Sports

A bookmaker’s approach: Behind the 20-point Ole Miss-Alabama opening line that bettors disagreed with

Matt Metcalf, as sportsbook director for Circa Sports, is the oddsmaker responsible for the first college football lines to hit the betting market each week. Metcalf posts his opening lines at 11 a.m. PT on Sundays and offers $3,000 betting limits to all comers, including some professional bettors who have been shunned by other operators. The limits grow rapidly through the week and, by the time kickoff approaches, will be among the largest in the betting market.

Metcalf is sharing his bookmaking process with ESPN this football season. This week, he touches on how he set the opening line for Ole Miss-Alabama, what happened next and what he learned from it.

Alabama opened as a 20-point favorite over Ole Miss on Sunday afternoon at Circa Sports. Bettors thought that was too high.

In the first three hours that the game was on the board, Metcalf said he booked more than 10 limit bets on the Rebels, and none on the Crimson Tide. Metcalf responded to the action by moving the line to as low as Alabama -14.5. It’s since settled back at -15 at Circa, while most sportsbooks are at -14.5.

Entering this week, Metcalf had the Crimson Tide rated three to four points higher than No. 2 Georgia and 18 points above Ole Miss. After Alabama beat Florida two weeks ago in game that was closer than expected, Metcalf lowered his power rating on the Crimson Tide by three points. Alabama was still the top team in his ratings, around 3-4 points higher than No. 2 Georgia and 18 points higher than Ole Miss.

“I thought we’d been ahead of the market on Ole Miss for most of the season in our numbers,” Metcalf said Sunday afternoon, a few hours after he posted the opening lines for this week’s college football. “I was pretty confident, because of being ahead of Ole Miss and rating them properly that we were correct on opening this line at [Alabama] 18, 19, 20, up in that range. But the market disagreed with me.

“Because I don’t think I’m low on Ole Miss,” Metcalf added, “that tells me that I’m probably too high on Alabama. It’s obvious that I still have them three or four points higher, which tells me that the market probably thinks that Alabama and Georgia are a lot closer than I have them. I have like a four-point spread between those two teams, but, based on the betting action, [the market] thinks that they’re pretty much the same team, Alabama and Georgia.

“Two hours ago, I would’ve told you, clear-cut, that Alabama was a three-to-four point favorite verse Georgia. But now, based on the way they’re betting it, that line appears closer to pick. Interesting.”

When the Crimson Tide take the field Saturday against Ole Miss, they will have been favored 85 consecutive games and 156 of their last 157. The streak dates back to the 2009 SEC championship game, when Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators were around 5-point favorites over the Tide. Alabama won that game 32-13.

The Crimson Tide have been underdogs in only one other game since: at Georgia in 2015. Alabama closed as a consensus 1-point underdog but went on to blowout the Bulldogs 38-10.

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