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Maryland-South Florida betting odds, lines and picks

Resident degenerate gambler FlaTerp takes a closer look at Maryland's matchup with USF.

I, FlaTerp, am a man of many vices, and degenerate gambling happens to be one of my biggest. I'm not proud of it, nor am I ashamed. It just is what it is -- I never met a poker game, a horse race, or a sports line that I didn't think I could beat. Am I always right? Far from it! But I enjoy the hell out of it and I've even turned a buck or two here and there over the course of time.

So when Pete asked us what we'd like to write about this Maryland football season, I immediately thought about gambling. I love to watch the lines, analyze the lines, bet the lines, then start over again the next week. There's few things in life more fun for me than waking up Saturday mornings, looking up and down the board for some suspect numbers, building a few theories about them, and then putting some cash in play and watching the football games unfold with the help of some unhealthy food and an adult beverage or three.

I thought doing that very thing publicly here at Testudo Times might be fun and could give some of you gambling-inclined readers the chance to share your own theories and favorite games and play along with me in the comments. Or you can just make fun of me when I'm inevitably wrong most of the time. Either way, I hope it's entertaining.

First, a little gambling background. I'm not really a traditional sports handicapper. The best sharps have eyes on the ground and inside info and they spend every waking hour examining matchups, statistical trends and whatever other nuggets of info they can get their paws on. I'm way, way lazier than that. My school of sports gambling labels me as what folks in the industry would call a "contrarian gambler." What does that mean? Well, it means that I've been around the block long enough to know that, on a macro scale and over the course of a season, the house always wins and the public always loses. If this weren't so, all those palatial Las Vegas casinos wouldn't thrive the way they do. So that means I try to routinely align myself with the house and against the public.

The way to do that is by following websites like this one, and there are many, that monitor betting trends and line movement. When I see 80 percent of the public stacked up on one side of a bet, I'm interested. Why? In a nutshell, any game that generates a 50-50 split on each side of a bet is a win for the house since they take a cut from all the winners. So 50-50 splits make perfect sense. 80-20 splits? Not so much. If the house is willing to sit on a 20% minority without moving the line to balance it, it means they feel strong enough about the out-of-favor team that they're willing to risk losing a landslide of money if they're wrong. And they are wrong sometimes, absolutely, but in the big picture, over the course of a season and beyond, the house always, always wins. So if you're going to play with the house like I do, you can't do it for only one weekend, you've got to do it all year long. Sports gambling is a marathon, not a sprint.

That's the theory anyway. Let's see how the reality plays out this week, starting as always with our beloved Terps. Let me first say that I don't usually bet Maryland games, nor do I recommend anyone bet their favorite teams unless they truly have a heart of stone. A little backstory: I happened to be in Vegas last Christmas when the Terps played Marshall in the Military Bowl, and my typical contrarian research showed me that Marshall was the screaming play to make. So what did I do? I drank a lot, talked myself into betting on Maryland out of 100% irrational homerism, then watched helplessly while I lost a fat chunk of cash over the next three hours. So for the purpose of this column, I'm going to be very steely when analyzing the Terps. I will try and reveal what the line and trends say about Vegas's view of Maryland's chances and then make my pick accordingly. If y'all don't like what I pick, sorry. It's not personal and it's not Maryland hate. It's just a gambler trying to make the smartest play. Here goes:

Maryland (1-0) at USF (1-0)

Opening line: Maryland -10 or -11, depending on where you looked

Current line (Tuesday a.m.): Maryland -11.5 to -12.5
Trends: When the line opened at a suspiciously low -10, around 85% of the betting action was on the Terps. This is probably because USF struggled last week to beat a FCS team (Western Carolina) that finished 2-10 last year while Maryland destroyed a far superior FCS team. The wiseguys response to that 85-15 split was to chase USF bettors by hiking the line. Even now at Terps -12.5 in many sportsbooks, 77% of the betting public is still siding with Maryland.

What it means: From a Maryland perspective, there's bad news and less-bad news. The bad news first: For me, this is an obvious opportunity to take USF and the points. The reason? If USF covers, each and every one of those 77-percenters who bet on Maryland loses their bet, which means Vegas made a windfall on this game. If Maryland covers, Vegas pays out 77% of the bets made on this game and takes a beating. So for my money, I'd side with the house when the action is this far away from a 50-50 split, since we've established that the house always wins in the end.

Here's the less-bad news: A tell-tale signal for contrarians like me to put a bet down on any particular game is when Vegas sets a line that generates an 80-20 split and then never moves that line. This tells you Vegas really likes something about the 20% team and simply doesn't care that the public is so overwhelmingly piled up on the other side. In the case of Maryland-USF, Vegas clearly did not like the overwhelming 85% support Maryland received at -10 so they went to work adding points and trying to get closer to 50-50. That tells me Vegas is not all that comfortable being married to USF and the points here. They're looking for a number that will put a bigger share of the public's money on USF in an attempt to eliminate their risk of taking a big loss on the game.

My pick: So far, the increased point spread has only resulted in a slight drop from 85% public backing of Maryland down to 77%. Siding with Vegas, as I so often do, I will have to take USF and the points unless things change dramatically between now and Saturday. The line is rising steadily, though, which is an indication that the wiseguys are worried about a Maryland blowout, which would cost them dearly if the action stays as heavily tilted toward the Terps as it is right now. The good news from a Maryland fan perspective is that this line is plenty big enough that Maryland can lose vs. the spread but still win the game. That is precisely what I think will happen.

Pick vs. the spread: USF +12.5

Game pick: Maryland 31, USF 20

5 I like

@BOSTON COLLEGE (+4) vs. Pittsburgh: Should Pitt be a road favorite by more than a field goal in any conference game? Um, no. But they are, and 88% of the betting public is backing them. Eagles please.

@TOLEDO (+6.5) vs. Missouri: Here is a classic contrarian play. The line opened at 6, generating easy-to-predict 99% support for the SEC team over the MAC team. Vegas is being stubborn here and only moved it up a half-point. Upset alert! Missouri may win, but it won't be easy.

@VANDERBILT (+20.5) vs. Ole Miss: Another 99-1 betting split and it's because Vanderbilt laid a rotten egg in Game 1 of the post-Franklin era and got bombed by Temple, while Ole Miss is a feel-good team right now that hammered Boise State. It's an awful big line for an SEC road game when the favorite is not one of the conference's traditional powers. Happy to be on Vandy here with all those points.

@NOTRE DAME (-5) vs. Michigan: Everyone seems to love the Wolverines plus the points here, but I don't think they've arrived just yet. This line isn't too big, so take the better team on their home field.

@OHIO STATE (-11) vs. Virginia Tech: Another contrarian special. Down their star QB and coming off a shaky performance, the Buckeyes are still laying all those points to a respected program. The public is taking the bait and backing the Hokies, who tend to find their inner Clemson when they play elite teams. Similar to ND-Mich, If you can take a good team at home and still be on Vegas's side, do it.

OK, that's all I got for this week. For those of you commenters who are interested, let's hear your spread picks for these games and we'll keep the conversation going throughout the week as the numbers change.