There are only 41 FBS games left for the college football season. We have Army vs. Navy this weekend, the 39 bowl games, and then the National Championship Game. It is hard to believe that another college football campaign is just about over, but time flies when you’re having fun.
Hopefully you’ve had a lot of fun with our weekly CFB coverage at BangTheBook, including our College Football Power Ratings and also this weekly Opening Line Report. The fun will continue on BangTheBook Radio for the bowl season, but this is, as the name implies, a report for looking at the opening lines. We’ll have plenty of line movements and we’ll cover them on the show and on the site, but this is the last OLR for the season.
We won’t look at all 39 bowl game openers, but we’ll take a look at some of the more interesting ones and also the ones that have seen some noteworthy line moves since opening.
Here is the Opening Line Report for Week 15 and the Bowls:
Army vs. Navy (-7, 41) – Sportsbooks got a lot smarter this time around with the Army/Navy game. As a general rule, the total opens at least a touchdown too high and comes down. While BetOnline still got burned, most sportsbooks stayed above the fray and opened in the low 40s. As far as the side goes, this is the biggest favorite role for Army since 1991 at -7. If the line ticks to -6.5, which it is at some spots, that would be the highest line since 1998. Navy has failed to cover each of the last four meetings, all in a favorite role, and lost outright in 2016 and 2017. It’s really tough to lay a big number with a low total in this game, so we should expect Navy money throughout the week.
North Texas vs. Utah State (-10, 64.5) – One of a handful of interim coaches for the bowl games is Frank Maile. The co-defensive coordinator at Utah State is tasked with taking over the team that Matt Wells left to go to Texas Tech. Interim head coaches are an interesting thing and I’ll be updating this article with how they did in 2017 and list those in power for 2018. We’ve seen a slight move down on this line to 9.5 at some places.
Arizona State vs. Fresno State (-4.5, 52) – The Las Vegas Bowl features Arizona State, Fresno State, and a whole lot of fans of both programs happy for an excuse to go to Sin City. We’ve already had some big announcements about players skipping the bowl games because of the NFL Draft. Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry is one of them. This line was 3.5 with Harry in the game, but has moved to as high as -5 in the market now. Most shops are -4 or -4.5 as the Sun Devils go to battle without their best player.
Eastern Michigan vs. Georgia Southern (PK, 48) – This struck me as an interesting line. We haven’t seen any movement yet for the Camellia Bowl, but Eastern Michigan hasn’t won a bowl game since 1987. One of the big benefits of the option is that it is hard to prepare for on a short week. Eastern Michigan has two weeks to prepare for it. I’d expect Eastern Michigan money to hit the board as we get closer to the game.
Marshall (-2.5, 54.5) at South Florida – Part of the allure and appeal about playing in a bowl game is seeing something new. South Florida’s Gasparilla Bowl game is….in its home stadium. While a lack of travel can’t hurt, it probably can’t help either, as the Bulls are likely to be less focused on a game at home that really has no bearing on anything. For Marshall, it is a new place to go and a game that can help recruiting. Notice that the literal home team in a bowl game is still an underdog.
Florida International vs. Toledo (-6, 67.5) – Living in Miami isn’t a bad thing for those that like sunshine and beaches. There is very little sunshine and basically no beaches in Toledo. Not any nice ones anyway. This game is in the Bahamas, so FIU is truly Florida International. For Toledo, this could very well be more vacation than business trip and the opposite could hold true for the team that lives on the ocean anyway. We’ve seen a move down from 6.5 to 6 and that line of thinking may push this number down some more.
BYU (-12, 48.5) vs. Western Michigan – The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is on the blue turf in Boise. BYU plays in Boise with regularity. Western Michigan does not. The blue turf is unique and so is the venue and the elevation for a team from Kalamazoo, Michigan. BYU does have a defined home field advantage here based on familiarity and the altitude. On the other hand, BYU is also not going somewhere fun or warm for a bowl game, which is probably every team’s goal. Still, it’s pretty clear that BYU’s knowledge of the area is factored into the line.
Buffalo (-3, 53.5) vs. Troy – This is an interesting one for a variety of reasons. Buffalo lost the MAC Championship Game in pretty devastating fashion. This Dollar General Bowl game is in Montgomery, Alabama, so the travel isn’t that bad at all for Troy and the fans should show out better for the Trojans.
Louisiana Tech at Hawaii (-2, 57) – The Hawaii Bowl features Hawaii. Imagine that. It isn’t a great spot for Louisiana Tech, who used to be in the WAC, but doesn’t play out on the islands anymore. The Bulldogs didn’t really have that great of a season despite some higher expectations and it’s fair to wonder if they arrive in Honolulu ready for business. My guess is probably not, but the line does, correctly, suggest LA Tech a favorite on a neutral.
Miami (FL) (-3.5, 47) vs. Wisconsin – Perhaps Alex Hornibrook will be back for the Pinstripe Bowl. Maybe that’s the move. I don’t really understand it. Miami is down from 4 to 3.5 at a lot of shops in the market, even though the Hurricanes have been a sharp side for a while now. The offense is pretty bad, but the defense remains quite good. Wisconsin’s defense hasn’t even been that good this season. This feels like a little bit of a move to push the line down to -3 before hitting it back at bigger limits.
Vanderbilt (-4.5, 55) vs. Baylor – This is number that I would expect to come down. The Texas Bowl features a Texas team. Even though Waco isn’t in the Houston area, it’s a hell of a lot closer than Nashville, Tennessee. The Bears may also have a coaching advantage over the layoff with Matt Rhule over Derek Mason. Also, winning the season finale to get to a bowl game and then to do so after scholarship reductions and transfers from the Art Briles era should be a motivating factor for Baylor. This is a line that hasn’t moved yet, but I would expect it to.
Iowa State vs. Washington State (-4, 54.5) – We’ve even had a 3.5 pop in the marketplace for the Alamo Bowl between Iowa State and Washington State. For now, Matt Campbell is still at Iowa State, which certainly helps the Cyclones. Washington State doesn’t really have a great bowl resume under Mike Leach and struggled down the stretch. This line opened 5 and has ticked down a bit. It is early, but we’re dealing with some fairly key numbers, especially with a game that will probably feature a move down on the total.
Arkansas State vs. Nevada (PK, 59.5) – This is actually my personal favorite bowl game on the board with Nevada and Arkansas State in the Arizona Bowl in Tucson. Tucson has a little bit of altitude, which Nevada is clearly more comfortable with. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen a ton of movement in the line, but I suspect we will sometime soon.
Florida vs. Michigan (-7.5, 50.5) – The Peach Bowl features Florida and Michigan. While Gainesville is a lot closer to Atlanta, it’s not like the Michigan fan base is limited to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines should be well-represented as well. After yet another loss to Michigan, Team Khakis is getting some love this week, up from -6 to -7.5 in the market. The total seems oddly high for a game with these two teams as well. I can’t help but think that comes down some.
South Carolina (-4.5, 54.5) vs. Virginia – I can assure you that the Gamecocks faithful will be out in full force in Charlotte for the Belk Bowl. Charlotte is only a two-hour run up I-77 and the Gamecocks usually play there once a year anyway. I’m not sure that Virginia will have the same response, even though Charlottesville isn’t that far away. The Gamecocks are down from 6 to 4.5. Unfortunately, Deebo Samuel won’t play for South Carolina, so Jake Bentley will be down his most explosive offensive threat. That’s enough to move a line a half-point or a point.
Oklahoma vs. Alabama (-14, 79) – Well, that’s a big total. This is also going to be a game outside at Hard Rock Stadium. The weather could be a big factor. The other semifinal game is inside at Jerry World. We haven’t seen much of a move for the Orange Bowl and we probably won’t, but that total is awfully high.
Notre Dame vs. Clemson (-11, 55) – So far, this looks like a pretty good line, which is what we would expect. With a College Football Playoff title on the line, nobody is sitting out on these four teams. Clemson is favored by a lot, but is it enough? After all, with three weeks to prepare, doesn’t Dabo Swinney have a huge edge over Brian Kelly? I sure think so. I’d expect this line to increase.
Michigan State vs. Oregon (-2.5, 48) – It looks like we’re going to hit -3 here with Oregon getting some love against Sparty. This is a haul out to Santa Clara for the Redbox Bowl. Mark Dantonio is a solid defensive coach and the line total implies a defensive battle here, but the Ducks have been a lot better on that side of the ball.
Missouri (-8, 71) vs. Oklahoma State – The line for the Liberty Bowl did feel a little bit pricy at 9 or 10, but Oklahoma State does have a couple of guys sitting this one out for their NFL Draft futures, including star running back Justice Hill. For now, though, the Cowboys are still the preferred side. Memphis, while a cool city for music and food, isn’t exactly going to be a popular destination for either fan base. Barry Odom has some friends and familiarity with the area, but that’s about the only angle for either team in that regard. This line should keep moving down with Mike Gundy a solid 8-4 straight up in bowl games.
LSU (-7.5, 54.5) vs. UCF – UCF gets another crack at an SEC team in the Fiesta Bowl, but you really do have to wonder a little bit about the Knights. While their undefeated run remained in tact by beating Memphis, the Knights missed McKenzie Milton a lot in the first half. Darriel Mack Jr. got his sea legs under him for the second half, but LSU is a much different defense. LSU will certainly be on notice here after what the Knights did to Auburn last year in the Peach Bowl. This line has ticked down a half-point, as maybe the drop-off from Milton to Mack isn’t that big, but we haven’t crossed anything significant.
Washington vs. Ohio State (-4.5, 58.5) – It is rather interesting to see the sportsbooks putting extra juice on 4.5. That’s usually not a number that you would worry about holding, as it falls in the dead zone between 4 and 6. A few shops are still at 5.5 and 5 is basically the average number out there in the marketplace. Ohio State fell short of the College Football Playoff, but nobody within the program seemed surprised about that. The Rose Bowl is still prestigious and a win all but assures Ohio State a top-five ranking for next preseason. We will have to see if Dwayne Haskins decides to play. Somebody like Myles Gaskin for Washington could also sit.