Betting Stuff: Check your stocking, it's a bowl guide
Betting Stuff is a regular sports gambling column here at Saturday Down South with a focus on college football wagering (though don’t be surprised to see some non-college football insights from time to time). Did you know that sports betting is now legal in Tennessee? You can view the best Tennessee sportsbook apps here.
It can be a fool’s errand trying to determine what motivates a 20-year-old college football player. But over the years we’ve seen some incredibly flat performances served up by teams that simply didn’t want to be playing in their respective bowl game. A few trends have emerged in recent years that I consider when putting together my holiday betting card. Here’s how I’m seeing the bowl game spread, this season.
Conference title game losers
Let’s examine some recent bowl history of the Power 5 programs that lost in their conference title games.
- Pac-12 runner-up (Utah) – Lost by 28 to Texas in Alamo Bowl
- Big Ten runner-up (Wisconsin) – Lost by 1 to Oregon in Rose Bowl
- ACC runner-up (Virginia) – Lost by 8 to Florida in Orange Bowl
- SEC runner-up (Georgia) – Won by 12 against Baylor in Sugar Bowl
- Big 12 runner-up (Baylor) Lost by 12 to Georgia in Sugar Bowl
- Pac-12 runner-up (Utah) – Lost by 11 to Northwestern in Holiday Bowl
- Big Ten runner-up (Northwestern) – Won by 11 against Utah in Holiday Bowl
- ACC runner-up (Pitt) – Lost by 1 to Stanford in Sun Bowl
- SEC runner-up (Georgia) – Lost by 7 to Texas in Sugar Bowl
- Big 12 runner-up (Texas) Won by 7 against Georgia in Sugar Bowl
To save you the effort of doing the quick math, that’s a 3-7 record straight up, aided by the fact that there were three head-to-head runner-up matchups that ensured victories over the past 2 seasons. When it was a Power Conference runner-up against any other team, they finished 0-4 SU with an average margin of defeat of 10 points per game.
This aligns with the letdown factor that teams can experience after coming oh-so-close to achieving a conference championship. This time around that sets up the following opportunities to fade a conference runner-up:
- Iowa State-4.5 vs. Oregon (Fiesta Bowl)
- Florida-2.5 vs. Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl)
- Northwestern-3.5 vs. Auburn (Citrus Bowl)
- Alabama-19.5 vs. Notre Dame (Rose Bowl)
I’m pleased to see 3 of the 4 runners-up (USC opted for no bowl game) are favored, opening the door to really take advantage of this trend. Iowa State’s heartbreaking 6-point loss to Oklahoma (INT on final drive) has to put them on letdown alert in this spot. Oregon, with a first-year starting QB, is looking toward the future and hoping to build even more momentum with their second straight NY6 bowl victory. The Cyclones are also dealing with Matt Campbell rumors every day and the prospect of starters potentially opting out. Oregon, by and large, already weathered opt-outs before the season started and appear to have their full deck for this one.
Florida has been installed as a short favorite against a red hot Sooners team, and I’m a bit surprised to be honest. The Gators already struggled to cover this season (3-6 ATS) and have gone from potential SEC champions and CFP attendees to a team on a 2-game losing streak who can’t stop anyone from scoring. And they’ll be without Kyle Pitts, who decided to prepare for the NFL Draft. I’ll ride with the Sooners and their suddenly nasty defense (hello, Ronnie Perkins).
And then there’s the Fightin’ Rece Davises. Northwestern is the kind of overachieving team that can get exposed during bowl season. Northwestern won the games where they dictated the tempo, and lost when they were dared to score in the 28+ range. We’ll know pretty quickly if Auburn is going to pack it in with an interim head coach or if they’re coming to play. If it’s the latter, I think Auburn’s A-game is 7-10 points better than Northwestern’s. I’ll probably hedge by taking 2 separate alternate lines: NW-10 (+225) and Auburn-7 (+375). That leaves a massive middle to get caught in, but I really believe we’re in for a blowout either way.
Punching up a weight class
People love the underdog story in college sports and are quick to point to the Boise States and Loyola Chicagos of the world as ironclad proof that, given the chance, a smaller conference champion can whip the big boys. But here’s the thing: It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition at the betting window when it comes to Collegiate Cinderellas. Since the CFP started following the 2014 regular season, Group of 5 champions are 3-3 SU, but a sterling 4-1-1 ATS.
- 2014: Boise State 38, Arizona 30
- 2015: Houston 38, Florida State 24
- 2016: Wisconsin 24, Western Michigan 16
- 2017: UCF 34, Auburn 27
- 2018: LSU 40, UCF 32
- 2019: Penn State 53, Memphis 39
In the case of Cincinnati-Georgia, that recent history may be providing Bulldogs backers with a favorable number. Personnel changes have impacted every single team in the country this season, but the difference between UGA with and without JT Daniels is the most impactful roster wrinkle in my opinion. In his 3 starts, Daniels has a TD-INT ratio of 9:1, a QBR of 93.1 and the offense, as a whole, averaged 41.6 points per game. Georgia has been waiting for a quarterback of Daniels caliber to truly unlock its potential, and I’ve seen enough. The Bulldogs are the real deal and should be able to cover the touchdown spread against this Group of 5 darling.
The big upset
In 8 of the last 10 bowl seasons, at least 1 underdog of 13 points or more has won outright. That generally put the upset payout in the 4:1 to 10:1 range. As a rule, I’ve set aside extra time each year to mine for that potential head-scratcher. Last year, I picked out Eastern Michigan (+400) over Pittsburgh. After blowing two 4th-quarter leads, EMU’s QB Mike Glass III did the following on the final drive. Let’s just say, if I can’t find you a winner with this angle, I’ll at least give you a memory you can talk to your buddies about every bowl season.
As for this year, I’m going with UTSA+14 and +400 on the moneyline. I love an underdog that has experience with top-tier opponents and UTSA put a serious scare into BYU (27-20) and hung around with a 9-win Army team for four quarters. It’s one of the reasons the Roadrunners were 4-2 as an underdog this season … they’re not intimidated by teams with more size or talent. Louisiana has both of those things, but they also have the cloud of losing their head coach hanging over their heads. Apparently, Billy Napier was in the running for the Auburn job, and that won’t be the last rumor or school he’s connected to in the coming weeks.
Thank you for your service
You can follow my gambling advice, consult websites like CFBStats.com for advanced stats to gain an edge or you can just bet the darn Service Academies every bowl season.
Army, Navy and the Air Force are a tremendous 20-9 ATS since 2003. One reason for that? The public hates the triple option. They won’t bet on a triple-option offense without being incentivized with a lot of points. That’s one reason that the Service Academies have done so well against the closing number. The other element that contributes to their collective success is the nature of their offenses. Teams hate preparing for the triple option and in an era where no one outside of the Service Academies runs a pure triple option, there’s limited tape and practice reps to go around.
Sadly this year Air Force and Navy aren’t bowling and it took a last-minute switch for Army to land in the Liberty Bowl against West Virginia. That makes it pretty straightforward for me as it relates to my bowl card. Army+7.5, book it.