Last Updated: 2017-12-04
Bowl lines are out. It’s basically like Christmas, except for three weeks earlier. This is the best time of year for betting college football because it is one of those rare times when we have a decided edge over the sportsbooks. The sportsbooks can shade lines a little bit for some home field advantage or based on really obvious coaching situations, but they have to leave most of the intangibles up to the bettors.
What does that mean? It means that sportsbooks are still setting their spreads based on power ratings. They can’t really shade for motivation. They can’t really shade too much for head coach or coordinator changes. They have to leave that up to the betting public and then adjust accordingly. That means that we have the ability to gain some significant edged that aren’t available at any other time during the season. If you hop on early numbers or even wait for the market to flatten out, you can have a lot of success with this as well by simply understanding situational betting angles and the things that the teams and players are dealing with.
That’s not to say that those betting based off of power ratings are struggling to figure things out. They’re still out there grabbing numbers like any other time of year, but they may not hold those positions. These lines have a lot of time to move around and that’s what makes this all so much fun.
We’ll use the Opening Line Report concept to update line moves in the lead-up to these bowl games, so we’ll still take a weekly look at action in the betting market and see if we can explain the reasons why.
Here is the Opening Line Report for Week 15 and the Bowl Games:
Army vs. Navy (-3.5, 46) – Like clockwork, the total for the Army/Navy game was set too high. This happens ever year. Sportsbooks throw out a number and early bettors destroy the under. The total opened 51 here and has fallen five points. Dating back to 2006, this game has landed on totals of 38, 38, 27, 41, 30, 48, 48, 20, 34, 41, and 40. We haven’t seen much movement on the side, but the total is a notable mover and the under is probably the right side. As you can see, it usually is.
Oregon (-7, 59.5) vs. Boise State – The Oregon Ducks, more importantly, their fans, have to be excited to be going to Sin City for the Las Vegas Bowl. Boise State plays UNLV there every other year. We saw this line jump from -5 to -7 shortly after open, but we could see this one come back down with the announcement that head coach Willie Taggart and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt are heading to Tallahassee to coach at Florida State. Oregon was light years better with Justin Herbert at quarterback and he’ll have plenty of time to rest up.
Akron at Florida Atlantic (-22.5, 62) – “at” is not a typo here. Akron plays FAU in the Boca Raton Bowl, so the Owls don’t have to leave the comforts of home to put a thrashing on the Zips. The #LaneTrain might hang the 62-point total on the Zips in this one. Akron faces long odds, hence the move up from 17 to 22.5 on the line. It probably isn’t done going up.
Central Michigan vs. Wyoming (-1, 46) – It stands to reason that money would come in on Wyoming for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. After all, Boise is at 2,822 feet above sea level and the Cowboys are plenty accustomed to altitude. We could also have some awful weather at Albertson’s Stadium for this game. Wyoming is certainly used to that as well. This is a number that will probably keep going up as we approach kickoff, especially with Josh Allen healthy and ready to showcase himself for the scouts in attendance. Keep that type of motivation in mind. Also, watch out for players that don’t play to avoid injury.
Texas Tech vs. South Florida (-2.5, 67) – We could see a lot of points in Birmingham between the Red Raiders and the Bulls. South Florida really struggled last year as a double-digit favorite against South Carolina, but Willie Taggart had taken the job at Oregon and the team was in a state of flux. This season, Charlie Strong looks entrenched. The Texas Tech players already saved Kliff Kingsbury’s job, so it’s fair to wonder how invested they are in this spot. One interesting angle to consider here that doesn’t appear to be part of the equation for early bettors is that Texas Tech DC David Gibbs was at Houston, so he has prepped for USF before. The personnel isn’t totally the same and Sterlin Gilbert is now the OC, but it may account for something.
Houston (-2.5, 47) vs. Fresno State – The Cougars are the preferred look early on, but we haven’t seen a significant line move by any means. This one may touch 3 before it reaches a stopping point. This is actually a surprising lean from the sharp bettors. Fresno State plays in Hawaii every other year, so there should be more focus. Houston didn’t fare well in Las Vegas last year with Tom Herman’s departure, so maybe the market expects a bounce back in a destination bowl?
Utah (-6.5, 54.5) vs. West Virginia – Utah is taking some money in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. Will Grier’s dislocated finger is the big reason for this move. The books don’t see to have accounted for that injury in their power ratings or didn’t account for it enough. Backup quarterback Chris Chugunov gets some extra practice time, but he only completed 54.8 percent of his 62 attempts.
Kansas State (-2.5, 63.5) vs. UCLA – The Cactus Bowl could be interesting. Kansas State is missing star quarterback Jesse Ertz, but freshman Skylar Thompson looked really good replacing him. UCLA fired Jim Mora Jr. Jedd Fisch is the interim. Josh Rosen is going to the NFL. Will he play in the Cactus Bowl? Given the beating he has taken at the collegiate level, nobody would blame him for bypassing the game. Perhaps this is a move by the market to get out in front of that, since Kansas State is laying a much bigger number if Rosen sits out.
Southern Miss vs. Florida State (-15, 49) – How invested is Florida State? How motivated are the Seminoles, a team that enters every season with College Football Playoff aspirations, to go play in Shreveport, Louisiana against a mid-tier Conference USA team? Well, it seems like the market likes their chances with the number up from -14 to -15. Interim head coach Odell Haggins seems to be a beloved figure in that locker room, so the kids will play for him. Not to mention, from a power ratings standpoint, there probably is a bit of value on Florida State, so long as the Seminoles are focused.
Missouri (-3) vs. Texas – This is definitely a tricky spot for the Longhorns. They only go from Austin to Houston for the Texas Bowl, which is kind of disappointing. The Tigers have been one of the hottest teams in the country and can run up the score with the best of them. The Longhorns have a solid defense, but the market seems to be heavy on the Mizzou O. This number opened Missouri -1.5 and shot up to 3 rather quickly, so that was an impressive commentary on what Missouri has done lately.
Utah State (-3.5, 61) vs. New Mexico State – Shout-out to New Mexico State for going to a bowl game for the first time in 47 years. This is actually a rematch of the 1960 Sun Bowl. The market seems to think that the Aggies will just be happy to be here, as we’ve seen most of the -3s turn into -3.5s for the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl.
USC vs. Ohio State (-6.5, 63.5) – Sam Darnold gets what he wanted – a chance to prove himself against an elite-level defense. The USC gunslinger could also hurt his draft stock by struggling against the Buckeyes secondary. Ohio State seems somewhat motivated to play a big-name team. After getting snubbed from the 2015 College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes let out a lot of frustration on Notre Dame. Could they do the same here? The market seems to prefer USC right now with Ohio State down from missing the College Football Playoff, but this isn’t a dramatic move by any means. The market did heavily fade Ohio State leading into the Wisconsin game, so we could see that here.
Louisville (-6, 62) vs. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs nearly lost to Miami of Ohio in last year’s St. Petersburg Bowl. This year, Mississippi State goes into the bowl game with interim head coach Greg Knox. No Dan Mullen. No Todd Grantham. The two top offensive coaches also left for Gainesville. Louisville certainly looks to be the right side here, especially with Lamar Jackson getting a crack against a talented SEC defense in Jacksonville for the Taxslayer Bowl.
Iowa State vs. Memphis (-3, 65.5) – This is one of the best matchups of the bowl season. Unfortunately for Matt Campbell and the Cyclones, the reward for a great regular season is going to Memphis, but blues, brews, and BBQ isn’t a bad gig. The only true downside here is that this is a home game for Memphis. That seems to be accurately reflected in the line.
Washington vs. Penn State (-3, 55) – Penn State really did have more of a College Football Playoff case than we heard. Last year, the Nittany Lions probably should have been in the Final Four. Instead, they played arguably the best Rose Bowl ever. This year, two excellent head coaches in Chris Petersen and James Franklin meet in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Penn State has been the preferred side and deservedly so. This number opened -1.5 and shot up to 3. It should rest here for a bit.
LSU (-2.5, 50.5) vs. Notre Dame – Notre Dame’s late-season quarterback controversy cast a pretty dark shadow over what the program accomplished this season. For the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, LSU is the preferred side. This is a big game for LSU as they look to get back to national prominence. The spotlight has evaded LSU while it has shined on other SEC programs not named Alabama. This is a rematch of the 2014 Music City Bowl, which Notre Dame won 31-28 as an eight-point dog, for whatever that’s worth.
Georgia (-1, 60) vs. Oklahoma – Georgia seems to be the early side from some bettors, but we haven’t seen a lot of movement on this game. The market is just sort of throwing out some feelers on what profiles as a tremendous game. This will be played in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl, so we probably won’t see a great crowd edge one way or another. This number is likely to hover around pick ‘em until we see some sharp guys take some stronger positions.
Alabama (-2, 47) vs. Clemson – Unfortunately, the markets were not fooled by the high-scoring affairs between these two teams over the last two years. This total might actually be a little bit low, much to my chagrin, since I mentioned taking the under as a possible look here. The sportsbooks that opened Alabama PK or Alabama -1 did get some initial Crimson Tide cash. Those that opened -2 seem to have a decent number for right now. We should see balanced sharp and public investment in both semifinal games, but surprises could be out there with four weeks until kickoff.
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