Don’t be a lazy handicapper, one of those guys who says, “Well, I’m just going to play every underdog or every under.”
It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially during bowl season, when there’s plenty of tantalizing action but also plenty of time-sucking holidays. Surely, I’m not the only one who has woken up early on New Year’s Day and decided betting the side and total on each game is the best way to get rid of a hairy hangover. That never ends pretty.
One of the common misconceptions of lazy handicappers during the bowls is to automatically lean to the over, assuming that coaches are going to be more aggressive and open up the playbook more because it’s the last game of the year.
But the numbers just don’t back it up, at least significantly enough to add value to the over or the under.
Regular-season games have averaged around 52 points the past two seasons. Bowl games have averaged just over 53 the past five years.
In the last five seasons, bowls have gone 84-80 over/under with an average posted total of 47.8. After the first five bowl games this season went over the total, the next six went under.
“Everyone kind of believes that coaches are going to be a little more wide open,” said Las Vegas Sports Consultants odds director Tony Sinisi. “But you also have to take into consideration that these teams have had significant layoffs. We don’t adjust much off our regular-season numbers.”
Sinisi did admit to “knocking up” the totals on games that are already high. The Liberty Bowl between Arkansas (-7.5, 63.5) and the GMAC Bowl between Troy and Central Michigan (-3.5, 63) are highest totals remaining on the board.
“We might tweak those slightly,” he said.
But overall, oddsmakers don’t adjust much when they set totals for bowl games. That means you shouldn’t, either. Instead, focus on the matchups themselves, like these three.
DP’s Totally Awesome Bowl Totals
Outback Bowl: Northwestern vs. Auburn (-8, 54.5)
This one jumped off the board at me two weeks ago. Auburn ranks in the Top 10 in red-zone efficiency, scoring 26 touchdowns in 36 trips inside the opponent’s 20. The Tigers are also dead last in red-zone defense. Teams have scored on 41 of 43 red-zone opportunities against Auburn, including 29 touchdowns.
Tigers offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s teams at Tulsa scored 63 and 45 in bowl victories in 2007 and 2008.
Capital One Bowl: Penn State (-2.5, 43.5) vs. LSU
Played in Orlando at the same field Wisconsin and Miami tore up Tuesday, footing is a major concern. It will all but equalize LSU’s presumed speed advantage.
"Bad turf always slows down fast players," LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton told reporters. "They have speed, we have speed, we're both going to be slower, which is not a good thing for anybody."
“I saw chunks and chunks of grass coming up from play to play," Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark added. "The field conditions may be a bit of a problem."
Penn State did absolutely nothing against the top defenses it faced, scoring just 10 and seven points in losses to Iowa and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions also have no return game (107th punt return, 108th kickoff return) and will likely be faced with terrible field position against the Tigers, who are 12th in net punting.
I don’t expect a lot from LSU’s offense, which is without leading rusher Charles Scott.
Sugar Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Florida (-12.5, 57.5)
The Gators defense was embarrassed in the SEC title game loss to Alabama. The 31 points the Crimson Tide scored was the most Florida has allowed in three years.
On the season, the Gators surrendered just over 11 points a game.
Cincinnati’s offense is clearly superior to some of the SEC’s sluggish attacks. But how much effective game-planning has the Bearcats’ broken coaching staff been able to accomplish in a month that saw their head coach and offensive coordinator leave?
Look for a dominating performance from Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap, a projected first-round draft pick, who had to sit and watch Alabama pound the Gators.
I also like the fact that Florida return specialist Brandon James is out.
Covers Forum Capper of the Year
For two more weeks, two of the site’s top forum handicappers will battle it out for the coveted title of Covers Forum Capper of the Year. Here are their top picks for the games
Boom_Boom (Last week: 2-1; Contest: 4-1): South Florida -6.5; Boise State +7; Georgia Tech -4.
WahooS (Last week: 1-2; Contest: 2-3): West Virginia -2.5; South Florida -6.5; Oregon -3.5, LSU +2.5.