It's fun to jump on the bandwagon. To board the hype train as it leaves the station, heading for greener pastures. Sometimes those pastures include some extra green in your pocket. Other times, it's a one-way ticket to disappointment along with the rest of the public.
In the sports betting world, it's essential to know the difference between a smart bet that the public is on, and a line that has taken on so much public steam that it's moved past the point of being good value. A good bet at -110 odds isn't automatically a good bet at -150 odds.
That's what I'm setting out to do for you this season: help you spot those differences and think critically when you see something on TV, hear it again on a podcast, and then see it all over your social media feeds the rest of the week.
I want to give a shoutout to all of my ESPN Stats & Information research teammates who unearthed many of the great stats included below. The work they do on Saturdays is unmatched.
Hype for Prime Time
I figured this week was a prime time to talk about Colorado. Deion Sanders has done wonders for a program in decline time. His players are more popular than if they were on Nickelodeon's "Slimetime." As a former NFL player, he could rest on his laurels, sitting on a beach with some Corona-and-lime time. But Prime isn't a mime: He is vocally supportive of his players and his team and welcomes all challengers.
The Buffaloes' sublime climb has been in the middle of the public eye, thanks to Coach Prime and his son Shedeur, who turns Saturdays into dime time with his accurate passing. Boulder should build a shrine. It would be a crime not to highlight Prime and how the betting market has been enveloped by Colorado's success. But has Cinderella's chime time struck midnight for Prime Time?
Okay, I got it all out of my system. Let's recap the last few weeks for the Rocky Mountain football squad.
According to ESPN Analytics, Colorado was projected to win 2.7 games this season, the fewest of all 133 FBS teams. They hit that projection in 3 weeks. The Buffaloes' season win total at Caesars Sportsbook was set at 3.5; we could see the over hit Saturday at Oregon.
Colorado opened the season as a 21-point underdog with a +650 moneyline against TCU in their season opener. The Buffs became the first Power 5 school to win its season opener as an underdog of at least 20 points in over 25 years. They then became favored over Nebraska in Week 2, a multi-touchdown odds shift from previous lookahead lines, and beat the Huskers by 22.
Last weekend's showdown with Colorado State opened with Rams coach Jay Norvell calling out Deion Sanders in a news conference -- which only added fuel to the fire -- and ended with a stunning comeback overtime win for Colorado in ESPN's fifth-most watched game ever.
🔥 @CUBuffsFootball's comeback thriller registers 𝟗.𝟑 𝐌𝐈𝐋𝐋𝐈𝐎𝐍 𝐕𝐈𝐄𝐖𝐄𝐑𝐒— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) September 19, 2023
🏈ESPN's 5th most-watched CFB game on record
🏈Shatters previous ESPN late prime window viewership high
🏈@ESPNCFB's most-streamed regular season game of all time pic.twitter.com/his917lb0F
Colorado's résumé already has a ranked upset, two victories over Power 5 teams, and a comeback for the ages, all before September ends. When we wake up Green Day next weekend, they will have missed a lot.
This level of excitement has left the Buffs at +650 to win the Pac-12, but the more notable odds shift has been in the Heisman market, where Shedeur Sanders is currently +1200 to win the award. That's tied for the fifth-shortest odds of any player, and is just a hair longer than the +1000 he was listed at heading into last weekend.
Sanders already has 10 passing touchdowns through three games, which is the same amount Colorado had for the entirety of last season. He has three 300-yard-passing games this season. Colorado had none in 2022.
Earlier this month, Caesars noted that Shedeur Sanders was the sportsbook's highest liability in Heisman odds.
Shedeur Sanders turned a lot of heads with his Week 1 performance 👀 pic.twitter.com/a6CuICDxy8— Caesars Sportsbook & Casino (@CaesarsSports) September 8, 2023
For as long as he continues to throw the ball accurately and with volume (Sanders ranks top-two in the FBS in per-game completions, attempts, passing yards, and touchdowns and is fourth in completion percentage), he will be one of the Heisman front-runners. Another marquee win over Oregon or USC, Colorado's next two opponents, could make him close to the favorite.
The line for Colorado-Oregon is up to 21 points. That would make Colorado the fifth-largest underdog in a conference game over the past 25 seasons by an unbeaten top-20 team.
I know what you're thinking. They just did this against TCU, why can't they do it again?
Sportsbooks and analytics are never more uncertain about teams than they are in Week 1. With all the offseason changes and transfers, it's hard to fully account for how much a team can improve from January to August. And that's what we saw when Colorado beat TCU. If this Colorado-Oregon game was being played in Week 1, we might see a line of 30 points, maybe more. But we've seen Shedeur Sanders ball out for three straight weeks and the books are still laying three touchdowns with the Ducks.
Colorado is looking to become the fourth team in FBS history to start a season 4-0 after losing 11-plus games, joining 2008 Minnesota, 2000 South Carolina, and 1985 Indiana. History doesn't look too kindly on those teams, which went a combined 7-17 the rest of the way.
There's also an in-depth look to be had at the Colorado State game from last weekend. The Rams outgained Colorado by 81 yards, had over 9 minutes of extra possession and committed an astounding 17 penalties for 182 yards (nearly 100 more penalty yards than Colorado had).
According to ESPN's win probability model, Colorado had a 12% chance to win while down 11 in the 4th quarter, and a less than 1% chance when the Buffaloes took over at their 2-yard line with 2:06 left. It makes the story of the comeback significantly more impressive, but it stands to reason that as talented as Shedeur Sanders is, he's not pulling off that comeback 9 times out of 10. It's troubling that Colorado was even in that scenario at all, trailing by double digits at home to a non-power conference team.
ESPN Analytics gives Colorado a 6% chance to win on Saturday, which would equal implied odds near +1500. Caesars has them at +600. Their model also has Oregon favored by 25 points, and I'm happy to run to the books with 4 points of projected closing value.
Two other notes: The FPI model doesn't account for player availability, so Travis Hunter's absence likely hurts Colorado's chances. It might not move the line significantly, but his versatility on both sides of the ball means you're losing a star wide receiver and a star cornerback.
We also saw Jay Norvell try to motivate his team by calling out Deion Sanders pregame. Whether the motivation is public or private, you can guarantee Oregon has this game circled on their calendar and is unlikely to stop scoring against a Colorado defense that has looked inconsistent at best.
The bets to make
Shedeur Sanders over 330.5 passing yards (-106)
Oregon is unlikely to stop scoring in this game, either to make a statement or simply knowing that Sanders can keep pace and mount a comeback if they ease up on the throttle. This should lead to lots of quick scoring drives for Oregon and increased pass attempts from Sanders, even more so than last week.
I'm not worried about Sanders wilting in a high-leverage environment either. His father's nickname was earned on performance in big games, and the young Sanders has actually thrived under pressure this season.
Sanders has completed 35 passes when pressured this season, the most in FBS. And it's not just a small sample issue either; Sanders is the only player in the past 10 seasons with at least 10 completions under pressure in three straight games.
Colorado's offensive line continues to be a problem for the Buffaloes as they have allowed a pressure on 44% of Shedeur Sanders' pass dropbacks. Yet Shedeur has completed an FBS-best 70% of his throws when pressured (min. 25 att.) with an FBS-high 587 yards and seven touchdowns.
As for the other prime-time matchup this weekend, it's a team that we have seen struggle under pressure historically. Notre Dame certainly looks the part this year, although the Fighting Irish did struggle a bit in their toughest matchup of the season. Notre Dame led only by three points at the start of the fourth quarter before pulling away, so color me a little concerned.
They'll be going up against ESPN Analytics' No. 1 team in the country in a Buckeyes squad that has allowed two touchdowns (and four scores total) all season.
Guess how many points Ohio State has allowed in the second half of games this season?
The Buckeyes have ended games on scoring runs of 16-0, 28-0 and most recently 49-0, displaying a "win every play" mentality that should allow them to come up with a win Saturday. FPI says Ohio State should be favored by just over 6 points on the road, so I'll lay the points.