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Casey Mikula couldn’t leave a Las Vegas casino floor last March without placing one final bet. For a simple $10 gamble with 1,000-to-1 odds, he had little to lose.
The Harbert College of Business MBA graduate has the opportunity to parlay his small wager into a $10,000 payday should No. 2 Auburn (12-1), beat No. 1 Florida State (13-0) in the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 6. He received his graduate degree Saturday, Dec. 14.
“It was just blind luck,” said Mikula, a native of Fort Smith, Ark., who focused on business analytics at Auburn as part of his graduate degree. “I was mainly doing it just so I could take a picture and share it with my friends and say, ‘Hey if Auburn won, I would win this.’”
Mikula is one of 14 people to place the long preseason odds given by the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Superbook on the Tigers winning it all. If the Tigers take down the Seminoles, there’s no question that his education in business analytics will have paid off handsomely.
Business analytics, a new degree offered at Harbert College, is “key to everything in Las Vegas,” said Mikula, who will begin his career as an implementation consultant for Epic Systems, an electronic health records company in Madison, Wisc., in February.
“They (casinos) are using different modeling techniques to come up with the line that is going to be most profitable for them and they are able to quantify an incredible amount of unstructured data,” he said. “Those people are brilliant and didn’t build giant hotels in the middle of the desert for nothing.”
As the Tigers continued to win this season, Mikula’s hopes continued to rise.
“I started having some serious wishful thinking after the Texas A&M win (Oct. 19), because at that point it was looking like Auburn would be favored in every game for the rest of the season going into Alabama (Nov. 30),” he said.
But Auburn’s 20-point fourth-quarter lead over Georgia on Nov. 16 evaporated and the Tigers, down 38-37, faced fourth-and-18 from their own 27. All appeared lost.
“It (the bet) did cross my mind,” Mikula said. “I said, ‘Oh, my bet’s gone.’”
Enter the Immaculate Deflection, or the Prayer in Jordan-Hare, if you prefer. Ricardo Louis’ memorable circus catch for a touchdown saved Auburn, which climbed to fourth in the BCS poll the next day. Still, Auburn had work to do to crack the top two and earn a spot in the championship game.
When Chris Davis returned a failed Alabama field goal 109 yards for a game-winning touchdown on the Iron Bowl’s final play Nov. 30, cementing perhaps the most iconic moment in Jordan-Hare Stadium history, Mikula’s gamble still had a heartbeat.
“Being there (at the Iron Bowl) for that moment and instantly realizing it was one of the best endings, if not the best ending in college football history, and being able to experience that with my friends,” was what crossed Mikula’s mind after the win. “I called my dad and said, ‘it looks like we’re probably not going to make it because (No. 2) Ohio State beat Michigan by one point (42-41)’ and you’re thinking ‘that was the chance and Ohio State’s chance to get beaten had been lost.’
“Then I looked back on it and said, ‘wait a minute. Auburn was 1,000-to-1 coming into the season. All of these improbable things have happened.’ It almost seems like it should happen. It’s almost been like a movie, the whole season: The catch and the return.”
Fate struck again a week later when then third-ranked Auburn rushed past No. 5 Missouri 59-42 in the SEC Championship Game, with Mikula and friends pictured at left, and Michigan State upset Ohio State for the Big 10 title, catapulting the Tigers to No. 2 and into the BCS National Championship Game.
Now, only four quarters, and the Florida State Seminoles, separate Mikula from cashing big on his tiny wager. If the Tigers claim their second BCS crown, Mikula will undoubtedly be able to appreciate the role several other Harbert College students played in the outcome. Fellow MBA student Stephen Love, who also graduated Dec. 14, captured Louis’ miracle touchdown against Georgia and other memorable moments as a videographer for the football team, while marketing major C.J. Uzomah caught a touchdown pass against Alabama.
Other business majors playing key roles for the team include fullback Jay Prosch (business administration), offensive guard Alex Kozan (finance), safety Jermaine Whitehead (accounting), linebacker Anthony Swain (supply chain management) and cornerback Jonathan Jones (business administration).
Mikula has no doubt all will do their best to help him see a return on his $10 investment.
“Even if Auburn comes out tight, which teams typically do in national championships, the running game almost seems to be insulated from nerves because if the line blocks who they are supposed to block, Auburn’s going to get yardage,” said Mikula, who purchased a ticket to the championship seconds after Michigan State’s victory. “In the passing game, there is so much more contingent on timing. If (Florida State quarterback Jameis) Winston comes out tight, or the receivers come out tight, they could potentially lose two drives there in the first half, whereas Auburn might not because of the running game. What does concern me is if Florida State comes out clicking and Auburn has to play catch-up.
“It’ll be crazy if it gets tight late in the game. Regardless, it’s exciting to even think about the chance. Even if it doesn’t pan out, it’s been totally worth it from an entertainment standpoint and I get to see it all in person.”
Despite growing up in Arkansas, Mikula said he’s followed the Tigers since Dameyune Craig played quarterback in the mid-to-late 1990s.
“I can’t explain it. I fell in love with Auburn at that point,” he said. “I had no connections to Auburn. I made my own. The Auburn-Arkansas game has always been the Iron Bowl to me.”
After receiving an undergraduate degree in economics at Central Arkansas, Mikula chose to advance his education at by pursuing an MBA at Auburn.
“For me, it was good to go through the analytics program to learn the technical side and learn how to communicate analysis and modeling to an audience who isn’t familiar with it,” said Mikula, who emphatically said he will start his own company one day. “I think that will help me either down the line or immediately. As an implementation consultant, I will essentially be taking a technical thing, a health care database and explaining that to the hospital workers that I will be working alongside.”
Mikula said Harbert College’s MBA program helped molded him as he “faced uncertain circumstances and challenges.”
“I’ve obtained the confidence to go into those situations knowing that I can perform at a high level,” he said. “I had an internship (Golden Ages retirement community) in China this past summer. That was really difficult. We had a lot of cultural difficulties. Going into that environment and performing at a high level, then taking that experience, and thinking forward to my time at Epic … you’re going to be hit with a lot of different issues that you might not be ready for, but I have the confidence that I’ll be able to tackle those issues.”
Mikula plans on vacationing in Australia, New Zealand or Europe with family regardless of the championship game’s outcome.
When asked if he was ambitious, Mikula smiled and answered, “Yes. I wouldn’t want to be anything less.”