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Pinstripe Bowl a study in sharps and key number

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

December 27, 2019 02:32 AM

Friday’s Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium featuring Michigan State and Wake Forest will showcase a battle of extremes. This type of matchup can cause headaches for handicappers because there’s no obvious difference-maker.

Here’s a quick look at national stat rankings entering the bowl, along with strength of schedule rankings as posted by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. VSiN has included turnover margin for additional context:

Michigan State (-4) vs. Wake Forest (ESPN, 3:20 p.m. ET)

MSU: #101 offense, #18 defense, #31 schedule, -1 turnover margin

Wake: #12 offense, #78 defense, #68 schedule, plus 7 turnover margin

The favorite has a stellar defense but an awful offense. The underdog can pile up big yardage, but is soft defensively at the point of attack. MSU is more battle tested, but sloppier when forced out of its comfort zone. 

This line sat at Michigan State -3.5 for days, suggesting that sharps were either passing entirely, or leaning toward the more physical favorite that’s likely to own the point of attack. If professional bettors had any passion for the underdog, they would have taken the hook out off the key number of three long ago. The spread did move to 4 at William Hill and other spots Christmas Day.

It was telling that sharps didn't want any part of Wake 3.5 even though Michigan State has only covered one pointspread the last two months! That was in a 27-0 shutout of helpless Rutgers. Sparty is 3-9 ATS for the season, and flunked litmus tests against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State by a combined score of 144-24. 

Markets were more in synch with Wake, which complied a 5-6-1 ATS record. But, its only game against a superpower was a 52-3 loss to Clemson. 

In other Friday bowl action:

  • North Carolina will likely close around 4.5-point favorites over Temple in the Military Bowl (ESPN, noon ET) Though, in any bowl, lines can move dramatically on last-second news about player availability. 
  • Texas A&M was bet up from -4.5 to -6.5 favorites over #25 Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl (ESPN, 6:45 p.m. ET). The key number of seven would likely bring in aggressive underdog money. Sharps were happy to take the Aggies at -6 or lower. Modeled cover percentages likely flip at seven.
  • #16 Iowa will probably close near -2 vs. #22 USC in the Holiday Bowl (FS1, 8 p.m. ET). This is the only Friday bowl matching two ranked teams. Telling that neither sharp nor recreational action lifted the line toward the key number of three. 
  • Air Force may flip between -2.5 and -3 all day vs. Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl (ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET). That’s been the story through early betting, with constituencies stepping in at favorable prices either way. 

Bettors shouldn’t base investments solely on sharp sentiment. But they should respect line value near key numbers, and ponder why pros are passing on certain teams at available prices. 

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