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College Football Gambling Primer: 12/31 Bowls

Michigan State vs. Oregon (-2, O/U 47.5), 3:00 PM, FOX:

Let’s start off with the name of this one. The Red Box Bowl. One, I’m surprised Red Box is still in business. Actually, I’m SHOCKED it’s still in business. Two, at some point in my life one of my buddies told me to go to a porn site called red box. I don’t know if it exists and I’m not going to check, but I swear that at one point that was mentioned to me.

Anyways, onto the game: Mark Dantonio is a bowl game wizard. Now, you may be thinking of the beat down Alabama put on him, but that was the CFP, not a bowl game! Dantonio has won 5 straight bowl games, covering the spread in all of them and is 7-0 ATS in bowl games with a spread under 7-points.

Oregon received some good news with Herbert coming back (no NFL team was drafting a kid with a baby face like that) and will seemingly be a motivated bunch in this bowl game. My question for you is, who has Oregon beat? No really, outside of Washington (thanks to a missed field goal), who have they beat? Arizona State? Cal? They are in for quite the test in the Red Box Bowl going up against Michigan State defense that ranks 2nd in S&P+. Throughout the season they shut down top offenses like Penn State, Ohio State, and Purdue. Herbert is going to struggle.

On the other side of the ball, Sparty will finally be healthy. QB Brian Lewerke and RB LJ Scott are fresh and will be looking to revitalize a lackluster offensive unit. Oregon’s defense won’t put up that much of a fight (69th in defensive S&P+), so today will be the perfect time to turn it around. Sparty also holds a significant special teams edge (53rd vs. 103rd). Don’t complicate this one. Take the underdog.

Pick: Michigan State +2

Stanford (-4.5, O/U 51) vs. Pittsburgh, 2:00 PM, CBS:

Ahhhhh, the El Paso Sun Bowl. Nothing better than this. I remember growing up a die-hard UConn fan and praying they’d get the El Paso Sun Bowl Big East bid. It was like the Super Bowl to me. I’ve since grown wise and realized the throwaway bowl that it is, but it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Remember when Miami-Washington State played in the snow in the Sun Bowl? The irony of college football gets me every time:

I don’t mind this matchup. I think it’s fun and we are going to see a lot of points. Both of these offenses are explosive, Stanford ranks 8th and Pittsburgh ranks 17th. Their defenses main weakness? Defending explosive plays. Pittsburgh ranks 102nd and Stanford ranks 80th. That alone drew my eyes to the over. The other enticing draw to the over for me is both of these offenses love doing what the defenses they are going up against aren’t particularly great at. Let’s start with Stanford, who has thrown the ball the 10th most this season. Overall, they rank 7th passing the ball and Pittsburgh defense ranks 57th. On the other side, we have Pitt, who LOVES running the ball, the 8th most in the country. Stanford ranks 66th against the run. All signs point to an over here (I do want to note that these two teams do rank in the bottom 5 of pace in the country).

I’ll also be taking Stanford. David Shaw has proven to be a great coach in bowl games (5-2 ATS) and brings in a superior special teams unit (10th vs. 49th). Stanford will also get after the QB, as Pitt has ranked bottom 15 in adjusted sack rate all year, while Stanford ranks 49th. KJ Costello & JJ Arcega-Whiteside will be too much for Pitt’s defense.

Pick: Stanford -4.5 & Over 51

Northwestern vs. Utah (-6.5, O/U 44.5), 7:00 PM. FS1:

I’m excited for the nightcap today. This one will be a defensive battle, but also a game between two great coaches. Pat Fitzgerald is an underdog wizard, going 50-35-1 ATS as one since he was the coach at Northwestern. On the other side, you have Kyle Whittingham, who has gone 11-1 in bowl games in his career and 9-3 against the number.

Ultimately, I see Utah’s defense being too much for Northwestern. They rank 103rd in offensive S&P+, while Utah’s defense ranks 22nd. There’s really nothing that Northwestern does well on offense. The reason they made it to the Big Ten Championship (outside a little bit of luck) was their 32nd ranked defense, but they’ll have a test against Utah’s 43rd ranked offense. Utah may be without QB Tyler Huntley, who is probable for the game. It would be better for Utah if Huntley gets cleared, but his backup Jason Shelley hasn’t been awful. RB Zach Moss is also out for Utah, but his backup Armand Shyne has been phenomenal. They aren’t going to put up 30+ on this Northwestern defense, but I do see them getting to 21-24, which will be good enough for a cover, and their special teams advantage (122nd vs. 7th) is only a plus.

Pick: Utah -6.5

Texas A&M (-7, O/U 56) vs. NC State, 7:00 PM, E***:

Love this game. Similar to the Sun Bowl, the Gator Bowl was a bowl I always dreamed of UConn getting into. I dreamed of attending the Gator Bowl. It never happened to UConn, but I do get to bet on it every year, so I guess that’s a good replacement.

This game is similar to the one between Pittsburgh & Stanford. Both of these teams excel on offense in areas the opposing team defense struggles. Texas A&M ranks 19th overall in offensive S&P+ and 25th in passing, while NC State ranks 84th against the pass. NC State ranks 13th in passing S&P+, while Texas A&M’s defense ranks 88th against the pass! I could see a decent amount of points in this one, but both of these teams rank in the bottom 30 of pace. NC State’s defense does have one thing going for them: a pass rush. The Wolf Pack rank 33rd in adjusted sack rate on defense, while A&M ranks 106th defending the pass rush.

I initially liked NC State, but with WR Kelvin Harmon sitting out and a lackluster pass defense, I don’t think I will be betting them. NC State is 1-6 in their last 7 games against SEC opponents and Jimbo Fisher is no stranger to playing them (although, he has struggled). I lean the over.

Lean: Over 56 & NC State +7

Missouri (-9, O/U 71) vs. Oklahoma State, 3:45 PM, E***:

Not a bad game. I’m sure these two teams would’ve preferred being somewhere other than Memphis for New Year’s, but then again, they could be in Annapolis.

There should be a lot of points here as you could’ve guessed from the total. Both of these offenses rank in the 15th in S&P+ and will be going up against much less talented defenses. Missouri’s defense is better than Okie State’s (38th vs. 84th), but both are susceptible to big plays. Missouri has had a great rush defense all year and rank 7th in rushing S&P+, but don’t think Oklahoma State is afraid to throw the ball (94th in adjusted run rate). The one positive of Oklahoma State’s defense is their pass rush (25th in adjusted sack rate), but Missouri’s offensive line is one of the best in the country when it comes to protecting the QB (11th in adjusted sack rate).

Oklahoma State has been confusing all year. They take down Texas and West Virginia, take Oklahoma to the end, but lose to Kansas State, Baylor, and TCU. Missouri, on the other hand, makes sense. They struggle against good teams and blowout bad ones. I have no idea what Oklahoma State is going to show up today, so I’m staying away from this one. I lean Missouri.

Lean: Missouri -9

Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati (-7, O/U 53), 12:00 PM, E***:

The Military Bowl is one of the saddest bowls every year. It’s played in late December, overshadowed by more prominent bowls and is played in the cold at Navy’s stadium. I feel extra bad for Cincinnati. They’ve made this trip before. There’s nothing new about going to Annapolis for them and should’ve been awarded more for their 10 win season. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, is a team I don’t feel bad for because they had to literally beg Marshall to play them on the last weekend of the season in order to keep their bowl streak alive. Not much exciting going on in this game. Luke Fickell is certainly a coach rising in the rankings.

Indications point to Cincinnati running all over Virginia Tech, who ranks 110th in Rushing S&P+. Their top RB Michael Warren is probable for this game but should be able to go come game time. Cincinnati has had a great defense all year, ranking 19th in defensive S&P+. The Bearcats have had one issue: defending explosive plays (85th in IsoPPP+). Virginia Tech’s offense ranks 33rd in generating explosive plays, so you could see the Hokies keeping this one close or sneak in the back door late in the game.

I’m not going to bet this one. Laying 7 is just too much. I lean Cinci.

Lean: Cincinnati -7

Jack Mac’s Stay In The Black Picks: 

2018: 91-76-4, +7.05 units 

Bowls: 12-11

Stanford -4.5

Stanford/Pitt Over 51

Michigan State +2

Utah -6.5

Writing up other games as you read this. Wanted to get the first three games up first.