Week 1, Thursday, September 3, 2020, 9:00 PM EST
Southern Mississippi favored by 13.5 points, 54.5 point Total
John Ryan Founder of John Ryan Sports
The South Alabama Jaguars, who are members in the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference will travel to take on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, who are members of the West Division of the 14-team Conference-USA. The Eagles find themselves installed as double-digit home favorites against the Jaguars, who won just two games last season.
The Value of Returning Starters for the Eagles
During the first four weeks of the NCAA Football season knowing the teams that have the majority of starters returning from last season is a major advantage when facing a team that is re-building form the previous year. There are exceptions like the Top-5 programs in the country, who simply see their players move on to the NFL and then plug-and-play with new 5-Star recruits. The Eagles return 14 total starters with eight on offense including quarterback Jack Abraham and six on defense. Abraham had a solid 2019 season completing 68% of his pass attempts for 3,496 yards including 19 touchdowns. He did throw 15 interceptions, but that number of mistakes will drop given he has another full season of expereince under his belt.
Even more important than having the starting quarterback returning is the number of starters returning from the offensive line. The Eagles have four of the five offensive linemen back this season. The offensive line is the unit that requires the greatest amount of coordinated technique and chemistry. Having 4 or 5 starters returning on the offensive line provides the foundation for the entire offense to be even more efficient than they were at the end of the previous season.
The Value of Returning Starters for the Jaguars
The 2019 season saw the Jaguars go a horrid 2-10, but they did earn respectable 7-5 against-the-spread (ATS) record. Head Coach Steve Campbell is just 5-19 straight up and 13-11 ATS in his first two seasons but has a 13 returning starters with seven on offense including quarterback Desmond Trotter and six on defense. The defense is returning the top-5 tacklers and gives reason for the defensive unit to be significantly better in 2020.
The Jaguars ranked fifth in the Sun Belt Conference allowing an averaging of 409 offensive yards-per-game, sixth allowing 192 rushing yards-per-game, and fourth allowing 217 passing yards-per-game. Having the best defensive players returning that accounted for 65% of last season’s production is key as are the seven starters returning on offense that accounted for 73% of last season’s total production.
The Betting Public and Irrational Exuberance
I key handicapping method is to track the percentage of wagers being made and the total amounts of money those betting tickets add up to. In this game 78% of all bets being made are on the Eagles resulting in 22% of bets in support of the Jaguars. The line for this game opened with the Eagles favored by 14 points and despite having a 3:1 margin in bets made on them, the line has dropped to 13.5 points. The half-point decline in the line is a mall amount, but it is far more meaningful when the overwhelming number of bets are on the dog. This implies that the large bettors, so-called Wise Guys, are on the Jaguars and their combined money of their bets is offsetting the small public bets.
What Does the Machine Learning Tools Have to Say?
As the season rolls on you will notices that there is a pivot point in scoring that when exceeded favors that team and works against their opponent. Such is the case in this matchup as the Eagles are 171-28-1 straight-up (SU) for 86% wins and 131-41-3 ATS for 76.2% winning bets when they score 28 or more points in games played since 1980; 49-16 SU for 75% wins and 45-19-1 ATS for 70.3% winning bets since 2010; 16-2 SU for 89% wins and 14-4 ATS for 78% winning bets over the last three seasons.
The Jaguars are a money-burning 8-54 SU for 13% wins and 21-39-2 ATS for 35% winning bets when they have allowed 28 or more points since 2011; 3-23 SU for 12% wins and 10-15 ATS for 40% winning bets over the last three seasons.
There is more though, then just using 28 points as a pivot to determine a betting opportunity. The machine learning summary shows that the Jaguars are just 1-7 SU for 13% wins, but 7-1 ATS for 89% winning bets when scoring at least 24 points and are installed as a double-digit road underdog. The Eagles are 9-9 SU for 50% wins and 4-14 ATS for just 22% winning bets installed as a double-digit home favorite and allowing that opponent to score at least 24 points.
I like the South Alabama Jaguars and the points tonight.