The confluence of New Year’s Eve occurring on a Saturday, with college football’s two national semifinals, should trigger bundles of dough flowing into the Vegas sportsbooks beginning on Friday.
According to Vinny Sanzare, director of race and sports at the downtown Golden Nugget, 24-to-36 hours before kickoff is when the big bowl money has been hitting sportsbook counters.
“Not everyone,” he said, “but the ones that have moved well have done so within that window.”
TCU and Michigan, who play Saturday at 4 p.m. ET in the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., has been an anomaly.
The Wolverines generally opened as 9.5-point favorites but by the second day of its offering, it had been shaved to 7.5 points.
“That was an early adjustment by all the bookmakers, an ‘air’ move,” Sanzare said. “It hasn’t moved, literally, in three weeks. An industry adjustment.”
In Saturday’s other semifinal, Georgia opened as a 7-point favorite against Ohio State in the Peach Bowl (8 p.m. ET) inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. That’s been whittled to 6.5 points across the board.
“I do think we’re going to get good action on all four of these teams,” Sanzare said. “Obviously, with Ohio State and Michigan, their Big Ten fan bases are always strong and travel well, and Georgia has a big backing.
“But we’ve even noticed that TCU, throughout the season, has had support, and they have a little less mileage to travel. The only thing that would stop people would be a winter storm, with flight cancellations. Hopefully, everyone gets a break with the weather and can travel safely.”
In the first game, Sanzare favored the purple-clad Horned Frogs.
“I like seeing new blood, in TCU being there. They’ve obviously won every game but one, and all of their games have been close. Going by that history, I’d take the 7.5. Then again, Michigan averages 40 points a game.
“Offensively, TCU could go toe-to-toe with them. If forced to make a decision, I would say TCU and Over on that game.”
TCU won its first 12 games, then lost the Big 12 title game to Kansas State, 31-28. Before that, two consecutive Horned Frogs’ victories were by a single possession.
In the night semifinal, Sanzare noted Georgia’s 16-game winning streak. The Bulldogs, of course, won last season’s national title, beating Michigan (34-11) in a semifinal before dealing Alabama a 33-18 defeat in the finale.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett was the rudder of that triumphant campaign and has thrown for 3,425 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions this season.
“Pedigree,” Sanzare said. “I would go with Georgia.”
As has been our postseason custom, we recommend half-unit plays. There are just too many moving parts to these bowl games, to which Sanzare agreed.
“You just never know,” he said. “The transfer portal, declaring for the NFL Draft, or something disciplinary, those are the big three. Coaching changes, too, and motivation.
“I think that’s why so many bettors are waiting till kickoff, or just before, to get all the information. When they have all the info, they can make their decisions.”
Peach Bowl: No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 5-7 ATS) vs. No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs (13-0, 7-6 ATS)
Five of the past eight Georgia games have gone Over, as have nine of the previous 10 Ohio State tilts.
NCAAF · Sat (12/31) @ 8:21pm ET
|Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA|
Away from home, the Bulldogs have averaged a fourth-best 39.4 points while the Buckeyes have averaged 39.3, No. 5 in highway scoring.
This could be a basketball score.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs (12-1, 9-4 ATS) vs. No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (13-0, 8-5 ATS)
In points-per-play margin away from home, Michigan rates a national-best 0.341, and TCU is ninth at 0.175.
NCAAF · Sat (12/31) @ 4:11pm ET
|State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ|
Not only is that why we favor Michigan here, but why we have taken the Wolverines (at +300) to win the national title (Georgia is No. 2 at a 0.326 PPP margin, so Michigan is a few hairs better than the Dawgs).
Mayo Bowl: Maryland Terrapins (7-5, 6-6 ATS) vs. No. 25 NC State Wolfpack (8-4, 4-8 ATS)
Fri (12/30) @ noon ET
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Line: NC State -1, Total 46.5
Our Selection: Terps +1 (-110)
Banged-up quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa should start for the Terps, giving them a big nod at that post over NC State.
Maryland will miss receivers Jacob Copeland and Rakim Jarrett (combined 66 catches, 847 receiving yards, and 5 TDs), but tight end Corey Dyches and wideout Jeshaun Jones (75, 927 yards, 7 TDs) can fill that void.
Plus, the Terrapins have tailback Roman Hemby, a 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt freshman and Maryland native, who averaged 5.6 yards on 164 carries this season with 10 TDs. Plus, he’s a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Away from home, the Pack yielded 4.3 yards per run, in the bottom half of the country. That’s where Maryland will win this game.
Outstanding Pack QB Devin Leary sustained a season-ending injury in October and is in the transfer portal. Fourth-stringer Ben Finley took over late and was poor against Boston College and but solid versus North Carolina.
Sun Bowl: Pitt Panthers (8-4, 5-7 ATS) vs. No. 18 UCLA Bruins (9-3, 6-6 ATS)
Fri (12/30) @ 2 p.m. ET
Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX
Line: UCLA -5.5, Total 53.5
Our Selection: Pass
Kedon Slovis, the former USC quarterback, lasted a season in Pittsburgh before packing his bags recently and landing at BYU. Nick Patti (51-for-87, 588 yards, four TDs, and one pick in his career) likely will start.
Izzy Abanikanda, the ACC’s rushing leader with 1,431 yards, opted out.
At UCLA, it appears QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson will start, but there’s less certainty about receiver Jake Bobo and tailback Zach Charbonnet.
If the Bruins’ offense is together, watch out. It averaged 40 points on the road this season, No. 2 in the country. And UCLA games were 9-3 to Over.
This line has grown from 4 at the Nugget, so some bettors might be feeling good about DTR starting.
“Or it’s about Slovis hitting the transfer portal,” Sanzare said. “I think a lot of people are waiting to get concrete information that, yes, [DTR] is going to play, or not. Based on the [line] movement, they’re leaning toward yes.”
Gator Bowl: No. 20 South Carolina Gamecocks (8-4, 7-5 ATS) vs. No. 19 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4, 6-6)
Fri (12/30) @ 3:30 p.m. ET
TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, FL
Line: Notre Dame -2.5, Total 51.5
Our Selection: Pass
The Irish are a mess, as top-flight tight end Michael Mayer and edge rusher Isaiah Foskey have opted out, among many others. And it appears third-string quarterback Steve Angeli will start.
A true freshman, he won the Blue-Gold scrimmage for the Gold, with a last-play 6-yard scamper to the left in which he tapped the left pylon.
Sam Hartman, whose 3,701 aerial yards at Wake Forest were 10th in the country, has announced he’s bolting for Notre Dame.
“I know Notre Dame fans are very excited about that news,” Sanzare said, “even though it may not [pertain to] the context of this game.”
Spencer Rattler is starting for South Carolina, which might be reason enough to put some lira on the Gamecocks. We’d rather see if Angeli can make this resemble a Notre Dame scrimmage, without the outcome affecting our wallets.
Music City Bowl: Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5, 7-5 ATS) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (7-5, 8-4 ATS)
Sat (12/31) @ noon ET
Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
Line: Iowa -2.5, Total 31.5
Our Selection: Pass
This has flipped from an opener of Kentucky -2.5 to the Hawkeyes being favored, thanks to Wildcats QB Will Levis opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Kentucky games finished a national-best 11-1 to Under, and Iowa was the country’s 14th-worst scoring team this season, overall (18.4 points) and away from home (16).
For a true carnival factor, tease this up to 38.5 and take Under, tying it to something else on the menu. But we’ll opt out of an individual play here.
Sugar Bowl: No. 11 Kansas State Wildcats (10-3, 9-3-1 ATS) vs. No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2, 6-6 ATS)
Sat (12/31) @ noon ET
Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Line: Alabama -6.5, Total 56
Our Selection: Wildcats +6.5 (-110)
This one intrigues Sanzare.
“A good matchup. K-State is not a team that’s always there [in a prime bowl game]. They’ve had a very fine year, beating TCU [in the Big 12 finale]. They earned their way there.
“Alabama, with two losses this year, some people would consider that a down year for them. Still, it’s a very solid team and this is a good matchup.”
We covet the Wildcats’ splendid 9-3-1 mark against the number.
Also read: Alabama vs. Kansas State odds and prediction
ReliaQuest Bowl: No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4, 6-5-1 ATS) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (8-4, 8-4 ATS)
Mon (1/2) @ noon ET
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Line: Mississippi State -1, Total 46
Our Selection: Under 46 (-110)
Forgive every Bulldog if they’re still a tad shell-shocked from the sudden loss of legendary coach Mike Leach.
We see the Illinois defense in control. Mississippi State averages 311 passing yards a game, but the Illini is tops in the nation at yielding only 5.5 yards per pass attempt.
And away from home, Illinois is second in the country (to Michigan’s 2.2) in allowing opponents only 2.5 yards per run. Illinois games are 7-4-1 to Under this season.
Cotton Bowl: No. 14 Tulane Green Wave (11-2, 11-2 ATS) vs. No. 8 USC Trojans (11-2, 8-5 ATS)
Mon (1/2) @ 1 p.m. ET
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
Line: USC -2, Total 62
Our Selection: Over 62 (-110)
Tulane is tied with Oregon State atop the country at 11-2 against the spread. Meanwhile, USC games are tied with Houston’s at No 1 in the nation, finishing 10-3 to Over.
The Green Wave is another newish prominent-bowl participant, and Sanzare analyzed the narrow spread in the wake of USC missing out on the national playoffs.
“That makes you wonder something about Tulane,” he said. “That’s another team floating under the radar, nationally. But they have an identity, an 11-2 [spread] record against strong competition.
“That might be a reason this spread is only two. Maybe [the Trojans] don’t have the motivation because of that disappointment. It’s subjective.”
It might be fun to tease this total down to 55 and take Over, tying it to that Iowa Under. A carnival play. Hey, that’s entertainment!
Citrus Bowl: Purdue Boilermakers (8-5, 5-8 ATS) vs. No. 16 LSU Tigers (9-4, 7-6 ATS)
Mon (1/2) @ 1 p.m. ET
Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
Line: LSU -14.5, Total 56
Our Selection: Pass
Boilers coach Jeff Brohm has moved on to his alma mater Louisville, and quarterback Aidan O’Connell and stout receiver Charlie Jones will miss this game.
Offensive coordinator Brian Brohm, Jeff’s brother, is Purdue’s interim boss.
For LSU, quarterback Jayden Daniels (ankle) is a question mark. If he doesn’t play, the list of Bayou Bengals who will sit this one out will be at least 23 names deep. Way too much doubt for us to risk even one buck.
Also read: LSU vs. Purdue odds and prediction
Rose Bowl: No. 7 Utah Utes (10-3, 8-5 ATS) vs. No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2, 9-3 ATS)
Mon (1/2) @ 5 p.m. ET
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Line: Utah -2.5, Total 52.5
Our Selection: Over 52.5 (-110)
This qualified as our fifth and final recommendation as a Wrong Team Favored game.
(We’ve gone 3-0, with underdog Tennessee the pick in Friday’s Orange Bowl, which we have previewed in a stand-alone feature.)
The WTF factor is mentioned for the record because we are wagering (again, a dialed-down half-unit) on the Over, the wise action according to our three models, with totals of 62 points and two at 57.
Penn State will miss receiver Parker Washington. So what? He tallied only two touchdowns this season. Brenton Strange and Mitchell Tinsley both averaged nearly 12 yards on a combined 77 receptions and had nine TDs.
Sean Clifford is a very capable quarterback for Penn State, and he has an outstanding backfield in Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton.
Utah, having defeated USC twice this season, is rolling and we’re banking on an exciting, entertaining cap to the bowl season.
Sanzare expects something like last season’s Rose Bowl, in which Ohio State beat Utah in a 48-45 thriller. That plays into our Over.
“Utah lost that one simply because the clock struck zero. So back and forth, a great game. Utah has the motivation, and I think that’s going to be the difference-maker this time.”
Scroll through the lines: College football bowl game odds