The One(s) that got Away

The One(s) that got Away

There are weeks that you crunch all the numbers, dot all your i’s and seemingly cross all your t’s for what appears to be a surefire win. The trends are going your way, the momentum shouts out a certain team and you can almost count your money before even placing your wager. However, there is one category that is hard to measure and can often be overlooked: the intangibles. The intangibles can take on the form of the emotions of one team, the history of two teams or even, and this happens more times than you expect, the weather. This week, let’s take a deeper dive into surefire wins that got away thanks to good ol’ intangibles.

Case #1: Michigan State (3-5) @ #14 Illinois (7-1) Betting Line: Illinois -16.5

Michigan State practically comes limping into Illinois looking like a team that just wants this miserable season to end. The Spartans embarrassed themselves both on and off the field just a week earlier against their arch-rivals, Michigan. The Spartans lost 29-7 in the game but it was what happened after the game that seemed to seal their fate before even heading to Illinois. An ugly altercation in the tunnel, caught on camera, forced MSU coach Mel Tucker to suspend eight players, all on the defensive side of the ball.

Losers of five out of their last six games, with a decimated secondary thanks to the suspensions, -16.5 seemed completely reasonable. Tucker’s team seemed to be tearing at the seams and now faced an Illinois team that had won six straight games and looked like a completely reborn program. Illinois also had the nation’s #1 defense, a great ground game going against the Spartans #118th ranked defense against the run, and were dominant in the red zone on defense. Give me that betting ticket, this thing is too easy!

Illinois is up 7-3 after one quarter, this one is looking good. Nation’s best defense against a team that is one of the worst in the nation scoring, particularly in the red zone, three points is probably it for this Spartans team. Second quarter, two field goals by the Spartans and this sure thing is starting to not look as sure. The Illinois offense can’t produce against this decimated defense. With each stop, the Spartans show more and more emotion. Squirming ensues, did we underestimate emotion? Are we being done in by any number of sports terms related to emotion: us vs. them, the most dangerous team is a wounded team or we are all we’ve got?

The second half brings some comfort. Perhaps the emotion of the first half will give way to the talent mismatch. Illinois will adjust and make plays. One turnover will turn into an avalanche of Fighting Illini points. And here we…touchdown Spartans! The Spartan sideline rejoices. Uh oh…touchdown Spartans! This is an avalanche alright, an emotional avalanche! The much maligned Spartans defense stops Illinois on five separate occasions on fourth down. Nothing is making any sense. Left is right, up is down. As we crumple our betting ticket, we can look at our own emotion in that moment and realize that we completely forgot that intangible: competitive sports can be as much emotion as it can be talent.

Final Score: Michigan State 23 Illinois 15 Spread -15.5: Loss

Case #2: #2 Ohio State (8-0) @ Northwestern (1-7) Betting Line: Ohio State -37.5

Fresh off of a resounding road win at Penn State the week before, the Ohio State Buckeyes came into Northwestern as a huge favorite over the Wildcats. There was a good reason for the nearly 40-point spread. Iowa’s anemic offense had just scored 33 points against this Northwestern team that has lost seven straight games. Here comes the #1 scoring team in the country. In a tightly contested top half of the Top-25 and on the eve of the first playoff rankings, there was all the incentive in the world for the Buckeyes to pound the Wildcats. Time to place a bet.

Need more reasons to lean on the Buckeyes in this matchup? The Wildcats ranked 112th in the country against the run while the Buckeyes featured the 28th best rushing attack. More? Northwestern ranks 120th in scoring and can’t put up points in the red zone, ranked 113th. What could go wrong? Wait, there was more solid information. Northwestern is 112th in the country in turnovers! Can’t score, check. Give up tons of points, check. Turn the ball over, check. Yep, count your money.

No worries here, Northwestern is not brimming with animosity towards the Buckeyes and haven’t shown emotion since their season-opening win in Ireland over Nebraska. What could go wrong? You did your research, you looked over the numbers and checked the history between the two teams with the favorite 7-1 ATS in the last eight meetings. The 37.5 point spread suddenly feels like a touchdown spread.

Sitting down, you click on the tv and check the score. Wait, did the announcer just say 7-0 Northwestern?!! Wait, why does he keep talking about wind? And why do I see debris flying all over the field?! Oh my God, I forgot one important thing; weather!!!! Oh no, the great equalizer!! Heisman candidate CJ Stroud has suddenly been reduced to a mere mortal. His numbers suddenly make Ryan Leaf’s pro career look Hall-of-Fame-esque. He throws for a career-worst 76 yards in the gusting winds that would have had Dorothy and Toto running for cover. The Buckeyes, of course, are better and go on to win the game but modestly so after one touchdown in each of the final three quarters.

Final Score: Ohio State 21 Northwestern 7 Spread -37.5: Loss

The lesson this week, check off ALL the boxes and not just the statistical ones. Is there an emotional element? How’s the weather? Oh the intangibles, they are not to be underlooked. Check in next week for another sampling of ‘The One(s) that got Away’. Also, be sure to check out my premium bets and packages here for all the inside knowledge in baseball, the NBA, the NHL, the NFL and college football.

*College football lines courtesy of

By Mark Ruelle

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Mark Ruelle

Mark has been a sports fanatic since childhood. He is also an avid follower of sports analytics and has used it in his own betting analysis for over two decades. Now we have Mark on our team here at Stat Salt. He holds degrees in marketing, broadcasting, and English and uses this vast array of assets to dissect and analyze game matchups. Mark will provide you with a wide variety of statistics to consider and a strong opinion in each matchup that he covers. Please follow him daily for an up-to-the-minute analysis of all the important games.