New Year's Day is the last hurrah of the collegiate football season and the last chance to beat the odds makers. Sports handicappers determine the line as they do all the research and statistic-keeping, so they have the inside scoop on the current happenings of each team. The handicappers of Las Vegas are the best of the best, and we have some insight from one of them.
These New Year's Day bowl games are probably the most exciting and contentious. The most anticipated match-ups are the “playoff” games between the teams ranked 1-4. The Rose ( #2 vs #3) and Sugar (#1 vs #4) Bowls are the last two of the day. There are five bowl games, but we've got the scoop on just three of them. The odds on Citrus and Peach Bowls are too tough to call, so they are not recommended bets.
, host of ESPN's Las Vegas Sports Line, helps discern three important bowl game minutiae and provide valuable insight. Bowl games are tricky. He explains why:
Handicapping major bowls is much different than capping the minor bowls. The bookmakers are in the same spot as the bettors. When it comes to minor bowls you have to dig deep and attempt to find out which teams want to be in the minor bowl games and which teams have little or no interest. Motivation might be the #1 factor of the minor bowls, which of course are those played typically before Saturday, Dec. 30 in this year's case. Minor bowls also deal with a lot of teams "barely" making it to bowl eligibility (6-6 record) and sometimes those are teams that had higher aspirations before the season. Some of those same teams have to deal with coaches getting fired at the end of the regular season.
Major bowls, like those that were played on Saturday and of course, this year's New Year's games and playoffs are handicapped much more like regular season games, where power ratings, head-to-head talent, and coaching means everything. You certainly don't have to be concerned that a team isn't motivated in these games.
Funny that Alabama, the state that has been flooding our news feed lately, is perhaps the favorite to win the NCAA title this year. The Tide is always a contender for National Champion. But some folks felt Alabama replaced a more deserving team like Wisconsin, who beat a tough Miami team in the Orange Bowl on Saturday night.
A note on Alabama. The night before the playoff teams were announced, there were many people who felt the (Crimson) Tide shouldn't be included. Those people were definitely not bettors or bookmakers. Bettors and bookmakers understand no team had a higher power rating this season than Alabama and that they'd be favored over every other team in college football.
The other big game, the Rose Bowl, is not a recommended wager. I’ll confess I am partial to the Sooners, but there’s a flu situation that dampens my hopes for a Georgia Bulldog loss. He explains:
I'm also not likely playing the UGA-OU game. Too many question marks for me with Mayfield suffering from the flu. Does it spread to other players over the next 24-hours? Just one of the questions. Will he have a voice to scream out directions at the line of scrimmage?
ALABAMA (-3, previously -1) V. CLEMSON
I'm backing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day. The reason the Tide deserve to be here in the opinion of Las Vegas is due to the fact they'd be favored over every team in college football, including Clemson. Having said that, they're power rated (ours) to be 4.5 points better than Clemson on a neutral field, so we are backing them even as a FG favorite. We love A- running attacks and A- run defenses in postseason play. Very few teams are part of that club over the years and Alabama is one of them. In fact, they're the only team in college football ranked in the top-5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
We'll also get the Tide at the healthiest they've been for nearly the entire season. Another important key factor - Clemson's Kelly Bryant has played well, but his TD to INT ratio is nothing special, with 11 TDs and 6 INTs. He's no Deshaun Watson and let's not forget that Watson had to connect on 36 of 56 passes, for 420 yards, 3 TDs and no INTs in order for Clemson to eke by Alabama in last year's championship game. In fact, the game-winning score, as you'll remember, was a Watson TD pass with 1-second left on the clock. Alabama's young QB, Jalen Hurts completed just 13 of 31 passes in the game and the Tide didn't have a 100-yard rusher, yet as well as Clemson played it came down to the final play of the game. Hurts is much more experienced, obviously, and he's thrown 15 TD passes with just 1 INT this entire season. He doesn't make mistakes and he's rushed for 738 yards on 5.6 yards per carry with 8 TDs. Damien Harris leads the running game with nearly 1,000 yards and 8.2 yards per carry. He's one of three players on the roster to rush for more than 540 yards on the season. We have nothing but respect for Clemson, but we feel they'll be on the short end of the talent card here. I'm backing Alabama on January 1.
BETTING HANDLE NOTES:
GEORGIA -2.5 v. OKLAHOMA
Sooners actually opened the -2.5 point favorite. UGA quickly became the favorite. As of Saturday night, over 70% of the sharp, or "wise guy" bets are on UGA. And about 55% of the public money is also on the Bulldogs. Baker Mayfield having the flu and barely being able to practice this week has influenced the public.
ALABAMA -3 v. CLEMSON:
Game opened as low as PK'm offshore. Most Vegas books opened Bama -1. They quickly climbed to -3. Over 70% of sharp and public action is on the Tide.
MICHIGAN -7.5 v. SOUTH CAROLINA:
Wolverines opened -8, now down to -7.5. 61% sharp action on Michigan at this point, while 59% of the public action is also on U-M.
We hope you enjoy a day of good college football, which will hopefully kickoff a much better year for all of us in 2018.
h/t to Scott for his insights!
Scott Spreitzer is co-host of ESPN's Las Vegas Sports Line, heard daily, Monday - Friday at 2 PM EST on ESPN-1100 / 100.9 FM in Las Vegas. Scott's expertise has been featured on several shows, both regional and national, including ESPN (national). He's been featured weekly handicapper / bettor on such shows as the Dari & Mel Show, with Dari Nowkah & Mel Kiper, along with ESPN's NFL SUNDAY COUNTDOWN with Kevin Winter. Scott's a weekly guest on MAD DOG RADIO'S, THE WRAP with Patrick Meagher. He's been a regular analyst on the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum Show, along with FOX national, CNBC, Spike-TV, WGN, & SB NATION RADIO, to name a few. He is the all-time wins champion of the Station Casinos Handicapping Invitational and appeared for 11 straight football seasons as a weekly analyst on USA-Network's PROLINE.