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29 December 2014
By Vin Narayanan
College football bowl season is upon us, so it's time to revisit my preseason college football prop bets and make some bowl wagers.
I went 3-7 in my preseason predictions. I went 2-for-2 on Jameis Winston prop bets -- over on the yardage and under on the touchdowns -- and nailed Ole Miss hitting the over on wins -- they had nine and the line was set at eight. I just missed on the two Bryce Petty prop bets. He finished second in the Big 12 in both touchdowns and yardage. I had him finishing first, and he would have if TCU's Trevone Boykin hadn't turned in a monster season. I also just missed on the UCLA prop bet. I had the Bruins with more than 9.5 wins, but they finished the season with just nine. UCLA's two-point loss to Utah at home was the crushing blow there.
With a full college football season in the book, hopefully I'll do better than 3-7 with my bowl predictions. But there's no guarantee. Handicapping bowl games is a tricky proposition. The two biggest challenges are comparing teams from different conferences because they rarely have common opponents and motivation. Some teams are just thrilled to be in a bowl game and play well above their heads. Others are so disappointed with the bowl they're playing in that they play less than inspired football. Last season, Alabama lost to Oklahoma 45-31 and Baylor lost to Central Florida 52-42 because neither team wanted to be there.
Never fear though. I'm feeling inspired. So here are my top-10 college bowl game wagers (all odds courtesy of bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook):
10. Florida -6.5 vs East Carolina (-110)
I was originally going to pick East Carolina in this game. Florida has a terrible offense, a pretty good defense and has to be extremely disappointed to be playing in the Birmingham Bowl. But two factors changed my mind. First, Florida fired Will Muschamp as its head coach and replaced him with Jim McElwain. As a result, this bowl game is an open audition for playing time on next year's Florida squad. Then, East Carolina said two of its top defensive starters were ineligible for the game. No reason was given, but when you lose a nose tackle and a safety from you're starting unit, you're in trouble. Florida wins this game easily.
9. UCLA -1.5 vs Kansas State (-110)
I barely missed on UCLA hitting the 10-win mark this year. But that doesn't change my opinion of UCLA. The Bruins are a pretty good football team playing in a very good conference. Kansas State had an impressive year. But the Wildcats struggled against the class of the conference. And the Pac-12 was a better conference than the Big 12 this year. I like UCLA in this spot.
8. Auburn -6 vs. Wisconsin (-110)
Auburn has a terrible defense and a really good offense. Wisconsin has a one-dimensional offense with an outstanding running game and no real passing game. Throw in the surprising departure of Wisconsin head coach Gary Anderson for Oregon State and you have the very definition of a team in flux. Both teams will put some points on the board. But Auburn's will get enough stops to beat Wisconsin big.
7. Auburn-Wisconsin Over 63.5 (-110)
Don't judge the Wisonsin offense on the Big Ten championship game, which they lost 59-0. That game was an aberration. Yes, they have a one dimensional offense. Yes, they can't throw the ball effectively. But they're really good at running the ball. They've managed to score at least 20 points against all but two teams, including LSU. Melvin Gordon ran for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns on 309 attempts. That's insanely productive and efficient. The Badgers are going to run on Auburn. They're going to score against Auburn. They won't score enough to win the game. But they will score enough to obliterate the over.
6. Florida State +9 vs. Oregon (-115)
I think Oregon is going to win the national championship. The Ducks are extremely talented on both sides of the ball and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is making great decisions and throws in a dynamic offense. But Florida State has yet to play a complete game this season. They haven't had a single game where the offense, defense and special teams were all clicking at the same time. I'm expecting the Seminoles to play their best game of the season against Oregon. Will it be enough to win? No. But Florida State should cover the nine-point spread pretty easily.
5. Florida State-Oregon Under 71.5 (-110)
The Florida State-Oregon game features two quarterbacks that won the Heisman. Both quarterbacks lead potent offenses that are capable of putting points on the board in a hurry. And both offenses will be in the spotlight when two teams finally take the field on New Year's Day. But, very quietly, both teams have built very good defenses. Oregon's defense yielded fewer than 21 points seven times this season. Florida State's defense did the same. Both defenses are fast and talented. And both are capable of shutting down good offenses for extended periods of time. I think this game ends with both teams scoring in the high 20s or low 30s. I'll gladly take the under in this game.
4. Missouri -4.5 over Minnesota (-110)
These two teams are playing in the Citrus Bowl. And much like the stadium in Orlando, the ratings for this game are going to be terrible. But the game itself should be entertaining. Minnesota and Missouri are two teams that garner respect from their peers, but nobody else. The Minnesota defense features and outstanding secondary that's tough to throw on and an under appreciated front four. Missouri is pretty stingy on defense as well, though it struggles -- like most teams do -- against better offenses. Both teams possess solid, but unspectacular offenses. In this game, I think Missouri's front seven will be too much for Minnesota handle in a low scoring game. The Gopher will struggle to put points on the board while Missouri scores just enough to win -- and cover.
3. Alabama -9 over Ohio State (-115)
Most people are expecting Alabama to rout Ohio State. I am not. Ohio State has what college football people like to call "SEC speed." Ohio State's receivers, running backs, linebackers and defensive linemen are as good as and as fast as any group from the SEC. So Ohio State is not going to lose because it's not fast enough. Ohio State is going to lose because its quarterback is starting just his second collegiate game. Cardale Jones, in for the injured J.T. Barrett, won his first start 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin. Alabama is a big step up from Wisconsin. And Jones just doesn't have the experience to beat a quality defense. Not yet anyway. Ohio State will score some points. But not enough to keep with up Alabama. The Crimson Tide will cover the nine points easily.
2. Alabama-Ohio State Over 58.5 (-110)
Ohio State has struggled to defend speedy wide receivers, so Amari Cooper should have a field day against the Buckeyes defense. And even though Ohio State is starting its third-string quarterback, that doesn't mean the Buckeyes won't put points on the board. Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott average 6.3 yards per carry and has home run speed. Devin Smith, Mike Thomas and Jalin Marshall are fast and devour secondaries. With both defenses struggling to defend the deep ball, there should be plenty of explosive plays in this game. Look for both teams to combine for at least 68 points as they obliterate the over.
1. Mississippi State -6.5 over Georgia Tech (-110)
This is the biggest gimmee on the bowl calendar. Georgia Tech plays tough disciplined defense and runs the triple option on offense. But it doesn't have enough firepower on either side of the ball to beat Mississippi State. Mississippi State plays fundamentally sound defense and is explosive on offense. Georgia Tech played one of its best games of the year and still fell short against Florida State. But Florida State had only one week to prepare for Georgia Tech's funky offense. Mississippi State has several weeks, and that preparation is going to pay off in this game. Mississippi wins big. Book it.
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