Early best bets for college football bowl season
It did not take long for the college football bowl season to take a bizarre turn or two. A breaking news report Monday morning revealed that Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord entered the transfer portal. About two hours later, Oklahoma quarterback Dillion Gabriel also entered the portal.
This is December and a different kind of madness. Free agency via the NCAA transfer portal is turning bowl games into a complex puzzle for oddsmakers and handicappers.
“The transfer portal opening (Monday) is going to create a lot of bowl chaos,” DraftKings oddsmaker Matt Grill said Sunday night. “They have got to make it less of the wild West.”
DraftKings opened bowl lines and set the market on Sunday afternoon, but most Las Vegas books had posted lines only on the two playoff games by early Monday morning.
Before McCord bailed on the Buckeyes, DraftKings opened Ohio State as a 6.5-point favorite against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. The line dropped to 3 before 8 a.m. PT, so those who slept in missed the best numbers on the underdog.
A similar thing happened to the Alamo Bowl. As DraftKings opened Arizona -1 against Oklahoma, Grill said, “This may be the best game on the board if Dillon Gabriel plays. If I 100% knew he were playing, we would have it Oklahoma -2.5 or 3.”
Gabriel is gone, and Arizona moved to a 3-point favorite by Monday morning.
The annual coaching carousel is just beginning to spin, and Monday marked the start of the wave of transfers and players opting out of bowls. Sunday was all about the controversy of the four playoff teams selected (Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama) and the two left out (Florida State and Georgia).
The Seminoles (13-0) became the first undefeated Power Five conference champion to be excluded from the College Football Playoff.
“I think it’s the right four,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “Florida State was going to be a big ‘dog no matter who they played. Notre Dame or Penn State would have been favored over Florida State.”
While several TV talking heads were throwing fits about Florida State’s snub, DraftKings opened Georgia as a 13-point favorite over the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl. The line moved to 14.
A season-ending injury to star quarterback Jordan Travis turned Florida State into a totally different team. Kenny White, a veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker and handicapper, had the Seminoles ranked No. 19 in his power ratings prior to last weekend.
In the playoff matchups for Jan. 1, Michigan is a 1.5-point favorite against Alabama in the Rose Bowl, and Texas is -4.5 against Washington in the Sugar Bowl.
This might come as a surprise to the talking heads who are crying about the Crimson Tide getting a playoff spot instead of Florida State, but Alabama would be a double-digit favorite over the Seminoles. Also, Grill said bettors were “all over Bama moneyline” against the top-seeded Wolverines.
The 42-game bowl season begins Dec. 16 and promises to be a wild ride.
“There are lackluster games to start off with, as usual,” Avello said. “Some of the bowl games are not great matchups, and it’s kind of like that until we get past Christmas.”
Handicappers should proceed with caution in most cases, but there are always exceptions. In the cases of Ohio State and Oklahoma, bettors needed to act quickly and pull the trigger on plays against the Buckeyes and Sooners.
My Best Bets:
Boise State +2.5 over UCLA (LA Bowl, Dec. 16)
San Jose State -8.5 over Coastal Carolina (Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 23)
Arizona -3 over Oklahoma (Alamo Bowl, Dec. 28)
*Top play: Missouri +3 over Ohio State (Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29)
Mississippi +4.5 over Penn State (Peach Bowl, Dec. 30)
Alabama +1.5 over Michigan (Rose Bowl, Jan. 1)
Washington +4.5 over Texas (Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1)