As ESPN is prone to say, it’s the “most wonderful time of the year” if you’re a college football junkie or a sports bettor. It’s bowl season again!
From the Cure Bowl this Saturday (Tulane vs. Louisiana Tech) to the national championship game Jan. 7 (probably Alabama and Clemson again), football fans will have 40 excuses to ignore relatives during the holiday season.
Several teams that qualified have 6-6 records, a good working definition of mediocre, but none of them have losing records, unlike recent years. Still, that doesn’t mean coaches’ jobs are safe. Some have already been fired and two have announced their retirement.
Separately the wheat from the chaff is always difficult in this situation, but it also presents betting opportunities for the astute observer. The Vegas bookies can’t be right on every game. It’s up to the bettor to figure out where they have erred.
For those of you who want to root for your money as well as the teams playing, I’m going to list some general guidelines on betting bowl games that have worked in the past. Remember, the object here is to beat the point spread, no necessarily win the game.
But when you decide to bet, don’t be in a big hurry to get your money down. Things will happen between now and game time to influence the outcome: Coaches will get fired or leave for other jobs, key players will be injured in practice, and other players will get in trouble and either be sent home or spend game day in jail. Trouble seems to be a particular problem for these guys in Florida and the New Orleans area. There are 7 bowl games in Florida this year and 3 in Louisiana.
Another issue involving key players has surfaced in the last 2 years: Stars who skip their bowl game so they’re healthy for NFL draft. As I write this, more than a dozen top NFL prospects have announced they won’t play in their team’s bowl games. Among them are West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and North Carolina State’s star linebacker Germaine Pratt.
With that in mind, here are some angles to consider:
Win one for the Urban
There is no denying that emotion plays a role in the outcome of college games, and two teams figure to be primed for a peak performance because their coaches are retiring: Ohio State (Urban Meyer) and Georgia Tech (Paul Johnson).
On the other end of the emotional spectrum are several teams that were riding high before experiencing disappointing finishes. Some are playing in lesser bowls than they expected, and others think they were slighted when bowl invitations were handed out. Either way, it’s going to be tough for them to get excited about the games they’re playing in.
Georgia and Michigan are two teams that may find it difficult to get fired up for their bowl games. George lost a big lead to Alabama in the SEC championship game and Michigan was embarrassed by Ohio State in its final regular season game.
Other major teams that had disappointing seasons include West Virginia, Washington State and Auburn. Then there’s the consolation bowl, aka the Holiday Bowl, that pits the runner-up in the Big 10 (Northwestern) against the runner-up in the Pac 12 (Utah). Pass on that one.
The Big 10 is overrated
Schools from the conference have historically been underachievers in bowl games, and you could make a lot of money in the past just betting against them.
That trend has weakened in the last couple of years, and you certainly have to like Ohio State’s chances in the Rose Bowl. I would tend to avoid any of the other 6 games involving Big 10 teams until we can see which way the trend in going.
The SEC is mighty and should prevail
This is the premier football conference in the country, and even its second division teams are tough to beat. Eight teams are in bowl games and I like 5 of them. Skip Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Georgia.
Support your military
Players for the military academies tend to be focused, mission-driven, and in bed at a reasonable hour, making them good bets in bowl games. Army’s the only one that made it this year, facing Houston in–how appropriate–the Armed Forces Bowl.
I usually don’t include totals bets in these recommendations, but I couldn’t pass up the Cheez-it Bowl, pitting Cal against TCU. Each team has a stout defense and an anemic offense, which is why the total for this game is 40.5 points–easily the lowest total on the board. Even so, I think the teams will go under the total.