under construction

under construction

July 17, 2010

Just Average ATS

I was with a friend the other day when it was announced Bobby Johnson was stepping down from Vanderbilt.  Upon Johnson's overall record being mentioned, my buddy remarked, "that's the best damn 29 and 66 record there ever was in football," insinuating Johnson and Vanderbilt's reputation to strain their potential. 

My first inclination was to agree with my friend. 

The ex-coach and his Commodores have been perceived by most of the college football public as overachievers, but is this perception valid?  And where has Coach Richt's teams stacked up as far as achieving what was expected from them?

I've been infatuated with point spreads in sports since I was a kid, believing their significance goes far beyond a gambling-related figure.

It's a fairly simple concept...  Let's say Georgia is a 29-point favorite over Louisiana-Lafayette by kickoff of the season opener.  According to the line setters, the betting public, and the tons of money that has been wagered to move the line to where it closes, the Bulldogs should win by around 29 points.  Any scoring margin lower would indicate to me they underachieved; any exceeding margin is an overachievement.

In the eight seasons Johnson was at Vanderbilt (2002-2009), his teams won at exactly a .500 clip - 43-43-3 - against the spread (ATS).  This is evidence to me that, on the whole, Johnson's teams didn't necessarily play above or below but right at their potential.

Since 2002, Georgia has been on an ATS roller coaster, so to speak. Peaks were recording an impressive 10-3 ATS in '02 and 13-5-1 beginning with the upset on the Plains, through the 2007 season, and until the fifth game of the '08 campaign.

However, just as the Bulldogs were rolling against the number, they dipped like they never had before in the nearly four decades of college football point spreads, covering just four of 18 games, beginning with the 2008 'Bama blackout until the Auburn game a year ago.

In the end, the Bulldogs, like most of the SEC, registered an ATS record around .500 from 2002-2009:

1t. Kentucky, 50-42-1
1t. Ole Miss, 50-42-2
3. Auburn, 51-44-1
4. Florida, 53-46-2
5. Georgia 50-47-3
6. Arkansas, 49-47-1
7t. Tennessee, 50-50-2
7t. Vanderbilt, 43-43-3
9. Alabama, 48-50-4
10. LSU, 47-49-5
11. South Carolina, 44-49-2
12. Miss. State, 36-52-1

One might expect that nearly all teams, over a significant stretch of time, would have an ATS record around .500.  This isn't necessarily accurate.  Since 2002, there have been plenty of other FBS teams like Mississippi State, who have played well below what was expected. 

Whereas there have been quite a number of overachieving squads.  The top ATS teams the last eight seasons: Connecticut (54-35-2), Boise State (60-39-1), Ohio State (60-40-1), Iowa (58-39-1), Rutgers (54-38-1), Utah (56-40-1), and Virginia Tech (58-42-1).

To conclude, Bobby Johnson, like Georgia and most every other SEC team, met expectations the last eight seasons but certainly didn't exceed them.  

Perhaps more importantly, if you happen to have been wagering on SEC football the past several years, hopefully you've been  playing against the Bulldogs of StarkVegas.   


BG said...

Long term ATS standing can also be determined by the number of people betting on the games. Fewer people gambling should lead to a worse spread number (vs reality) at least in theory.

Anonymous said...

Actually you're wrong about one thing. In your Georgia example you say, "According to the line setters, the betting public, and the tons of money that has been wagered to move the line to where it closes, the Bulldogs should win by around 29 points."

Vegas doesn't try to predict margin of victory and doesn't care about the score or the teams playing. They only care about money. Their goal is to set a line and move a line to have 50% of money on one side and 50% on the other. Therefore, they can take their 10% "juice", make money, and move on.

Therefore, you can't use ATS statistics to determine underachievement or overachievement.

Spreads are about $ and nothing else.

Anonymous said...

The 18-game bad ATS stretch you mention, I can think of only 2 games GA covered--Michigan State in bowl game and Vandy last year. What were other 2?

Dawgfan17 said...

Anon beat me too it. Spreads are only about getting the public to bet equally on either side. Besides what is the difference in how good a team does against expectations if they beat a team by 28 points instead of 30 points. Is either a better performance than the other?

Patrick Garbin said...

Anon 1:56 and Dawgfan17,

Thanks for reading and I appreciate the comments. You guys are correct by saying it’s the goal of some sportsbooks to have half the money on each side of some of their games on the board (notice I said “some” – 50/50 or “splitting the action” is somewhat of a myth in sports gambling); that’s why I tried to be careful by saying the Bulldogs should win by “around” (instead of “exactly” or “strictly”) 29 points, according to the line setters and movers.

Nevertheless, my point was that I believe a team’s ATS record is a good indicator of over-/underachievement. And if you look at the teams with an excellent/poor ATS record over time, it seemingly is a good barometer of measurement.

Look at the seven schools I mentioned (i.e., UConn, Rutgers, VA Tech, etc.). I’m sure you would agree that for the past eight seasons, these teams are excellent examples of those that, for the most part, overachieved, strained their potential, and/or played above what was expected.

I think the opposite can be said for Miss. State and other teams with poor ATS records from 2002-2009: Michigan State, Illinois, Washington, and UNLV, to name a few.

And, as far as the 4-14 ATS stretch for Georgia I mentioned… During that time, one could argue the Bulldogs were one of the most underachieving, disappointing teams in all of college football.

It seems to me ATS records can be used to determine underachievement or overachievement, but that’s just one man’s opinion…

Patrick Garbin said...

Anon 10:52,
The other two ATS wins for the Dawgs during that time was LSU in 2008 and Arkansas last season.

Anonymous said...

There is a problem with this logic. The article says that Bobby Johnson only MET expectations. He did not overachieve or underachieve. But that interpretation fails to take into account the fact that a coach SETS expectations. More is expected from Alabama under Saban than for Alabama under Shula because Saban has raised expectations through the roof. By the same token, Bobby Johnson gradually raised expectations of what Vandy could do...by beating teams like Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee.