The more I have looked at the bowl matchups and the odds, the more two teams have stood out to me. The two teams couldn't be more different. One is a power from a major conference playing for all the marbles, while the other is so obscure that seven out of 10 casual college football fans (at least) couldn't come up with their nickname if pressed. One is stacked with guys who will play on Sunday. The other has never had a guy drafted. What they have in common, though, is that they are both underdogs, and neither is getting as much respect from oddsmakers and bettors as they should. They are, despite all their differences, the two most underrated bowl teams on the board this year:
Washington: The Huskies made the playoff and beat out some good teams in Michigan and Penn State to get there. They clearly belong in the Top 4, yet they are the biggest long shots on the entire bowl board at +16 in their matchup with Alabama.
I don't want to take anything away from the Tide - they are a great team and are the best team in the playoff by potentially a wide margin. I think it would be really tough, though, to argue that the Huskies are anything other than underrated at this price.
There are a number of reasons for that. For starters, and this is important, the SEC stinks this year. Alabama dominated the conference, but who did they play, really? LSU was down. The Aggies trailed off badly. Tennessee underwhelms me badly. Florida, Auburn - there is not a particularly inspiring team in that conference outside of Bama. They beat the crap out of USC, but that was early on when they had a different QB and were clearly not the team they turned into. I think Alabama would have beaten a much tougher schedule, too, but the fact is that it isn't tough to make the argument that Washington is the best team they have faced this year.
Second, Chris Petersen is much better than your average coach. He is no stranger to being an underdog in big bowl games after his Boise State days, and the last time he played an SEC team in Atlanta he upset Georgia. Give Petersen a month to get ready for any opponent and he's going to have his team ready.
Third, Alabama has some distractions to deal with. Most notably, it looked like OC Lane Kiffin was heading to Houston before the Cougars came to their senses, and he could wind up moving on elsewhere.
Finally, the public is piling on the Tide, and that isn't going to change. Casual bettors are drawn to playoff games, and they are going to take Alabama at any price. This number is almost certainly going to end up higher than it should be, and that could mean value. Don't get me wrong - I think Alabama is going to win just like the next guy. Washington is a solid team, though, and could very well keep it to within two touchdowns. That makes them underrated.
South Alabama: The Jaguars are a pretty remarkable story. They started their football program from scratch in 2009 and only joined the FBS in 2013, yet they are already in their second bowl game. Joey Jones is the only coach they have had, and the guy who played receiver for Bear Bryant at Alabama back in the day is a pretty good one.
This team is hardly consistent and still has obvious depth issues as a result of their short history and the realities of recruiting in their conference. They have two very impressive wins this year, though. They opened the season by shocking Mississippi State, and then beat up a San Diego State team that was favored by 18.5, winning by 18. Those are two very classy wins.
Sure, they lost some ugly games along the way to get to 6-6. Jones obviously can get them up for big games, though, and he has a long break to prepare for this one. His squad is a 13-point underdog against Air Force. There is some real value in the Jaguars at that price.
Air Force doesn't impress me as much as they should at 9-3. They are fine, and at times - like their last win against Boise State - better than that, but they are not at all overwhelming. There could be a good chance for a letdown here - I can't imagine that South Alabama is a dream opponent.
There is also the fact that they have shown that covering spreads like this can be tough - in all three of their losses they were favored by at least 13.5, and they were a hideous 1-6 ATS as double-digit favorites on the year. Bettors who even bother to look at this game will judge based on name and record and jump on Air Force. I hope they do and that it drives the price higher because I am excited to bet the Jaguars to cover.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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