I’m not ashamed to admit it, in fact at this point it’s almost a point of pride: Betting the bowl season is incredibly difficult.
I wrote last week how much harder it has gotten with opt-outs, a wild coaching carousel and an active transfer portal, and the first few days of games only baffled me further.
I loved BYU (-6.5) over UAB in the Independence Bowl. Heck, I wrote last week that I wished the Cougars were playing a more meaningful Power 5 opponent after such an incredible year.
How’d that go? Not well.
The Blazers won the game outright 31-28 and really took control of the game from the start. BYU fought back, although I was never comfortable.
I also loved Oregon State (-6.5) over Utah State in the LA Bowl. The Aggies were down the depth chart at QB, and the Beavers have been a quality team pretty much all season.
How’d this one go? Worse than the first.
Utah State dominated defensively, and Oregon State went down without putting up much of a fight.
Now, I have watched BYU and Oregon State play a lot of football this season -- some, including my wife, might say too much. I reached these betting conclusions based off of those many hours.
Weird results happen in gambling. It’s why we love this so very much. But the exhibition portion of this specific sport -- coupled with the time of year -- make bowl season a truly original betting experience.
We think we know things … and then the games happen. And these kinds of head scratchers are just the beginning.
We question motivation or if teams are disappointed with their bowl assignment. We question whether or not seniors have checked out. We question all the variables behind the curtain that we truly know very little about.
There is nothing quite like it. Maybe the final week of the NFL, when vacations are being booked and playoff spots are already sealed; that’s about the closest comparison I can muster.
Regardless, I am thrilled to be betting on games that remain largely wild cards. I got burned out of the gate, which feels normal. Almost comforting in a way.
This week? I’m ready for more.
Long live bowl season. Long live televised exhibitions. Long live the ability to gamble on it all.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Breece Hall will not play in Iowa State’s bowl game, and he’ll instead prepare for the 2022 NFL draft. This, of course, is significant for Iowa State as it prepares for Clemson. The Cyclones remain a 1-point favorite over the Tigers, but I’m not sure we’ve appreciated Hall as much as we should have. Final career numbers: 3,941 yards and 56 touchdowns. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry for his career and rushed for a touchdown in 24 consecutive games, which is absurd. What a tremendous back.
2. On the topic of opt-outs, Kenny Pickett is officially done at Pitt. His absence has swung the Panthers’ bowl game against Michigan State about 6.5 points. Sparty is now a 3-point favorite, and it wouldn’t shock me if that line moved more. Throw in the departure of OC Mark Whipple, and Pitt’s performance is certainly a tough one to figure. Remember my mini-rant on the joys and anguish of betting on these games? Here’s another reason why that rant was made.
3. What a season for Utah State (I'm gracious in defeat). The Aggies clobbered San Diego State to win the Mountain West, and they absolutely dominated Oregon State this weekend in the LA Bowl. Oh, and they did so with their third-string quarterback. Hats off to a tremendous 11-win year.
4. Texas A&M currently has the best recruiting class in college football. (I promise I won’t dive too deep into recruiting in this column, but this is pretty meaningful). Jimbo Fisher has been adding talent since he arrived, although this class feels like a truly meaningful moment. We’ll get into futures odds for the 2022 season soon enough, although I would imagine the Aggies will remain trendy. Can they score enough points? That will be the theme moving forward.
5. Bailey Zappe. That is all. Western Kentucky’s starting quarterback threw for 422 yards and six touchdowns in a win over App State in the Boca Raton Bowl. He finished the season with 5,977 yards and 62 touchdowns, which are both NCAA records. Those numbers are frankly hard to compute, although I would like to vent for a moment. The fact that the coaches took him out of the game early despite being so close to 6,000 yards is a travesty. Oh, so close.
The Buffet: Bowl Season Breakdown (Part 2)
This week’s breakdown (Part 2) features bowls between Tuesday, Dec. 21 and Tuesday, Dec. 28. I’ll be breaking down the College Football Playoff -- and other marquee bowls -- next week.
Happy Holidays, and thank you for following throughout the year.
1. Frisco Bowl: UTSA (-1, 49.5) vs. No. 24 San Diego State
San Diego State’s last outing was rough, and perhaps that doesn’t fully encompass just how bad it was. The Aztecs were clobbered by Utah State in the Mountain West Championship Game as 6.5-point favorites. Given the Aggies’ performance this past weekend in the bowl, that blowout loss feels slightly better. (Although it was still rough.) UTSA, of course, delivered a superb one-loss regular season that culminated with a thrilling win over Western Kentucky. The Roadrunners covered the spread just once in their final five games, although they began the year by covering in seven of their first eight. How will Brady Hoke’s team respond? I lean toward San Diego State, assuming it can dust off that previous beatdown.
2. Gasparilla Bowl: Florida (-6.5, 55.5) vs. UCF
The bowl season tends to deliver in interesting ways, and this particular matchup falls in line with that. UCF, once the darling Group of 5 team pushing for a playoff spot, will get a crack at the Gators. Florida, of course, is in the midst of a massive renovation under new head coach Billy Napier. The last time the Gators covered the spread was Oct. 9, which says a lot about how we arrived here. UCF, meanwhile, was just 3-8 against the number this year. With so many moving parts, this is a tough one to figure out. The over, more than anything, feels like a potential play assuming the offenses can get moving.
3. Birmingham Bowl: Auburn (-3, 51.5) vs. No. 20 Houston
There was a point this year, much earlier in the season, that Auburn looked like a team deserving of a top-15 ranking. Back-to-back wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss were impressive, although the Tigers’ year essentially fell apart shortly after. QB Bo Nix dealt with injuries and has since transferred to Oregon. Even in the late losses without their QB, the Tigers showed life. They also nearly pushed Alabama’s season to the brink. Enter Houston, which certainly feels like a formidable foe after only losing two games this year. The latest, a 15-point defeat to Cincinnati, was competitive for a while before the floodgates opened in the second half. The records tell two different stories here, although Auburn still has a wealth of talent on its roster.
4. Holiday Bowl: No. 18 NC State (-1, 59.5) vs. UCLA
The possibility of fun in this matchup seems exceptionally high. And I can tell you that this over sounds like a mighty fine play. Normally I wait until the end of breakdowns to sneak in some leans; I don’t have to wait that long here. The Bruins hit the over in four of their final five games; the Wolfpack hit the over in their last three. While Chip Kelly’s team endured some big swings this fall, it did close out with three wins to end the season. NC State lost just three games this year, and two came by a combined four points. This feels like a team many are still sleeping on, although I am largely looking forward to watching both of these offenses cook.
5. Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State (-9.5, 55.5) vs. Texas Tech
If Mississippi State played in the Big 12, it would have likely pushed to win the conference. The reality, however, is that is not the case. Mike Leach’s team was rolling to close out the year before losing against Mississippi in the Egg Bowl. Before that, the Bulldogs had covered in four straight games. Texas Tech was one of the first programs to move on from its head coach this season, although the Red Raiders nearly upset Baylor in the regular-season finale. Given the way the Bears played in the Big 12 Championship Game, that feels significant. Whether Baylor truly cared about that game with its conference fate already decided is another story entirely. Texas Tech lost four of the past five games to close out the year, albeit against a difficult schedule. It doesn’t get much easier here. Mississippi State might roll.
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
Hawai'i Bowl: Memphis (-8.5, 56) vs. Hawaii: The game will be played on Christmas Eve, which is precisely when it should be played. Given the reports out of Hawaii surrounding the toxicity surrounding head coach Todd Graham, Memphis might cruise.
Military Bowl: Boston College (-3, 51.5) vs. East Carolina: This is a sneaky-good football game, and I love seeing just how much East Carolina has improved this year. The Pirates feel mighty alive.