Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com.
The college football bowl season is at our doorstep and it’s clear betting fever is reaching epidemic proportions. Heck, just the other night I was flipping through channels and saw Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attempt to make a $10,000 wager with Rick Perry.
Now, I’m not sure what side Romney was taking or if he was giving points, but putting 10,000 simoleions on the line takes large brass ones.
But it’s this throw-all-caution-to-the wind attitude that permeates society during bowl season - a wild ride of 35 games in 23 days.
Granted, most of us would keep channel surfing if we stumbled upon Temple and Wyoming playing on a normal college football Saturday, but considering these two teams are meeting in something called the Gildan New Mexico Bowl - it’s game on!
And really, does it get any better than Florida International and Marshall squaring off in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl?
All joking aside, the problem with betting bowl games is that many of us know next to nothing about some of the teams that are playing. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Prejudicial factors like “I hate the Southeastern Conference so I’m going to bet against Georgia, regardless of the pointspread,” are often taken out of the equation.
Putting a wager down on Southern Methodist or Arkansas State requires actual research, not only into the teams but the conferences they play in.
And that’s a good thing because the last two months of the regular season consist of 90 percent conference games. Long gone are those cushy matchups against inferior non-conference opponents that teams use to pad their bowl resumes. One can truly judge how a team fared against legitimate competition.
That leads to step two: Having an idea on the strength of a conference gives you insight into how teams will fare in the postseason. Once you’ve reached that point, it’s wise to wager early because if a conference starts 3-0 or 3-1 in the postseason, everybody and their grandmother suddenly jumps aboard. That means a swing in the lines and a missed opportunity to get the best value for your dollar. Not cool.
Another way of analyzing teams is to throw out their worst loss. Take Northwestern, for example. The Wildcats, who play Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, were beaten by Army, 21-14, on Sept. 17. That’s right, Army.
Northwestern was a dismal 2-5 at one point, having lost five in a row. Dig deeper and you’ll see that Dan Persa, the team’s standout quarterback, played sparingly early in the season because he was recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered late last season. It’s an injury that has a normal recovery time of one year.
Once Persa returned as the starter and found his rhythm a few games later, the Wildcats were off and running, winning four of their last five to finish 6-6. Included in that surge was a 28-25 victory at Nebraska on Nov. 5 - nearly one year after Persa was injured.
Thus, to say you don’t like Northwestern because it lost at Army simply isn’t fair. Once Persa returned to form, the Wildcats were a different squad, one that warrants consideration against Texas A&M, which is a double-digit favorite in the bowl game.
And don’t overlook coaching. Teams have weeks to prepare for a game and this can be a blessing for a staff that makes wise use of the time. Iowa, despite what its fans often think, is one of those teams.
The Hawkeyes hobble into their Insight Bowl matchup against Oklahoma with a 7-5 record. Iowa fans spent much of the season venting equally about offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe and defensive coordinator Norm Parker.
Then Parker, 70, announced Sunday that he will retire after the Insight Bowl. Iowa fans didn’t let up, with one saying O’Keefe should become the team’s defensive coordinator because, “Nobody can stop an offense like O’Keefe.”
Overlooked in all of this is Iowa’s stellar 7-2 record against the spread in bowl games under head coach Kirk Ferentz.
The Hawkeyes – double-digit underdogs to the Sooners — must be doing something right. Just don’t try telling that to their fans.
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