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BYU vs. Cal: Odds, betting lines and computer predictions

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Looking at data from Las Vegas and several computer predictors to get a hopefully accurate preview for BYU’s 2018 home opener against California.

BYU v Arizona
Defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi #90 and Trajan Pili #52 of the Brigham Young Cougars celebrate after the Arizona Wildcats missed a field goal during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on September 1, 2018, in Tucson, Arizona. The Cougars defeated the Wildcats 28-23.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With a win under the belt, the Cougars of Brigham Young are returning to Provo for a whiteout game to open the home schedule.

Do we dare believe in BYU football again?

The Cougars (1-0) have a chance to start 2-0 in Pac-12 standings in a game against California (1-0), which beat North Carolina last week.

The game kicks at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, on ESPN2.

Let’s take a look at what oddsmakers and computer predictions have to say about the matchup.

(This is, of course, for entertainment purposes only. While we don’t encourage gambling, referencing predictions from the people who make money on them can be fun!)

LINES AND ODDS

BYU is favored by 3 points at most Vegas sportsbooks after opening as a 2.5-point favorite. The over/under sits at 46.5 after opening at 48.

Vegas lines and odds aren’t necessarily meant to predict, but to entice betting. However, combining the line and the over/under usually ends up close to some computer models.

Combining the line and the over/under, the Vegas combo has BYU winning about 25-22.

PREDICTIVE RANKINGS

Some computer rankings are designed to provide a built-in predictive element by comparing the ratings of two teams.

Some of the best ratings out there come from Football Outsiders. The most famous is Jeff Sagarin’s for USA Today, previously used in the BCS computer rankings, but I’ve gathered a couple others from around the web as well.

FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS F/+

F/+ is a combination of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ and Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings. The ratings are usually pretty solid in factoring all the many variables involved in ranking college football teams that have a relatively low level of common opponents.

Football Outsiders site only lists the ratings in order, but Connelly posts predictions on SB Nation.

F/+ ratings have not yet been posted, but Connelly’s S&P+ has BYU ranked #49 and Cal at #52.

Bill’s prediction using his S&P+ as posted on SB Nation has Cal covering the spread but BYU winning 23-21.

SAGARIN

BYU is ranked #75 (+14) with a rating of 68.11.

Cal is ranked #44 with a rating of 76.70.

Sagarin’s formula currently values home field advantage as worth 2.36 points. So subtracting the difference between the ratings and adding home-field points, Sagarin has Cal by 6 (6.23).

BILLINGSLEY

Billingsley’s ranking was also previously used by the BCS. With the BCS restriction to remove margin of victory no longer a consideration, Billingsley has created a version of his formula that accounts for MOV.

BYU is ranked #62 (+25) with a rating of 88.88

Cal is ranked #47 with a rating of 92.37

Billingsley’s numbers don’t typically factor in home-field advantage, so accounting for a standard three points at home, he has a virtual toss-up with Cal by 0.49.

DONCHESS INFERENCE RATING

Donchess boils down the ratings directly into digestible scores and probabilities, no math required.

It has Cal winning 30-27 at 57% probability.

SPORTS-REFERENCE

Sports-Reference doesn’t have a predictive component. But S-R is a fantastic library of data and I want to give them some love.

Sports-Reference uses something it calls a Simple Ratings System (SRS). It describes SRS as “a rating that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule.” The rating is expressed in points above/below average, with zero being average.

SRS has BYU ranked #68 and Cal ranked #95.

COMPOSITE RATING

There are a lot of computer ratings that aren’t packaged with a predictive ability. There are also a ton of computer ratings, period. Kenneth Massey, whose ratings were also part of the old BCS computer formula, hosts on his site a composite ranking of what is currently 46 computer ratings across the internet.

In that composite, BYU ranks #68 (+23) Cal is #50.

* * *

BYU seems to have already convinced oddsmakers but those computers, many of which are likely still borrowing data from last season to account for 2018’s small sample size, still need convincing.

How are you feeling about the data, Cougar fans?