College Football Gambling Musings, Handicapping Methods, and 15 Bowl Value Picks

Josh GalliganCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2009

I've always said that gambling helps you to appreciate the little things in life. Mind you, it helps you appreciate the little things in life that you're actually gambling on and not, say, a beautiful oak tree changing color in the autumn or something deep like that. Regardless, it still helps you appreciate some of the little things in the football world none-the-less. Case in point: Central Michigan vs. Troy State.

Is anyone in their right minds looking forward to this bowl game, save for the locals of each campus and perhaps some diehard fans of everything college football? And even then, even the die hards may find it a chore to "get it up" for this game. Unless of course…

If you've said to yourself during the last few paragraphs, "Well gamblers, of course!" then you my friend, are as clever as the cleverest boy. And with great reading and comprehension skills to boot. Well done!

Back on the serious front, I was thinking about the whole "gambling allows you to appreciate the little things in life" the other day as I sat pouring over spreadsheets and notebooks containing all sorts of NFL and college football statistics that I needed for handicapping purposes.

We'll get to that in a bit, but until then, I'm going to discuss my brief history with handicapping football. Only in an effort to reassure everyone that while I'm no tout guru or anything, I've had some marginal success handicapping with my own lines, comparing them to the actual lines, and then jumping on anything I saw with value.

And yes, I'm going to list all 15 games from the upcoming college football bowl season at the end of this—including which side I think is the winning one and also what I handicapped each game at spread-wise.

If that sounds boring to you then I suggest you leave now. If it sounded mildly intriguing, then I encourage you to stay a bit longer and at least take a look at which sides my handicapping system has picked for the games in which I found some value. Or at least print this bad-boy out and use for enjoyable bathroom reading.

On the other hand, if what I just said sounded exciting in any way to you then you my friend, are in good company!

Hopefully the last category of people I just talked about will appreciate the 4,000ish word opus I busted out as a holiday special of sorts. I know I haven't written much in a while so I figured I needed to come back with a boom.

You can't really explain gambling and to a lesser extent, handicapping spreads to someone who has never experienced it. It's kind of like sex and Rice Krispy Treats Cereal in this way.

Both are one of the few natural rushes or highs that you can get, learned through personal experiences and also being with completely sober friends, one of whom hit a five-team parlay (which I had actually tried to convince him out of doing mainly because I have a strict rule of never betting more than two teams on any given parlay, but that's another tale for another day) and if you didn't know any better, you probably would have thought he was all jacked up on some illegal substance.

He just sat there for the first ten minutes after winning with a shit-eating grin on his face. Frigging kid was acting like he just won a half a million dollars. I think he walked away with less than $400 when it was all said and done.

Ultimately, it all makes sense when you break it all down. Our lives are ruled by money in nearly all conceivable areas. Although it's been suggested that there's a lot more to life than just having a lot of money, it can still be easily agreed upon that having a lot of money certainly doesn't hurt things either (usually).

Especially if you've just won it in bulk thanks to one phone call, a few notes on a piece of paper, and sitting in front of a television whining like a little girl for three and a half hours.

Now, if you haven't been able to tell, I've been quite taken with the whole gambling thing for some time. Probably since the first day I won $10 betting on the color of the next car to come down my street with my friend back in the dizz-ay when I was like... 11-years-old. Unsurprisingly, we are both still very close friends to this day and bet on every single thing possible.

He once tried to drunkenly explain to me his theory about how having no problem putting money on the line for something was the true measure of a man in that you stood by your beliefs and convictions. I was also shitfaced so I don't remember too much of it unfortunately, but it was a nice observation that, coming from him, was entirely unexpected.

Enough side tracking stories. Let's get back on track as to the main reason I decided to amass a small army of words with my fingertips and create this behemoth.

Basically, in the interests of spreading a little holiday cheer to any and all of you who may perhaps be brooding even at this very moment over this year's Bowl schedule spreads. All while also pounding down glass after glass of Alka-Seltzer and whiskey. Poor thing.

In addition, I also wanted to write this for anyone else who just wanted an opinion of the upcoming slate of her educated opinion of the game and their spreads. I figured I'd throw in all the stuff about how I handicap my lines as a bonus. What's that? I'm very kind and thoughtful? Why thank you. Thank you very much!

But now it's time to open the floodgates. These floodgates contain the fruits of my valiant and knightly statistical and spreadsheet research over the past few days. And weeks. And months.

Again, I'm not trying to claim that this is the end-all be-all and you should drop down the mortgage money for your house on the sides I've taken. Ideally, anyone who's on the fence about a particular set of games or just wants to learn more about one of the ways to handicap games and find value in particular bets.

If you don't like college football, gambling, or anything along the lines of handicapping sports, then once again, it might be best if you spent your time more wisely elsewhere. Unless of course I've peaked your interests.

For those of you who don't know, I fancy myself somewhat of an amateur football handicapper. Nothing special—I'm certainly no guru or anything by any means, but I take it all fairly seriously and have spent a small eternity tweaking formulas, troubleshooting spreadsheets, and generally checking and rechecking every single thing that I did in fear that one small slip-up could be the undoing of everything.

As for "walking the walk" with my handicapping—in short, over the last two seasons, my little system I've created has hit 55.2 percent success in the NFL and 60.7 percent in the college ranks. I tried to open up a tout service of my own which went quite well for a short while—especially since I went out of my way to be as different from the other tout services as manly possible.

I stated multiple times throughout my website that I offered no locks of the week or sure-things. Why? Well, because they don't exist. I don't care if you've somehow scored the top team in the league getting 20 points at home. A few broken bones and a motivated locker room speech later and bam! That's all it takes to once again prove to us that on Any Given Sunday, many gamblers are oft to end up incredibly disappointed. And broke.

To make a long story short, a certain online payment processor discovered my little business venture and proceeded to freeze my funds. Several enraging phone calls and an attempt at comparing what I was doing to showing someone how to shoot a gun—it's not my fault if they went and shot it (since I was giving away betting touts, not actually going through the betting process with them), I realized that I wasn't going to get anywhere with them. Getting paid for gambling related stuff on the aforementioned payment processor account is apparently a big no-no.

In the end, I decided it was all probably for the better. That didn't stop me from continuing to handicap, though. Oh no! This stuff is incredibly addictive once you start getting going with it, almost to the point where if you slipped up and didn't do your lines properly for the week, you almost felt a bit empty and naked as you watched on Sunday.

Almost as if you could be missing out on some huge payday but would never really know. It's a love/hate type hobby for sure, but it's very rewarding in the long run if you put the work in and create some shortcuts here and there.

Hopefully that's enough of a brief bio to show I'm somewhat knowledgeable about the handicapping game. Again, I still have a lot to learn and a lot of bad habits to fix but I think I have the gist of it down fairly comfortable enough. I've been itching to try and somehow come up with a point scale for basketball or baseball to do the same with them, but that's a topic for another day as well.

Now even though I think it goes without saying, I'll say it again as I've learned that some people have impossibly thick skulls sometimes. Any bets placed in any sport are at your own risk. Nothing is for certain or a "mortal locks" in the world of sports betting.

If someone's telling you as such then they're trying to butter you up and they're a snake in mobsters clothing. Seriously, I've always wondered how they could call this game a mortal lock or another game (my personal favorite) a "mortal lock of the century". Uhh... what?

Unless I've somehow avoided seeing tout services talk about their psychic abilities to see into the future, I think everyone would do well to throw all this "mortal lock" and "iron lock of the week" shit back in their faces.

Never bet more than you can afford to lose and never assume that you're going to win a bet unless the game is well underway. Suffice to say, I don't want to be responsible for anyone reading this and thinking that I have some secret magic formula that helps to pick winning bets.

In a nutshell, I make my handicapped line with a fairly basic but still complex formula that takes into account things like strength of schedule, points scored minus points against, etc. Everything is weighted against the average into letter grades (A-F) and compared to a chart that tells you how many points to give a team of whatever letter grade or number grade they are.

For example, a team that is a C grade overall gets zero points, while a D+ team is considered minus 3.5 points worse than the league average C teams. You also must take into account home field advantage (which wasn't much of a problem or issue for the Bowl games) and the general consensus is awarding the home team in additional 1.5-3 points per the philosophy the particular handicapper subscribes under.

So say a C team was playing a D+ team and the C team was at home. On neutral ground, the C grade team would be 3.5 points better than the D+ team. But at home, they're likely to be five plus points better.

So after calculating what my unbiased spread is I take a look at the Vegas spreads. If there is a certain difference between the two, I see it as a value bet. As in, my spread number is what the line IS whereas the Vegas spread is only to get people to bet on both sides so they always come out on top.

Say my spread says Team A should be giving minus six to Team B but the Vegas line only has them giving minus 3.5. Based on all of my statistics and research, Team A should by all intents and purposes be favored by minus six—so betting on them at minus 3.5 represents value.

My handicapping says that they SHOULD be giving six points, but they only have to cover -3.5 per the Vegas spread. Hopefully some of that made sense, if not all. Because regardless, we're moving onward.

Out of the 34 Bowl games that we will be so graciously enjoying these coming weeks, I've marked 15 of them as having spreads/lines that offer some significant amount of value that's worth betting on.

I'm not going to bother to explain how the games are listed with my handicapped line and the actual spread line—mainly since I've placed the actual spread line beside a cleverly marked label of "Actual line:" and MY handicapped lines beside an equally as cleverly marked label of "My lines." Thank you, I thought that was clever as well.

Anyway, let's get this shizzle started!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Oregon State vs. Brigham Young

My line: BYU (+4.5)

Actual Line: BYU (+2)

The Side: Oregon State (-2)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Utah vs. California

My line: EV/PK

Actual line: California (-3)

The side: Utah (+3)



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina

My line: EV/PK

Actual line: North Carolina (+3)

The play: North Carolina (+3)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Miami vs. Wisconsin

My line: EV/PK

Actual line: Wisconsin (+3)

The side: Wisconsin (+3)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Bowling Green vs. Idaho

My line: Idaho (+4.5)

Actual line: Idaho (+1)

The play: Bowling Green (-1)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Houston vs. Air Force

My line: Air Force (+2.5)

Actual line: Air Force (+4.5)

The side: Air Force (+4.5)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Oklahoma vs. Stanford

My line: Stanford (+7)

Actual line: Stanford (+9)

The side: Stanford (+9)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Navy vs. Missouri

My line: Missouri (-2.5)

Actual line: EV/PK

The side: Missouri (EV)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Minnesota vs. Iowa State

My line: Iowa State (+5)

Actual line: Iowa State (+2.5)

The side: Minnesota (-2.5)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee

My line: Tennessee (+7)

Actual line: Tennessee (+5)

The side: Virginia Tech (-5)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

West Virginia vs. Florida State

My line: EV/PK

Actual line: Florida State (+2.5)

The side: Florida State (+2.5)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Arkansas vs. East Carolina

My line: East Carolina (+4.5)

Actual line: East Carolina (+8)

The side: East Carolina (+8)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Boise State vs. Texas Christian

My line: TCU (-2.5)

Actual line: TCU (-7)

The side: Boise State (+7)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Iowa vs. Georgia Tech

My line: EV/PK

Actual line: Georgia Tech (-4)

The side: Iowa (+4)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Texas vs. Alabama

My line: Alabama (-2.5)

Actual line: Alabama (-5)

The side: Texas (+5)


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Although I always try and never allow my gut opinion to be the deciding factor in which side I take, it's always a good idea to go through what your system has picked and see if you can justify why.

The more handicapping you do, the more you'll know which aspects of a teams play are the most important in your evaluations of them and the easier you'll be able to agree with and back up the systems picks.

One of the other most important things you can do is leave your personal opinions and biases out of the whole process completely. We all have our own favorite teams and players and for the people who are the type who listen to sports radio all day, some very vehement and close-minded opinions.

It's important to decide ahead of time to go with whatever you system says to go with and don't allow your personal opinions and feelings cloud up the process in any way. We're human and because of this, even our opinions and biases are flawed.

As for my thoughts on which sides my system has said to take based on their value, I feel really confident in Virginia Tech (-5), Texas (+5), and Boise State (+7). Also the Stanford line (+9), although I adjusted it as best I could to make up for the injury to the Cardinals starting QB Andrew Luck, is still a risk because of the unknown QB play factor.

Trivita Pritchard is no wide-eyed, green-eared newcomer by any means as he had fairly respectable seasons for Stanford in 2007 and 2008, but whether or not he's been keeping up with his backup duties as zealously as he should have been remains to be seen.

I doubt anyone seen the Luck injury coming—especially Luck himself. Insert a cheesy joke suggesting that Andrew Luck apparently doesn't have the "good" luck that we might have expected from his last name.

All in all, I'm fairly confident in the value lines that the system projected and although college bowl games are a whole different kind of ball game, there was enough statistics and body or work to pore over and plug in to get an accurate vantage point of the strength of each team heading into the bowl season.

In conclusion, be safe this coming holiday and remember not to overdo it with any betting. Never put more money in play than you can afford to lose and absolutely do NOT drink too much egg-nog.

No matter whether we win, lose or are agonizingly stripped of a four-team parlay win at the last second of the fourth game, be thankful for what you have. And of course, be thankful that I wrote this whole damn thing for you.

Good luck!



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