ESPN betting guru (and Pregame.com friend) Chad Millman reached out to Vegas Runner for some Wiseguy Bowl insight. The article is currently linked from the ESPN.com homepage!
Here it is:
If you've been following the bloggy blog, you know we've spent the past three weeks breaking down every bowl game, from the Vegas perspective. We call all this goodness the Bowl Betting Bonanza.
In BBBI, we got some insight from linemaker Kenny White about the difference between making spreads for bowl games and regular season games. In BBBII, handicappers Bryan Leonard and Brian Edwards and Mirage bookmaker Jay Rood added their smarts to our growing, must-consider-when-betting-bowls checklist.
For BBBIII, covering the bowl games between Jan. 1st and Jan. 6th, I enlisted the help of these three guys: The blog's old pal Scooch, who runs the Orleans; a veteran handicapper who goes by the handle Vegas Runner; and another column favorite, Paul Stone, the Texas handicapper whose voice sounds like college football. All three of them had new criteria to consider when handicapping bowls.
For example, one thing Scooch considers when making the line -- and that you should think about as a bettor looking for value -- is how other teams from the conference have performed in bowls. If Northwestern is playing Auburn and all the Big 10 teams up until that point have been blown out, you'll see the number shifting, because Scooch will expect a lot of people to start playing against the Big 10.
When I spoke with Vegas Runner he had some interesting thoughts, too. He's an old school gambler from Philly who started booking when he was in high school and kept it up long after that. He got his name because, when he first moved to Vegas, he placed bets for professional bettors, running from book to book with piles of cash and chasing the best lines. He was a runner. Now he's a handicapper who contributes to RJ Bell's Pregame.com. He said the most important factor he considers is strength of schedule. "A lot of times the matchups are of similarly placed teams in different conferences," he says. "So the records are often the same. At first glance, it will be hard to tell the difference, but strength of schedule tells you which 9-4 record is better."
Finally, Stone added this nugget of knowledge: "I tend to favor underdogs in the games before Jan. 1st and the favorites in the games after that, because of the motivation factor. A lot of matchups early in bowl season are teams that are disappointed they are not in BCS bowls vs. teams just happy to be there. Then, come BCS time, you have two highly motivated teams."
I'm going to add these handicapping elements to the running BBB list, which is below, so we can have a big, fat cheat sheet heading into the BCS game.
1. How a team ended the regular season: "Were they on a run to make the bowl or did they lose a lot?" says White.
2. How much excitement is a team going to have headed into the bowl: "You're looking for a team that is thrilled to be there and looking forward to the game. Think about Alabama last season; they could have cared less [about playing in the Allstate Sugar Bowl]," says White.
A subset of No. 2 is bowl experience, but not for the reason you think: "I'm more likely to give a team a higher ranking if it hasn't been to a bowl for a while, because that will generate excitement amongst the program and fans," says White.
Another subset of No. 2 is playing dogs before the Jan. 1 games and favorites after, again because of each team's motivation for being there. Beware exceptions, like Alabama last season.
3. How much time off a team has had before the bowl: "Ohio State has had horrible bowl experiences because it was off for so long. When you are not playing it's hard to simulate game speed. It's like walking on the highway at 30 mph," says White.
4. The weather on a school's respective campus: "The SEC, Pac-10, even the ACC tend to do better in the bowls than the Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East. I think the warm weather has a lot to do with that. Thirty days of practice in warm weather before a bowl game helps you get a lot more done than practicing in a bubble or outside in a cold climate," says White.
5. Throw away any games against non-bowl competition. "What you want to do is see how a team stepped up in class," says Leonard.
6. Emphasize a team's road performance over its home performance.
7. Consider how the conference is doing in bowls. "The SEC teams always get a lot more play, especially when SEC teams start killing everyone in bowls. Also, Big 10 teams get faded," says Scooch.
8. Strength of Schedule matters. "Sometimes there is no other way to tell the difference between two teams with identical records," says Vegas Runner.
Since some of you have asked, here is an over/under caveat: The biggest factor linemakers consider when making an over/under bowl line is how long a team has been off. "It's easier to play defense than it is to play offense," says White. "And historically, teams with long layoffs take a while to get the rust off and get the offense going. Other than that, it's just straight matchups, as it is during the season."
Heading into BBBIV, we'll break down the BCS game according to all the tenets laid out above by our panel of experts. Should be fun. Until then, here's Scooch, Vegas Runner and Stone musing on the games between Jan. 1st and Jan. 6th.
Outback Bowl -- Jan. 1, 2009 (Friday) -- 11 a.m. ET, ESPN
Northwestern vs. Auburn
Line: Auburn minus-7.5
Scooch says: "Some of this was the power ranking and Auburn being that many points better on paper, based on strength of schedule and margin of victories. But you also have to look at the conference. When we are looking at the Big 10, it is not the same caliber as the Pac 10 or the SEC. You will actually see line movements in other games based on performances of teams from their conference. If three SEC teams do well, you might see us move that line up, or if they did badly you might see it go down. I see this line going up to 8.5 by game time. We have dead two-way action on it, but it's not a marquee matchup. You will see fans just bet that morning or the night before."
Capital One Bowl -- Jan. 1, 2009 (Friday) -- 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Penn State vs. LSU
Line: Penn State minus-2.5
Scooch says: "This is a game that a lot of people are looking forward to. The SEC is supposed to be the strongest conference and so the third or fourth best teams out of the SEC are better teams, supposedly. But against Penn State it's tough, because Paterno prepares his teams well. It's hard to make either team more than a field goal favorite. We made Penn State minus-2.5 and most money is coming in on LSU right now. If we had made LSU the favorite, then money would be coming in on Penn State. Sharps are thinking there is value in a point or two on whoever the dog is because they are so even. This came down to how we had them ranked all season and we had Penn State slightly higher all season. But not by much."
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl -- Jan. 1, 2009 (Friday) -- 1 p.m. ET, CBS
West Virginia vs. Florida State
Line: West Virginia minus-2.5
Scooch says: "West Virginia really played well late into the season, while Florida State under performed this year and was really kind of schizo. That is what made WVU the small favorite in this game. Obviously the intangible is that it is Bowden's last game and a lot of people are going to feel if there is extra motivation or edge it's for him in his last game. I think public money is going to come in on FSU and I think Bowden's finale is the casual fan's reason to bet the game. If it wasn't Bowden's last game we would have seen West Virginia three and not 2.5, which is a big difference because that is a key number."
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi -- Jan. 1, 2009 (Friday) -- 4:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Ohio State vs. Oregon
Line: Oregon minus-3.5
Scooch says: "Number one reason Oregon is favored is because of its offense. When it is clicking I haven't seen any team that can shut it down. Using stats to determine the point spread we often look at points scored, so we have to consider: Will Oregon's offense outlast Ohio State's defense? We think it will. Certainly the money is coming in Oregon as well. The public would much rather have a team that can put points on the board, rather than a good defense. It's a relatively high total, 51, especially for Ohio State, which had totals about 10 points lower all season. If Oregon gets a lead, Tressel will have to open it up. At 51 all the money is over. This is one of the games with the most interest, probably in the top five of getting the most attention."
Allstate Sugar Bowl -- Jan. 1, 2009 (Friday) -- 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Florida vs. Cincinnati
Line: Florida minus-13
Scooch says: "Cincy is the Cinderella here and it would have been difficult to make them less than a double digit underdog. They are going to be motivated to knock off a team that was No. 1 all year, but there are lot of things going on with coaches on both sides right now so the motivation is a little mitigated. When Brian Kelly took the job at Notre Dame the game went up two points. And then when Urban Meyer announced he was resigning, the line went down to 11 and then bounced back up. So it goes back to preparation: Who will be more prepared -- an Urban Meyer team or a team that hasn't had a head coach that was with them all season? That's a huge factor."
International Bowl -- Jan. 2, 2009 (Saturday) -- Noon, ESPN2
South Florida vs. Northern Illinois
Line: South Florida minus-7
Vegas Runner says: "The public is all over South Florida. The first number on this game was four and it immediate got steamed and then the sharp money laid six, too. NIU had three straight against the spread losses and South Florida played better on the road. Five of NIU's seven wins came at home. Plus NIU had the 125th toughest schedule in college football while South Florida had the 50th. All that tells you why the game moved up. I still think the value is on Northern. I had this as a four-point game for South Florida so you're getting three points of value on the Northern side."
Papajohns.com Bowl -- Jan. 2, 2009 (Saturday) -- 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
South Carolina vs. UConn
Line: South Carolina minus-4
Scooch says: "Think about this game the way you would handicap a horse race: If a horse hasn't won a race in his last five trips but you look at the company he ran with and it has a lot of class, you give him the benefit of the doubt. That is South Carolina. They are in another class from UConn. Week in and week out it is playing better competition. We opened this game six and it got bet down to 4.5 and a lot of people think South Carolina is overrated, but when all the marbles are on one game and you don't have to worry about next week or last week I think south Carolina is the better defense and that is how we made them favorite."
AT&T Cotton Bowl -- Jan. 2, 2009 (Saturday) -- 2 p.m. ET, FOX
Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss
Line: Ole Miss minus-3
Vegas Runner says: "These two strength of schedules are very similar. Ole Miss is 37 and Oklahoma State is 48. Ole Miss won five of its last seven and Oklahoma State is remembered as the team that was blown out by Oklahoma. But Oklahoma State is 19th according to the BCS and Ole Miss isn't even ranked. So a point at least is partially because, based on talent, it's an SEC team going against a Big 12 team. And as far as public perception, points are added because the public will bet the stronger conference. Money on the sides is split right now and most of the public likes the over. I think that will be the heavier position in this game."
Autozone Liberty Bowl -- Jan. 2, 2009 (Saturday) -- 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arkansas vs. East Carolina
Line: Arkansas minus-7.5
Vegas Runner says: "To me this is an inflated number based on the fact it's an SEC team, which is why none of the sharps I know bet this game. It's up in anticipation of public money coming in on the Hogs. This Arkansas team has covered seven of its past nine games, but you can get to it through the air. And most of East Carolina's scoring this season has come from the passing game. This is where I think East Carolina will keep it close. I'd make this line closer to five or 5.5 and I'd expect sharp money, if it comes in at all, to come in at the end."
Valero Alamo Bowl -- Jan. 2, 2009 (Saturday) -- 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Michigan State vs. Texas Tech
Line: Texas Tech minus-8
Stone says: "When you have a head coach removed from the equation, especially one who is as big as the program or bigger, you can't know how it's going to affect a team. In a lot of places, this game came off the board and when it goes back up it will be interesting to see what they do, I think it will adjust back down to seven. Personally I played Tech at minus-7 and would still lean that way, even if the game stayed at eight. MSU ranked 103rd in pass defense and that was in a league with mediocre passing offenses. They haven't seen anything like Texas Tech, where the defense won't even have time to substitute. But, you just never know without Leach."
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl -- Jan. 4, 2009 (Monday) -- 8 p.m. ET, FOX
Boise State vs. TCU
Line: TCU minus-7.5
Stone says: "This surprised me. I made the game TCU minus-2.5 because I think Boise's victory over Oregon is more impressive than any victory as far as caliber of opponent that TCU has. Clemson is a nice victory, and handling BYU and Utah are nice, but none of those ranks with Oregon. I just think motivation is important and Boise feels the most slighted and has the most to prove. My ratings are largely based on margin of victory and quality of opposition and that made me think this game was a shade under a field goal. I think this point spread is way too high."
FedEx Orange Bowl -- Jan. 5, 2009 (Tuesday) -- 8 p.m. ET, FOX
Iowa vs. Georgia Tech
Line: Georgia Tech minus-4
Stone says: "Any game involving Georgia Tech is a difficult puzzle to figure out because of its offense. You are trying to analyze how it will operate against a defense that has not seen this offense not just this year, but not even the past three or four years. Right now Georgia Tech is getting all the love and Iowa is being discounted as team that doesn't deserve a BCS bowl, but I do like Iowa at this number. It is getting its quarterback back from injury, which I think will help, and I think the number is a bit inflated because it is a Big 10 team. To me, this spread is a slap in the face of Iowa more than an endorsement of Georgia Tech. I made the game three."
GMAC Bowl -- Jan. 6, 2009 (Wednesday) -- 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Central Michigan vs. Troy
Line: Central Michigan minus-4
Stone says: "I made a play on the over. Central Michigan averaged 70 plays a game and Troy averaged 73. Anytime you get out of the 60s you got teams playing a lot of offense. Troy ranked 117th in pass defense and gave up a 62% completion rate, that was against Sun Belt competition, which means they have a good chance of getting worked over by a team with four-year starters at quarterback and wide receiver. In Troy's last seven games the winning team scored at least 40 points all seven times, and none of those games had fewer than 60 total points."