Middling bowl point spreads shouldn't be center of your attention

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN.com

December 20, 2018 07:40 PM

Every year, the unique longevity of the college football bowl schedule creates opportunities for bettors to “shoot middles” at expanses created by point-spread adjustments.

You might be able to bet a bowl favorite at -2 in early December, then come back weeks later and bet the underdog in the same game at plus 4. With equal bet sizes, that’s a low-risk/high-reward proposition. If the game lands on three, you win BOTH. Otherwise, you just lose the extra 10% vigorish on the lost bet.

Line adjustments can be huge with Over/Unders. Friday afternoon’s Bahamas Bowl featuring Toledo and Florida International (ESPN, 12:30 p.m. ET) opened at 67. It was down to 59 midweek, and might drop even further by kickoff. Imagine having Under 67 and Over 59 in that game, knowing there’s a big payoff waiting if the game lands 60-66.

With equal bet sizes, a pure middle pays 20/1. As an example, assume you’re laying $110 to win $100 both ways. You can’t possibly lose both bets, because you have all possible outcomes covered. There’s no conceivable final result that would make you go 0-2. It’s either 1-1 (minus $10 because of the vig), or 2-0 (plus $200).

Also worth remembering that you can hit a “side” of the range on whole numbers. In that example where you bet “favorite -2” and “underdog plus 4,” if the final margin lands on two…then you push the favorite bet and win the dog (plus 100). If the final margin lands on four…then you win the favorite bet (plus 100) and push the dog. That’s a 10/1 payoff. (This obviously is NOT in play if the range was -2.5 and plus 4.5, or anything with half-points…as scoreboard margins can’t land on half a point.)

As great as those payouts sound, novice bettors get a bit too excited dreaming about the possibilities. One of the ironies of the sharp/square divide is that sharps (pro bettors) don’t “try” to hit middles, but occasionally do anyway…while squares will often throw away a positive expectation in hopes a longshot will come through.

Sharps look to make smart bets. A bet on a favorite has to make sense on its own. A bet on an underdog has to make sense on its own. Then, if the teams happen to play to the middle of the market range, jackpot! A sharp that had our earlier favorite at -2 wouldn’t automatically take the dog at plus 4 just because a potential middle is in play. Only if plus 4 offered actual value on its own.

In Friday afternoon’s second game featuring Western Michigan and BYU in Boise (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET), favored BYU opened at -11. Late week lines had settled on -12.5, with the chance to see -13. Well positioned money on BYU -11 wouldn’t give away its edge to shoot a middle on an uncommon final margin like 12.

If you placed earlier bowl bets in advance of big moves, evaluate the true quality of a bet on the other side rather than just firing at a middle.

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