Before we dive into the stats and hopes for this week’s football game, let me take a moment to introduce this column, and a word that can make or break the weekends of many, the spread. The spread is important for two reasons. First, it can shape whether the brave degenerate gambler is going to get a pay out, or if he/she has to bet on the later games in the PAC 12 with the hope of breaking even. Second, it determines whether or not a team “wins.”
Now, you might be thinking, “As long as a team scores more points than another team, they should win.” You are correct in the fundamental ideas of a win, but in college sports, a fundamental win may not help a team against the competition in a race to the playoffs. It is always a time of frustration and confusion, as the committee decides which four teams get to play in the college football playoffs. As wins and losses are heavily brought into consideration, the term “strength of schedule” gets tossed in a lot.
Strength of schedule is a way to evaluate whether a team has a justifiable win. This proves if they are truly the best of the competition, or if they are just playing underdeveloped programs, giving them a cake walk to the playoffs. This phenomenon is how schools, such as Alabama, weasel their way into the playoffs year after year. Strength of schedule is not cut and dry. It is easy to tell the good big-name schools from the sad teams that are only in the league to lose, but the spread plays a role.
The spread is set by the higher powers in Vegas (who continuously prove to be smarter than me and my dumb gambling brain) to level the playing field as teams face each other. The higher the spread, the greater the difference in talent level. The lower the spread, the more evenly matched the two teams are. The teams that are anticipated to win are favorites, and for them the spread for them is denoted with a minus sign. This in turn means that you subtract that number from the final score, and then determine if the team would have won by this new amount. The team anticipated to lose, shares this same number but with a plus sign in front. From this perspective, you then add this number to the final score of the losing team to see who really “beat the spread” and won. I understand that this topic can be confusing, especially to those who do not gamble. But for the Badgers to stand a chance, to have any hope, to make grown men weep tears of joy as they make it into the playoffs (or at this point stay in the rankings) they need to cover the spread.
The spread in not only used in the playoff race but it is also considered week to week as teams are nationally ranked. To explain what I mean, let’s use some hypothetical situations. Say Alabama is ranked at #1 and they have to play Edgewood College ranked at #137. Everyone on God’s green earth knows Alabama is the more talented team. So, when they beat the number #137 team, they stay at #1. But what’s not to say that Wisconsin at #2 beats LSU at #4 (Once again hypothetical) is not deserving of the #1 spot. They beat a team much more competitive and proved their skills, no? Here’s where the spread comes in. It showcases a team’s skill. If Alabama was favored -72 over Edgewood and won by 80 points, then they showed their skill and keep their spot. However, if they only win by 3 points, then they may drop in the rankings because they did not cover the spread. If this happens and Wisconsin is favored by -12.5 and they win by 14 points, they will become the #1 spot. The whole system is very volatile. But more so, this shows the importance of the spread.
Time out, I know what you are thinking. First, those hypotheticals are ridiculous. Second, does Edgewood have a football team? Third, you can’t score half a point in football dummy.
- Yes, but we witnessed it this year. Wisconsin was ranked 4that the beginning of the season and played their first game against unranked Western Kentucky University. They were favored to win (-37) and had a final score of 34-3 (CBSSports, 2018).
Math Time: 34 + (-37) = -3. -3<3, Badgers did not cover. They won but did not cover. As a result of this they dropped in the rankings to number 5.
- Edgewood does have a football team and they are division III. Thanks, Wikipedia.
- If you are a reader agreeing that I am indeed a dummy and there are no half points in football, I guess you have never bet before. That’s more than okay, this isn’t about gambling. It’s about the power of the spread! But back to half points. The all-knowing spread setters in Vegas have devised a foolproof way to take people’s money. Say the spread is 10 points and the final score is 20-10. Who covers? The bet results in a tie. To avoid this a half point is added to the spread. Now the spread is 10.5, the final score is 20-10. The team with 20 points (assumed they were favored) did not cover.
Now that we got through the basics, let’s talk about the home game for Saturday. Rutgers is coming to town. And honestly, who knows what will happen in this game. I will remain positive that we will sin this game and not get embarrassed by the team that should be relegated from the Big Ten. I may or may not be responsible for creating this image…
The Badgers are favored -29, this scares the dickens out of me. This is a fairly large spread for a 5-3 team that is only 2-6 against the spread. In order to cover this week, we need to see more passing plays to get points. Points. Points. Points. We can easily rely on the ground and pound offense and maintain the clock, but who cares if we beat Rutgers 7-6, if we do not cover this game, we are as pathetic as the close-to-DII team from Jersey.
Let’s make Rutgers earn the privilege to stay in the Big Ten. This is going to require Coach Chryst to have more faith in his QB. Against Northwestern, Coan didn’t have many passing plays to show off his arm and bring back the visuals of a righty quarterback to the fine Badger fans. Relying too much on the ground game resulted in two crucial fumbles and a nightmare loss in Evanston. While Coan went 20-31 with a touchdown and no interceptions, this was only for 158 yards. He is going to need to be a lot more productive to outscore a team by 29 points, and I feel to do so he needs better play calling to give him the opportunity to sling the ball. Even if Hornibrook returns this week, the same applies. Conservative, running football will not cover games in week 10 Big Ten football, especially if the Badgers want any chance to get back into the rankings.