College Bowl Betting and Handicapping: Searching for Underdog Value
by Trevor Whenham - 12/16/2014
Bowl season can be a great time to bet on underdogs - strange matchups and differing motivations doesn't mean that the best team always wins. Winning when betting on big underdogs is always satisfying - especially on the moneyline. So, it only makes sense that you can mash those two truths together and look for attractive long shots in bowl games. There are five favorites this year in bowl games with spreads of more than three field goals. Here's a look at each of the underdogs in those games to see which ones have the potential to deliver value and which ones deserve the lack of respect that they are receiving.
Foster Farms Bowl - Stanford (-14) vs. Maryland - Dec. 30
Maryland is the biggest underdog on the whole card, so it only makes sense to see if they offer any value. On one hand, they are getting very little credit because of being in the Big Ten - all 10 bowl teams from the conference are underdogs. The problem, though, is that they have lost - convincingly - to every decent team they have played. They will likely have Stefon Diggs, their best player, back in the fold after he missed the end of the season with injuries. That's a big boost. Stanford is virtually playing in their own backyard, though, and they have looked very good in their last two wins. I don't see a ton of value in Stanford, but it's really hard to get excited about Maryland despite the huge head start that the odds give them here.
New Mexico Bowl - Utah State (-10.5) vs. UTEP - Dec. 20
This is the second bowl game that will be played this year. Utah State is an incredible story. They went 9-4 despite losing nine starters for the year - including three different quarterbacks. They have remarkable depth under center, though, and that positions them well. UTEP is relies heavily on the run, but that is going to be tough to establish against this Utah State defensive front. UTEP could win, but there is no reason to be confident that they will do so. No value in the underdog here, either.
Boca Raton Bowl - Marshall (-10) vs. Northern Illinois - Dec. 23
Finally some value on an underdog. In their final three games previously-unbeaten Marshall had an ugly loss as 23.5-point favorites and two narrow wins in which they were heavily favored. It has not been a strong stretch of play. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois has won their last seven games and covered their final three spreads. The MAC hasn't had a great year, but it's not like C-USA was exactly elite this year. Rakeem Cato gives Marshall an edge at QB, but sophomore Drew Hare has grown into himself for NIU as the season has gone along. Would it be shocking for an 11-win conference champion to beat a struggling champ of a weak conference? Not at all. This one is worth a look.
National semifinal - Oregon (-9.5) vs. Florida State - Jan. 1
It's amazing that we got all the way into a playoff only to have near double-digit spreads in both. It's not hard to figure out why Florida State is a big dog here. They haven't really played anyone, Jameis Winston has clearly been the second-best QB in this game all season, and their habit of taking the first half off and closing strong could get them in trouble against a team of this caliber. The Seminoles do have plenty of experience in big games, though, and they are one of the few teams in the country with the speed to match the Ducks. They also aren't going to be as beaten up as the Ducks because of their softer schedule. Oregon is a deserving favorite, but I wouldn't mock anyone who wants to bet on Florida State at this price.
National semifinal - Alabama (-9.5) vs. Ohio State - Jan. 1
Alabama is the best team in the country and has the best chance of winning it all. I am confident in that, and that alone makes things tough for Ohio State. It's also tough that the Buckeyes are facing a team this good and this experienced with their third-string QB at the helm. Still, perhaps it is because I have grown up a Big Ten fan, but I feel like the Buckeyes aren't getting enough credit here - and it's largely due to their conference. There are 10 Big Ten bowl teams, and all 10 are underdogs in their conference. Much of the negativity towards the conference is deserved, but it's not as bad as perceived, and Ohio State shines against the competition. Head coach Urban Meyer also knows a thing or two about winning when all of the marbles are on the line. I don't know that I feel particularly confident that Ohio State would win, but there is some value in them at this price.
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