To win as a slight underdog is one thing. To cover a point spread as a prohibitive favorite is completely another matter.
That is the position Texas is in this week. The Longhorns, who outlasted Notre Dame 50-47 as a 3½-point dog, are 30-point favorites over UTEP.
Predictably, Horns fans/backers got a bit too giddy and drove up a reasonable opening line of 26 points. The more unbalanced the wagering is, the more sports books change the line to reflect the betting patterns and make the other team — UTEP, in this case — more appealing.
In this game, 75 percent of the money has poured in on Texas’ side. In the last 48 hours, about 90 percent of the money has been on the Horns. Thus the line move from 26 up to 30.
Sports books could take a chance on the betting public being wrong — it often is — but they prefer equal wagering on each side because they enjoy a built-in profit margin ($11 wins $10; $55 wins $50; $110 wins $100).
Under Charlie Strong, Texas has only been favored by more than 14 points three times, covering twice. In the last five years, UT is 5-5 vs. the line when favored by 14-plus.
Texas hasn’t been a favorite of 30 or more since the 2013 opener against New Mexico State, which the Longhorns (-43) covered 56-7.
In the Horns’ remarkable 2009 season, they were just 1-3-1 against the spread when favored by 30-plus. Even in the 2005 national title season, they were just 3-2 in that role.
It ain’t easy, folks. One of the biggest risks is the “back-door cover,” meaning an underdog like UTEP trails by 35 or 40 going into the fourth quarter, but scores a couple of garbage-time touchdowns against the Texas reserves to lose by fewer than 30.
There are stats in Texas’ favor. The Longhorns are 4-1 ATS in their last five home games. Although UTEP is 6-1 ATS in its last seven (1-0 this year), the Miners have been a poor road team for years with a 6-14 ATS mark in their last 20.
The pick: UTEP +30. Too much chance Texas will be a little flat and a little too happy, while UTEP will embrace the opportunity to show Big Brother it can play. Over is tempting on the over/under of 59½.
Title odds: More than four times better than a week ago. Texas, as much as a 100-1 dark horse before Notre Dame, is now as low as 20-1. That’s what a dramatic win over Notre Dame will do to a excitable fan base eager to believe.
Big 12 view: Texas Tech (+3) should have enough to clip Arizona State on the road. … Shade Arkansas (+7½), likely to keep it tight with TCU all the way to the finish line. … And dare we say Kansas, -3 over a Ohio University team that choked against Texas State, has an excellent chance to be 2-0.