What Las Vegas Odds Predict about Stanford, the Pac-12 in 2013

USA TODAY Sports

Las Vegas is ready for football to be back, but it's still a little leery of going all-in on the Cardinal

Because we're all degenerates at heart -- addicts of speculation (financial and conversational) -- the Golden Nugget released early, early spread numbers for a spate of college football games last week. And because we all love extrapolating from incomplete, early information, I decided to do just that by inferring how the Golden Nugget expects (most) Pac-12 teams to do, plus Notre Dame.

Here's how I did it -- this website has inferred percentage-to-win odds from each given spread, so I simply collated all the data together. In some cases, the good casino folks have failed to put out a spread for the game -- most of these games are bodybag games, so I defaulted to 99% chance of victory; some I defaulted to 50%; and a very few, where I felt a given team had a nice but not overwhelming advantage, I gave 75% chance of victory to one team or another.

You can then use an expected value calculation (so having 99% chance of victory gives you .99 wins) and add up the number of fractional wins to get an idea of how many wins a given schedule should give. It's a good method because it recognizes that while beating both, say, UCLA and Army are to be expected, the likelihood of victory is dramatically different. Anyway, because Utah has only 7 lines posted out of 12, I declined to estimate out -- I'm not familiar enough with the team, and so my estimates would be too, well, estimated. Colorado I declined to do because I presumed the results were grim. I've got the full results here.

Anyway, here's how the gamblers see it playing out:

PAC-12 NORTH:

Oregon: 11.1 expected wins

Stanford: 9.16 expected wins

Oregon State: 8.31 expected wins

Washington: 7.28 expected wins

Washington State: 3.71 expected wins

Cal: 2.9 expected wins

PAC-12 SOUTH:

USC: 10.27 expected wins (NOTE: USC is playing 13 regular-season games)

Arizona: 8.49 expected wins

Arizona State: 7.23 expected wins

UCLA: 6.81 expected wins [Utah and Colorado left out]

And: Notre Dame: 9.17 expected wins

I'm not sure that Stanford fans have formally discussed win expectations, but 9.16 expected wins certainly doesn't fit in with the top 5 type hype we've been receiving. What gives? (Though Phil Steele's rankings are trollerific, putting Stanford at #11, behind #6 USC and #5 Oregon.)

A few factors: 1) I think the gamblers are overrating USC a bit: because of the fail for the ages the Trojans farted out last year, along with accompanying Kiffin-related schadenfreude, it's been ignored -- they have a ton of talent in that team. And Kiffin is capable of coaching a team with few expectations to a surprisingly big season. Not even that long ago: Snapchat was still an infant, granted, but Barack was president. Still, it seems odd that the team that's beaten USC five of the last six times -- but who's counting? and who can disgorge all the scores of all the games? Certainly not me. -- isn't favored against that team. Still, a marginal effect unless you think beating them is a sure thing.

2) Offense, duh: might not have noticed, but there are perilously few proven playmakers returning, and a wide range of possible outcomes for every offensive unit other than fullback. (The offensive line could be football's answer to tank warfare or merely pretty good; running backs could be anywhere from competent to very good, etc.) That wide range decreases margin for error and increases difficulty in predicting season, because...

3) Too might tight games: for a national contender, Stanford played too many tight games last year. Take Washington. Stanford was indisputably the better team than they were; but they played a bad game, got a bit unlucky, and lost. If you blow teams out with regularity, the downs of bad luck and an off game are much more manageable. That's why, with consistency, people rating teams use margin of victory as an important underlying factor.

4) Tough schedule: Stanford's playing a pretty tough schedule. Compare Stanford's schedule to say, Arizona's, and get the idea. Adding to that is the supreme inconvenience of the way the schedule sets up -- a bye the first week of the season, and a bye before the Oregon game...but Oregon has that same bye game. If Stanford wins the Pac-12 and/or reaches the national championship, it will have earned the honor.

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