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Should Vegas Take Over the BCS?

If you're a careful reader of this blog, you'll recall that earlier this week I suggested oddsmakers might be best-positioned to provide impartial and accurate top 25 polls for college football. Well, today I figured I should call Vegas and see if they'd be willing to play along.

Turns out I'm more than a year late to this party. Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the leading consultant for Nevada sports books, started publishing their own OddsMakers Top 25 last year. The firm's four college football oddsmakers were already preparing ratings for all 119 Division I-A teams, so they figured they would each submit "ballots" and calculate the results for use in their radio shows. The poll is also published every Monday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and there's talk of getting the rankings into the Daily Racing Form. Who in the world wouldn't want to see that every week next to the AP and coaches' polls in every daily paper?

I talked to LVSC senior oddsmaker Mike Seba a few minutes ago, and told him that I thought the oddsmakers poll would likely be more accurate than the AP or the coaches or the Harris people.

"Good man," he said. "You're right. When you look at some of the polls from year to year, it just makes you sick sometimes to see where some of these teams are rated. Whereas we know if you matched two teams up on a neutral field, who would be the favorite. It depends on who they played, and where they played, and when they played. Our livelihood depends on it, whereas these guys voting in the AP, they may care less, they could spend five minutes looking at it. We want to send out the best possible number for these games to our clients, and to do that we really spend a lot of time looking at these teams and their results and their injuries and coming up with a value for each team....When you see the AP poll or the coaches poll, sometimes you just look at it and shake your head."

I asked another LSVC oddsmaker, Sean Van Patten, whether the OddsMakers Top 25 would be a better guide for picking the national champion than the various polls.

"I would say so, yeah," he said, "because theirs is basically based on record, and that's pretty much it. Our guys, they rate out the defense, the offense, so really their numbers are more of an indicator of how good those teams are. And, of course, it's all done for betting purposes, but that's really the telltale sign: is a team three points better or is it three points worse?"

I think it's genius. Many apologies if this has been extensively covered elsewhere, but I don't see how you could argue with this. If the oddsmakers say West Virginia is the 13th-best team in the country (as they do), how can they possibly be considered for the national championship game? And if the oddsmakers say Texas is the second-best team (as they do), well, get ready for a Ohio State-Texas rematch.

Anyhow, here's this week's OddsMakers Top25, with AP rankings in parentheses.

1. Ohio State (1)
2. Texas (6)
3. Southern Cal (3)
4. Michigan (4)
5. Florida (2)
6. Cal (10)
7. LSU (14)
8. Louisville (7)
9. Tennessee (8)
10. Notre Dame (9)
11. Clemson (12)
12. Oregon (18)
13. West Virginia (5)
14. Oklahoma (23)
15. Nebraska (21)
16. Auburn (11)
17. Wisconsin (25)
18. Missouri (19)
19. Boise State (20)
20. Georgia Tech (13)
21. Miami (NR)
22. Virginia Tech (23)
23. Iowa (15)
24. Penn State (NR)
25. BYU (NR)

Not ranked by LVSC: Georgia (16 in AP), Arkansas (17), Rutgers (24)

My questions: Are Georgia and Georgia Tech really that overrated? West Virginia? The SEC as a whole? Are Cal and Oregon really that underrated? Am I right that oddsmakers do a better poll than writers or coaches? Should Texas get in the championship game over an undefeated West Virginia or Louisville?

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 12, 2006; 12:44 PM ET
Categories:  College Football , Gambling  
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How does Texas stay at #2 after being soundly defeated by OSU? Wouldn't USC, Michigan, or Florida give them a tougher game? And how does Cal get ranked above Tennessee, after Tennessee thrashed them several weeks back?

Posted by: jhorstma | October 12, 2006 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Tennessee did beat Cal soundly, but I would wager a good amount that if those two teams matched up now Cal would beat Tennessee. Also, Tennessee beat Cal at home and Cal probably took them lightly. As the oddsmakers point out these ranking are based on the two teams matching up on a neutral field.

Posted by: djohnson | October 12, 2006 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Even when Rutgers is ranked they can't get any respect!

Posted by: KJ | October 12, 2006 2:53 PM | Report abuse

How does a two loss oklahoma sit at two spots above a one loss one time national contender, Auburn?

Posted by: BevoT | October 12, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse

How does a two loss oklahoma sit at two spots above a one loss one time national contender, Auburn?

Posted by: BevoT | October 12, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Rutgers will never get respect. It's not supposed to.

Now if they referred to themselves as something like New Jersey State University. Then they'd garner some respect.

Posted by: Kim | October 12, 2006 3:13 PM | Report abuse

You should revisit this in a month when Nebraska is 7-4.

Interesting look at things though.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 12, 2006 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I might take the oddsmakers for seeding a 16-team playoff, but not for the stupid poll-&-bowl scheme. The polls aren't about the best team, they only pretend to be. Because of that fact, we have to accept that the Mythical National Championship will sometimes be awarded to a team that beat up on patsies early in the season, as opposed to a team that lost a close one to another great team. But this is just another poll, isn't it? PLAYOFF, already!!!

PS - Hey, BevoT - did you see who Auburn lost to??? That means they weren't serious title contenders.

Posted by: B | October 12, 2006 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand people complaining about this poll and where people are ranked. Forget who they beat or lost to in previous weeks, if they played tomorrow on a nuetral field, who win and by how much. Would you rather see ohio st play W Virginia in the championship game as a 10-14 point favorite or against texas as a 4-7 point fav, simple as that.

Posted by: brian | October 12, 2006 4:07 PM | Report abuse

But let's remember: the Vegas line isn't who they think will win and by how much- it's the number that will get the largest amount of people to bet, evenly placed on either side. So they're playing just as much to people's gambling preferences as they are to stats, injuries, etc. That said, I wouldn't mind seeing an oddsmakers kind of poll as one of the BCS factors- my guess is it's more reliable than the Harris poll.

Posted by: Halleck T. | October 12, 2006 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Very true, Halleck. And it makes you wonder, if you matched up Ohio St and WVU, and consider that Ohio St has a much larger fanbase due to the population difference, wouldn't that increase the spread? You would imagine that because WVU has a smaller fan base than most large schools, many people who bet on college football are fans of the team playing, and they tend not to bet against their team, WVU should be a bigger underdog than expected based just upon the quality of the teams.

Posted by: Neema | October 12, 2006 5:20 PM | Report abuse

This poll to me is better because it elimates the BS that the other polls use. Just because Texas has one loss, to OSU no less, doesnt mean that they MUST sit behind a team that is undefeated, or that just because a team loses to a higher ranked team that they MUST drop several spots. These rankings are based on the here and now as the Oddsmakers see it.

Yes, Texas lost to OSU with a QB playing his second game ever and missing two defensive starters. You can also thank 2 costly turnovers. The oddsmakers look at Texas in week 6 and are saying that right now Texas is the #2 team based on many factors. Its that simple. Its not a beauty contest to them like it is to the other polls, one of which is voted on by assistant coaches who dont even watch the games. Consider that.

Posted by: Esmail | October 12, 2006 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Oklahoma is higher than expected because everyone knows that one of its two losses was bogus.

Posted by: Ted | October 12, 2006 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I sure would love to see Texas play tOSU right now again on a neutral site. My money would be on Texas

Posted by: kquimby | October 12, 2006 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, you guys understand the beauty of this. I just talked to the LVSC guys, and they're gonna e-mail me their poll every Sunday night, so I'll post it on the blog every Monday morning.

Also bear in mind that these guys don't set the lines; they advise sports books. The sports books will then take into account things like popularity and fan base, but these LVSC guys are going strictly based on their analysis, as I understand it.

Posted by: SportsBog | October 12, 2006 8:19 PM | Report abuse

An undefeated Louisville should play for the championship. Bobby Petrino has quietly built a powerhouse in the Derby City. They have lost two preseason Heisman candidates and not lost a beat. They are loaded two deep with quick talented athletes.

Posted by: Bill | October 12, 2006 8:43 PM | Report abuse

I would LOVE to see Ohio State play WV as a 14 point favorite. Talk about easy money betting on WV.

Posted by: Adam | October 12, 2006 8:43 PM | Report abuse

No way WVU should be that low. The are the defending BE champs, they have won 30 out their last 34 games, they beat the best team in the best conference in their last BCS bowl, and have yet to trail in any game this season. And to all of the people who say OSU would be favored by 14 points, give me that bet any day of the week. WVU would smoke OSU.

Posted by: John | October 12, 2006 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Joke of a poll. TX at #2 who got smoked by OSU, and have struggled against lesser teams. Cal at #6 who got rolled against TN. You have Louisville above WVU, who lost to WVU last season. ND #10, they stink, they got blown out by Ga Tech, were blown out by a weak Michigan State team, who ND by a miracle came back and won. You have a crappy OU and Nebraska team, and the audacity to put Miami in their, who have gotten blown out twice, and struggled to beat Houston 14-13. Give me a break. The poll should look like this.

(1) OSU
(2) Florida
(3) WVU
(4) USC
(5) Michigan

This is the correct Top 5.

Posted by: Mike | October 12, 2006 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Vegas always skews west and toward past champions. The odds are built to grab as much weekend money coming in from California.

Posted by: David | October 12, 2006 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Texas at #2 makes no sense. Win on a neutral site against OSU my ass, they lost at home by 17. LSU? 2 losses but #7. nope! Cal over TN. Read the results of a head to head matchup. These pollsters are on crack

Posted by: Joe W | October 12, 2006 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Why do people like Mike consider what a scholl's team did last year? That should have no bearing on a teams ranking this year. How 'bout we change ncaa basketball to a bcs bowl format? lol

Posted by: Jay | October 12, 2006 11:06 PM | Report abuse

WV has not beat anybody and wont beay anybody.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 12, 2006 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe these guys for one minute would buy into this poll. Odds makers make the spread with the idea of getting a 50-50 split on the wagers. If this poll held true are you telling me that USC would be giving Michigan points or CAL would be spotting Louisville? These guys would not be in business very long in my town.

Posted by: Tom | October 13, 2006 9:17 AM | Report abuse

"Vegas always skews west and toward past champions. The odds are built to grab as much weekend money coming in from California."


Posted by: ByuMan | October 13, 2006 10:35 AM | Report abuse

I can't wait to watch WVU get blown up later this season. Who have they played? NOBODY!!! Ohio State meanwhile has dispatched the defending champs on the road, Iowa on the road and Penn St. If WVU is destined for the National Championship Game, then there is no doubt that Michigan is Ohio State's toughest remaining game.

Posted by: Jim | October 13, 2006 10:42 AM | Report abuse

This makes more sense if they are coming from the stance of "Which team is least likely to lose from here on out?" Perhaps Cal is ranked so high because the oddsmakers feel they have a weaker up-coming schedule than Tennessee. I think their ranking philosophy is different because of why they are ranking the teams in the first place.

Posted by: Joe | October 13, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Texas is much better now than it was in week 2. I don't know if I would put them second.

Posted by: TurdofDoom | October 13, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Just because Texas was beaten by Ohio State doesn't mean they should be dropped out of #2. Theoretically (which is all polls are anyway) they could still be the #2 team in the nation because none of the teams BELOW them have beaten them. If Texas was ranked ahead of OSU, then yeah, there'd be a problem. Polls are retarded anyway, too much human error. Get a playoff already. Stupid NCAA.

Posted by: Shawn | October 13, 2006 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I really like the rankings for one huge reason. No EAST COAST BIAS! It is nice to see the odds makers put the big weak conference in its place. Also to rank the SEC school more fairly in stead of giving them an edge because they are the top power conference. Although a two loss LSU team shouldn't be #7. There are a few teams missing from the top 25 though, Boston College for one. A major western poll would make a huge difference. The only thing better would be to have a playoff system.

Posted by: JimmyCracker | October 13, 2006 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Having studied sports gambling in economic terms, I can elucidate on incentives and motivations of these rankings. As an aside, I cannot stand watching the sport of football, so I have absolutely no idea how these teams should be ranked if selective viewing is taken into account.

Bias. Yes, there will be bias in sports gambling odds. Steven Levitt (author of the popular Freakonomics book) published an interesting study which makes a very sound argument towards evidence of public favoritism being profitable for bookies. However, bias should not factor into a widely distributed poll such as this (especially if we believe the blogger and state that this is the ground for individual bookies who manipulate odds to score higher profits).

Here's how bias is profitable: let's say one team (ohio state) is favoured over another (say, iowa) by 14 points, and (to make it easier to understand) the bookies use dividend betting. So a bet of $1 on ohio state would earn a dividend of, say, $1.10 if ohio state won outright (points don't matter), and a bet of $1 on iowa would earn a dividend of $6.50-ish if iowa won outright. The tempting profitability of an unlikely iowa win evens out betting at 50-50, guaranteeing the bookie a profit if he deflates the dividends by the amount of his commission. My guess is that this is where the agency above stops their analysis.

However, each individual bookie then takes into account selectively informed (biased) public sentiment and strategically manipulates these unbiased rankings to make more money. So a bookie on-campus at ohio state might deflate the ohio state dividend from 1.10 to 1.08, knowing that the local bias will still keep enough favoritism bets flowing. As insurance, this ohio state bookie would increase the iowa dividend, to $7.00-ish, just in case there's not enough action on iowa and the likely result occurs (bookies rely on bets on losing teams to pay off winners and make $). A bookie at iowa would do the reverse, and lower the iowa dividend, to a level it thinks can maintain the most sentimental betting interest in the heavily underdog locals, but not enough to bankrupt the bookies should iowa win. It's this latter situation (bias for the underdog) where bookies make big $$.

Thus the poll above is presumably unbiased and its anaysis, when digested by Las Vegas casinos, is then given the west-coast bias b/c of the known bias of its clientele. Bookies in Atlantic City get the same information and then tweak it for more of an east coast bias.

So, like the blogger, I can't fail to see why this poll isn't the main one ranking teams, when it is by far the most informed and potentially unbiased ranking available.

Posted by: Jeremy | October 13, 2006 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Finally some respect for BYU

Posted by: chase | October 13, 2006 7:21 PM | Report abuse

amen brotha! BYU stands to win out the rest of their games. I think and 11-2 record would sit them comfortably between 10-15 in the rankings.! GO COUGS!

Posted by: chris | October 16, 2006 12:38 PM | Report abuse

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