Kansas football fans — throughout recent difficult seasons — have often talked about looking for signs of progress outside of the team’s final record, which includes seeing the team play better than what is expected in certain weeks.
If that’s the bar, though ... well, KU has struggled to even give much hope through that type of lens.
The reality: KU — over a two-season stretch — is nearing uncharted waters when it comes to performing against the Las Vegas spread.
“It’s something that you’re looking at two years of data, and they’ve only covered (the spread) one time,” said Jay Kornegay, executive vice president SuperBook Sports Operations. “That’s a pretty significant stretch there.”
And one that just doesn’t happen all that often in the college football world.
For those not familiar, each game is given a point spread; for example, KU is a 38 1/2-point home underdog against Oklahoma this week.
If a bettor takes Oklahoma, the Sooners will have to win by more than 38 points to win money. If that person takes KU, the Jayhawks either have to win or lose by 38 points or fewer.
In essence, the 38 1/2-point spread is the great equalizer, working to balance out both teams. In a perfect world for the sportsbooks, each team over time will win about 50% of their games against the spread.
Knowing that, here are the recent trends when it comes to KU:
• The Jayhawks are 0-6 against the spread (ATS) this year;
• They are 1-13-1 ATS over the last two seasons;
• Add in the last game of 2019, and they are 1-14-1 ATS overall in their last 16 contests.
“This shows that the betting markets are somehow still overestimating this program too,” WynnBET oddsmaker Sawyer Johnson said. “The probability of them going 0-6 ATS this year is roughly 1.4%, and the probability of them going 1-13-1 is roughly .0168%, so yeah, you could say that both streaks are very rare.”
According to data provided by teamrankings.com, KU could set recent history if it fails to cover against Oklahoma this weekend.
The TeamRankings odds database goes back to 1995, which covers around 30,000 16-game streaks over that time. KU’s current 1-14-1 mark ATS is tied for third-worst over that stretch and also is the worst since 2012.
ATS record (16 games)
If KU doesn’t cover this week, it would fall to 1-15-1 — tying Hawaii for the worst college football mark over any 17-game span.
No one in college football’s current landscape is particularly close to KU’s current trend. After the Jayhawks (1-14-1 ATS), the next-worst teams over their last 16 games are Arizona, UCF and Missouri, who are all 4-12 in that time.
Kornegay and Johnson both, though, say this isn’t reason to rush and alter KU’s point-spread numbers.
Each week, sportsbooks make minor adjustments to each team’s power rating to reflect what was learned from the previous game. And while the public might try to take advantage of a pattern like this, the books are most concerned about “sharp” players, the ones who put in higher volume and impact Vegas lines the most.
“You’re giving me two years of data here, and that’s very strong. I can understand that,” Kornegay said. “But I think it would be adjusted even more so if we were to see some of the sharps play against the Jayhawks (more) than they do.”
Johnson said KU is treated like all other teams when it comes to point-spread changes. And as rough of a stretch as this has been for the Jayhawks, history tells oddsmakers to not over-adjust.
“An integral part of the sports betting world, as well as the discipline of statistics, is the Law of Large Numbers,” Johnson said. “Fifteen (games) just isn’t a large number, and we have to trust that over time it will move closer to the average of the entire population.”
There have been some fluky parts in this KU interval too.
Take the Coastal Carolina game, for instance. The Jayhawks, who lost 49-22 while barely failing to cover the 26 1/2-point spread, were held scoreless three times in field-goal territory during the second half when coach Lance Leipold attempted for come-from-behind touchdowns instead of kicks. It’s just one example of how coach and bettor interests often are not aligned.
KU has a longer-term stretch over time, though, that reflects the team’s struggles. Since 2010 — the year after Mark Mangino left the program — KU is 50-82-2 ATS (38%) according to TeamRankings, tying UConn for the worst percentage in FBS.