When Urban Meyer announced Tuesday that he will coach his final game at Ohio State in the Rose Bowl against Washington, Pros and Joes alike quickly loaded up on the Buckeyes.
Ohio State soared to a 6½-point favorite at Las Vegas sports books after the line opened as low as 3 at Caesars Entertainment.
“I know I’m not the only one who caught onto this, but tell me Ohio State is not going to play to the maximum effort to send Urban out with a win in his last game,” handicapper Doug Fitz said.
There are many factors to consider when handicapping bowl games, from coaches (Meyer leads the way with a 9-3 ATS bowl record in recent years) to conferences (the Pac-12 went 1-8 in bowls last season) to players sitting out to stay healthy for the NFL draft.
But motivation is perhaps the biggest key.
“You definitely want to have a team that you think is going to be motivated to play, and you work from there,” professional sports bettor Frank Carulli said.
The 40-game bowl schedule doesn’t kick off until Dec. 15, but Fitz and Carulli have pinpointed a few best bets, mostly based on motivation.
Fading Michigan, Washington State
Fitz, who went 14-6 ATS to win last season’s Review-Journal College Bowl Challenge, is backing Iowa State (+3½) over Washington State and Florida (+7½) over Michigan based on a system that is on a 36-15-1 cover streak (71 percent).
“Generally speaking, you want to fade a team in a bowl game that’s coming off a loss that kept them out of a major bowl or, in the case of Michigan, out of the playoffs,” said Fitz (Systemplays.com). “Washington State is a perfect example. If they beat Washington, they’re in the Rose Bowl and have an outside shot of getting into the playoff. You go from hoping you have a shot at the playoff or a major bowl and you lose and end up playing in the Alamo Bowl.
“Michigan had everything going for them, and Ohio State absolutely killed them. How interested are they going to be in the Peach Bowl? It’s part of the rotation for the College Football Playoff, but it’s not what Michigan had in mind, that’s for sure.”
Cougars coach Mike Leach is on a 1-7 spread slide in bowls, and the Wolverines will be without defensive lineman Rashan Gary, one of several star players who will skip their bowl game.
Backing Texas A&M, California
North Carolina State will be missing star wide receiver Kelvin Harmon and its leading tackler, Germaine Pratt, in the Gator Bowl against Texas A&M. Carulli and other sharp bettors love the Aggies to cover as 4½-point favorites.
“You want teams that are sort of breaking through and have a lot of incentive,” Carulli said. “Texas A&M has a good coach in Jimbo Fisher and had a nice breakthrough year in his first year. N.C. State is a total fraud.”
Carulli also likes Florida, but his top play is California, a pick’em against Texas Christian in the Cheez-It Bowl.
“They’re an up-and-coming team with a super coach and tremendous defense” he said. “They’ll definitely be motivated. I love Cal. They beat Washington and USC, hung in with Washington State and could’ve beat Stanford.”
While critics complain there are way too many bowls, if a game is on TV with a betting line, people will wager on it and watch.
That never will be more evident than Dec. 15, when Georgia Southern and Eastern Michigan meet in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. The wiseguys are all over Georgia Southern, a 1½-point favorite at Caesars after opening as a 3½-point underdog.
“It’s been a one-way freight train,” Caesars risk manager Jeff Davis said.
Caesars also took early sharp action on Texas A&M and Central Florida, which opened as a 10-point underdog to Louisiana State in the Fiesta Bowl but has been bet to 7. The Tigers will be without star cornerback Greedy Williams.
The Westgate has taken early sharp action on Louisiana Tech (+1½) over Hawaii, Auburn (-4½) over Purdue and Virginia Tech (+5½) over Cincinnati.
The Hokies won their final two games to extend the nation’s longest active bowl streak to 26 seasons.
“Virginia Tech is clearly a team that cares about getting to a bowl,” Westgate sports book director John Murray said. “They scheduled an extra game (against Marshall) just to become bowl eligible.”