Next to March Madness and the Dallas Cowboys’ annual December swoon, there isn’t a sports tradition I enjoy more than college football’s bowl season. For a football junkie who also happens to enjoy placing a wager or 12, what’s not to love about 35 games spread across 23 days?
Of course, as with most things in life, as the quantity grows, the quality usually suffers. Think of the frat guy in college who claimed to bed 35 coeds in 23 days; sure, it’s possible, but you know for every conquest that rates a “7” there were at least a half-dozen “2s.” Unfortunately, this year’s bowl slate is chock-full of 2s—or worse.
Consider these duds:
• New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 17): This one kicks off the bowl season and matches a pair of 8-4 squads (Temple and Wyoming). Not bad … until you realize Temple’s best win came against Maryland (2-10), while five of Wyoming’s victories were against Division I-AA teams Weber State and Texas State and three Mountain West rivals (UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State) that had a combined 6-30 record.
• Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (Dec. 20): It’s Florida International (8-4) vs. Marshall (6-6). On a Tuesday night. From Tropicana Field, home of baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays. This ridiculously named game should be rechristened the Thank God for the NBA Lockout Bowl.
• Music City Bowl (Dec. 30): The postseason schedule includes 13 teams that finished 6-6 (plus 6-7 UCLA), and three games in which 6-6 squads square off. This is one of them, as Mississippi State battles Wake Forest—two schools that beat a grand total of three bowl teams.
• Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 31): Illinois started out 6-0 and ended up 6-6. And yet the Illini are 2½-point favorites over UCLA, which capped a 6-7 regular season with consecutive losses to USC and Oregon by the combined score of 99-31. Did I mention that both head coaches have already been fired?
Indeed, some ugly football will be coming soon to a TV near you. Still, it is football. More importantly, this is Vegas. So hit the book, stock the fridge and remember what the late, great George Carlin once said: “I never screwed a 10, but one night I did five 2s—and I think that should count!”
On to my three best bets for the early bowl games (through Dec. 22) …
$440 (to win $400) on Boise State -14 vs. Arizona State (Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, Dec. 22): Could there be motivation issues for Boise State, which would be playing LSU in the national championship game if not for a missed chip-shot field goal against TCU (in a 36-35 loss)? The oddsmakers certainly don’t think so, as they made the Broncos (along with Oklahoma) the biggest favorite of the bowl season—even though Boise hasn’t cashed a ticket since Oct. 15 (six straight non-covers).
Here’s why I believe the Broncos will end that point-spread drought with a blowout victory at Sam Boyd Stadium: They’re 8-2 against the spread in their last 10 bowls (including a 26-3 rout of Utah in last year’s Maaco Bowl); they’ve covered in five straight neutral-site games; and they’re facing an Arizona State squad that ended the regular season with four losses, four non-covers and one fired head coach.
$220 (to win $200) on TCU-Louisiana Tech UNDER 55½ (Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 21): Louisiana Tech is riding a seven-game win streak thanks to a defense that has allowed 14.9 points per game over that stretch (giving up just 27 points in the last three contests). TCU surrendered 125 points in three games (two losses to Baylor and SMU, plus a win at Boise State) and 130 points in their other nine (14.5 ppg). The “under” is 5-2 in Tech’s last seven overall and 7-0-1 in TCU’s last eight bowls, with the last four ending in scores of 21-19, 17-10, 17-16 and 20-13.
$110 (to win $100) on Louisiana-Lafayette +5 vs. San Diego State (New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 17): Forget about Lafayette’s 8-4 straight-up and ATS records, its 13-3 ATS run as an underdog and its five straight covers in nonconference games. All that matters is this: I went to San Diego State, and I’ve been to New Orleans (twice). Aztecs plus multiple days on Bourbon Street equals a lethal mix! Note this, too: SDSU is 2-4 all time in bowls. One win came in Pasadena, Calif., in 1969; the other came last year in its own stadium.
BEST OF THE REST (BOWL GAMES): San Diego State-Louisiana-Lafayette OVER 58½ ($55); Boise State-Arizona State OVER 66 ($44); Utah State -2½ vs. Ohio ($44).
BEST OF THE REST (NFL): Patriots -6 at Broncos ($110); Ravens -2½ at Chargers ($66); Lions -1 at Raiders ($55); Panthers +6½ vs. Texans ($44); Lions-Raiders OVER 47½ ($44); Browns-Cardinals UNDER 37½ ($44).
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: 5-3 (+$331); Bankroll: $6,099.