College Bowl Handicapping and Betting in the Opt-Out Era

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Caleb Williams won’t huddle with his Southern Cal teammates in San Diego for the DirecTV Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 against Louisville.

Drake Maye won’t pull on the powder blue for North Carolina to face West Virginia in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl that same day in Charlotte.

Maye is officially preparing for a lucrative and fast-approaching NFL career by not getting injured in a meaningless postseason game named after a condiment. Williams hasn’t officially declared, but he’s expected to go first overall and has already been ruled out by head coach Lincoln Riley.

Fellow quarterback Bo Nix will don whatever dandy ensemble No. 8 Oregon brings to Glendale, Arizona, for the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl against No. 23 Liberty on Jan. 1. But no one knew that until his announcement on Instagram a few days ago.

And that was a problem — a relatively modern one — for oddsmakers like DraftKings Director of Race and Sportsbook Johnny Avello and sports bettors who scramble for information in the era of the opt-out, transfer portal, and transitory head coach. It’s not just a bowl season phenomenon.

“It’s really difficult this year,” Avello told Gaming Today,  “probably the most difficult time that we’ve had so far with this.

“Now, there’s always been times in the past where players have decided not to play, moving on to the NFL, don’t want to risk an injury, or guys are just hurt and maybe not 100% to come back, or coaches leaving. But this here now is getting really bizarre.”

college bowl betting
AP Photos, Brant James illustration.
Drake Maye (left), Bo Nix (center), Caleb Williams (right)

Staying Informed Required Unorthodox Methods for Traders

Methods that would have once been considered bizarre are now commonplace.

“We get a lot of our stuff through Twitter,” Avello admitted. “Thank God for the Internet. But I guess that’s the way it works for both traders and bettors. We’re constantly scouring trying to find out as much information as we can get on anything to do with any of these games.”

Avello is confident his trading team is as informed as possible though, he insisted.

“We’re experts in college football line-making, pro football line-making, college and pro basketball line-making. So when the starter’s not going to play, we have enough information about the backup to make a good decision on where that line should be or what that guy is worth. Good enough,” Avello said, “so that the bettor [will bet]. That’s what we’re concerned about, is the bets are coming in.

“We can do that. That’s not an issue. It’s just knowing.”

Kyle McCord Decision Shocks Ohio State-Wisconsin Betting

Oregon’s bowl game was of interest to Avello before Nix clarified his intentions. But running back Bucky Irving’s expected absence after declaring for the NFL Draft didn’t impact the betting line — it spiked from -14 to -17.5 — before he, too, announced he would play.

The LSU-Wisconsin line for the Jan. 1 ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa fluctuated on anticipation of Heisman Trophy quarterback Jayden Daniels bolting for the Draft, which he announced via Twitter on Monday. LSU opened as 10.5-point favorites at -440 but had been bet down three points early Monday before Daniels’ announcement.

“You have to stay on top of it, try to get information before it gets out there to the general public,” Avello said. That’s not easy when players are handling their own publicity.

The general public greatly swung the point spread on the Dec. 29 Cotton Bowl after quarterback Kyle McCord announced he was leaving No. 7 Ohio State to enter the transfer portal. The Buckeyes opened as a consensus 6.5-point favorite over No. 9 Missouri, but the spread has been bet down to 2.5 points at most sportsbooks. The opening split at DraftKings had the Buckeyes as -245 favorites. Now the Tigers are 2.5-point favorites at -135.

About the Author
Brant James

Brant James

Senior Writer
Brant James is a senior writer at Gaming Today. He has covered the sports betting industry in the United States since before professional sports teams even knew what an official gaming partnership entailed.

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