Pac-12 tries to reverse long bowl slide

Washington kicks off Pac-12 participation in the 2019-20 bowl season Saturday as a 3.5-point favorite over Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Because of embarrassingly bad performances in recent bowls, the league needs to start getting results to gain more equal footing with its Power 5 brethren. It can’t expect the College Football Playoff selection committee to award its champ a Final Four bid if the league keeps laying eggs in bowls. 

Last season the Pac-12 went 3-4 straight up in bowls, 2-5 against the spread. Remember that bowl point spreads reflect reasonable expectations for performance based on a full season of data. The Pac-12 was (again) exposed as overrated through these results:

— Covers: Oregon ( 1) beat Michigan State 7-6 in one of the ugliest postseason games ever. You know it’s a bad year when this insult to football was one of two highlights! Washington ( 5.5) covered in a 28-23 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State.

— Near misses: Washington State (-2.5) beat Iowa State only 28-26. Stanford (-3.5) beat Pittsburgh only 14-13. At least they were straight-up victories. 

— Larger non-covers: Utah (-6.5) lost to Northwestern 31-20, missing the market by 17.5 points. Arizona State ( 6) lost to Fresno State 31-20. California ( 1.5) lost to TCU 10-3.

Five of seven Pac-12 bowl entries scored 20 or fewer points. The stumbling septet averaged only 16.4 points per game.

Last season wasn’t a fluke. The poor 2-5 ATS mark was actually an improvement from the two previous seasons. According to the college football scoreboard pages at covers.com:

— 2017-18: The-Pac 12 went 1-8 straight up, 2-7 ATS. Utah’s win over injury-riddled West Virginia was the only highlight. 

— 2016-17: The Pac-12 went 3-3 straight up despite being favored in five of six games. It didn’t beat a single point spread, finishing 0-6 ATS. 

— Last three bowl seasons combined: The Pac-12 went 7-15 straight up, 4-18 against the spread. 

Does this mean bettors should fade Pac-12 teams in upcoming bowls? Pass or fade makes the most sense until evidence suggests otherwise. 

Other Notes

— Rams bettors are unlikely to get more than 6.5 points in Saturday’s must-win NFL game at San Francisco. Sportsbooks are aware that sharps would love getting the full touchdown given game context. We already know sharps don’t like the Niners in this price range or the line would have settled at 7 (or more) already. 

— The Chargers game Sunday at home against Oakland is showing more volatility. Through the week, the host -6.5 has been getting support, but Oakland 7 attracts dog lovers. 

— College basketball handicappers are being challenged this season by a dramatic drop in offensive efficiency across the sport. That’s scoring adjusted for pace. Offensive effectiveness is way down, possibly due to the mandated deeper distance of the 3-point arc. 

College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy posts “adjusted” efficiency numbers (tweaked for schedule strength) on the home page of kenpom.com. If you compare this season’s elites with last season, a big drop is obvious. 

Both USC and UCLA are in the interesting position of getting worse on offense but ranking better nationally. They’re falling, but not as badly as everyone else. 

Entering Saturday’s game vs. North Carolina in Las Vegas, UCLA’s “adjusted efficiency” mark is 105.5. That ranked No. 69 with Pomeroy midweek. Last season’s team finished 109.8 (more than four points better per 100 possessions) but ranked only No. 88. 

USC plays LSU on Saturday at Staples Center. The Trojans’ current mark of 107.3 ranked No. 48 midweek. A season ago, its final number of 109.8 could finish only No. 72.

Smart bettors should focus on defensive skill sets, particularly rebounding, to find value investments best suited to exploit these new dynamics. If it’s harder to score in general, it’s going to be really hard to score on the best defenses. (If you’re wondering, USC will enter the weekend ranked about No. 80 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, UCLA about No. 180.)

— Bettors pondering the NBA futures board should remember the odd quirk this season involving the Lakers and Clippers. In terms of home-court advantage through the Western brackets, there’s no difference between being a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed. Should both advance to the Western Conference finals, the whole series will be played at Staples Center. 

Obviously, seeding will determine opponents. But the Lakers and Clippers could easily be favored to win out until they go head to head, pending improvement from Dallas, Denver, Houston and Utah. 

Current odds to win the Western Conference, according to a global composite of sportsbooks: Lakers 190 (risk $100 to win $190, or anything in that ratio), Clippers 200, Rockets 450, Nuggets 800, Jazz 900, Mavericks 1500. 

— In the NHL, neither the Kings nor Ducks will likely be worrying about playoff seeding this season. However, either could get hot and make a run at the brackets in this parity-packed league. 

The Kings did just enjoy the thrill of winning on the road against the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins. Los Angeles ( 230) won a 4-3 overtime shocker Tuesday. The Kings will host defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis on Monday night. 

The disappointing Ducks wrap up pre-Christmas play with back-to-back weekend matinees in New York. The Ducks visit the Islanders on Saturday, the Rangers on Sunday.

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