I had the unenviable task of putting together the college football bowl schedule that appears in this week’s Gaming Today on page 15. And I have to admit, I already have bowl fatigue, even though the kickoff to the Bahamas Bowl is still nine days away.
You can thank ESPN and the greed of municipalities for the proliferation of bowl games, which has seen a lowering of standards and frankly has devalued the whole concept over the years.
Of course, I’m showing my age when I tell you New Year’s Day was all about four bowl games — the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., the Orange Bowl in Miami and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. A “minor bowl” was playing on New Year’s Eve, like the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.
Now they play the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30. The Cotton Bowl is not even in Dallas and they play it on Dec. 28.
So much for tradition.
You no longer need a winning record to play in a bowl game. A 6-6 mark makes you eligible for consideration. But from all that change, we do get to see the national championship decided on the field. And whether you want to argue that there should be more than four teams competing for the title, the fact that they have to play to determine the winner is progress worth having.
The national championship will be Monday, Jan. 13. And there will be no Alabama this year. The Crimson Tide was relegated to New Year’s Day status and a morning game against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl at Orlando. If Nick Saban can get ‘Bama to show up for this, he truly is the master motivator.
Which leads me to why I’m writing this. There are going to be 41 college football games played between Dec. 20 and Jan. 13. That’s a lot of opportunities to wager and it’s one of the few good things about the proliferation of bowls. If you are going to watch the Gasparilla Bowl, you might as well have some action on it.
But which side do you bet? Motivation is always the key handicapping element during bowl season. When teams have their playoff dreams crushed or their New Year’s Day aspirations fizzle out, how hard can you expect them to try? Show me Utah’s motivation to win the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio after they got routed by Oregon in the Pac-12 title game last Friday? How much does Virginia Tech care about playing in the Belk Bowl?
Coaches are going to take new jobs and leave their former teams in the hands of a coordinator who gets elevated to interim head coach status. Players are going to get suspended for a variety of missteps. Other players will elect not to play at all, citing their desire to not get hurt before the NFL combine in February and not run the risk of impacting their draft status.
In other words, this is one hell of a crapshoot.
You’ll be getting some advice from our college football columnists as you look to sort out which games to bet and which side to play. They’ll tell you to follow the teams you are looking to bet on closely, relying on social media platforms to see if any news breaks on a key player getting hurt, being suspended or opting out.
They’ll tell you to watch the weather as kickoff approaches. Rain and wind can dramatically change the complexion of a game, especially in Florida and Alabama, where things can sometimes be a bit unpredictable.
Normally, you might think that with 41 games, the oddsmakers may whiff on a few of them and have the wrong team favored or make the line out of whack. Trust me, that’s not happening. They’ve got the same information you do, if not more. They’ve been tracking every game played by every team every week. They know the values of what certain teams do, what historical trends exist and how those teams fare.
That may have been the case with a full slate of college basketball the past couple of weeks where they got the line wrong and smart bettors made them pay. But when it comes to college football, the books are dialed in. They’re not in the business of screwing up when it comes to hanging a number in a bowl game.
Obviously, professional bettors will look for value while the public may jump on a certain team that has delivered the goods for them during the year. That’s all part of the process.
It’s a fun time of the year and you should treat it as such. And if your school is going bowling, congratulations. A trip to Shreveport the day after Christmas for the Independence Bowl might actually be a memorable experience. Especially for Louisiana Tech fans who only have an hour’s drive to the game and figure to be well represented.
Me? I just wish Poulan Weed-Eater was still the game’s title sponsor.