These are more than just 34 exhibition games and a championship. The bowl season is the last serving of college football you will have for the foreseeable future. And yes, despite the sport's strong public stance against it—which is worth a laugh or nine—the bowl season is about gambling.
35 games means 35 point spreads. For some, it means 35 chances to win all the money back or dig the regular season hole a little deeper.
The 2013-14 lineup is officially out, and Vegas has spoken.
While this is a means to be “invested” in each game, it’s much more than that. These spreads are crafted by some of the brightest football intellects on earth, albeit the ones you won’t see picking games in a $3,000 suit on national television.
These lines paint a picture of expectations. There are observations to be made about the entire catalog of remaining matchups, the teams involved and how each conference could close out the year.
As for this year’s batch, there are a few key items of note before foot hits tee once again.
On Paper, This is a Massive Improvement From 2012
The games will need to be played, and there’s no reason to believe each game will deliver an outcome equal to the spread given. It just doesn't work that way. There will be blowouts in matchups with tight spreads and huge underdogs will play much better than their robust handicaps suggest.
With that being said, the 2013 slate of games has a much more competitive feel than the prior year.
Nearly half of this year’s batch of bowl games come equipped with a point spread of three points or less. Sixteen to be exact. This number has nearly doubled from the opening number a year ago. In 2012, only nine of 35 games were within this threshold.
On the opposite end of this odds spectrum, there are 13 games with an opening spread of a touchdown or higher. Last year, there were 16 games featuring a spread of seven points of more.
The biggest favorite on the board actually comes from the BCS. Baylor is a 17-point favorite over Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. Checking in right behind is Notre Dame. The Irish are a 16-point favorite over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl after opening up right around 17.
While there are other big numbers to be found—including another game from the BCS—this is a drastically different landscape from 2012. There are no guarantees, but the oddsmakers’ input is encouraging.
The Pac-12 Could Be in Line for a Monster Bowl Season
A successful season for the Pac-12 has garnered plenty of respect from the oddsmakers. To be quite honest, it's warranted.
The conference is favored in all nine games it will participate in this bowl season, which is certainly indicative of the season it has had.
The two biggest favorites are Oregon and Arizona State. Each team has been deemed nearly a two-touchdown favorite over their opponents. The Ducks are a 13-point favorite against Texas in the Alamo Bowl, while the Sun Devils are a 13-point favorite over Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
The shortest favorite on the board is Oregon State, as the Beavers actually opened up a slight underdog to Boise State in the Hawai’i Bowl. They were quickly bet up to a small favorite, although that line could move around further. Stanford is just a field goal favorite over Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, a game that seems evenly matched on paper.
UCLA is a comfortable touchdown favorite over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl, while USC is just short of the touchdown-mark against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The other brands in action have been given shorter lines, but it could be a successful season for the Pac-12 if things play out as planned. It's never that easy, but this is an encouraging place to start.
And, Of Course, The SEC is Setup to Thrive Yet Again
With 10 SEC teams bowl eligible, expect to hear plenty of “S-E-C” chants through your televisions around the holidays. Go ahead, act surprised.
Perhaps it’s even less surprising that the conference is favored in eight out of these 10 games. Add in last year’s dominant bowl presence, and the SEC will have been favored in 17 of the past 19 bowl games. Not bad.
The two games where the SEC will likely enter as an underdog are significant, however. Auburn is an eight-point underdog to Florida State in the BCS National Championship, which is actually small by FSU standards. The Seminoles were at least a two-touchdown favorite in all but two games this year and a 30-point favorite or more seven times.
South Carolina is the other SEC underdog, although just barely. The Gamecocks are less than a field goal dog to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, and this could open at or near pick 'em when the game finally arrives.
In terms of SEC favorites, the largest should come as no surprise. Alabama is more than a two-touchdown favorite over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, which actually seems a little lighter. It may not last long. Right behind Nick Saban is Kevin Sumlin, as the Aggies are a double-digit favorite against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are all favored, although not by much. Victories here should be far from assumed.
As for recent history, just how did the SEC manage last year as a favorite in all nine games? Not too shabby. SEC schools went 6-3 outright, as well as 6-3 against the spread.
It would likely welcome a similar performance in 2013.