Bowl season is a rare beast, in the same genus as Week 1 of the NFL season. Football bettors are offered game odds well in advance and can bet the bowl games the second they hit the board or choose to wait a month until the closing seconds before kickoff.
That can make for some interesting and sometimes puzzling lines. With that in mind, here is our all-bowl edition of “Football lines that make you go hmmm…”:
Belk Bowl: North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (+3, 56.5)
The Tar Heels had to rise from the dead in the ACC, winning five of their final six games to become bowl eligible. While momentum plays into bowl betting, stringing together a bunch of wins in the ACC is like finding a virgin to sacrifice at Comic Con.
The proximity of the Belk Bowl (in Charlotte) to Chapel Hill also plays into this line, discounting a very good Bearcats squad. Cincinnati went 12 rounds and then some with Louisville in the season finale and lost just three games, compared to UNC at 6-6. The Bearcats have experience whooping ACC ass in the Belk Bowl, having knocked off Duke, 48-34 as 8-point favorite, at Bank of America Stadium last December.
Alamo Bowl: Oregon Ducks vs. Texas Longhorns (+13.5, 67)
Apparently, the Ducks don’t want to play and the departure of longtime Longhorns coach Mack Brown suddenly makes Texas awesome. Those “factors” are enough to move this spread below the key number of Oregon -14.
Sure, the Ducks were hoping to play on January 6 – or at least on New Year’s Day – but don’t expect Oregon to just lie down for the Horns on December 30.
The Ducks have had a long enough hiatus away from the field to shed that stumble to the finish and tinker with a defense that leaked an average of 31 points over the final four games. Plus, Oregon hits the fast indoor track of the Alamo Dome – its first indoor game of the season.
Texas isn’t the most dangerous offense either, putting up 31.2 points per game. The Longhorns’ 8-4 record is a bit misleading. They beat the teams they should have – thanks in part to a down year for the Big 12 – but couldn’t get over the hump against elite competition – losing to Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
Sun Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies vs. UCLA Bruins (-7, 47)
Virginia Tech is a staple of bowl season, always earning enough “W’s” to make the postseason cut. However, the Hokies put in one of their least-impressive campaigns in 2013 – going just 8-4 SU and 4-7-1 ATS in the weak ACC – and limp into the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Virginia Tech lost top RB Trey Edmunds to injury in the final game of the season and has an injury report longer than your kid’s Christmas wish list (who needs an Xbox One and a PS4?). The time between games – a month – will help heal some of those wounds. But what can’t be healed is VT’s ho-hum play.
UCLA has a nice balance on offense and defense, anchored by some standout talents that could steal the spotlight this bowl season. The Bruins boast a Sunday-ready DE in Anthony Barr, who was named first-team AP All-American and is projected to be a Top 10 selection in this year’s NFL Draft. And, under center is the reliable arm of sophomore Brett Hundley, who led the Pac-12 in completion percentage (67.8) and was 20th in the country in QB rating (153.69).
Fiesta Bowl: Baylor Bears vs. UCF Knights (+16.5, 68)
The Baylor Bears are like a hyper-active kid on Christmas Eve, jumping out of their skin in anticipation of what the morning will bring. But in BU’s case, Xmas morning is almost a month away.
Baylor has a long wait ahead of it, not taking the field for the Fiesta Bowl until New Year’s Day, which can sometimes cool off a red-hot offense. However, the Bears are focusing on keeping the offense charged after averaging a nation-high 51.2 points per game this season.
“Everybody is lively and active and has a lot of spring in their legs,” head coach Art Briles told reporters during BU’s second day of bowl prep. “We’ll have a great week. It will be imperative for us to be us, and to be at our best, and be explosive and dynamic on offense. We need to be tough and aggressive and great tacklers on defense, and win the special teams because this is our first chance to play in a BCS bowl game and we have to take full advantage of it.”
The Knights boast a defense that allowed only 19.6 points per game – 13th lowest in the country – but did so versus some anemic offenses. Central Florida’s roughest defensive showings came against quality opponents like Penn State, South Carolina, Louisville and Temple.
Wait… what? Temple? The team that finished 90th in scoring among 125 FBS schools? The Owls hung 36 points in a near upset against UCF, putting up a very Baylor-like 518 total yards of offense in the loss.
Baylor has garnered the two highest bowl totals in college football history the past two bowl seasons – 82 and 80 – so this 68-point number seems like chump change for a BU offense taking to the speedy turf of University of Phoenix Stadium. The last time the Bears played under a dome they posted 63 points on their own in a 63-34 win over Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.