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Top 10 college football bowl game betting questions and answers

14 December 2015

If you're a fervent college football fan like me, it's time to buckle up and brace yourself. Your upcoming calendar may be full of holiday parties and you most likely haven't even thought about starting your shopping (also like me), but those kind of discretionary details may very well have to take a back seat beginning Saturday, when the first of a record 40 college bowl games kicks off.

Yes, we agree there are far too many bowl games (more on that below), but each and every one of the upcoming "postseason" games share one redeeming quality: a pointspread. And that means even if we've never seen either team play (hello, New Orleans Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech), or if we've never heard of the bowl's sponsor and have no idea what they do (hello, Gildan New Mexico Bowl and Marmot Boca Raton Bowl), we can and most likely will have some sort of "interest" on the majority of these games, climaxing with the National Championship Game on Jan. 11.

So with the help of three veteran Las Vegas bookmakers, here are 10 burning questions and answers regarding this year's bowl games, and (hopefully) some sound advice that will help you enjoy the final few weeks of the college football season by adding to your bankroll.

Las Vegas sportsbooks like the one downtown at Golden Nugget love the fact that the college football playoff games will be played on Dec. 31st this season.

Las Vegas sportsbooks like the one downtown at Golden Nugget love the fact that the college football playoff games will be played on Dec. 31st this season.

10. Isn't 40 bowl games a bit excessive?
Yes, without a doubt. Throw in the National Championship Game and there will be a total of 41 postseason games, involving a record 80 teams, played over the course of 23 days, beginning this Saturday, Dec. 19. That means 63% of the 127 Football Bowl Subdivision eligible teams are going bowling, up from 50% 10 years ago, when there were "only" 30 bowl games.

How watered down has the bowl system become? Three teams with losing records (Nebraska, Minnesota, San Jose State) were "rewarded" by receiving a bowl invite and overall more than 12 teams with a .500 record are going bowling.

Even the guys who make a living out of posting lines on the games think it's way out of hand.

"It's too many games; I don't like it," says John Avello, the Director of Race and Sports at Wynn Las Vegas. "It takes a lot of time for us to come up with these lines and it's a lot of work. The quality of some of these games is just so mediocre."

9. What's the worst bowl game on the schedule?
With so many bad teams involved there are numerous clunkers to choose from, but we'll go with the newly created and horribly named AutoNation CureBowl (yes, I typed that correctly with no spaces). The game pits aforementioned 5-7 San Jose State against 6-6 Georgia State and will be played on Saturday, Dec. 19 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. You'll be shocked to hear that plenty of tickets are still available.

Now, before you send me hate mail for being snarky about an event where "funds raised" will "directly benefit" the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, I have a suggestion. Go online and make a donation to the CureBowl. Then, place a wager on the game for the same amount. If your bet wins, you've made a nice gesture toward a tremendous cause, at no cost to your bankroll. If you lose, you've made a nice gesture to a tremendous cause and a donation to your bookmaker, which you most likely do on a regular basis so, really, what's the big deal?

As an added bonus, we'll even provide you the winner. Take the points with Georgia State and get it before the line drops from 3.5 to 3, or even lower.

The Panthers have won four in a row, including a stunning 34-7 win over rival Georgia Southern as a 20-point underdog in their last game. During this streak they are averaging 32.5 points and 511.2 yards of offense, led by senior Nick Arbuckle, one of just seven FBS quarterbacks to throw for more than 4,000 yards this season. The program launched just six years ago so the players and staff will be sky-high for the first bowl game in school history, and when it comes to handicapping bowl games, motivation is always a key factor.

San Jose State, meanwhile, will be in a different frame of mind. The team has 18 seniors, started the season 4-2 and was actually thinking it might be a contender for the Mountain West title. Instead, it lost four of its last six games, including the season finale to Boise State when a fourth-quarter meltdown led to a disheartening 40-23 loss as eight-point underdogs.

And with the CureBowl being played more than 2,400 miles from the San Jose State campus, we're guessing there won't be too many fans wearing the Spartan gold, blue and white in Orlando, so expect the Panthers to have the crowd on their side. One can only hope that former Georgia State undergrads Julia Roberts and Ludacris are in the house.

8. What's the best non-playoff bowl game on the schedule?
OK, enough with negativity. Despite the numerous bad games that flood the bowl schedule this year, we still have a very intriguing final four to look forward to and plenty of other secondary games that will be worth going out of your way to watch.

One of the better ones include the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day when two programs with storied histories — Ohio State and Notre Dame — clash in Glendale, Arizona. The Buckeyes are a 6.5-point favorite over the Irish.

Even if you are still hungover and football-weary come Saturday, Jan. 2, you do not want to miss the Alamo Bowl between Oregon and TCU, a game that opened as a pick'em. If the playoff system allowed for eight teams, these two programs would be "live" to win the national championship since, when healthy, they could beat anyone in the field. With nearly a month off since their last game, expect both teams to be at full strength, leading to what should be a high-flying and entertaining game.

And speaking of points, if you're planning to bet the over in this game, jump on it right away. The total opened at 75 offshore and quickly jumped to 78 at BetOnline Sports, and we wouldn't be surprised to see it climb even higher before kickoff.

"I don't expect to see too much money come in on the under in that one," warned Golden Nugget - Las Vegas Director of Race and Sports Tony Miller. "Could be the classic game of whoever gets the ball last wins. That should be a fun game to watch, for sure."

7. Who is the best non-playoff team?
Does anyone remember just how much of a resounding favorite Ohio State was to repeat as national champs at the start of the season?

Golden Nugget Sportsbook Supervisor Aaron Kessler told me back in July that he had never seen a team power-rated as high as OSU entering the season. The Buckeyes were 5-to-2 to win it all before Week 1, with TCU (6-to-1) and Alabama (8-to-1) the distant second and third choices. The over/under win total for them was 11, even though they only played 12 games, and you had to lay -165 on the over. What's more, they had three quarterbacks and four players overall listed in the top 14 contenders for the Heisman Trophy when the odds were released.

In July at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, the dean of Las Vegas oddmakers, Jimmy Vaccaro, posted 10-to-1 odds on Ohio State to run the table and defend its national championship by going 15-0 (12 regular season games, the Big 10 Championship Game and two playoff games) and within five days it was bet down to 5-to-1.

"Even though we had some serious liability on that one, it was going to be worth it because of the publicity we receive from it," Vaccaro said.

Michigan State's 17-14 upset of the Buckeyes on Nov. 21 on a field goal as time expired blew up all of the above and knocked Urban Meyer's team out of the playoffs, but even still, the Buckeyes are still very high on the Las Vegas power ratings.

"I would have them favored over any team except Alabama," Avello said. "And even Alabama would be a slight favorite; probably just two or three."

Even though Ohio State is not in the college football playoffs, Wynn Las Vegas Sportsbook Director John Avello said the Buckeyes would still be favored over every team in the country, except Alabama.

Even though Ohio State is not in the college football playoffs, Wynn Las Vegas Sportsbook Director John Avello said the Buckeyes would still be favored over every team in the country, except Alabama.

6. What is the most underrated bowl team?
Miller thinks people may be overlooking Baylor, which opened as a 3-point favorite over North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 29.

"Baylor was the No. 1 team in the country during a good part of the season until they had some key injuries, especially at quarterback, and I think the betting public has kind of forgotten about them," he explained. "I had them rated higher than most and I really thought they were going to be in the final four. They lost three games late, but that was because of the injuries. They'll be healthy for the bowl game and I think that line is a little short."

5. How about a bowl underdog that provides the most value?
We'll go with Tulsa (+13.5) over Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 26.

Yes, we realize this will be Frank Beamer's last game after a storied career as Hokies head coach, but so does everyone else – including the oddsmakers – and that factor has been baked into the line. And it's not as if Beamer has been a great in bowl games, as seen by his 10-12 postseason record.

The Virginia Tech offense has been shaky and against FBS foes it has only been a double-digit favorite once all season, when they laid 10 to East Carolina and lost outright, 35-28. Pre-New Year's Day double-digit bowl game dogs have historically been a good bet, and we love passing teams getting double digits even better. Tulsa fits the bill on both accounts as it averaged nearly 36 points per game with the nation's 12th-ranked passing offense, and they did so against a sturdy schedule that included losses to Navy, Oklahoma, Houston and Memphis, four bowl teams that combined to go 43-7 this year.

The problem for Tulsa has been its porous defense, but we don’t think Virginia Tech's anemic offense will be able to take advantage and, if it does, we'll be alive for a late backdoor cover since the Golden Hurricane will be throwing the ball until the final horn sounds. Take the generous points.

4. Are the College Football Playoffs really being played on New Year's Eve?
Yes, and depending on which time zone you are in, you may have different thoughts about this.

On the West Coast – and in Las Vegas sportsbooks – a New Year's Eve Final Four will actually be a good thing, with the games kicking off at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

"It's going to be tremendous; we can't wait," said Miller. "There are already tons of people in town for New Year's Eve anyway, so this is just going to add to the excitement. It's going to really help the handle because people are going to be out and about and will want action on the game."

But for those of us on the East Coast, a New Year's Day Final Four, like last year, would have been preferred.

"Oh, yeah, you guys back East are in trouble if that late game pushes midnight," Vaccaro said with a big chuckle. "All the wives are going to be like, 'Honey, come on, the ball is about to drop,' and you guys are gonna be trying to find a TV with the game on it. Good luck with that."

3. How does Las Vegas like the new playoff system?
The bookies love it, because it brings more action, and most are all for expanding the format to more than four teams.

"The playoffs are good for us for so many reasons," Miller said. "Not only do the final four games get more attention and more handle than a typical bowl game, but before the playoff system we would have to lock out the future market betting as soon as the bowl matchups were released in early December. Now, we can keep them open until January and that gives us some extra handle that we never saw before. If the system ever expands to having eight teams in the playoffs, it will be enormous for us."

Speaking of the future market, at bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook, Alabama is the favorite to prevail a -110. Oklahoma is the second choice at +250, followed by Clemson (+450) and Michigan State (+750).

But, if you were savvy enough, at some point over the last four months you could have bet all four of these teams at longshot odds. At Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, Alabama opened the season 7-to-1 to win the national championship, but those odds mushroomed to 20-to-1 after the Tide lost to Ole Miss on Sept. 19. Oklahoma was 30-to-1 in early September and went to as high as 100-to-1 after losing to Texas.

Michigan State opened 20-to-1, fell as low as 8-to-1 and then went back up to 20-to-1 after a last-second loss to Nebraska in early November. Meanwhile, you could have got top-seeded Clemson at 25-to-1 as late as mid-October.

Miller said his book has the most liability on Oklahoma.

"They have been steamrolling teams ever since they lost that game to Texas," said Miller, referring to Oklahoma's lone setback when it fell to the Longhorns in the annual Red River Rivalry Game, 24-17, back on Oct. 24 as a 16-point favorite. "We've been getting hit with Oklahoma money with each passing week."

2. Where will the money go on the playoff games?
Miller and Avello agreed that Oklahoma will be a popular pick to win and cover against Clemson, which, despite being the No. 1 seed, opened as high as a 4-point dog to the fourth-seeded Sooners.

"The public loves Oklahoma," said Miller. "I expect that line to keep climbing and you'll see the sharp money sit back and wait until it hits a peak before playing Clemson."

But there was a difference of opinion on the other semifinal game, which has Alabama favored by 9.5 at most outlets against Michigan State, with some 10s on the board.

"I can see us getting Michigan State money," Avello said. "They have a big following. They were up for the challenge against a tough schedule this year, they play good defense and Alabama is not a real high-scoring team so this could be a low-scoring game and if that's the case the points become attractive."

"Michigan State is not flashy; they're kind of a dull team," explained Miller. "Alabama, on the other hand, is the sexy team with [a Heisman winner] and all of those national championships. The public is going to be on them."

1. Who will play in the National Championship Game?
Offshore sportsbook 5Dimes Casino and Sportsbook has odds on each final game scenario and the two favorites are Alabama beating Oklahoma at +218 and Alabama beating Clemson +328. Biggest longshots are Michigan State beating Clemson at +1424 and Clemson beating Michigan State at +1290.

And even though the Nugget is holding some serious dollars on Oklahoma to win it all, Miller would not mind seeing Alabama and Oklahoma playing in the National Championship Game.

"That would be huge; that's what everybody wants to see," he said. "If it happens, it has the potential to be one of the most heavily bet college football games of all time. It would be incredible."

Top 10 college football bowl game betting questions and answers is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT