Three things you don’t want to do in the final days of 2014: let Amanda Bynes make your New Year’s Eve plans (you probably won’t make it to 2015 if you do); give your wife a gift card to Lane Bryant for Christmas (you definitely won’t make it to 2015 if you do); and dive into college football’s bowl-betting season without developing (and sticking with!) a solid game plan.
With the first of 38 bowl games set to kick off December 20, here are a few tips that should get you to the January 12 national championship game in position to play with the house’s money:
Fight or Flight? The quickest path to a big payday is to identify the games in which one team is excited to be playing and the other team would rather be eating glass and chasing it with a fifth of Jack Daniel’s.
Once such game in the early part of the schedule pits Memphis against BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl. BYU started the season 4-0 (including a 41-7 thrashing of Texas in Austin) and had dreams of playing with the big boys come January. Then the Cougars lost their star quarterback and stud running back to season-ending injuries, and went on a four-game slide. Yes, they closed the regular season with four straight victories, but three of those were against Middle Tennessee State, UNLV and Savannah State.
Meanwhile, Memphis was a surprising 9-3. Eight of those wins were by double digits, and two of the losses (to UCLA and Houston) were by a total of 11 points. The Tigers arrive in Miami on a six-game winning streak and are shooting for their first 10-win season in school history, so I know Memphis is coming to play. Not so sure about BYU.
Conference Call. When all things appear to be equal in a given matchup, stop and ask yourself this question: Which team comes from the stronger conference? Then look long and hard at betting on that team.
For example, Utah (8-4) is a 3½- to 4-point favorite over Colorado State (10-2) in the Las Vegas Bowl, despite having a worse record and inferior stats (at least offensively). But Utah played in the Pac-12—arguably the second-best conference in the nation—and faced the likes of UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford, plus a non-conference road game at Michigan. Meanwhile, Colorado State played in one of the worst conferences (Mountain West), and the Rams’ nonconference competition (Colorado, Boston College, Tulsa, UC Davis) was awful.
Styles Make Fights. Just as you wouldn’t want to bet on a glass-jawed boxer who faces a knockout artist, you wouldn’t want to wager on a squad whose defense struggles to stop the run, yet had the misfortune of drawing a bowl opponent that operates the triple option to precision. Which leads us to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Air Force is a master of the triple option (the Falcons averaged 272 rushing yard per game), while Western Michigan struggled to stop the run against its four toughest opponents, yielding about 6 yards per carry to Purdue, Virginia Tech, Toledo and Northern Illinois.
Somehow, the Falcons are just a 1½-point favorite—even though Western Michigan comes from the Mid-American Conference, which lost all five bowl games last year and is 8-19 ATS in the postseason since 2008.
When in Doubt … Punt! Just because there are now more bowl games than there are flavors at Baskin-Robbins doesn’t mean you have to sample every single one. Be disciplined and pick your spots, and if your research doesn’t yield a definitive edge in, say, the South Alabama-Bowling Green showdown in the Camellia Bowl—I swear I’m not making these names up—take a pass. (Not so coincidentally, I’ll be passing on the Camellia Bowl).
Last Week: 3-3-1 (0-0-1 Best Bet).
Season Record: 51-53 (27-30 NFL; 24-23 college; 5-9-1 Best Bets).
Matt Jacob appears at 10 a.m. Thursdays on Pregame.com’s First Preview on ESPN Radio 1100-AM and 100.9-FM.