Bowl system bad for football but good for bettors


Set aside the high-level corruption in college football, the hypocrisy of the NCAA and the hideous mess surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Try to set it aside for two weeks.

I'll stop complaining about the Bowl Championship Scam and just enjoy the 35-game bowl season, which is good for something. It's good for betting, and it's entertaining.

"It's not even debatable that some of these games are ridiculous," Las Vegas handicapper Kelso Sturgeon said. "Some of them have absolutely no reason to be played. But they are not ridiculous for bettors.

"I think there are several games that are very playable, and the betting lines are a little off. I'm excited about the bowl games. Just don't bet them all. Pick your spots."

Sturgeon talked about the "science in handicapping" and how it gets more complex when dealing with bowls. Coaches have been changed, key players have been suspended, and most of the teams last played in November. Beware of disinterested favorites, and look for hungry underdogs.

"Some teams will be ready to play, some think they're ready to play, and some don't have a clue, and that makes it unpredictable," said Sturgeon (Kelsosportshandicapping.com).

The circus opens for business with three games Saturday. The New Mexico Bowl pits Brigham Young against Texas-El Paso in Albuquerque, and a place that resembles the surface of the moon is an appropriate starting point.

The Cougars, behind an improved defense and freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, are 11½-point favorites. The Miners lost five of six to finish the regular season. Lay the points, and bet on UTEP coach Mike Price hitting a strip club this week.

"What's the team's state of mind? I know BYU is going to come to play. I wonder about UTEP," Sturgeon said. "BYU will be my first big play of the bowl season."

The weather is expected to be inclement in Boise, Idaho, for the Humanitarian Bowl, so Sturgeon said he bet Fresno State-Northern Illinois under the total of 59.

"If you're betting serious money, you've got to pay attention to every little detail," Sturgeon said. "Is there late movement in the betting line? While money moves during the regular season are accurate about 50 percent of the time, money is more accurate in bowl games, and it usually comes from someone with inside information."

Ohio meets Troy in the New Orleans Bowl, and some people with inside info are saying Bobcats quarterback Boo Jackson is doubtful to play because of academics. The money is on Troy, a 3-point favorite.

The MAACO Bowl Las Vegas matches Boise State with Utah. The line looks high at Boise minus-17, but I'm not eager to bet against the Broncos and quarterback Kellen Moore.

The total is 73 in the Hawaii Bowl, where Tulsa meets Hawaii on Christmas Eve. I need more time to figure out this one, but I'll probably bet it because it's action on Christmas Eve.

Two days later, I won't care at all about the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Florida International and Toledo at Ford Field in Detroit.

Missouri might be a play as a 1-point favorite over Iowa in the Insight Bowl. The Hawkeyes suspended leading rusher Adam Robinson, and their top receiver, Darrell Johnson-Koulianos, is out after being arrested on drug charges.

Sturgeon said he's on Kansas State as a 1-point underdog to Syracuse in the new Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

My favorite play is Notre Dame, a 3-point underdog, over Miami in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve. Irish coach Brian Kelly will have his team ready to play, and the Hurricanes fired their coach.

I'll also bet Stanford as a 3-point favorite over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. The Cardinal's coach-QB combination of Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck is tough to beat.

Eight Big Ten teams are in bowls, and seven are underdogs. Sturgeon accused the Big Ten of playing "Stone Age football," and he's betting against Michigan and Ohio State.

The Buckeyes, who always get beat down by Southeastern Conference opponents, are 3½-point favorites over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4. It's Terrelle Pryor against Ryan Mallett, and it should be an entertaining showdown.

"I'll be dancing with Arkansas," Sturgeon said.

I'll be finalizing picks for the bowl game office pool today, and I'll have no idea which side to take in the Auburn-Oregon title game.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the "Las Vegas Sportsline" weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.