The Washington Huskies had a terrific season, going 12-1 in the third season of coach Chris Petersen’s regime and beating Colorado impressively to win the Pac-12 championship.
That was good enough to get the Huskies into the national championship tournament. Unfortunately, they will have to face Alabama in one of the semi-final games and the Vegas bookies rate the Huskies 15-point underdogs, the worst of any team in the 40 bowl games. But it was nice while it lasted.
I’ll leave it to others to figure out if Alabama can cover the number, although I do think they’ll win the national championship. Those games are tough to bet because everybody has an opinion about them, and the betting lines are extra tight.
But that leaves many other opportunities to find value because there are too many games for people to care about. Do you actually care who wins the Famous Potato Bowl? Do you even know who’s playing in the game?
There are actually 40 bowl games plus the national championship game this year featuring 80 teams, or 62.5 percent of the 128 schools that are in the top-tier of college football. At least three of schools have no business playing in a bowl game (they have 5-7 records), and 27 of the 80 teams have records of 5-7, 6-6, or 7-5, a good working definition of mediocre.
But with so many bowl games, you can’t be real choosy when it comes to filling out the dance card. Bettors however should be, and here are a few angles to consider as you look for college winners between Saturday and January 9, when the national championship will be decided.
HONOR AMERICA: A lot of coaches have trouble keeping their teams focused–there’s typically a long break between the last scheduled game and the bowl appearance, and there are plenty of distractions that can cause players to lose focus and even get in trouble.
This is not a problem for the military academies, where the players are serious, disciplined, and goal oriented. That makes them good bets in the bowl games, and all three of them made it this year. Take Army, Navy and Air Force against their opponents.
OVERRATED: You could make a lot of money for several years betting against Big 10 teams in bowl games because they were vastly overrated by the betting public, and would fall on their faces against decent opposition in bowl games. But the Big 10 schools have wised up in recent years, hiring coaches like Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, and stepping up their recruiting.
Now there’s a new conference that’s vastly overrated. That would be the Big 10’s shadow conference, the Mid-American. I’m thinking particularly of Western Michigan, which went 13-0, was ranked in the top 15, and has been making noises about being a big-time team. That got the school an invitation to this year’s Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin, the loser to Penn St. in the Big 10 championship game.
Western Michigan will find out what big time is really like after the Badgers put them through the grinder. While you’re at it, you can also lay the lumber against Toledo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Miami (Ohio), the other MAC teams in bowl games.
DISAPPOINTED: There are always a couple of teams that have high expectations dashed late in the season by an unexpected loss or defeat in the conference championship game. These teams then tumble-down the rankings and end up in less prestigious bowls than they expected to play in. It’s hard to motivate these guys, making them good candidates for losing.
Two schools from the Pac-12 qualify here. Colorado’s dreams of playing in the Rose Bowl ended when it was embarrassed by Washington in the conference championship game, and now finds itself facing a tough Oklahoma State team in the Alamo Bowl. Go with the Cowboys.
The second school is Utah, which saw its post-season hopes dashed when it lost its final game of the season to Colorado. Now the Utes are playing Indiana (6-6) in the Foster Farms Bowl (really). This has to be a real downer for the boys from Salt Lake City.
MOMENTUM: Mo is a fickle fellow, as Dandy Don Meredith used to say, but can lead you to some profitable wagers during bowl season if you can identify teams that stumbled out of the gate but came on strong and schools that faded down the stretch.
Two schools that started slow and finished fast are Southern Cal and Oklahoma, and each is worth a bet in its bowl game. (Washington should be glad it didn’t have to face the Trojans in the Pac-12 title game.)
On the other side of the coin is Baylor, which lost its last six games and is in the process of changing coaches. Don’t expect much of an effort from the Bears against a fired-up Boise State.
That’s 13 point-spread plays that should produce a profit by the time the final gun goes off. If nothing else, they’ll be a distraction from those annoying relatives you have to put up with between now and New Years.
CAUTION: If you can swing it, it’s best to bet these games as close to game time as possible. That’s because a school’s circumstances can change in a lot of ways: Coaches will get fired or leave for other jobs, key players will get injured in practice or get arrested, and others will be suspended and send home for being bad boys. Proceed with caution.