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How to bet the bowls using game logs

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert (10) is a difference maker in the Las Vegas Bowl.
© USA Today Sports Images

Our special SATURDAY report from VSiN CITY provides a tutorial for bowl handicapping with game logs, plus a preview of Patriots/Steelers and a recap of key Friday NBA matchups. We’re seven-days-a-week through the bowls…and the bowls start TODAY!

Bowl Handicapping: Using game logs to maximum analysis
If you’ve purchased our special VSiN Bowl Guide, you’ve surely noticed that the expanded matchups for every postseason affair feature a “game log” for each team. At a glance, you can review the regular season…a helpful reminder of the highs and lows every team endured. (If you haven’t yet purchased that publication, you can get it for $19.99 by clicking here. Full season subscribers to Point Spread Weekly have already received theirs at no additional charge.)

These game logs aren’t just handy for reminding you what happened (like you can remember who Georgia State and Marshall played back in September!). They can help you hone in on the most reasonable expectations for each team’s bowl performance. 

Specifically, study:

  • What happened vs. other bowl qualifiers?
  • What happened vs. similar caliber opponents?
  • What happened vs. similar styles of opponent?
  • What happened in the final month of the season?

Let’s take those one at a time. 

What happened vs. other bowl qualifiers?
If you’re familiar with the postseason schedule, you know who the other bowl teams are. You can quickly glance to see what North Texas did against bowl entries like SMU, Iowa, UAB, Southern Miss, Florida Atlantic, and so on. You can mentally throw out what happened against Lamar, UTEP, or Rice. Focus on results vs. teams who were good enough to earn a postseason bid.   

What happened vs. similar caliber opponents?
What, specifically, did UCLA do against teams roughly as good as Kansas State? Say, plus or minus a touchdown in Power Ratings? What did Ohio State do against teams roughly as good as Southern Cal? How about Notre Dame against teams in the neighborhood of LSU? You might uncover certain team characteristics that don’t jump out at first glance. Some dogs might rise up and play well against the cream of the crop. Maybe there are some false favorites that crumble against a certain level of quality. Full season stat compilations don’t show you this because everything gets stirred together. 

What happened vs. similar styles of opponent?
Michigan is a smash-mouth team. What did South Carolina do against other smash mouth teams? Washington State passes the ball all the time. Michigan State won’t have faced anything that extreme. How did Sparty do against teams who at least knew how to move the ball through the air? You’ll get a sense very quickly for how well prepared or how poorly prepared teams are for what they’re about to encounter. 

What happened in the final month of the season?
It’s not uncommon for young teams to find themselves at the midway point, or late in a college football season. Missouri is an extreme example from 2017. But, it happens all the time. The problem for handicappers is that full season stat averages become meaningless because the garbage performances in the preamble to success don’t matter any more. Smart handicappers are trying to figure out how teams are going to perform in their next game. Recent form matters more than September form in this sport. See if you can find teams who are likely to continue strong late season runs. See if you can find poor closers who have already thrown in the towel on their season and aren’t likely to suddenly catch fire amidst the doldrums. 

Best of luck to you throughout the bowls. We’ll provide postgame stat summaries from start to finish here in VSiN City, with an eye on using early boxscores to uncover potential edges in later games (maybe spotting overrated or underrated conferences, or market tendencies from sharps or the public that may create line value for bettors). 

Las Vegas Bowl: How do you handicap quarterback Justin Herbert’s presence for Oregon against Boise State?
If you’ve been following preliminary coverage for Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl, you probably know that the Oregon Ducks were a different team this season when Justin Herbert was playing quarterback than when he was out with an injury. 

Games With Healthy Herbert: 5-1 straight up, 4-2 ATS
Games Herbert Didn’t Start: 1-4 straight up, 1-4 ATS

We’re leaving out the win over California, where Herbert was injured after throwing eight passes. 

Clearly a meaningful difference. Are there any extenuating circumstances that would account for the extreme? A look at the game log hints at something. Calling up Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings in USA Today help drive the point home.

Herbert got to play against the softest part of Oregon’s schedule. The Ducks struggled badly with a backup QB against the toughest part. 

Sagarin Ranking of Opponents
Herbert Faced: 40-49-74-85-105-131
Herbert Missed: 9-11-27-38-51

Herbert ate the cupcake part of the schedule, missing out on opponents that might have been able to eat him. Also a factor, Oregon start running back Royce Freeman was the driving force of this offense. Soft defenses trying to deal with both Freeman and Herbert were over-matched, allowing Herbert to post some great individual stats. Good opponents only had to focus on Freeman, forcing unready Braxton Burmeister to try to shoulder the load. 

Freeman announced this week that he was going to sit out the Las Vegas Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. That leaves us with a rare duck to handicap…Herbert facing a quality opponent (Boise State is #37 in Sagarin’s rankings) without Freeman in the backfield to help keep the defense honest. 

The betting markets have settled on Oregon -7 as of publication deadlines. Be sure you watch VSiN programming Saturday for updates. A point spread is basically “the median” of possibilities for a future game. What you could call “the sum of all models” is aware that Oregon is much better with Herbert than with Burmeister, but isn’t ready to project a one-sided victory against this opponent at this site. 

Sunday NFL Preview: AFC’s #1 seed at stake when New England visits Pittsburgh
We promised to provide an in-depth preview for Patriots/Steelers. Let’s get to it.

New England (10-3) at Pittsburgh (11-2)
Las Vegas Line: New England by 3, total of 53.5
Estimated Market Power Ratings: New England 90, Pittsburgh 84

As we discussed back on Tuesday in our estimate of “market” Power Ratings, this line is out of whack with recent pricing of these teams. Yes, New England is great. But six points better than Pittsburgh on a neutral field (if you assume three points for home field)? Perhaps the Steelers are getting docked for a slight fade in recent form amidst some injuries. Or, maybe the right numbers are more like 87 to 88 for New England and 85 for Pittsburgh, and sports books are anticipating a flood of over-optimistic New England money. Hopefully there will be a playoff rematch that provides additional context. 

New England: 6.0 on offense, 5.9 on defense (vs. #18 schedule)
Pittsburgh: 5.7 on offense, 5.1 on defense (vs. #23 schedule)

New England’s first month was so bad, particularly on defense, that it warps this particular stat sequence. Pittsburgh isn’t likely to be better going forward in YPP differential. September was garbage in, garbage long forgotten for the Pats defense. It’s reasonable to assume future superiority for the Patriots…but not so much that they should be laying a field goal on the road. 

Key Passing Stats 
New England: 8.1 yards-per-pass attempt, 27 TD’s, 6 interceptions thrown
Pittsburgh: 7.5 yards-per-pass attempt, 24 TD’s, 13 interceptions thrown

This is why New England gets respect in marquee matchups…and it’s hard to argue against Tom Brady in games that matter. You can see he gets more yards-per-pass-attempt while running the safer offense! Of the two, Ben Roethslisberger is more likely to throw the heart-breaking interception that costs his team a win. 

Pass Defense 
New England: 7.3 yppa allowed; 22 TD’s allowed, 11 interceptions
Pittsburgh: 7.0 yppa allowed; 16 TD’s allowed, 13 interceptions

Again, New England hasn’t been as bad as that makes it look the past two months. Pittsburgh lost a key defender to a very serious injury in the Cincinnati game…and may not be quite as good as that stat line makes it seem. If you assume Pittsburgh is going to bring peak defensive intensity in a critical home game, then you can probably give the Steelers a slight edge in pass defense because of the lower YPPA and fewer TD’s allowed. 

Impact Defense 
New England: 39% third down pct-allowed, 17 takeaways, 30 sacks
Pittsburgh: 36% third down pct-allowed, 17 takeaways, 41 sacks

And now it’s even easier to give Pittsburgh’s “pass” defense the nod because it gets so many sacks. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this result will probably come down to whether or not Brady can move the chains and find the end zone against an intense pass rush in front of a loud, hostile crowd. This should be his toughest test of the season. If it turns out NOT to be, you can probably pencil the Pats into the Super Bowl now. They’d be even clearer favorites over the AFC field as the #1 seed with a bye, and home field, against a defense of the #2 seed that couldn’t stop him at home! If Brady has trouble, Pittsburgh can definitely win the game. 

The games that matter most are still a month away. No single regular season game will shape the championship chase as much as Patriots/Steelers because the #1 seed in the AFC is at stake. Pittsburgh would clinch it with a win, owning a two-game lead with two to play and the tie-breaker in its hip pocket. New England would forge a tie with a victory, and own the tie-breaker…but would still have to win out (as big favorites at home vs. Buffalo and the NY Jets).

Friday NBA: OKC survives scoreless 5:35 in 3OT win, Utah’s Rudy Gobert injures his knee as Jazz beat Boston
We start in Philadelphia, where Oklahoma City and the 76ers expressed everything you could love and hate about the NBA in one marathon thriller. Extended drama with great young talent. Yet, among the reasons the game went all night were Russell Westbrook shooting 10 of 33 from the field, and Robert Covington managing only 4 of 21 (3 of 15 on treys). Carmelo Anthony scored 24 points on 11 of 14 from the floor for the winners. Joel Embiid scored 34 points on 11 of 20 from the floor in a scary (for his fans) 49 minutes of game action for the Sixers. 

Oklahoma City (pick-em) 119, Philadelphia 117 (in triple overtime)
Two-Point Pct: Oklahoma City 41%, Philadelphia 57%
Three Pointers: Oklahoma City 15/35, Philadelphia 13/46
Free Throws: Oklahoma City 10/19, Philadelphia 16/20
Rebounds: Oklahoma City 60, Philadelphia 50
Turnovers: Oklahoma City 18, Philadelphia 21

If you’re only making 13 of 46 on treys, stop shooting so many treys! One reason Philly shot so well inside the arc is that they limited their two-point shooting to the best options. Oklahoma City won the hustle stats, with a plus 10 edge in rebounding and 21 forced turnovers. Though, they did choke another finish in regulation. OKC led 94-83 with 5:35 left. The game went overtime at 94-all! That’s ZERO points for Westbrook/Anthony/George (or any other Thunder) in almost half a quarter with the game on the line. Inexcusable with those offensive skill sets.

Both teams are 14-14 straight up after the result. OKC is 10-18 against the spread, Philadelphia is 16-10-1 ATS. 

Utah (plus 5) 107, Boston 95
Two-Point Pct: Utah 47%, Boston 47%
Three Pointers: Utah 13/25, Boston 9/31
Free Throws: Utah 14/18, Boston 16/19
Rebounds: Utah 55, Boston 31
Turnovers: Utah 16, Boston 9

Rudy Gobert, the most important player on the Jazz, left after two minutes with a knee injury. Listen to VSiN Saturday for updates on his status. Amazingly, Utah won rebounding huge without him! That was the key difference-maker. Boston only managed 2 offensive rebounds all night, compared to 46 defensive rebounds for the Jazz. All but two missed Boston shots were virtual turnovers. 

Utah is a playoff team with Gobert healthy, but probably not without him. They’re now 7-4 straight up their last 11 (after his prior return from injury), 8-3 ATS in that span. Boston has now lost three of its last five, and is now 1-4-1 ATS its last six. You may recall the Celtics had that amazing 16-2-1 ATS stretch earlier this season. They’ve fallen back to earth as a betting option. The market finally accepted this was going to be an excellent team even without Gordon Hayward. Boston sits at 24-7 in the standings after this loss. 

That’s it for this bonus Saturday report. Back with you Sunday to run key stats from both of Saturday’s NFL games (Chicago/Detroit and LA Chargers/Kansas City) and all five bowl games from a handicapping perspective. Our regular weekday schedule resumes Monday with stat summaries from another big Sunday of NFL action (including New England/Pittsburgh, LA Rams/Seattle, and Green Bay/Carolina). 

If you’re reading today on the home page of our website, you can subscribe ABSOLUTELY FREE to receive VSiN City in your email box every morning. The digital Point Spread Weekly newsletter has two current options:

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Stay on top of sports betting developments by following us on twitter, or by downloading our app. If you have any comments or questions about anything in the VSiN universe, please drop us a note or post your thoughts in the Facebook widget below. 

See you Sunday!

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