October 7, 2011

Vegas: Garcia is addition by subtraction



The sports betting world's reaction to Stephen Garcia's benching was telling. And it wasn't a pretty story.

South Carolina is 19-19 against the betting line in games Garcia has played significant minutes in the past four seasons. That stat defines his Gamecock career: One week, he exceeds expectations; the next he fails to meet them, on and off the field.

To top it off, you won't believe how the professional gamblers out in Vegas responded to Garcia's benching.

On Sunday, South Carolina opened as a 20-point favorite over Kentucky. Early money came in on the lowly Wildcats, enough to make sportsbooks drop the line to as low as -18.5. But the early love for Kentucky came before Steve Spurrier announced that Connor Shaw would be starting in place of Garcia.

"When the news broke that Garcia was going to the bench, we took several bets from pros on the Gamecocks," said Andrew Patterson, oddsmaker for the Las Vegas Sports Consultants, who works out of the sportsbook at M Resort. "The wise guys do their homework and obviously think this was the right move and makes South Carolina a better team right now."

Enough respected money has been bet on South Carolina since the quarterback change was made public to move the number all the way up to -21.

Certainly, Garcia has struggled this season, but seeing how bettors reacted to his demotion is stunning.

Spurrier and the spread

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder acknowledged his respect for the people who make the point spreads during this week's Big 12 coaches' conference call.

"People spend a lot of money and they make a lot of money and they don't do it off the cuff," said Snyder, referring to oddsmakers, who made his unbeaten Wildcats 3-point home dogs to Missouri. "They have ample information to make those decisions."

While at Florida, Spurrier infamously said he liked to cover the spread for the alumni. One of his most notorious examples of his willingness to tack on a late touchdown came against Kentucky in 2000.

The Gators, favored by 21.5, led Kentucky, 52-31, with less than 10 seconds to play. Freshman quarterback Rex Grossman was in for Jesse Palmer, and everyone in the stadium expected Grossman to take a knee and run out the clock. Instead, Spurrier called a play-action bomb. Grossman hit Jabar Gaffney on a 43-yard touchdown. Final score: Florida 59, Kentucky 31.

"I called that last play," Spurrier told reporters after the game. "We had the ball like eight plays in the fourth quarter, and they were blitzing every down, so we decided to try to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter with our backup quarterback. Kentucky was trying to run up their stats, so we tried to run up ours, because ours were lacking."

SEC Nuggets

Kentucky at South Carolina (-21): The Gamecocks have bounced back more often than not under Spurrier and are 14-10-2 ATS after a straight-up loss in the last six years.

Kentucky has lost five straight in Columbia and is just 1-6 ATS in its last seven games as a road underdog.

Trend to note: According to Covers.com's ATS season stats, road underdogs have been the best in college football this season, going 133-116-3 ATS, a 53.41-percent success rate.

Florida at LSU (-13.5): Even if Gator QB John Brantley was good to go Saturday in Baton Rouge, Patterson believes Florida would still be a "9.5- to 10-point" underdog.

But Brantley's out and multiple inexperienced quarterbacks could get a shot at LSU's scary defense. That has the Gators getting 13.5 points.

LSU got as high as -14 at some sportsbooks in the middle of the week, but enough money came in on the Gators plus the two touchdowns to drop the line back down to -13.5.

"The only question, in my mind, is will LSU score enough to cover the 13.5," said Patterson. "The total (over/under) is only 41.5, so that suggests a low-scoring game."

Trend to note: LSU is 1-13 ATS in its last 14 SEC games when favored by double-digits.

Georgia (-2.5) at Tennessee: Just when UGA looked like it has its act together, linebacker Cornelius Washington, arguably the Dogs' top defender, gets arrested on DUI charges. He's out for Saturday's game in Knoxville, but Georgia has remained a road favorite throughout the week. Patterson doesn't expect the line to reach -3, though.

Trend to note: UGA is 5-16 ATS against teams with a winning record. The 3-1 Vols have covered the spread in four of the last five meeting with the Bulldogs.

Auburn at Arkansas (-10): The Razorbacks opened as 9.5-point favorites, but grew to 11-point chalk on Thursday. That was enough to draw money on Auburn. The line was back down to -10 at most shops late Thursday night.

Trend to note: Auburn has covered the spread in 11 of its last 12 SEC games.

Purdum is a columnist for Covers.com, specializing in the Vegas side of college sports. He has covered SEC football for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in addition to other media outlets throughout the Southeast and was the Gamecocks football and basketball beat writer for The Sports Xchange for three seasons.

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