometimes, last-minute plungers cash. More often, they don’t.

This dissertation about playing the ponies is a segue into wagering patterns on teams to win the College Football Playoff.

On Jan. 7, Bovada.lv released its line on the CFP with Florida State the favorite, followed closely by Alabama. Stanford was the third choice, followed by Ohio State, Oregon, Auburn, Oklahoma and Michigan State.

Much has changed.

Maybe some big-buck bettors were inspired by Nick Saban’s remarks at SEC Media Days — “We have to re-establish our identity …” or maybe they just learned that quarterback Jacob Coker transferred from Tallahassee to Tuscaloosa, but the Crimson Tide is co-favored with FSU. Reacting to incoming money to reduce their exposure, oddsmakers have both teams at 5.5-to-1.

At the racetrack, Stanford would be described as a huge overlay — ignored by bettors, a horse with juicy odds after being a relatively short price on the morning line. In January, Stanford was 9-1. For some reason, Stanford is 33-1.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan is still around and David Shaw is still in charge. The only thing I can come up with is that fans of Derek Mason believe the Stanford defense will fall apart with his promotion to head coach at Vanderbilt.

A dozen other teams with changes in the odds and mostly far-fetched explanations of why some have been embraced and others have been rejected:

• Oregon, 12-1, now 7-1. Bettors are convinced uniforms with outlandish color schemes attract the best athletes.

• Oklahoma, 20-1, 9-1. Fans in orange — Texas and Tennessee — know they can’t beat the Sooners and want to be able to cash in while boasting about being in the game with the national champion until the fourth quarter.

• Auburn, 14-1, 10-1: Fans of the hurry-up learn that Gus Malzahn and not Chip Kelly authored “Hurry-Up, No-Huddle, An Offensive Philosophy.”

• Ohio State, 10-1, 12-1: Braxton Miller must return to his quarterback guru for a refresher course after throwing two interceptions in the Orange Bowl and undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder.

• UCLA, 25-1, 14-1. Coach Jim Mora has shed bad habits picked up in the NFL.

• Georgia, 25-1, 18-1. Hired away from Florida State, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has already won three national championships.

• LSU, 25-1, 20-1. With the Tigers’ athletes on defense and surefire Heisman winner Leonard Fournette at running back, who needs a quarterback?

• Ole Miss, 66-1, 40-1. Bo Wallace is upset at being third team All-SEC quarterback, plus regular visits to The Grove can produce delusions of grandeur in fans.

• USC, 33-1, 25-1. Expectations for redshirt freshman Max Browne, not the first oversell of a Trojan quarterback.

• Texas A&M, 25-1, 66-1. Backers canceled their bets after Mike Evans, Jake Matthews, and Johnny Manziel were taken in the first round of the NFL draft.

• Florida and South Carolina, 25-1, 33-1. Eastern Division winner must beat the best of the West.

• Arkansas, 100-1, 300-1. Question marks galore.

Harry King is a sports columnist. His email is HLeonK42@gmail.com.