10 Best Bets for 2013-2014 College Football Bowl Season
Bowl season is paradise for the college football bettor, but the tropical sensation is bittersweet.
On the one hand, there are 35 bowl games evenly spread among the course of 17 days, providing three of the most exciting weeks of the season to wager on. It doesn't get any better than this.
On the other hand, though, bowl season signals the end of college football, and thus, college football handicapping must retire for the next seven or so months. Once the final whistle blows in Pasadena on Jan. 6, a long period of hibernation begins.
Dealing with the realness of that finale can be tough to deal with. It's a much easier pill to swallow if it's accompanied by some winners in the previous three weeks.
Here's a guide on how to get there.
10. Michigan State (+5.5) vs. Stanford
The Pick: Stanford
Michigan State—good as the Spartans might be—is built like a poor man's version of Stanford, playing the same style of football at a slightly lesser level.
The Spartans also have a dirty little secret: Despite rosy numbers defending the run this season, good offenses can beat this team on the ground. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Ohio State's Braxton Miller/Carlos Hyde each found success running at the MSU defense, which is actually far better defending the pass.
Tyler Gaffney has been running like a man possessed this season, and the nation's best offensive line has been playing like...well, the nation's best offensive line. Unless Kevin Hogan lays a massive egg, the Cardinal should be able to win by at least a touchdown.
9a. Texas Tech (+14) vs. Arizona State
The Pick: Arizona State
Texas Tech hasn't won a game since Oct. 19, and it hasn't actually "looked good" in a game since two weeks before that when it blew out Kansas in Lawrence.
That doesn't bode well before taking on Arizona State, which entered last week on a tear before getting pounded by Stanford. In spite of that loss, the Sun Devils are still a very strong team—they just don't matchup well with the Cardinal.
ASU has the firepower to score in bunches and a defense that should rattle a young Texas Tech offense. If you were smart, you got this line at 13.5 before it got pounded up to 14. Either way, I like this one in a blowout.
9b. Texas (+14) vs. Oregon
The Pick: Oregon
Almost identically to ASU-Texas Tech, Oregon's stock has been deflated in recent weeks, but its full body of work suggests that it should blow out an inferior Big 12 team.
Despite some flaws that were exposed against Arizona and Oregon State, the Ducks still have a scary good rush offense that implements read-option principles. Texas has famously struggled to stop the read-option this year—look no further than the 550 rushing yards it allowed to BYU—and couldn't have asked for a worse opponent in this year's postseason.
Will the Longhorns come out ready to play? Sure. But that shouldn't matter over the course of 60 minutes. Oregon is at least three touchdowns better than them.
7. San Diego State (+2.5) vs. Buffalo
The Pick: Buffalo
San Diego State had won seven of eight games before ending the season with a blowout loss to UNLV, but the Aztecs' record is a bit deceiving. Despite the wins, they never really played all that well, which is reflected by their No. 94 ranking in the Football Outsiders F/+.
Buffalo, meanwhile, has been steady all season, nearly winning the MAC East over Bowling Green. Its only losses came to those Falcons, at Toledo, at Ohio State and at Baylor. That is not a résumé to be ashamed of.
The Buckeyes are a common opponent for these two teams; though, the results of those games must be taken with a grain of salt since they took place so long ago. Still, the Bulls played OSU far more competitively than the Aztecs did, including a beastly performance from future first-round pick Khalil Mack at linebacker.
If the Buckeyes couldn't keep Mack out of the backfield, I don't like SDSU's chances to hold him in check. That could be the ultimate difference.
6. UNLV (+6) vs. North Texas
The Pick: North Texas
Simply put, the disparity between these teams suggests at least a touchdown spread. North Texas ranks No. 49 in Football Outsiders' F/+ while UNLV ranks all the way down at No. 95, behind godawful teams like UConn.
So, why the short line? North Texas ended the season with an ugly 32-point loss to Tulsa, and UNLV ended the season with a lovely 26-point win over San Diego State. The bettors' final impression of each team has colored the way that Vegas has handicapped.
I prefer to look at the season-long body of work for my bets, and North Texas has been a far stronger side for much of that sample. Especially in Dallas, I expect the Mean Green defense to show up in force and shut down Bobby Hauck's Rebels.
5. Oklahoma State (+1) vs. Missouri
The Pick: Oklahoma State
According to Vegas Insider, this game opened at Missouri minus-3.5, but the money has come pouring in on OSU—enough so that it's now a pick'em at certain books. Both square and sharp money, I infer, has been backing the Cowboys' side.
There's a reason for that. I had been high on Missouri all season, but its defense was exposed in a big way against Auburn. Oklahoma State isn't quite as relentless running the ball as Auburn, but it's close enough and capable of doing some of the same things on the ground.
If the Cowboys can move the sticks and keep Missouri's offense on the sideline, it should be able to frustrate the Tigers and walk away victorious. That holds doubly true since cornerback Justin Gilbert, who was a Thorpe Award finalist, is big and physical enough to cover L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham on the outside.
4. Miami (+3.5) vs. Louisville
The Pick: Louisville
It's not the BCS bowl game he envisioned (potentially) ending his career with, but Teddy Bridgewater should have no problem waking up to play his hometown Miami Hurricanes, a team he actually committed to play for before switching and heading to Louisville.
Against a defense that has struggled to stop far lesser offenses, I expect that to help propel Bridgewater to a signature performance. As he did against Florida in last year's Sugar Bowl, Teddy will give us something to talk about after the game.
On the other side of the ball, Miami has struggled to compensate for the loss of injured running back Duke Johnson, their best offensive player. Stephen Morris has an NFL arm but not NFL accuracy, which could lead to some trouble against a highly underrated defense.
3. Arkansas State (-8.5) vs. Ball State
The Pick: Ball State
According to Ben Breiner of the Indianapolis Star Press, there is a "good chance" that Ball State head coach Pete Lembo will remain in that position next year, despite incessant rumors that he might be moving to a bigger program.
That could be all the boost the Cardinals need in Mobile, especially against an Arkansas State team whose own head coach, Bryan Harsin, just accepted the head coaching position at his former school, Boise State. The symmetry is almost poetic.
Even without the carousel, though, Ball State has been the far superior team all season, and it has a propensity for winning in blowouts. This one shouldn't be close.
2. Ohio State (+2) vs. Clemson
The Pick: Ohio State
Clemson has played sloppy, ugly football against quality competition this year, committing 10 total turnovers in losses to Florida State and at South Carolina.
That doesn't bode well before lining up against Ohio State, which, despite what trolls might eagerly tell you, is indeed one of the best teams in college football.
The Buckeyes' schedule left some things to be desired, but a seven-point win over Wisconsin earlier this season is far better than any Clemson victory. A young and talented defensive line—led by future pros like Noah Spence and Joey Bosa—should be able to wreak havoc on a poor Clemson offensive line.
Buckeyes by seven or 10 points.
1. Houston (+3) vs. Vanderbilt
The Pick: Houston
Houston has taken care of business against the eight worst opponents on its schedule, going undefeated against teams that aren't Louisville, UCF, BYU or Cincinnati. Even in those losses, the Cougars have stayed competitive, never losing by more than a touchdown and often staying much closer.
Vanderbilt, on the other hand, while a great story down in Nashville, has benefited from a weak schedule to reach eight wins in the SEC. Seemingly, its entire division has been beat down with injuries, and the Commodores rode that attrition to an inflated record and perception, despite narrowly beating Wake Forest in the season's final week.
Football Outsiders' F/+ ranks Houston No. 42 to Vandy's No. 53, an important disparity given how this game has been handicapped. The wrong team is favored here simply because it's from the SEC, and I expect the underdog to win straight up.