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Kramer: A bettor's guide to the first week of college football bowl games

By Adam Kramer  (VSiN.com) 

December 16, 2021 10:10 PM
USATSI_17204349

My advice to players, coaches and assistant coaches is pretty simple this time of year. 

Don’t overthink the next step or how to handle difficult decisions. You have one thing to accomplish and only one thing to accomplish.

Get money.

All of the money. 

Whether you can declare for the NFL Draft early and skip your bowl game, leave your post as a defensive coordinator for a bigger job with a bigger salary, or leave a potential College Football Playoff contender for a massive new deal, I encourage everyone to maximize their worth. (I encourage everyone else to mind their business when it comes to these decisions, something Mike Leach should take note of.)

Oh, and go ahead and transfer. Now that there are more player-friendly rules in place, the portal is poppin'. 

Don’t like your current situation is brewing? Go ahead and throw your name in the ol’ portal. It’s there for a reason, and players are flocking to it in mass. 

All of this is largely wonderful. People can move as they please and look out for themselves. At least that’s the idea.

But for the gamblers? It’s a bit of madness.

I’d like to think I follow college football news closer than most. That is not a brag or something I am proud of. No, it’s more of a sickness. 

These days, I struggle to keep up with the incredible movement the sport is experiencing. I doubt I’m alone.

When it comes to bowl games, this information is crucial. Pittsburgh quarterback and Heisman finalist, Kenny Pickett, is likely to opt out of the Peach Bowl. We’ll likely find out one way or another this week. 

The spread, which has swung now in Michigan State’s favor, suggests that the decision has already been made.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles turned a magical season at Oklahoma State into a huge pay raise at Ohio State. The architect of one of the sport’s best defenses will not coach the Pokes when they take on Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Irish, of course, will also be breaking in a new head coach as well. 

Change is the only constant, and the impact isn’t just on the immediate. NFL Draft opt-outs are likely to stay a theme throughout this bowl season and beyond, although the spectacular movement within the sport is going to generate a ton of offseason momentum.

It’s also going to be a bear to keep up with. And, as we transition into offseason scouting in a matter of weeks, we must prepare ourselves for chaos. 

That said, I love the challenge. I also love chaos. The sport seems destined to generate as much of it as possible these days, and the impact will be significant.

It will be felt on players soon to be getting massive guarantees from agents. It will be felt from coaches enjoying massive salary bumps in a booming market.

And it’ll be felt by the rest of us along for the ride, trying to keep up. 

 

The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations

1. Bryce Young deserved to win the Heisman, and he was a solid cash for those who bought in early. In the preseason, the Alabama QB could’ve been bet somewhere between 6/1 and 9/1. And while I thought C.J. Stroud might have locked up the award against Michigan State, Young’s performance against Georgia was superb. I love that a defensive player finished second. Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson deserved it. The fact that Alabama superstar Will Anderson didn’t get to New York as a finalist with 31.5 tackles for loss—nine-and-a-half more than any player in the sport—is pretty shocking. I still think we have a long way to go before a defensive player wins the award, although I hope I’m wrong. 

2. On the topic of movement, the first of two National Signing Days will take place this week. I promise I won’t go in-depth on recruiting in this piece, although here are a few general observations. Texas A&M is assembling a special class, and I expect the influx of talent to translate into on-field results. Oh, and Alabama and Georgia are doing the same, which should come as no surprise. My biggest issue isn’t with the recruiting itself, but rather the timing and impact. With coaches being hired and fired at a wild rate, the playoff and bowl season starting up and so many other factors, it wouldn’t shock me to see the sport alter this early signing period moving forward. Regardless, some massive talent will be committing this week and the future of the sport will be impacted.

3. I love the hire of Mark Whipple at Nebraska. Whipple really helped transform Pickett at Pitt, where he served as the OC. I would also expect that the Cornhuskers land a solid transfer at QB given Whipple’s recent track record. This is all tremendous news for Scott Frost, who needs a big 2022 to save his job.

4. I really love the hire of Mario Cristobal at Miami. The ability for a coach to naturally sell a school, which Cristobal should do given his success at that program, should be massive in the long run. I didn’t like how the Hurricanes essentially left Manny Diaz out to dry as Cristobal made his decision, but that’s business. Ultimately, Miami is better today than it was last week.

5. Let’s stay in the ACC. This was not a fun few weeks for Dabo Swinney. He lost offensive coordinator (Tony Elliott), defensive coordinator (Brent Venables) and athletic director (Dan Radakovich). For a program that has kept all the necessary pieces in place for so long, this will be an offseason of change. Nick Saban has had to deal with this pretty much every offseason; it’s Swinney’s turn now.

 

The Buffet: Bowl Season Breakdown (Part One)

We have A LOT of football coming up, and as such I’m breaking down the bowls, playoff and other football happenings over a series of installments. I’m starting Part One by breaking down many of the games between Friday, December 17th and Monday, December 22nd. 

Next week, I’ll tackle the next bunch. Merry Bowlmas.

1. LA Bowl: Oregon State (-7, 66) vs. Utah State (Dec 18)

This game has a distinct possibility of being a great deal of fun, and a total that has inched up near 70 since being posted speaks volumes. The last time we saw Utah State, it blew the doors off San Diego State 46-13 in the Mountain West Championship Game. The Aggies won outright as a 6.5-point underdog, and they covered the number in six of the last seven games. Oregon State, meanwhile, lost its final regular season game to rival Oregon. The Beavers failed to cover the 7.5-point spread, although they kept it tight. These two should match up pretty well, and I am tempted to jump on the over despite the fact that the line has already jumped. 

2. New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana (-5, 54.5) vs. Marshall (Dec 18)

Marshall’s three consecutive losses early in the year certainly derailed what felt like a potential solid season. Although the Thundering Herd won five of six games before being destroyed by Western Kentucky. Still, the point spread here implies a great deal of respect. Louisiana won 12 consecutive games to close out the season, culminating with a conference championship and an 8-point win over App State. Michael Desormeaux will coach the Ragin’ Cajuns for the first time after Billy Napier’s departure to Florida, which is significant. It wouldn’t shock me to see Marshall play tough.

3. Boca Raton Bowl Appalachian State (-3, 67) vs. Western Kentucky (Dec 18)

Bailey Zappe did some ridiculous things this season for Western Kentucky. He threw for 56 touchdowns, which was thirteen more than any other player. He also threw for 5,545 yards, which was more than 1,000 yards clear of second place. His OC, Zach Kittley, was hired at Texas Tech, which is an interesting piece of this game. App State, of course, closed out the year with a loss to Louisiana. After covering five straight games against the spread, the Mountaineers ended the year with back-to-back losses. It’s one of the biggest totals on the board, and it’s not hard to see why. Even with movement, there will be points.

4. Independence Bowl: No. 13 BYU (-7, 54.5) vs. UAB (Dec 18)

I’m going to be honest. I wish BYU was playing someone else. That is no knock on UAB, which has been incredibly consistent under Bill Clark. But after a dominant regular season that included wins over Utah, Utah State and a good chunk of the Pac-12, I would have loved to have seen another Power Five opponent. Now that I’ve said that, the Cougars will probably lose. That’s how these things go, and that is how great my jinx powers are. For that to transpire, however, UAB will need its best effort of the season. The Blazers did close out the year by covering in five of the last six, although the level of competition is about to go up significantly. I know many will likely be on BYU, and I frankly can’t blame them.

5. Cure Bowl: Coastal Carolina (-10, 64) vs. Northern Illinois (Dec 17)

I’m still not quite certain how good Coastal Carolina is, and I’m not sure this will be the game that convinces us one way or another. After a superb 2020, Coastal still won 10 regular season games this year. The Chanticleers weren’t nearly as sharp, however, and they closed out the year by failing to cover the spread in six of seven. Northern Illinois went from being one of the worst teams in the MAC in 2020 to winning the conference this past season. The Huskies were particularly superb in close games, which was a theme all season. That said, Coastal is likely to present a sizable increase in competition. It’s a lot of points, although the game has potential to be quite good.

 

Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note

New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State (-11, 50.5) vs. UTEP (Dec 18): It’s a big number, and it jumps around a bit depending on where you look. UTEP was a fun story throughout much of the year; Fresno State is undergoing a coaching change. The Bulldogs might just have too much talent.

LendingTree Bowl: Liberty (-8.5, 59.5) vs. Eastern Michigan: Although Liberty just handed him a new contract, this was not a great year for Huge Freeze. While both offenses can score, they also have both sputtered at various points of the year. Under ahoy.

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