Ohio State bucking the odds after injury

Despite the loss of star quarterback, bettors still back Buckeyes


COLUMBUS — A funny thing has happened in the once-foreboding aftermath of Braxton Miller’s season-ending injury.

“The market has swung right back on Ohio State,” said Aaron Kessler, the sports book supervisor at Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas.

In a twist that has puzzled top Vegas bookmakers, the money continues to pour in on the Buckeyes — almost as if their two-time Big Ten MVP quarterback was never lost at all.

The bandwagon has emptied and reloaded. Ohio State’s previously plunging national title odds have rallied from 50-1 to 20-1, while the betting line for its opener Saturday against Navy in Baltimore is just about back to pre-injury levels.

At the LVH sports book just off of the Strip, oddsmakers initially downgraded Ohio State six points from its original perch as 17½-point favorites over the Midshipmen. Yet, even with the Buckeyes breaking in red-shirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, they inspired so much action that the betting line jolted back. OSU has since widely settled in as a 16½-point favorite.

“On our side of the counter, we’re scratching our heads,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay told The Blade. “We were having a discussion about it the other day. So, is Barrett just looking really good in practice? Does it look like they’re not missing a beat? ... There's no way I would ever have thought going from Miller to Barrett would be worth one point.”

Then again, creating odds is not a science. Miller’s injury illustrates the behind-the-scenes scramble in Vegas that follows the change in status of a critical player — say, a quarterback or running back in football, an ace pitcher in baseball, or a goalie in hockey.

Before bookmakers could recalibrate and adjust the lines to account for the loss of Miller, who underwent surgery Tuesday for a torn labrum, they first raced to take Ohio State off the board.

Every moment counts as gamblers who might catch word of breaking news a minute before it reaches the sports book try to slip in bets before the line changes. For instance, if Denver star quarterback Peyton Manning was unexpectedly sidelined for an upcoming game, you would hurry to wager against the heavily favored Broncos.

“That definitely keeps you up at night,” said Kevin Bradley, the sports book manager at Bovada. “Our team is always monitoring Twitter and [media sites] for big news.

“There’s always a couple where people can sneak in bets. In Vegas, you have to go up to the window to make the bet. If you see 10 guys coming in a row making the same bet, you [can adjust]. But online, we can get slammed in a matter of seconds from 100 people putting in the same bet. When Miller got hurt, bang, we shut it down.”

There can be a tendency to overcorrect for an injury, with the St. Louis Rams’ championship season in 1999 a classic example. Mr. Kornegay recalled the Rams’ odds of winning the Super Bowl free-falling from 30-1 to 500-1 after quarterback Trent Green shredded his knee in the preseason.

“We had no idea who this Kurt Warner guy was from Arena Football,” he said.

With Ohio State, the question was, “Who the heck is J.T. Barrett?” Barrett, who will see his first game action since high school on Saturday, was certainly no Miller. When the LVH put Ohio State back on the board hours after the injury became official, the Buckeyes’ odds of winning the national title were 50-1. Mr. Bovada placed them at 40-1 — down from 10-1 a week earlier. For perspective, OSU had the same odds as Florida, which went 4-8 last season, and was far behind Big Ten rivals Michigan State and Wisconsin (25-1). (Michigan opens at 50-1.)

“We have about three of four guys that we discuss the odds with,” Mr. Kornegay said. “It’s not a formula. We perceive in our own head what the value of Miller was to the team. Based on the backup, it was a large adjustment on our part because you have a red-shirt freshman instead of a junior or senior who has a lot of reps.”

The result?

“We probably overadjusted a little bit,” Mr. Bradley said.

At least that’s what the football-crazed public told them. The green continued to gush toward Ohio State until, suddenly, the Buckeyes were back among the favorites. At Bovada, their odds have risen to 20-1.

So oddly high is the optimism for Ohio State that even bookmakers who barely adjusted their odds after Miller’s injury could be exposed. BetOnline.com, for instance, at first only lowered the Buckeyes from 17½ against Navy to 16. Yet, instead of bailing, gamblers doubled down on Ohio State.

“We got flooded with even more OSU money, including a little bit of respected money,” said Dave Mason, Bet Online’s sports book brand manager, in an online message. “Sure, Miller’s injury is big, but OSU still has a ton more talent, including Barrett, than Navy. Since the number went back up to 16.5, we are still getting hit with Buckeye money.

“Navy will be one of our bigger needs come Saturday. Already, 77 percent of the action is on the Buckeyes. ... Obviously, the bettors have faith in OSU’s young quarterback.”

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.