LAS VEGAS—The college football game laced with the most intrigue Saturday is No. 12 Notre Dame against No. 18 Wisconsin at Soldier Field.
The Badgers and Fighting Irish last played in 1964, and the only time they’ve jousted inside the stately edifice was in 1929. Notre Dame won both, 31-7 and 19-0, respectively.
Plus, the guy who played quarterback at Wisconsin for three seasons, Jack Coan, now directs the Irish. Fox-32 will show all the drama to a national television audience.
At Circa Sports, the Badgers opened as 6½-point favorites. None of that, however, means a buck or two must be risked on the outcome.
“One of the top rules,” Texas handicapper Paul Stone said, is “you have to define your goals as a sports bettor. For some, it’s strictly entertainment, just a few bucks here and there.
“If you’re doing it at the level I’m trying to do it, though, the numbers will be tighter in those kinds of games. They will attract more dollars, the market will be very mature by game day and, typically, you won’t find as much value there.”
It’s the game Stone will most enjoy observing Saturday. He leans a bit toward Wisconsin but hasn’t bet it.
The value that jumped out at Stone a few ticks past 11 a.m. Sunday morning in Vegas, when Circa Sports releases its opening lines, was Utah State getting 12 points at home to Boise State.
By Sunday evening, when I chatted with him as he drove east from Austin, that line had been cut to 8. Once again, he had secured the best of it. He was as satisfied to nab Texas Tech and Texas scoring more than 59 points.
NUMBERS, NOT TEAMS
Sunday at 9 p.m. his time, Stone was motoring northeast in his gray Toyota Camry toward the cabin he and wife Abby have in Lake Jacksonville, south of their Tyler home.
On U.S. Route 79, he eased up at Marquez, Jewett and other hot spots, scanning for speed traps. Over the decades, Stone and some of those officers have become acquainted with one another, so he applied caution near certain burgs.
Stone, 59, is as adept at spotting point-spread discrepancies. Of nearly three dozen ’cappers reviewed by The Sports Monitor of Oklahoma, an independent agency, he is No. 1 in college football at 14-4 (77.8%).
He has exclusive clientele that receives his selections, he guests often on the Vegas Stats & Information Network, and many other airwaves, and he hatched the Paul Stone Sports’ Podcast this season.
Novices and experts alike will learn something, especially regarding Stone’s organization and discipline, and cull edges in games.
More than 30 years ago, he began formulating college football power ratings. When a season ends, he immediately begins compiling new sets of ratings for all 130 FBS teams for the next campaign.
By May, he recalibrates fresh numbers based on new information, like transfers and coaching changes. He compares the two, melding them into a sensible figure.
Those are the bases he uses to establish spreads and totals, as if he were working for a Vegas book. He compares those against what Circa unveils, pouncing on the largest differences.
It’s about numbers, not teams. Read that again. Stone cannot stress that enough. Numbers. Not teams.
Stone catches a flight to Vegas at the end of most fall weeks.
Last Saturday, he did very well. He had made most of those bets the previous Sunday, when he stayed downtown at The D and wagered via the Circa Sports app on his cell phone.
By noon Saturday, he begins making lines for this weekend’s games, as much as he can with available information. As games end, he integrates those details into his ratings.
“Always working ahead,” says Stone.
He savors the white-out atmosphere of Auburn-Penn State, on low volume in his room at the South Point, far south of the Strip. He has no money on that game — again, the lesson. He keeps making lines, falls asleep past midnight.
Up at 5 a.m., he rings Abby. They chat for three or four minutes. Back to the lines, noting every potential discrepancy. He ponders taking a walk or visiting the property’s gym. Neither happens.
“I just don’t have the time,” says Stone. “I know I’m going to be cramming at the end.”
Right up to 11 a.m., when he taps into his Circa app. He can net as many as five points in value on games, three on average.
Standing in line burns time, in getting a bet approved, handing over cash or chips, and having the ticket printed. Tedium.
“A disadvantage,” he says. “You can be betting Under 58, and it’ll come up Under 54. ‘Do you still want it?’ It’s just too slow.”
Stone scrolls through the app, locks in value. The soft-spoken former sportswriter with the Texas drawl carries himself as if no passerby could detect whether he had just dropped, or won, a million bucks.
He leaves the South Point by noon. He rests on the plane. He lands and still has miles to go, speed traps to detect, college football teams to rate, value to unearth.