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The Bowl Games.
This is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Bowls are a football fan’s answer to Hallmark Christmas movies. Most are completely pointless and not very well played/acted, but there is also something oddly satisfying about both.
There are so many incredible bowl memories. Miami stopping Nebraska’s two-point conversion attempt in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Iowa’s Drew Tate hitting Warren Holloway with a walk-off hail mary in the 2005 Capital One Bowl. Michael Vick running circles around Florida State in the 2000 Sugar Bowl national championship game. ☹ Go way back to 1954 and the Cotton Bowl and Bama’s 12th man tackle vs Rice. Not many here will remember that – LOL. Perhaps my favorite bowl story of all time is a fan’s account of the 2017 Bahamas Bowl.
We all have memories, both fond and not so fond. I’ll touch on a few of mine later.
Another thing bowls can be is a gambler’s shot at redemption. A way to correct bad bets, bad beats, and downright bad luck that has accumulated on the negative side of the ledger. I feel that even the most nominal of bets will make any game much more interesting. In the wise words of Kenny Rogers, every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. This applies to sports betting. There is at least one winning bet for every single game. Whether it be the spread, game total, or even live betting—which isn’t for the feint of heart. You just have to choose wisely. Vegas has the enviable position of not caring who wins or loses. All they want to do is make money, and they are great at it.
A bettor needs to be very careful with the bowls. Key players are sitting these games out to prepare for the draft. Teams are matched up that are unfamiliar with each other. Another issue that is impossible to predict is the mindset of teams in these bowls. WVU lost eight straight bowls between 1987 and 1998, many in ugly fashion. They became a team you could count on tanking and in turn, winning money by picking the other side. Don Nehlen’s approach to bowls was that it was a treat for the players. This changed after the 2000 season, which was Don Nehlen’s last. WVU was facing a decent Ole Miss team that had Eli Manning on its roster in the Music City Bowl . WVU was only a 3.5-point underdog. This was money in the bank. Then the game began. WVU looked like men playing against boys. They absolutely manhandled the Rebels, leading 49-9 at one point. That easy money was gone for good.
WVU isn’t the only school guilty of approaching bowl games in this manner. We all remember the VT-Kansas Orange Bowl debacle, a.k.a. the game that forced me into gambling retirement. We can debate what happened in the week leading up to the game, but there’s no doubt that preparation and approach had more than a little to do with the outcome.
There are also bad beats. The backdoor cover. To those unfamiliar, this is when you have a victory in hand, and it’s snatched from you by a highly unlikely play, one that is meaningless to the outcome of the game. My most memorable bowl bad beat was the 2001 Tangerine Bowl, matching Pitt and NCSU. I had the under, which was 47.5. The score was 27-19, and the Phillip Rivers-led Wolfpack had done little to nothing on offense. They were deep in their own territory late in the game, and if given eight downs to get a first, they wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it. This game was in the bag. Then, disaster. On second down, Rivers goes back to pass, and is sacked by Lewis Moore. Tyre Young picked the ball up and returned it 16 yards for a TD, making the game go over. I still think that was a good bet.
The point of these stories is that no matter how much you know about football, you don’t know what the odd shaped ball is going to do. I don’t claim to be an expert, so please don’t take the picks I give and start planning your retirement. I hope the bettors out there will gain something from my picks, even if what I say convinces you to bet the other way. The point is to have fun and bet responsibly. If my picks help anyone win any money, I accept payments in beer.
Bowl Game Betting Guide
Without further ramblings, here we go with my bowl game betting guide.
Memphis -4.5 vs Wake Forest
I know very little about Memphis. What I do know is that they went toe-to-toe with the defending national champs, UCF. I actually won a little bit of money by taking UCF in live betting, so I feel I owe the Tigers some love. Give me Memphis -4.5 with something to prove against a P5 team.
Wisconsin +4 vs Miami (FL)
When I saw this matchup, I really wanted to pull the trigger on Wisconsin. These two have met in bowls very recently, with a common outcome…Miami absolutely getting manhandled. Another factor is Miami tends to show up for certain types of bowl games uninspired…the Sun Bowl against Notre Dame in 2010, and the Champs Sports Bowl versus Wisconsin back in 2009. A late December game in a baseball stadium in NYC is just the venue for a Miami flop.
Wiscy hasn’t had a great season. The defense isn’t up to what it’s been the past several years, and Alex Hornibrook has yet to make any progress over his career. Very quietly, Jonathan Taylor has had an incredible year. He has 1,989 yards in just 12 games, with a 7.1 ypc average. That’s better than his freshman season. They have three 1st team All-Big Ten OL, with a fourth showing on the 2nd team. They don’t pretend to do anything but run you over.
Miami’s defense is extremely good, especially against the run. This game will be strength on strength. The X-factor that will force me to make a move on this game is Manny Diaz leaving the program. I’d been hesitant to pick this game due to Miami’s defense and Diaz. To me, his leaving is like finding the right Christmas tree, but not knowing for sure how to get it home. All of a sudden, the salesman comes by and offers to mount the tree in a stand and deliver it to the house. Sold! Give me Wiscy +4, and I’d be tempted to money line them, which is +170. That means you win $170 on a $100 bet. Not that I’d suggest betting that much.
Oregon -1.5 vs Michigan State
I hate betting against Sparty and Mark Dantonio. Michigan State turns almost every game they are involved in into a rock fight. Dantonio is a heckuva coach, and his toughness is unquestioned. His teams have taken that persona, and Sparty has jumped into that second tier of Power 5 teams, just below the elites. Oregon still isn’t where they were under Chip Kelly. I’m not sure Cristobal will get them there.
Michigan State has had an extremely disappointing season. They returned something around 18 starters and looked primed to compete for the Big Ten East title. The problem has been at QB, more than anywhere else. Brian Lewerke has been average, at best. To put it bluntly, Michigan State would have a hard time scoring in Radford.
Oregon has Justin Herbert at QB, who may be the first QB taken in the NFL draft. He has been beat up a bit, and I wonder if he’ll actually play in the game. If he does, give me Oregon. If not, I’ll take Sparty in one of their patented rock fights.
Texas A&M -3 vs NCSU
These programs and fanbases are similar to me. Both have wildly unrealistic expectations and tend to get happy feet with coaching moves. It seems one, the other, or both always have a guy on the hot seat. Jimbo has a couple of years worth of good will, but I see his tenure ending badly. To me, aTm has a lot more riding on this game. They are springboarding toward future disappointment in the SEC West. NCSU is who they are this year. Lots of flashes, but nothing memorable. I’m not really a fan of Jimbo’s coaching, but I’m less of a fan of Dave Doeren’s. Give me aTm -3.
PSU -7 vs Kentucky
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve seen almost none of Kentucky’s great season. They are boring. They finally got over the Florida hump, but largely fell on their faces in big games. They have made their living on defense this year. QB play has been very average. They have a really good RB in Benny Snell, who was a Doak Walker semi-finalist.
PSU has Trace McSorley. He’s one of my favorite players to watch. PSU didn’t have the season they had hoped for, but McSorley is a gamer. The defensive stats of both teams are nearly identical, as far as rankings go. UK was 23rd, and PSU was 36th. PSU only gave up 4.69/play, while UK gave up 5.23. UK will be way up for this game, and I imagine Big Blue nation will come out in force. For whatever reason, I’m feeling a fairly comfy win by PSU. Something around 31-14.
The Rose Bowl
Ohio State -5.5 vs Washington
Full disclosure: This is my favorite bowl game. I grew up almost as big of an Ohio State fan as VT fan. The only difference is I lived close to VT, and my grandfather started taking me to games when I was a kid. I often joke that my childhood memory of New Years Day was going to my other grandfather’s house and watching Ohio State lose the Rose Bowl. This game is a bucket list item for me. I’ve already started making plans to attend the 1-1-20 game. I am still an Ohio State fan, and betting this game goes against my rule of avoiding games where I have a rooting interest.
Washington has one of the best coaches in the game in Chris Peterson. His team has taken on his persona, and U-Dub is quickly relevant on the national scene again. These guys don’t beat themselves. What I did notice in the P12 Championship Game is that the Huskies don’t have a lot of firepower. Jake Browning is a good QB, but his weapons appear to be limited.
Urban Meyer would be retiring after this game. To me, that adds a level of focus for the Buckeyes. No matter what anyone thinks of Meyer, he’s one of the best coaches of all time, especially in bowl games (11-3 straight up, and against the spread) and games in which he has extra time to prepare (37-14-1 ATS). Peterson has proven to be a giant killer, but this one is tough.
Ohio State is one of the 4-5 most talented teams in the country. They are big and fast. They’ve got a Heisman finalist in Dwayne Haskins, who has been nothing short of great all year. They have six WRs who can be game breakers, along with two RBs who will play on Sundays. There was some thought that Haskins would sit this game out, but he’s already squashed that. This is a childhood dream of his.
I don’t see a lot of advantages for Washington. Ohio State has given up a whole lot of big plays this year, but I don’t see Washington taking much advantage of that. Even with tOSU’s difficulties on defense, they have an elite D-line. They cause problems in every single game, despite the chunk plays. Ohio State is also better in the turnover margin department. Washington has a really good defense, but so did Michigan.
I honestly don’t get the spread for this game. I thought it would fall somewhere in the Ohio State -12 range. At -5.5, it almost feels like a sucker bet. Somebody knows something we don’t. Maybe it’s the gambling gods smiling down at me. I’m feeling a 45-28 type of game. Maybe a lot worse. The Buckeyes will want to send Meyer out with a bang, and I think they will. This is easily my favorite pick of the bowl season.
There are other games I have a feeling on, but not a strong feeling. I don’t have an opinion on the CFP games. I don’t like either spread. UVa still stinks, so I look for them to embarrass the ACC again. Maybe a 15-0 score. I liked Arizona State versus Fresno State before I found out their best WR isn’t playing. I still kinda like them, but that’s tough.
No matter what, there are some nice matchups this year. Enjoy them all. Like I said earlier, even a nominal bet can make a game infinitely more interesting. I typically don’t bet more than $10-20, and I’m not sure I really care to collect. It’s more of a mental scorecard for me. Best of luck, and thanks to TSL for letting me submit this bowl game betting guide!