The bowl season starts on December 20, six days after the Army vs. Navy game. That standalone game in what we’ll call “Week 16” is the only game this weekend, at least as far as FBS goes. The FCS playoffs are still humming right along.
This will be our last Opening Line Report of the season. We’ll survey Army/Navy and then look over the bowl games to find the interesting early line movers. These games have a ton of time to draw action and we will see waves of bets throughout the prep period. Bets will come in at various times as limits increase and as we get some clarity about who is playing and who is coaching.
A lot of reactionary stuff will go on as juniors and redshirt sophomores declare for the NFL Draft and as coaches and coordinators take new jobs. We’ll also see “motivation” used a lot, as some teams will be more focused and more excited than others. It is an extremely busy time of year and it can be tough to stay up on the latest.
Here is your final Opening Line Report for the Army/Navy Game and the bowls:
303/304 Army vs. Navy (-10.5, 41.5) – The Army/Navy Game stands alone as it always does and always should. Navy is a 10.5-point favorite, which is a little on the light side for most people in the power ratings department, but this game essentially features a running clock, very few possessions, and a low-scoring environment. This total has already gone down from 45 to 41.5. The side hasn’t moved much. Navy has been far and away the better team this season and Army has been a major disappointment with a really easy schedule. It’s just hard to lay double digits in this rivalry. After all, five straight meetings have ended by a TD or less. Navy does have triple revenge, though.
201/202 Buffalo (-5) vs. Charlotte – Everybody knows that the MAC is terrible in bowl games. But, Buffalo is taking money in the Bahamas Bowl against Charlotte. If you see any MAC teams taking money in bowls, it is something to monitor very closely. The Buffalo Bulls are that team. This is not a big move at all up from 4.5 to 5, but the MAC generally gets faded hard in these, so this one merits a little attention.
203/204 Kent State vs. Utah State (-9.5) – This is more like it, as money has come in on Utah State against Kent State in the Frisco Bowl. The travel is definitely easier for Utah State. Kent State should be highly motivated for its first bowl appearance since 2012. This is also just the third bowl appearance in program history and it comes in just the second year for Sean Lewis. Utah State is the side taking early money, but I’m not entirely sure that it is a true position. It looks like nothing more than a MAC fade to me.
211/212 SMU (-3.5) at Florida Atlantic – Yes, that says “at”, as SMU goes to Boca Raton for the Boca Raton Bowl. Lane Kiffin will not be coaching the Owls, as he has taken the head coaching job at Ole Miss. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will be the interim head coach. SMU is clearly the better team here and the team from a much stronger conference. Strength of schedule can be a catalyst for line moves at this time of year. FAU played the 114th-ranked schedule per Sagarin. SMU played the 76th-ranked schedule. This line opened SMU -3 and is up to -3.5 and likely going higher.
215/216 Washington (-3.5) vs. Boise State – This is kind of fun. Chris Petersen is stepping away at the end of the season and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake will take over for the foreseeable future for the Huskies. Petersen gets to face his former team Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The line is up from -3 to -3.5 and some places are threatening to go even higher. Washington will be supremely motivated for the bowl game, but so will Boise State with this type of matchup. This should be a great game. We’ll see how high the line goes before buyback arrives.
221/222 BYU (-2) at Hawaii – Hawaii stays home again to play in the Hawaii Bowl. This is actually not a bad spot for BYU. Hawaii has a strong LDS population and head coach Kalani Sitake spent a good amount of his childhood in Hawaii. There are three Hawaiians on the BYU roster. Hawaii is taking the early money in what amounts to a home game, but I would think that we’re going to see BYU take some more money as we go forward. This line is down from 2.5 to as low as 1.5, with 2 the prevailing number, but I’m not sure that this position holds either.
225/226 Pitt (-10.5) vs. Eastern Michigan – Pat Narduzzi goes back to Michigan where the Pitt Panthers will take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. Eastern Michigan could have a little bit of crowd support here, but that hasn’t stopped the market from betting this game up from 9.5 to 10.5. The MAC is going to get bet against in a lot of bowl games, particularly against Power Five opponents. That is the case here.
227/228 North Carolina (-5) vs. Temple – Temple is closer to Annapolis than North Carolina, so maybe that is part of the move here. It has to be something because former Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey has been a tremendous bowl fade in his career. Give me the two UNC coordinators with a ton of extra time to prepare and I really think that I’m in on the Tar Heels. The market is not to this point, but there are a lot of setups and a lot of head fakes with so much time before theses games. With this Military Bowl, I don’t think this is a true position.
231/232 Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M (-6) – Texas A&M is taking the money in this one, as we’ve gone through the dead zone from -4 up to -6. This is the Texas Bowl, so A&M isn’t leaving the state, but it is a big state and Oklahoma State isn’t that far away either. Oklahoma State lost a lot of offensive talent throughout the season with the injuries to Spencer Sanders and Tylan Wallace. Sanders might be back, but there is a chance that redshirt sophomore Chuba Hubbard makes the decision to go to the NFL. You have to be aware of those types of things, especially with a game-changer like him.
233/234 USC vs. Iowa (-1.5) – Iowa’s favorite role is dwindling for the Holiday Bowl against USC. USC stays on the left coast for this one, so they deserved a little bit of a bump for HFA and proximity. We’ll see if Iowans head west to San Diego. It is a little bit interesting to see the way that this line is moving, given that USC has the well-defined talent edge, but you also have Clay Helton with a new vote of confidence because USC is cash poor. That probably doesn’t bode well for the future of the program or recruiting. That’s a discussion for another day, but it does seem like opinions aren’t super high on either team.
241/242 Oklahoma vs. LSU (-13, 75.5) – With a market-wide total, we can include that here with some thoughts on the Peach Bowl in Atlanta between Oklahoma and LSU. It has been one-sided LSU money so far in the market. Several places opened lower than the 12 or 13 that popped offshore and LSU has been bet up quite substantially per the earliest of the early numbers. To me, it looks too high, but Oklahoma hasn’t exactly looked the part with two close wins over Baylor, including this most recent one when Charlie Brewer missed significant time. LSU sure looked the part against Georgia. Public perception and a desire to get out in front of a line move combined to drive this number up. Oh, and LSU has been thoroughly impressive statistically.
243/244 Clemson (-2, 63) vs. Ohio State – Ohio State’s performance against Wisconsin wasn’t enough to give the Buckeyes the top spot. Now they draw Clemson. Many believe that the two best teams in the country are now head-to-head in a semifinal. That could be accurate. Clemson is a favorite out in the Fiesta Bowl, but this will be more like an Ohio State home game. The Buckeye fans travel exceedingly well. That may not matter and it sure as hell didn’t matter back in 2016 when Clemson shut out Ohio State. We probably won’t see much movement of substance here. Clemson has been #1 in sharp power ratings for a while. Ohio State will probably take public money. Everything should balance out.
249/250 Illinois at Cal (-6.5) – We watched as money came in against Illinois the last several weeks of the regular season. It makes perfect sense that money would come in against Illinois once again. The idea of laying almost a touchdown with Cal is rather scary, but that is the price required to take the Golden Bears here. Cal also gets to stay close to home, while Illinois has to go out to Santa Clara.
255/256 Florida State vs. Arizona State (-5.5) – With all the issues surrounding the Florida State program, a move here from -4.5 to -5.5 for the Sun Devils is hardly a surprise. Mike Norvell has been hired from Memphis, but he doesn’t seem to want to leave too quickly, as he may end up coaching the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl Classic. It will be up to interim Odell Haggins and the staff in place in Tallahassee to prep for this one. The line has moved accordingly.
257/258 Kansas State (-1) vs. Navy – This is a bowl game. Chris Klieman came from the FCS ranks, where he saw the triple-option enough to be very dangerous with a lot of time to prep for Navy. Navy still has another game to play against Army, which could afford the Middies the chance to stay a little bit sharper. This is a fascinating game and handicap. So far, we’ve seen a little Navy money down from +2 to +1, but that’s it.
261/262 Texas vs. Utah (-6.5) – This is another intriguing handicap. Utah looked really, really bad against Oregon and now a lot of strength of schedule questions have leaked into the discussion for Utah. The Utes draw an athletic Texas team here, which feels like a concern and Tom Herman is back in that preferred underdog role. Some early nibbles have been on the Utah side to go to a heavier vig on 6.5 or up to 7.
263/264 Michigan vs. Alabama (-7) – This is one to watch for NFL Draft announcements. The Alabama WR corps is littered with draft-eligible dudes that are going to make bank on Sundays. Alabama isn’t in the College Football Playoff. Alabama is in the Citrus Bowl. Against Michigan. A Michigan team that got rolled by Ohio State yet again. The Wolverines get a chance at a real, legitimate win here, so they’ll be motivated. You don’t go to Alabama to play in the Citrus Bowl. Lately, if you are at Michigan, this is about the best you can do. But now you get a real big name.
265/266 Minnesota vs. Auburn (-8) – I feel like there’s some SEC bias here in this line. It seems a little bit high as PJ Fleck rows the boat to Tampa for the Outback Bowl. This is a fine place for Auburn, but after winning the Iron Bowl, hopes were probably a little bit higher. Minnesota got embarrassed by Wisconsin in the Big Ten West Division championship game. I have to think they’re all in here. They may not be good enough, but Pinnacle is 7.5 here and that seems pretty telling.
267/268 Wisconsin (-2.5) vs. Oregon – Wisconsin and Oregon in the Rose Bowl. We saw a huge performance from Oregon to win the Pac-12 and get back to Pasadena. We saw a big first half from Wisconsin against Ohio State and then the Buckeyes woke up in the second half. This looks like a defensive struggle on the surface, which could be why the line has ticked down a tad. It may also be some respect for Oregon and some relative disrespect for Wisconsin. I wouldn’t be surprised if the line keeps trending that way.
269/270 Baylor vs. Georgia (-7.5) – Georgia is back in the Sugar Bowl again. Another near-miss for the College Football Playoff. Would Baylor have gotten in with a win over Oklahoma? It’s possible, but the Sugar Bowl is nothing to scoff at given where the program was when Matt Rhule took over. It is really fair to wonder how excited Georgia is to be here. Is that enough to cover the talent gap? Probably not, but that’s what the 7.5-point handicap is for.
271/272 Boston College vs. Cincinnati (-7) – Keep a close eye on this one. Boston College has already fired Steve Addazio and nobody is really sure why, as Boston College is a 7-6 or 6-7 type of program in the ACC. Wide receivers coach Rich Gunnell will be the interim for the bowl game. Luke Fickell could be a candidate for some Power Five jobs, so Cincinnati may have some turnover of its own. This is one of the later bowl games on January 2, so that is something to keep a close eye on. The line has gone from 6.5 to 7, as it’s fair to wonder how invested BC is with an interim.
275/276 Ohio (-6.5) vs. Nevada – Watch for an Ohio fade here. It hasn’t come yet because people were so down on Nevada late in the season, but the Wolf Pack played well down the stretch. Some ugly point differential numbers as a result of blowouts may be holding the market back as well. But, Ohio had a terrible defensive season and has to go a long way to Boise for this one. It is not an ideal bowl game destination in January. Nevada, meanwhile, is used to the cold and the blue turf. I’d expect this one to be a mover.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the Opening Line Report this season. Thanks for reading!