Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 9:25 PM
It’s pretty clear that ESPN learned NOTHING from the horrible saga at Penn State, as the network has seemingly devoted the 2012 football season to anointing Urban Meyer as the next god of college coaching. They’ve already used special access (Meyer worked as a color announcer for ESPN after leaving Florida but before getting hired at Ohio State) to run a series of SportsCenter stories on the “new attitude” he’s “building” at the program. It’s only going to get worse…because the season is set up to build drama week by week.
As handicappers, you must try to see through the hype so you can really understand what’s happening at the program. This will be similar to what you had to do in the Jim Tressel years. ESPN basically had Tressel as a pope in a red sweater, and Paterno as a pope in a blue sweater until circumstances made those storylines impossible to sustain. Ohio State was rarely as good as their press, particularly once they were challenged by REAL powers from the SEC in national championship games. We’re not suggesting they were ever a bad team. But, they were typically 5-7 spots below where the polls had them (sometimes more). And, they had a knack for padding their record against soft September schedules in a way that always tricked too many into thinking something special was going on.
The 2012 schedule is actually structure in a way that will allow a similar storyline to develop.
OHIO STATE’S FIRST FOUR OPPONENTS
Miami of Ohio
It’s great that the Buckeyes aren’t playing Toledo, Bowling Green, Akron, and Oberlin this time around. In other years, facing Central Florida and Cal would be big news. This year though, Central Florida only returns three offensive starters and has to break in a new quarterback, while California is in a look-ahead spot the week before visiting #1 Southern Cal in the opening of Pac 12 play. Ohio State will be favored to win all four of those home games, with just enough of a challenge for ESPN to play up the rankings. Ohio State will start off the 2012 season as the #18 team in the AP poll. A sweep there could have the team knocking at the door of the top ten.
OHIO STATE’S NEXT FOUR OPPONENTS
At Michigan State
Michigan State is the toughest game in the first two months. Ohio State will probably be an underdog unless there are surprising developments in the month of September. Many pundits are having trouble currently determining whether Michigan State or Michigan is the top team in the Big 10 Legends division. The rankings say it’s Michigan. Stat-types and many in the wagering industry give the Spartans the slight nod. The bottom line is this. Ohio State will probably be favored in seven of its first eight games, and is probably looking at 7-1 as a likely won-lost record. That’s going to be a strong resume heading into November, particularly if MSU is a quality loss based on the rankings at that time.
In terms of the TV storyline…ESPN will have gone from showing the early days of Ohio State’s Fall practice…then showcasing a 4-0 start to the season…following up with a 7-1 record after two months for a team that didn’t even top .500 last season (Ohio State earned a bowl bid at 6-6 before losing to Florida). It’s like they’ll be scrubbing the memories of Paterno and Tressel from memories as they try to paint their corporate partner in the best possible light.
OHIO STATE’S FINAL FOUR OPPONENTS
At Penn State
And, those truly are the FINAL four opponents because Ohio State isn’t eligible to play in the Big 10 Championship game or in a bowl this year because of misbehavior under Tressel’s regime. Look at how the drama has built for those last four games! Everyone will have a better sense of Penn State’s demise at that time…while the Buckeyes will serve as a virtual bowl opponent for the Nittany Lion players who did stay with the program. Ohio State will be favored…but ESPN’s going to get a lot of mileage out of that meeting when it comes up on the schedule. Then, the only two other really tough games the Buckeyes have on the 2012 schedule (unless Nebraska rises up) will finish off the season. Ohio State will be favored to carry a 9-1 record into Wisconsin and Michigan. If they lose those…it’s still a valiant 9-3 season where Coach Meyer got things headed in the right direction. Should the Buckeyes win one or both…well, it’s scary to think of how much ESPN would hype their “uncrowned” champion.
That’s the novel ESPN is waiting to write. Here’s what YOU need to be looking at:
*Offensive production in early action. Ohio State’s offense was absolutely atrocious last year. And, Urban Meyer’s Florida offense had started fading when he decided to take a rest break. There are critics who believe Meyer has been riding the coattails of great assistants (like Dan Mullen, who’s now at Mississippi State) and star players like Tim Tebow. If Meyer is going to bring Ohio State back to national prominence on the field, it’s going to happen on the offensive side of the ball. Look at total yardage, yards-per-play, third down conversions, and be sure you’re adjusting for the caliber of defenses Ohio State is facing in those first two months. Michigan State will be a great litmus test in this regard because the Spartans ranked 6th in the nation last year in total defense and have many starters back.
*Big play talent. Meyer is famous for recruiting great athletes…or at least athletes that fit his preferred system (more common back when he was climbing the ladder and didn’t have access to the high school fields of Florida!). Last year’s team was sorely lacking in this regard. Even if Ohio State puts some points on the board…are they doing that by grinding against undersized opponents? Or, are they electrifying the crowd with athletes who are going to be difference-makers NEXT year when the team can play for the title again?
*The Las Vegas market. The goal of handicappers is to find value on the legal betting board. Not only should you be monitoring Ohio State’s performance (particularly on an offense that needs to be completely rebuilt), but against market expectations. Has ESPN polluted the market so much that Ohio State is destined to be a 5-7 or 4-8 type team against the spread? Is Meyer so good that he’ll be able to run up big margins against soft opponents? Tressel was prone to call off the dogs with a big lead but Meyer doesn’t do that. We strongly encourage you to monitor early week line movements so you can monitor what professional wagerers are thinking…as well as game-day line movements which are more connected to the betting public. Judging how ESPN influences the market…if you’re like Ohio State, you’ll need to bet the openers…if you want to fade them, you’ll want to wait right up until kickoff.
JIM HURLEY will be monitoring this developing story very closely all season because he knows how much media coverage influences the betting lines. Oddsmakers get duped into believing hype, as do casual wagerers. That doesn’t mean that NETWORK will necessarily be all over Miami of Ohio at Ohio State this Saturday. But, you can expect something special in at least one Buckeyes contest in the first half of the season (most likely in the games vs. Cal and Michigan State).
Our first official big play will go THURSDAY when the season begins. We’re looking at South Carolina/Vanderbilt (which we’ll preview for you right here on this page tomorrow), Texas A&M/Louisiana Tech, and Washington State/BYU. Friday we come back with the best from Boise State/Michigan State (previewed here Friday), Tennessee/NC State, and San Jose State/Stanford. Saturday brings the first big day of college action. You’re probably looking forward to the prime time game matching Michigan and Alabama that we’ll be featuring on these pages early Saturday.
Game day releases always go up a few hours before kickoff right here at the website. Make a few clicks and have your credit card handy. If you’d like more information about our service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on pennant race baseball when you call.
TV networks are likely to be filling the airwaves with MIS-information once again this year. And, the fact that FOX is joining the fun with a national studio show and prime time telecasts will make things even better for sharp handicappers who like fading the public.
Don’t get tricked into making bad plays…GET THE BEST GAMES ON THE BOARD EVERY FOOTBALL DAY WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!