Watered-Down Bowl Season Can Be Intoxicating for Bettors

Despite a 29-game winning streak, Jameis Winston and Florida State are a huge underdog in the Rose Bowl. | Photo by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

Despite a 29-game winning streak, Jameis Winston and Florida State are a huge underdog in the Rose Bowl. | Photo by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports

Is college football’s bowl season more diluted than my late grandmother’s 5 p.m. rinsed-out-yogurt-cup of Chablis on the rocks? You tell me: This year, 12 teams with a 6-6 regular season record qualified for a bowl. Even more laughable, a 13th team (Fresno State) was invited to play in a Christmas Eve bowl game—in Hawaii—despite a 6-7 record! Talk about being rewarded for a job, well, done.

So, yeah, it’s ludicrous that nearly 60 percent of Division I-A squads (76 of 128) qualify for postseason play. But who among us hasn’t accepted something we haven’t earned? (Cut to Jay Cutler nodding while he aloofly counts his millions.) So rather than poke fun at the Duck Commander Independence Bowl (which matches 6-6 Miami against 6-6 South Carolina), or take cheap shots at those 52 teams that couldn’t even reach mediocrity—who knew UNLV would ever have anything in common with Michigan?!?—let’s just sift through the remaining bowl schedule, find some point-spread winners and pray my final bowl record (off to a 3-0 start) more resembles Alabama’s than Fresno State’s …

Michigan State +3 vs. Baylor (Jan. 1, Best Bet): Most bettors would rather brush their teeth with ghost pepper-flavored toothpaste then gargle with turpentine than back a plodding Big Ten team against a fleet-footed Big 12 opponent. Well, all I know is the Spartans are 10-2-1 against the spread in their last 13 games as an underdog—including eight outright upsets, three of which occurred in their last three bowl games! Michigan State has also proven itself quite capable away from home this year, going 4-1 (only loss at Oregon).

Then there’s the motivation angle: Michigan State will show up to the Cotton Bowl eager to win its fourth straight bowl game; Baylor, still ticked that it got passed over for a spot in the College Football Playoff, might arrive in Dallas with as much enthusiasm as a patient showing up for a colonoscopy.

Stanford -14 vs. Maryland (Dec. 30): There are but three double-digit favorites out of 38 bowls, none bigger than Stanford—a team known more for its stifling defense (which allowed more than 20 points just twice in 12 games) than its explosive offense (which was limited to 20 points or less six times). So why lay this kind of wood, especially when Stanford’s 7-5 record is identical to Maryland’s? Several reasons: The Cardinal are coming off consecutive convincing road victories (38-17 at Cal; 31-10 at UCLA); they’re 14-7 ATS as a double-digit favorite under coach David Shaw (4-0 this year); and Maryland went 0-3 against the three most physical opponents it faced (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State), losing by an average of 32 ppg. Furthermore, this Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, California, is being played in Stanford’s backyard.

Texas-Arkansas UNDER 45.5 (Dec. 29): Just as I’m not shying away from backing the biggest bowl favorite of 2014, I’m also not afraid to play the “under” in the Texas Bowl, which sports the second-lowest total of the postseason. While both offenses often need Siri’s help to find the end zone when facing top defenses, both stop units rank among the best in the country. In fact, Arkansas allowed a grand total of 55 points in its final five games, while the Longhorns held seven of 12 opponents under 24 points. Together, the teams saw 16 of 24 games stay “under” the total. Plus, with this being another matchup of 6-6 squads, this game is destined to be a snoozer.

Florida State +9 vs. Oregon (Jan. 1): One of these teams has won 29 games in a row, is the defending national champion and is 4-0 in bowl games under its current coach. The other team is a notorious underachiever on the biggest stage … and is a 9-point favorite in this Rose Bowl. Yeah, I know: Oregon has been a machine both on the field and at the betting window (eight consecutive wins and covers). Meanwhile, from a point-spread perspective, Florida State (3-10 ATS) was a bigger disappointment than Anchorman 2. Still … 29 consecutive wins! On top of that, this is the first time in 49 games the Seminoles have been an underdog—and the first time since 2009 they’ve been this big of a ’dog. Give me the points (says the handicapper who never gets Oregon right …)

Best of the Rest: Rutgers-North Carolina OVER 66.5; Arizona State -7.5 vs. Duke; LSU -7.5 vs. Notre Dame; Louisville +7 vs. Georgia; Auburn -6.5 vs. Wisconsin; Missouri +5.5 vs. Minnesota.

Last Week: 5-2 (0-1 Best Bet).

Bowl Record: 3-0

Season Record: 55-55-1 (29-32-1 NFL; 26-23 college; 5-10-1 Best Bets).