NCAA Bowl Game Wagering: Toughest Games to Handicap
There are some bowls games that you have a strong sense of how they will turn out as soon as the pairing is announced. It just feels obvious. You hardly even need to handicap them. These six games here are certainly not like that. In chronological order, here as the six toughest bowl games to handicap on the board this year from where I am sitting:
Las Vegas Bowl, December 21 - Washington (-3) vs. Boise State: The big storyline here in this Washington vs. Boise State matchup was obviously going to be Chris Petersen up against his former program in a bowl game. It was going to be something to see. But Petersen stunned the football world when he stepped down as Washington head coach and handed the reins to Jimmy Lake. He's still aboard for this game. However, with one foot out the door, things are different. Can Washington maintain their focus? Boise State is looking to win 13 games for the first time since 2011. And they are up against a five-loss Washington team that is certainly vulnerable. But can they be trusted? How much were they flattered by a Mountain West that didn't exactly overwhelm this year? It's a very intriguing matchup. And part of me - a solid part - thinks they picked the wrong favorite.
Boca Raton Bowl, December 21 - SMU (-3.5) vs. Florida Atlantic: SMU is coming off a very solid season and can win more than 10 games for the first time since 1982. But they had an ability to no-show for stretches, and that could be costly here. FAU is playing a home game here , and that fairly unique bowl situation is tough to gauge. They will have crowd support. But they will also be stuck in their regular routine, which is not very exciting compared to some of the exotic destinations some bowl teams get to travel to. And, on top of that all, Lane Kiffin has bolted for Ole Miss, so there is the distraction of that. Or is it a distraction to not have to deal with one of the biggest egos in the game anymore?
Holiday Bowl, December 27 - Iowa (-1.5) vs. USC: Clay Helton was handed the keys for at least another season. Few people outside of the USC administration seem to think that is a good idea. What do the players think? Are they happy to have their coach back and ready to rally around him and get ready for this big game? Or do they feel burdened by having to play for an incompetent fool when Urban Meyer and others were rumored as replacements? We can't know, and it makes it all very tough to figure out how they will show up for a game against an opponent that isn't flashy but is always capable of being dangerous.
Fiesta Bowl, December 28 - Clemson (-2) vs. Ohio State: Brilliant quarterbacks. Scary offensive tools led by other-worldly running backs. Scary defenses. Top level coaching. Experience in big games. Going through the season without too many tests. These teams are similar in many ways. And if you have convinced yourself that one team has a major advantage, you are probably looking at it wrong. This Fiesta Bowl matchup is very tough to deal with, and at a spread this small it is a game that is brutally hard to handicap. Thankfully we have almost three weeks to figure things out. Not that it will help.
Cotton Bowl, December 28 - Penn State (-7) vs. Memphis: The bowl committee made the right decision, but the Nittany Lions are likely upset to be here and not in the Rose Bowl. This matchup is not nearly as flashy for a Big Ten school. And if Penn State pouts about it, they could have some issues. Memphis is a dangerous team. But they lost coach Mike Norvell to Florida State, and that will surely have an impact on them here. But they are a deep team, and they should be fired up - they would be a Top 10 team with a win here. And for a school like this, that is massive. If Penn State is hungry and ready, then they will likely handle things. But if they are flat-footed, Memphis knows how to play tough, tight games, and they could make things very interesting. Unless they are upset about their coach deserting them, that is. Lots to consider here.
Citrus Bowl, January 1 - Alabama (-7) vs. Michigan: Last year Michigan was crushed by Ohio State in their regular season finale, went up against an SEC foe in their bowl game, didn't show up, and were humiliated. This year they were also crushed by Ohio State in their regular season finale, and this time they thought they had even more of a chance than last year. So, will they bother to show up for this SEC foe? Alabama isn't the power that they have been. And they will be in a sub-optimal position at QB. But when these teams met a few years ago to start the season, it was embarrassing for the Wolverines. Can Michigan shake off their big game issues this year and come through with a high-level performance when it matters? And will this game really matter to them? And we haven't even talked about the Tide. They gave up 40 points twice this year - both times in losses. This team doesn't do that - neither give up that many points or lose twice. Will they be determined to show who they can be, or will they be resigned to this lost season and just looking for it to end. Both these teams can be very good at their best, but their best is not assured in either case.
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