2015 College Football Games of the Year – Who did Linemakers Favor or Fade?

by Warren Sharp

When the Golden Nugget released the 2015 College Football Games of the Year, I shared with you team by team summaries analyzing the lines.  However, far more interesting than just what the current lines are, is the comparison of what they were the last time games were played.

As such, I went back as far as 2008 to find prior meetings with common opponents.  However, the vast majority of games lined by the Golden Nugget were rematches from 2014 meetings.  As such, we have very recent, relevant numbers to compare.

The key to such an analysis is adjusting for home field, because in most instances, teams hosting an opponent in 2015 were on the road vs that team in 2014.  So the proper adjustments were made to bring both meetings (current and prior) to neutral locations to compare lines accurately.  (As such, these don’t factor in nuances if particular handicappers value a home field above or below a standard 3 point edge.)

The findings are displayed in two tables below.  The first table (Line Swing Summary) shows the average line swing for all teams whose games were lined.  At the top of the list is a team favored to make the Championship game, TCU.  In their 8 lined games, they saw an AVERAGE line swing in their favor of over 8.3 points, and that compares across 8 games, all of which are rematches from 2014.  Their biggest swing is over Oklahoma.  Even though they only beat Oklahoma 37-33 in 2014 in a home game, Oklahoma was actually a 4 point road favorite in that game.  Now, the 2015 meeting is IN Oklahoma, but TCU finds themselves a 5 point favorite.  That’s a 15 point swing in TCU’s favor.  (Oklahoma would be a 7 point neutral field favorite in 2014, TCU would be a 8 point neutral field favorite in 2015).

Interestingly, two SEC schools come in next, with Arkansas and Tennessee being favored by approximately 8 more ppg than they were in prior meetings with their 2015 opponents.

But looking at the other end of the spectrum finds even more interesting information.  Former powers Oklahoma and Florida are favored by 9-10 points less than they were in matchups from 2014, in most cases making them underdogs in the games.  For instance, in 2014 Oklahoma played Tennessee in Oklahoma.  Oklahoma was a 21 point favorite and won by 24 points.  But in 2015, Oklahoma finds themselves a 3 point underdog on 9/12 in Tennessee.  That’s an 18 point swing in Tennessee’s favor!

Florida, as indicated in my prior article, is in some rarefied air in 2015.  Underdogs in all of their 7 lined games, some of the lines are unprecedented for them.  The last time they faced Ole Miss was 2008 (the only of their 7 lined games which is not a 2014 rematch).  They were favorites of 22.5 in the Swamp, but lost by 1 point.  Now, at HOME to Ole Miss, they are 6 point underdogs.  That’s a 28.5 point swing.

Below the summary table is the detail table.  Here, you can find (organized by team) every lined game as part of the 2015 Golden Nugget Games of the Year, and you can see how it compares to the prior meeting.  The column on the far right is the line swing, where you can easily see which team was favored more in 2014 as compared to the prior meeting, and by how many points.  If the line is blank, it indicates the prior meeting occurred prior to the 2008 season.

Early Analysis of the 2015 College Football Games of the Year

by Warren Sharp

This article was originally published on Fox Sports.com.

On Friday afternoon, the Golden Nugget race and sports book released their annual “College Football Games of the Year” for 2015 in an event which generates a pilgrimage to the Vegas book the weekend they get released each year.  Earlier, Todd Fuhrman gave a good background on how the Nugget came up with these lines along with some other insight here.

Below are team summaries and lines organized by team.  Unlike most of these lists that will pop up on the news cycles, organizing by team (instead of date) is a far easier way to view the results.  The summary will show you which teams are favored the most and which the least.  Obviously, being “Games of the Year”, not all games are lined for each team.  As such, this isn’t the truest portrait of the 2014 games, but it certainly is the most accurate as of late June.

Your defending National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes sit at the top of this list, being favored by an average of over 16 points in their 4 lined games.  But not far behind sit TCU as the only other program favored by an average of over 2 TDs in multiple lined games.  Unsurprisingly, along with Alabama, these teams are favorites to win it all this year.

Alabama finds themselves favored in 8 of their 9 lined games, with their game in October vs Georgia being a pick-em.  On average, they were favored by just over 1 TD in these 9 games.  Fellow SEC rivals LSU and Georgia were also well regarded by the linemakers.

On the other end of the spectrum, the UNLV Rebels were lined in 6 games, but large underdogs in all of them.  Their “best” line was +12 but they were as high as +33 vs Michigan in Ann Arbor, the largest underdog lined in this release.  On average, UNLV was a +22 point underdog.

SEC teams who struggled in this release include South Carolina, who were dogs in 5 of their 6 lined games, by an average of almost 1 full TD, and Mississippi State, who were lined in 7 games and made underdogs in all of them.

In an interesting nugget on the team with the largest line swing, the Michigan Wolverines, now coached by Jim Harbaugh, are underdogs of 16 points at home to Ohio State, but are made favorites of 33 points at home vs UNLV.  That 49 point swing is the largest of any of the 2015 teams.

Some other interesting trends, tidbits and nuggets from a review of the lines:

  • Michigan is a +16 point underdog at home to Ohio State on 11/28.  Michigan has been home dogs of a TD or more to the Buckeyes only 3 times the past 25 years and has never lost ATS.
  • Only once in 25 yrs have the Michigan Wolverines been home dogs of over 2 TDs to any opponent, but on 11/28 they catch +16 at home vs. Ohio State.
  • With Alabama being lined a pick-em in Georgia on 10/3, it marks the first time since 2008 that Alabama is not favored in a regular season game.  In 2008 they were not favored in 2 games and won both of them, but never since.
  • In more linemaker respect for Georgia, the Bulldogs play in Auburn 11/14 as a pick-em.  Its just the 3rd time since 2012 where Auburn was not favored at home.  They won both prior games.  Since 2009, Auburn is 7-3 ATS and 5-5 SU when not favored at home.
  • For just the 2nd time since 1998, the Florida State Seminoles are favored by over 2 TDs vs the Miami Hurricanes in Tallahassee.  The only other time was in 2013, where Florida State won 41-14.
  • The last time Mississippi visited the Florida Gators was 2008 as 22.5 point underdogs.  The Ole Miss Rebels won 31-30.  They are 6 point favorites IN Florida in 2015, where they are 4-0 ATS since 1985.
  • The past 4 trips to Stanford, Oregon has been an average -8 point favorite.  They are lined at a pick-em for their trip in 2015.
  • South Carolina have been lined as double digit road dogs only 3 times since 2008.  In their only 3 road games which have been lined for 2015, they are double digit dogs in all of them.
  • Not since 2007 has Tennessee been favored on the road vs the SEC apart from games vs Vanderbilt or Kentucky, until 9/26 in the Swamp.  The Volunteers are 16-2 SU and 13-5 ATS as SEC road favorites since 2002.  It’s the best ATS win rate for any SEC school in that span.
  • Only once since 2009 has Wisconsin been made a double digit dog – vs Nebraska in 2012 (they covered).  On 9/5 to open the season they are +10 point dogs vs Alabama.

Up next, we will discuss the line swings between the 2015 meetings and the last time teams met, to see which teams are getting the most respect as compared to their prior meeting.

But for now, here’s how your team looks from a Vegas linemaker’s perspective in late June:

Click to enlarge graphics

Overlooking this Majestic Season would be a Travesty

by Warren Sharp

The Packers offense in 2014 was an offensive juggernaut, but their performance was one of the most overlooked accomplishments in recent memory because we always expect the Packers to be a great offense and post double digit wins. Certainly, the Packers finished 12-4 and were an onsides kick + a Russell Wilson bomb from making the Super Bowl, but take a look at the numbers and you’ll see the true dominance:

  • 1st in Offensive efficiency
  • 1st in Offensive 30 & In TD %
  • 2nd in Offensive 3rd down efficiency
  • 2nd in Offensive pass efficiency
  • 2nd in Offensive yds/pass
  • 3rd in Offensive EDSR
  • 3rd in Overall efficiency
  • 4th in Offensive yds/point
  • 5th in Offensive red zone efficiency

These are tremendous numbers, but other offenses have put up similar numbers in the last 20 years. However, the context of how they produced these numbers given the failings of their defense in key situations is no better illustrated than looking at two of my custom metrics: 30 & In TD % and EDSR:

In 30 & In TD %, which measures how often a team scores touchdowns when starting inside their own 30 yard line (negating great field position as a result of a defensive performance) the Packers ranked #1. They scored TDs on 31% of drives which started inside their 30 yard line. Teams ranked 2nd thru 10th ranged from 26% to 22%, so you can see how far out from the pack the Packers really were. (Which was important because their defense was the worst in the NFL per this metric. The Packers defense allowed 27% of all drives which started from their opponents 30 to score TDs, literally tying the Saints for dead last in the NFL.)

In EDSR, the Packers offense ranked 3rd best (behind the Saints and Steelers). EDSR looks at early down success and frequency of bypassing 3rd downs, a hallmark of efficient offenses. (Again, this was imperative to be strong to overcome their defense which ranked dead last in this metric, this time falling behind the porous defense of the Atlanta Falcons.)

Two of my favorite custom metrics which bleed efficiency, and the Packers defense finishes dead last in both of them. Its extremely improbable that a defense as bad as the Packers was in those key metrics could have led Green Bay to a 12-4 record. It was entirely because of the brilliance of their offense that they won as often as they did. But what gets overlooked is the historical significance of their performance. Take for example the Packers first half performance:

Typically, the better team on any given day will have a lead a halftime, and typically that means they will win the game. Over the last 15+ years, teams who lead at halftime win 77% of their games, with 75% of them also covering the spread. Last year, Green Bay led at halftime in 11 games and won all 11 of them. They only won 12 games, so there was just one game where they did not lead at halftime that they won. No team led at halftime in more games than Green Bay did last year.

They led at halftime in so many games because they averaged over 19 points in the first half. No team averaged near that amount. Teams 2, 3 and 4 (Patriots, Eagles, Broncos) averaged between 15 and 16.

And they way they scored so many points in the first half is because they scored TDs on 40% of their 1st half drives! Since 1998 (17 yrs, as far back as I tracked it) only the 2007 Patriots scored 1st half TDs more often.

This result was even more impressive when you consider some of the areas this offense struggled.  To compensate for one of the worst short yardage rushing offenses (converting just 55% of 3rd and short runs into first downs, 26th in the NFL), Aaron Rodgers converted a ridiculous 79% of his 3rd and short passes into first downs.

Aaron Rodgers was absolutely unconscious when passing in the first half.  His stat line of 25 TDs (#1), 0 Ints (#1), 66% completions and 8.8 yds/att (#1) equated to a 120.3 passer rating, which was #1 in the NFL.

On deep passes in the first half (15+ yds downfield) Rodgers posted a 136 rating, which was also #1 in the NFL.  Not just in 2014.  Aaron Rodgers posted the NFL’s best passer rating that the NFL has seen since at least 2006 (as far back as I was able to track deep passes of 15+ yds downfield).

Truly, not enough has been made about what Aaron Rodgers and this Green Bay Packers offense did in 2014, particularly in the first half, to grab the lead and then maintain it, despite their poor defensive performance in multiple advanced metrics.

I’ll break the Packers offense down in substantially more depth (along with the 31 other teams) in my 2015 NFL Preview E-Book – a follow-up to the well-acclaimed inaugural 2014 edition, which will be ready for download mid-July and is steeped in advanced metrics and analytics unlike any preview you’ve seen before.

Until then, we can watch video evidence of some of Aaron Rodgers insane throws thanks to CheeseheadTV.com’s Aaron Nagler:



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