In Pasadena, Calif., the Rose Bowl went "off the board" yesterday. Bookmakers refused to handle further action on the city's most famous event.
In Las Vegas and cities across the country, there was a flurry of betting activity on the game. The point spread favoring Michigan over Washington jumped from 7 to 10 points.
The cause of this activity was the pronouncement by SCORE, the Boston-based sports handicapping service, that Michigan was the "Lock of the Year." The "Lock" game has become a major annual phenomenon in the gambling world.
Bob Dunbar and Bill Hilton, the proprietors of SCORE, could hardly have known that they were creating a monster when they started their company in 1973 and, as a promotional gimmick, ballyhooed their selection of Boston College over Holy Cross as the "Lock of the Year." They won that game, and they have won every "Lock" since. Their eight-year winning streak has helped make SCORE the most successful sports betting service in the country and has spawned a horde of imitators.
Nowadays, every sports betting service issues a Lock of the Year, a Lock of the Week, a Bowl Lock, a Thanksgiving Lock, a Playoff Lock. "It's becoming ridiculous," Dunbar said. "Pretty soon, you're going to see advertisements for a Mother's Day Lock."
SCORE has virtually painted itself into a corner with the success of its "Lock." Its recommendation can trigger so much betting action as to render a game unbettable. When SCORE picked Stanford over California in 1978, the point spread soared from 5 to 14. Dunbar and Hilton realized that they would have to make future "Lock" selections on major nationally televised games -- such as bowl games -- that generate widespread betting activity. They had only a few games to choose from on New Year's Day, but Dunbar insists, "We've been watching videotapes of the teams and studying matchups for a long time, and we really do love this game."
"Michigan is the class of the Big 10," Dunbar said, "and we feel Washington is only the fourth- or fifth-best team in the Pac-10. "Washington has played only two teams with good running attacks this year; Southern Cal and Oregon both ran for 270 yards against them. And Michigan has a much better ground game than either of those teams. They have three great running backs in Stanley Edwards, Lawrence Ricks and Butch Woolfolk. And they have a diversified attack. Bo Schembechler no longer runs all those options that put people to sleep."
But the key to the Rose Bowl, SCORE believes, is the matchup between Washington's good quarterback, Tom Flick, and the Wolverine defense.
In the past, Big 10 teams have spent the season grinding out three yards and a cloud of dust against each other, then have gone to the Rose Bowl and have been riddled by good passing teams. "That's different now," Dunbar said. "The texture of the Big 10 has changed. This year, Michigan has faced a lot of top passers: Art Schlichter of Ohio State, Mark Herrmann of Purdue, Tim Clifford of Indiana, Rick Campbell of California. Those four quarterbacks produced a total of 16 points against Michigan.
"Bo has a young, very quick secondary and a new defensive coordinator this year. In the last 18 quarters, Michigan has allowed three points. I don't see how Washington is going to score much against them. We know there's no such thing as a sure thing, but this is as close as you can come."