2018 College Bowl Game Betting and Handicapping: Tough Lines to Judge
When you first look at the bowl pairings, there are some that stand out as straightforward. You know who you think is going to win, and one side of the spread calls out to you immediately. And then there are games like the three we are going to discuss here. The games which could be really straightforward if everything goes exactly right but which are much more complicated than that because of all the uncertainty, the questions, the reasons to have a headache. These are hard games to handicap - the three toughest bowls to handicap on the entire card as far as I am concerned.
Rose Bowl, Ohio State (-4.5) vs. Washington, January 1: This is a very tough game to judge from where I sit now - just a couple of days after both teams won their conference championship games. Ohio State is the better team by far, but they are also wildly inconsistent. The team that massacred Michigan would turn this game into a farce. But the team that lost to Purdue, or barely squeaked past a couple of other weaker opponents, could be in trouble against a flawed-but-talented and well-coached Washington team. This is not the game the Buckeyes hoped to be in, so it could quite possibly be a substandard effort we see from them. And then there is the question of Dwayne Haskins. He's a Heisman finalist, though he has no chance of winning the award, or finishing better than third, for that matter. But he does have a good chance of being the first or second quarterback selected in this year's draft if he opts to forego his last two years of eligibility and go pro. And if he does so, he may or may not opt to play in this game or may not be fully committed if he does play. On the Washington side, their two senior stars are both playing their final games - running back Myles Gaskin and quarterback Jake Browning. They could be fired up and looking to make a statement on their way out. Or they could be looking to their next steps. And with Jacob Eason waiting to start next year, the team might not be as sad to see Browning, who is strong but who peaked two years ago and wasn't great this year, go.
Peach Bowl, Michigan (-7) vs. Florida, December 29: This is the third time that these teams have played since Jan. 1 of 2016, and it sure feels like a pairing that no one cares to see again. Michigan has won both handily, and neither of the previous games has had a lot of drama or intrigue. Michigan is the better team on paper and would likely win again if the teams were at full strength. But it isn't that simple. Michigan suffered the kind of loss that can shake a team to the foundations when they were just humiliated by Ohio State. It was incredibly ugly and challenges everything that Michigan has been doing in the Harbaugh era. It's a lot to bounce back from, and yet another game against Florida might not be the motivation they need to get back on track. And then Michigan has to likely deal with some key absences. Defensive line star Rashan Gary, a likely top-five pick in the draft, has already announced his decision not to play in the game, and he might not be the only defensive star to give the game a pass. The offense should be intact, but the defense did more of the heavy lifting this year - at least until the Ohio State debacle. A few absences could really add to the motivation woes here - or challenge a level of confidence that has to already be far from optimal.
Dollar General Bowl, Buffalo (-3) vs. Troy, December 22: Two strong teams from fringe conferences that are far from each other makes for a tough game to judge. And it's more than just that that makes this a challenge. Both Troy's Neal Brown and Buffalo's Lance Leipold are excellent coaches. Brown was already under consideration at Louisville and could be considered by other programs with openings this month, and Leipold could and should be a target as well. Depending upon how that plays out, it could have a big impact on the game. Buffalo is favored largely because Tyree Jackson is a very good QB having an excellent year. But Troy has a fairly respectable defense - they give up yards, but not as many points. There is a lot to like about both teams, but both are coming off losses in their last game against the best team in their conference and both were overwhelmed by their strongest nonconference opponent, so measuring what these teams really are is tough. Really tough.
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