Finally, the games you’ve all been waiting for! This batch of bowl market reports will include Alabama-Cincinnati and Georgia-Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinals. We’ll start with the four games scheduled Friday, then work our way through the rest of the bowl card.
I’m writing this as South Carolina is cashing underdog tickets against North Carolina late Thursday morning Las Vegas time. That ended a very bad stretch for sportsbooks. We had won just one of the prior nine games (Texas Tech over Mississippi State); whenever you see a lot of favorites winning big in TV games, recreational bettors are having a temporary hot run.
The public likes parlaying favorites, so the liability multiplies. They were parlaying Clemson and Oklahoma Tuesday, Maryland and Minnesota Monday. When dogs spring upsets, that multiplies in our favor; those knock out straight bets and parlays.
Who’s been getting the money in the marquee finales to this season’s bowl extravaganza? Let’s take the games in kickoff order …
Friday, Dec. 31
Gator Bowl (in Jacksonville)
Wake Forest (-16, 62) vs. Rutgers
ESPN, 11 a.m. ET
Only in the time of COVID-19 could I write “My opening line in the Wake Forest/Rutgers game was Texas A&M -6.5.” The Aggies withdrew. Rutgers with its 5-7 record was given a special invite to replace them. For the new matchup, I opened Wake Forest -14. Sharps laid -14, -14.5 and -15. I’m up to Wake -16 now. That stopped the trend, but nobody’s betting Rutgers yet. Wake’s offense is tough to stop no matter how prepared your defense is. Will Rutgers have enough time to be ready? My opening total of 61.5 was bet up to 62. Not much interest from the public yet in this game (or the next one).
Sun Bowl (in El Paso)
Washington State (-7, 57.5) vs. Central Michigan
CBS, 2 p.m. ET
This was supposed to be Miami-Washington State. Central Michigan was supposed to play Boise State in another bowl. Sportsbooks were very disappointed about Miami and Boise State opting out due to personnel shortages. Both programs have good public followings. Miami-Washington State had much more appeal than today’s meeting. I haven’t moved off my opener of Wazzou -7 and 57.5. Limited action so far.
Cotton Bowl (in Arlington)
Cincinnati vs. Alabama (-13.5, 57.5)
ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET
Now we’re talking! People have been betting this one for a few weeks. I opened Alabama -13. Sharps laid the chalk, so I’m now at -13.5. The public (and some sharps) are still laying the favorite. I won’t go to -14 until I have to. I’m confident that sharp ‘dog lovers will come in at two touchdowns. There’s no reason for them to bet now because getting the full + 14 seems very likely to happen before kickoff. Ticket counts all over the market are heavily slanted toward the Tide. If you’re thinking about Cincinnati, wait and bet like the sharps. If you want to bet Alabama, you should probably take care of business before further moves. I should mention that I took a big bet on Cincinnati to win outright at + 425 on the money line. Current price there is Alabama -500/Cincinnati + 400. Sharps bet Under my opening total of 59, and then Under 58. I’m at 57.5 now. Good handle on the total. Customers are more interested in betting this total than any team sides in the earlier games.
Orange Bowl (in Miami)
Georgia (-7.5, 45.5) vs. Michigan
ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET
I opened Georgia -7. Sharps laid that and I had a few bettors pay extra to buy down to -6.5. That pushed me to Georgia -7.5. I’ve been writing pretty good two-way business with the hook. Some public bettors are buying down to -7. Story’s different on the money line, though. This is like a Super Bowl where people either lay points with the favorite, or bet the money-line with the underdog. A lot of interest in Michigan at + 255 to win outright. I’m currently Georgia -300/Michigan + 250. My opening total of 43.5 was bet up to 44, 45, and now 45.5. Sharps really like Over 44 or lower. I’m finally starting to write some Under business at 45.5.
The winners of Alabama-Cincinnati and Georgia-Michigan will play for the National Championship on Monday night January 10 (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). I’ll have a special market report for you that day here on VSiN.com.
Saturday, Jan. 1
Outback Bowl (in Tampa)
Arkansas (-2, 48) vs. Penn State
ESPN2, noon ET
Penn State has seen several top players opt out of this bowl game. I opened Penn State -3 before that became public knowledge. Sharps bet Arkansas + 3, and + 2.5. I dropped to Penn State -1.5. As opt-outs started making headlines, I moved to Arkansas -1, -1.5, and now -2. Arkansas was also popular on the money line. Sharps took the Hogs at + 125, + 120, + 105, and even -123. I’m currently at Arkansas -135/Penn State + 115. I’m not bereft of Penn State money -- that’s a public team that will always generate some bets -- but the smart money is on Arkansas. And, even for me, as a Penn State fan, it would be hard to bet the Nittany Lions here. We’ll be rooting for them because of our exposure. I’m not particularly crazy about my spot. My opening total of 46 climbed the ladder to 46.5, 47, 47.5, and now 48. Not much interest in the Under. Going to 48 stopped the Over bets.
Fiesta Bowl (in Glendale)
Oklahoma State vs. Notre Dame (-2, 45.5)
ESPN, 1 p.m. ET
Good betting game. We never have trouble writing Notre Dame tickets, but my opener of ND -2.5 is down to -2. Sharps like Oklahoma State. Could be very important that the wiseguys were betting + 2.5 rather than waiting to see if + 3 came into play. Whenever you see a line moving AWAY from a key number, that’s a red flag. Also, good money line play on Okie State + 125. I’m currently at Notre Dame -130/Oklahoma State + 110. This will be a heavily bet game Saturday. It will probably rank behind Ohio State/Utah just because of the earlier start time. For now, limited interest either way in my opening total of 45.5.
Citrus Bowl (in Orlando)
Kentucky (-3, 44.5) vs. Iowa
ABC, 1 p.m. ET
Odd to say this about a New Year’s Day game, but this could almost go on the “nobody knows they’re playing” list. Sharps bet my opener of Kentucky -2 up to -2.5 and -3. Recreational bettors have stayed away. Kentucky doesn’t have much of a betting constituency. Iowa struggled to consistently meet market expectations down the stretch, before losing to Michigan 42-3 in the Big 10 championship. Over/Under hasn’t budged off my opener of 44.5. Extremely light betting. Sharps like Kentucky below a field goal.
Rose Bowl (in Pasadena)
Utah vs. Ohio State (-3.5, 64)
ESPN, 5 p.m. ET
A lot of respected rumors in Las Vegas about this game. Ohio State is expected to miss some influential personnel. My opening line of Ohio State -6.5 was bet down to -6 by sharps. Trusted scuttlebutt knocked me down to -4, and then -3.5. Importantly, I was also taking a lot of sharp money-line bets on Utah to win straight up. Sharps took the Utes at + 220, + 200, and + 150. I have to respect that. Ohio State is a public team. So, I’m still taking plenty of bets on the Buckeyes from recreational players. My opening total of 65 was bet down to 64. We’ll see what news breaks publicly between now and kickoff. Be sure you watch the market. This will be a heavily-bet marquee attraction influenced by game-day confirmation of who is or isn’t playing.
Sugar Bowl (in New Orleans)
Baylor vs. Mississippi (-1.5, 56)
ESPN, 8:45 p.m. ET
We’ve been all over the place in this one. A lot of betting action influenced by rumors about Ole Miss players I opened Mississippi -1.5, and I’m currently there as well. But the road trip included a visit to Baylor -1.5 along the way. As long as this game doesn’t end with a Super Dome power outage in overtime causing a tie, we’ll be okay. My opening total of 54 was bet by sharps up to 55 and now 56. The last move to 56 stopped Over bets, but didn’t inspire any Under bets. Sharps seem to expect a shootout, even though this Baylor group is more defensive-minded than past editions.
Tuesday, Jan. 4
Texas Bowl (in Houston)
LSU vs. Kansas State (-3.5, 48)
ESPN, 9 p.m. ET
LSU will reportedly have a lot of player absences. My opening line of LSU -3 has flipped all the way to Kansas State -3.5 based on sharp betting and news headlines. I see some -4’s at other shops. Plenty of time for more news to develop here. Or, for perceptions of the SEC and Big 12 to change based on bowl results between now and then. Hopefully this bowl doesn’t join the list of cancellations. A standalone prime time game involving major conferences would normally drive a very nice handle. No play yet on my opening total of 48.
I’ll be back with Friday at the usual time for our weekly NFL report, and to formally wish you a Happy New Year. For now, I’ve got to get back behind the counter! See you next time.
Chris Andrews is the Sportsbook Director at the South Point in Las Vegas, and has been a Nevada bookmaker for 30 years.