Earlier this year, financial analyst Joseph Granville told his clients that a bear market was imminent and that they should sell all their stocks. The response was incredible. The Dow Jones Industrial Average promptly plummeted 24 points. Wall Street veterans could not remember when one opinion influenced a market so much.
An event of a similar nature and magnitude occurred this week when another financial adviser affected another market profoundly. When SCORE, the football-touting service, announced that Florida was its "Lock of the Year" against West Virginia in this afternoon's Peach Bowl, the betting marketplace went crazy.
The Gators had been favored by seven points until SCORE released its eagerly awaited selection on Monday to clients who had paid $300 or thereabouts for the information. Within a day, the "official" spread had jumped to 11 points. Some bookmakers raised the number as high as 13 1/2. Some took the game off the board, refusing to handle any further bets, an almost unheard-of action for a nationally televised event.
SCORE's opinion clearly merits respect, and for good reason. The Boston-based enterprise has won with its "Lock of the Year" nine years in a row. The service made a national impact for the first time in 1978, when its "lock," Stanford, opened as a 5 1/2-point favorite over California, closed as an 18-point favorite in some places as bookies were inundated with action, and won by 20.
Since then, SCORE has been the best-known of the country's growing number of handicap services. Because of SCORE'S preeminence, competitors (and some clients) are fond of taking potshots at its proprietors, Bob Dunbar and Bill Hilton. Certainly they are guilty of some of the hype and hyperbole in advertising that seems endemic to their profession. But the reasoning and research that go into the lock of the year demonstrate annually that SCORE does its homework thoroughly.
Recently I suggested in this column that Southern Mississippi was a lock to beat Missouri in the Tangerine Bowl, and after that selection lost, some second-guessers wrote to suggest that I was "mindless" or "broccoli-brained," among more printable adjectives. In fact, I had thought my own reasoning was pretty good. But when I listened to the depth of SCORE's analysis of the Peach Bowl, I realized by comparison how shallow and inadequate were my own efforts, and the efforts of most other amateur handicappers.
"We think Florida is one of the most underrated teams in the country, and West Virginia one of the most overrated," Dunbar said. "Florida had troubles early in the year with a two-quarterback system, but when they told Wayne Peace, 'You're the guy,' it made all the difference in the world. The offense exploded in the last three or four games. They lost to Georgia, 26-21, in a game they should have won. They beat Kentucky, 33-12, and Florida State, 35-3, playing their reserves in the whole second half of both."
In addition to their capable quarterback, Dunbar said, the Gators have plenty of virtues on defense. "Sophomore Wilbur Marshall may be the best linebacker in the country. He's the kind who will be all-pro for 10 years."
On the sidelines, "The offensive coordinator, 28-year-old Mike Shanahan, is a great football mind; he's the next George Allen." Overall, Dunbar said, "Florida has great team speed and the difference with West Virginia is like night and day. I'll bet there are six linemen on Florida who are faster than the fastest West Virginia lineman."
If Florida has many more virtues than its 7-4 record indicates, West Virginia is much worst than its 8-3 mark.
"The intriguing thing about West Virginia," Dunbar said, "is that in seven of its 11 games, the opponents' first-team quarterback missed the game for one reason or another. They beat Boston College when a guy like you or me was playing quarterback. They beat Virginia Tech when the whole key to the team, Steve Casey, didn't play. They beat Maryland when neither the regular quarterback nor Charlie Wysocki played. Against Pitt, Dan Marino didn't play but Pitt still toyed with them.
"West Virginia can't run against a good team . . . We really, really love this game."