Sports bettors embrace the college bowl season

Dec 11, 2001 7:36 AM

The college bowl season is finally here and, typically, the match-ups are on the minds of bettors who are looking for an early edge in the action.

They don’t have to look further than the national championship game, which finds Miami matched up with Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. In early action, bettors apparently joined fans and pollsters who preferred Oregon to Nebraska as the No. 2 team in the country. The Huskers opened an 8-point dog at the Stardust and were quickly bet up to +10.

“That’s a natural reaction,” said GT’s resident oddsmaker. “Everyone expects Miami to manhandle anyone that steps onto the field. But it’s too early to jump on any bandwagons. Miami didn’t have a great spread record outside of the ­­Orange Bowl.”

Nebraska, which suffered a lopsided loss to Colorado two weeks ago, finished fourth in both the AP and ESPN/USA polls (Oregon was second, Colorado third). Yet the Huskers somehow finished second in the final Bowl Championship Series standings released Sunday, earning them a date in the Rose Bowl against unbeaten Miami on January 3.

Top-ranked Miami (11-0), which completed its regular season last week with a win over Virginia Tech, already was assured of finishing first in the BCS poll and playing for college football’s national title in Pasadena.

The selection of Nebraska, however, generated howls of protests from the bypassed schools and increased the cry for a playoff system. But Nebraska coach Frank Solich did not seem to mind one bit, and made no apologies for his team’s selection.

“Certainly when you don’t have two clear-cut teams you’re going to have controversy,” Solich said. “We won 11 games with no one within 10 points of us. There were no failed extra points, no lucky bounces.”

But it is hard to overlook a 62-36 loss to Colorado on Thanksgiving weekend. And BCS officials were left to explain how a team that did not even play in the Big 12 Conference title game could play for the national championship.

“We want to look at how the entire season appears,” said John Swofford, coordinator of the BCS. “Sometimes when you get to the end of the season you want to take a look back.”

Third-ranked Colorado (10-2) was third in the final BCS rankings, a mere 0.05 points behind the Cornhuskers, and will settle for a date in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 2 Oregon (10-1).

Miami topped the BCS poll with 2.62 points.

The last meeting between Nebraska and Miami was in the Orange Bowl following the 1994 season, when the Cornhuskers claimed the national title with a 24-17 victory.

Nebraska becomes the first at-large team to advance to a BCS title game.

Both the Buffaloes and Ducks had aspirations of playing in the Rose Bowl, but settled for third and fourth, respectively, in the BCS rankings.

With the BCS system under heavy criticism, the winner of the Fiesta Bowl could claim a share of the national title should Miami lose. While the winner of the Rose Bowl is guaranteed the top spot in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, the Associated Press media poll has no such restriction.

“I’m always the eternal optimist looking for a way to sneak in the back door (and win a national title),” Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington said.

Oregon claimed it should have been chosen for the Rose Bowl since it plays in the competitive Pac-10 Conference and suffered its only loss to Stanford, currently 11th in the coaches’ poll.

Colorado feels it earned a trip to Pasadena by routing Nebraska and then defeating Texas, 39-37, in the Big 12 Conference title game. But under the current BCS format, a two-loss team has yet to play for the title.

Colorado coach Gary Barnett was critical of the BCS system because it did not take the head-to-head meeting into consideration.

“Coach Barnett is right. Their quality wins were factored in,” countered Swofford. “That’s what made the vote so close. To overcome two losses, that gave them a more significant bump in the end and made it close.”

It is the second straight season that the BCS system resulted in controversy. In 2000, Miami was bypassed for the Orange Bowl in favor of Florida State, which lost to Oklahoma.

“I have a certain amount of empathy (for Colorado and Nebraska),” Miami coach Larry Coker said. “(But) we lost a game last season and that put us where we were. That was the system we were under.”

The pairings for the other two BCS games ”” Orange and Sugar ”” also generated early betting interest.

Sixth-ranked Maryland (10-1), which won its first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 1985 and reached 10 wins for only the fifth time in school history, will play No. 5 Florida (9-2) in the Orange Bowl. The Gators opened a gaudy 16½ point favorite, a line that ­­experts believe is overly inflated.

No. 7 Illinois (10-1) the Big Ten Conference champion, is headed to the Sugar Bowl to play No. 12 LSU (9-3). LSU clinched the automatic BCS berth by upsetting Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference title game on Saturday night, a factor which helped make the Tigers a 4-point pick over Illinois.

Perhaps the heaviest early action was on Virginia Tech, who plays Florida State in the Citrus Bowl. The Hokies opened a 1½ point underdog, but were bet to a 2½ point ­­favorite within 24 hours.

“The line move doesn’t make much sense,” said one bookmaker. “The Hokies are down from last year and don’t play well outside of Blacksburg.

Other interesting bowl match-ups include:

No. 8 Tennessee (10-2), which was headed to the Rose Bowl had it won on Saturday, slipping all the way to the Citrus Bowl, where it will face Michigan in Orlando on January 1. Because of its hiccup against LSU, the Vols were made a modest 4-point favorite over a pedestrian Wolverine squad.

No. 14 South Carolina (8-3) accepted a berth to the Outback Bowl, where it will meet Ohio State for the second straight year on January 1. South Carolina won last year’s game, 24-7, and are slightly favored this season by 2½ points.

Arkansas (7-4) will be the opponent for Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. ­­Although unable to defend its national championship, the Sooners were installed as a 14-point favorite.

GamingToday will provide complete previews and selections of games starting next week.