Who says we need a college football playoff system? Thanks to millions of dollars in corporate sponsorship, we have two new bowl games to bet on this year, bringing the total to 34. That’s more than double what any namby-pamby eight-team elimination format would provide.
This football feast comes at just the right time. The softest lines come at the start of the season and at bowl time, when teams from different conferences clash. The lines are even softer in the five major bowl games as the betting public floods the market with cash. We’ll get to those five games in a moment. First, let’s consider the merits of some of these lesser bowl matchups.
The minor bowl games are extra-special betting occasions because they feature teams from the mid-major and low major conferences. The GMAC Bowl between Ball State (12-1 SU, 9-3 ATS) of the MAC and Tulsa (10-3 SU, 7-5 ATS) is chock-full of betting angles and should be a hoot to watch, as well. These are two of the most prolific offenses in the nation, operating in relative obscurity and ripe for the plucking.
Handicapping gets even better when a mid-major is paired up against a team from the BCS conferences. Underdogs have historically done well in bowl games, although there was a market correction last year at 8-24 SU and 14-17-1 ATS. The most compelling matchups from a betting standpoint involve mid-major underdogs with something to prove against major-conference clubs who were looking for a higher-profile bowl game and are too disappointed to be angry about it.
The Las Vegas Bowl is a typical example. This game usually pits the top team in the Mountain West against the No. 4 seed from the Pac-10; over the past seven years, the Mountain West team is 6-1 SU and ATS. This year’s BYU-Arizona matchup is different – BYU is actually the No. 3 seed in the MWC, and Arizona is going bowling for the first time in a decade. The usual motivations are essentially reversed.
The Hawaii Bowl is supposed to match the WAC with the Pac-10 as of 2006, but this year we get Hawaii vs. Notre Dame – still a case of small program vs. big program. However, the juiciest trend coming out of this bowl is the 6-1 mark the over has produced during the past seven seasons. Playing at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu almost guarantees ideal conditions for a high score, and the Warriors (still pass-happy under first-year coach Greg McMackin) can also point at the 10-4-1 ATS record home teams have put up in bowl games at their actual homes.
Popular online sportsbook Bodog will have lines on all 34 bowls, with live betting already scheduled for 31 of those contests – including all five of the BCS bowls. The money spends the same no matter which game you bet on, but these are the five most important games of the season, so let’s dive right in and have a look (all times Eastern; for current lines, visit sports.bodoglife.com).
Rose Bowl: No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 5 USC
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Jan. 1, 4:30 p.m., ABC
Penn State: 11-1 SU, 7-3-1 ATS, Over 7-4
USC: 11-1 SU, 6-6 ATS, Under 8-3-1
If this is the Rose Bowl, it must be the USC Trojans. They’ve played at the Grandaddy of Them All four of the last five years, going 3-1 SU and ATS. The lone setback was against Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns three years ago for the national championship.
Pete Carroll’s Trojans have won seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national titles since he took over as coach in 2001. This year’s team is ranked No. 5 by the BCS and the AP; quarterback Mark Sanchez (30 TDs, 10 INTs) is already an improvement over John David Booty and posted a higher passer rating (159.1) than 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart (156.5).
Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions made an even bigger upgrade at QB, replacing Anthony Morelli (19 TDs, 10 INTs last year) with Daryll Clark (17 TDs, four INTs). The Lions arguably have the better offense in this matchup, but like USC were shut out of consideration for the national title game – the BCS has Penn State all the way down at No. 8. This is an undervalued football club.
Orange Bowl: No. 12 Cincinnati vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech
Dolphin Stadium, Miami
Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., FOX
Cincinnati: 11-2 SU, 6-6 ATS, Over 7-5
Virginia Tech: 9-4 SU, 5-7 ATS, Under 7-5
These are the two stepsisters invited to the ball. The Hokies got an automatic berth as ACC champions, and although the conference failed to produce a national title contender, Virginia Tech had to run the gauntlet against some very good clubs to get here. The Hokies had the No. 5-ranked strength of schedule in the nation this year; the Big East champion Bearcats clock in at No. 32.
Both these teams bring strong defenses and pedestrian offenses to Miami, although Cincinnati is fueled by the passing attack of QB Tony Pike (18 TDs, seven INTs), while Virginia Tech feeds off the rushing of Darren Evans (4.3 yards per carry) and the scrambling of QB Tyrod Taylor (5.2 yards). The Hokies also like to use QB Sean Glennon as a pocket-passing option, which gives them the kind of flexibility the last two champions from Florida and LSU enjoyed. The Bearcats have a decided edge in special teams that should come to the foreground in a defense-dominated game.
College bowl betting in the Bodog Sportsbook.
Sugar Bowl: No. 7 Utah vs. No. 4 Alabama
Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
Jan. 2, 8:00 p.m., FOX
Utah: 12-0 SU, 7-3-1 ATS, Over 9-2
Alabama: 12-1 SU, 9-4 ATS, Under 9-4
Last year’s Sugar Bowl didn’t fit the usual underdog motif – Hawaii was a one-trick offensive pony, and Georgia played angry after not getting a spot in the BCS championship. This year’s BCS buster from Utah is a much more dangerous team. The Utes beat Oregon State and Michigan as well as TCU and BYU, but with the No. 110-ranked strength of schedule, it remains to be seen whether Utah can hang with the big boys.
Alabama also had a surprisingly easy time in the SEC, beating up on the crestfallen West Division before running into the champions of the East, the Florida Gators. That’s where the party ended for the Crimson Tide; that one game vaulted their strength of schedule from No. 68 in the nation to No. 23. Utah will be one of the toughest teams Alabama has faced this season. Covering a double-digit spread will be difficult in what should be another defensive matchup, with the Utes holding an even bigger advantage in special teams than Cincinnati has in the Orange Bowl.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Texas
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Jan. 5, 8:00 p.m., FOX
Ohio State: 10-2 SU, 5-6 ATS, Under 6-5
Texas: 11-1 SU, 9-3 ATS, Over 6-6
The college football nation is suffering from Buckeye fatigue. They were embarrassed two years in a row at the national championship game, and losses to USC and Penn State were supposed to keep Ohio State out of the BCS bowl picture. But they got in anyway ahead of higher-ranked teams from Texas Tech and Boise State. Texas, meanwhile, could do nothing but watch while the Oklahoma Sooners cruised to the title game despite losing the Red River Shootout to the Longhorns.
The trap here would be to dismiss Ohio State as overvalued. Losing 35-3 at USC was bad, but that was with Todd Boeckman at QB. He was promptly replaced by freshman Terrelle Pryor (12 TDs, four INTs); his 152.1 passer rating was superior to Boeckman’ 148.9 campaign in 2007. OSU also didn’t have top rusher Chris “Beanie” Wells (5.7 yards per carry) against the Trojans. With Pryor and Wells together, Ohio State was 7-1 SU and 5-3 ATS. That still might not be enough to beat mighty Texas, but all OSU supporters need is the cover.
BCS National Championship Game: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
Dolphin Stadium, Miami
Jan. 8, 8:00 p.m., FOX
Florida: 12-1 SU, 10-2 ATS, Over 8-4
Oklahoma: 12-1 SU, 10-2 ATS, Over 11-1
The Sooners actually came out No. 1 in the BCS rankings, but they’re the underdogs in this matchup. Florida is 9-0 SU and 8-0 ATS since losing 31-30 to Ole Miss as 23-point home faves. The Rebs turned out to be a whole lot better than advertised – they’re going to the Cotton Bowl to face Texas Tech. Florida beat each of its next nine opponents (and its first three) by double digits, including the previously unbeaten Crimson Tide in the SEC title game.
Oklahoma has had some lousy major bowl games in recent memory:
2008 Fiesta Bowl: West Virginia 48, OU (-8) 28
2007 Fiesta Bowl: Boise State 43, OU (-7) 42 in OT
2005 Orange Bowl: USC 55, OU (+1) 10
2004 Sugar Bowl: LSU 21, OU (-6.5) 14
You have to go back to the 2003 Rose Bowl win over Washington State – the first Rose Bowl win in team history – before you find some good news for the Sooners. The missing season from that list ended with a Holiday Bowl win over Oregon that was later wiped out due to NCAA violations, then reinstated.
What can OU do for an encore? The Sooners might have the best offense in the nation – yes, even better than Florida’s – with Heisman hopeful Sam Bradford (48 TDs, six INTs) at the helm. The Gators respond with better defense and special teams, although casual fans only identify Florida with reigning Heisman winner and continuing candidate Tim Tebow (28 TDs passing, 12 TDs rushing, two INTs). Points should be harder to come by for both these men than they’re used to.
>>Compare the top three online sportsbooks for US sports betting here at BookieLabRat.com.