Speculating on NCAA football bowl matchups and opening lines

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One of the fun things to do at this juncture of the season is speculate on college football bowl matchups and possible opening lines.

Las Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White, co-star of “The Linemakers’ TV show on Discovery’s Velocity channel, gave his raw number on all the games with LSU being favored against anyone they match up against. That’s of course assuming the top-ranked Tigers beat Arkansas next week and Georgia in the SEC title game.

I say ‘raw number’ because that’s a figure compiled strictly on White’s rating for a neutral site. The sports books will then take that number and see if they can do any tinkering in justifying a move to a key number like 3, 4, 6, 7 or 10 as their starting point.

This allows some flexibility to absorb multiple limit bets before making a move and limiting exposure with middle opportunities. For example, if you opened LSU -2 against Oklahoma, one limit bet on the favorite might take you to -2½ and then maybe two limit bets from there to -3.

Whereas, if you opened -3 from the start, you could absorb three to four limit bets on Oklahoma before going to -2½.

Obviously, the market dictates what the games open at as well, but with isolated Bowl games, most Las Vegas sports books have a side they’ve chosen based on all their data accumulated from the season. The handle is so large in these games that they’re all basically treated like mini-Super Bowls.

Here’s a look at White‘s projected bowl numbers with comments on what the sports book might do with the figure:

LSU -1 vs. Alabama: There’s a feeling the public and sharp money both like LSU. Starting at -2½ to see if Alabama money can quickly be found might be an early strategy. If LSU money still comes in, the book saved itself two to three moves up the ladder and limit exposure where they can be beaten by both sides.

LSU -2½ vs. Oklahoma: There are factions that still believe Oklahoma is the best team in the nation. A sports book would open -3 and say, “show me the money.”

LSU -3 vs. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys can score at will, but could find some issues with LSU’s defense. Although LSU hasn’t looked good offensively all season, they might be at their best against Oklahoma State’s defense. The public would still side with LSU and the book might want to get closer to -5 by opening -4½.

LSU -3 vs. Oregon: The Ducks are a very popular public team on the west coast. In games like this, they have to be respected almost as much as the sharp money because their contributions to the overall cash pile will outweigh the sharps. LSU -3 would be a good starting point to see where the money takes them, if anywhere.

Should LSU lose in the next three weeks, it’s a wild dash to the finish. The loser of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State on Dec. 3 is out of contention for the national title. If Oklahoma wins, then Alabama would be in the driver’s seat.

Oregon would have to win very impressively over USC this weekend to help offset the surge in points Oklahoma would get by beating OSU.

Here’s White’s projected lines involving Alabama in the BCS National Championship game under the scenario that LSU loses:

Alabama -1½ vs. Oklahoma

Alabama -1½ vs. Oklahoma State

Alabama -2½ vs. Oregon

Here’s a look at White’s projected line for a couple of other BCS Bowl games possibilities:

Orange Bowl: Clemson -7 vs. Cincinnati

Sugar Bowl: Alabama -4 vs. Stanford

Rose Bowl: Oregon -2½ vs. Wisconsin

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma -10 vs. Houston

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