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Best of Bob Owens

Bob Owens Handicaps the College Bowls

18 December 2001

There are really no qualifications -- no masters degree from Yale, for instance -- needed to publicly make sports selections against the spread. A certain amount of hard crust, I suppose, is an essential, as well as a plump ego. And, oh yeah, some knowledge of the game and how it's played does help.

With a reported 1000 or more touts surfacing each college football season -- many of them with the moral standards of John Gotti -- it's clear that many bettors feel the need for help.

I did a football handicapping service through much of the 90s, but in a very low-key manner: the twists and shouts of the touting fraternity leave me cold. I've had some solid successes, very profitable years, along with some clunkers. I usually do well in the bowls, which fact does not mean anyone should bet the farm on my picks.

Sports betting is high risk, high reward. It beats slots or roulette as far as any positive expectancy of a net return, but it ain't easy. If it were, there would not be the stampede we see offshore to get into the bookie biz.

I'll offer here an in-depth analysis (by my lights) of the nine sides I'm betting in the bowls. I'll also serve up seven totals plays, and finally some "leans," the other bowl games I'm not going to bet but will tell you where I'd likely be if I were.

The point spreads shown are a consensus of some Vegas and offshore books as of Sunday evening, Dec. 16. These odds will change; bowl totals are particularly volatile.

I rate each play either as 1 unit, 1.5 units, or 2 units. These ratings will appear in parentheses next to each selection. The higher the number, the better I feel about the play. Let's start with the sides.

Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 25: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA -3 over Utah (1). The Trojans did lose 5 games, but by an average margin of only 5 points. And they played quite well in the second half of the season, winning 5 of their last 6 games, and against generally better competition than Utah played. The Utes, like USC, do it on defense, but may have worn down at the end of a long season.

Mainstay Independence, Dec. 27: ALABAMA -6.5 over Iowa State (1). Defense rules in college football; that's axiomatic. And a good run defense is the primary thing that characterizes most winning programs. It's a lot more important than a good pass defense. If you're solid against the run you can be weak against the pass, and still be a top team.

Look at Oregon, a 10-1 record, Pac 10 champs and ranked in the top 5 nationally, yet they are 110 (out of 115 teams) in pass defense. Other very good teams with shoddy pass defenses are Stanford (ranked 105), BYU (98), Florida State (74) and Colorado (71).

To be sure, pass defense should be factored in, especially if going against a hot tossing team. Still, consider that lowly Buffalo, UTEP, Temple and Rutgers rank in the top 30 in pass defense, and you get the idea.

Alabama is mediocre versus the air game, but ranked 16 against the rush. And they also run the ball well. Because of impending sanctions for recruiting violations they may not be in another bowl for a few years, so they'll want to make a statement here., Dec. 28: TEXAS A&M -6.5 over TCU (2). While I doubt this sponsor will sell one more stick of furniture because of this promotion, I do like the game, and the Aggies. I'll risk sounding like the proverbial broken record (remember records?) and again cite the "D."

A&M is 19 in rush defense, 10 in total defense. TCU is also stingy on defense, but like a lot of smaller schools seems to have worn down somewhat late in the season. Texas A&M faced superior competition in the Big 12 conference.

Sylvania Alamo, Dec. 29: IOWA +1 over Texas Tech (1.5). If the Big 10 isn't as strong this year as the Big 12 (and it isn't) why would I go with Iowa here? Well, surprise: Iowa has run defense (#27), while Tech doesn't (# 74). Tech got here via a nice aerial attack (# 5), but Iowa has an adequate air defense (# 38). But how is Texas Tech going to stop a decent Hawkeye running game?

And the dome they play in here in San Antonio may be a problem to the Red Raiders. Iowa is used to an indoor arena -- they visit Minnesota's Metrodome every other year. But the only times the Raiders have recently played indoors was in this very Alamodome, in bowl games, where they've lost twice, including to an Iowa team in 1996, by a 0-27 score., Dec. 29: KANSAS STATE -5.5 over Syracuse (2). Kansas State didn't have as good a season as in years past, but still shone on defense, as usual. They were beaten by Oklahoma by just one point, and by Nebraska by only 10.

Does anyone think that Syracuse would have lost to these powerhouse squads by only a combined 11 points? Remember, the Orangemen were crushed by Miami, 0-59. And there will likely be a lot more Wildcat fans in the stands in Phoenix than those wearing orange.

Silicon Valley Classic, Dec. 31: FRESNO STATE -5.5 over Michigan State (1). I gotta confess that this is a system play, and systems all too often break down in actual play. But this one I devised some years back, specifically for late season and bowl games. It doesn't get many plays (3-0 ATS this year so far) but it does have an excellent record. (No, I won't reveal the rules of the method!)

Still, I'm betting only one unit on Fresno, because I believe the fundamentals somewhat favor the Spartans. But I will stick with the system here, and hope the Bulldogs will make my New Year happy by rabidly attacking the Spartans.

My other side plays are COLORADO -2.5 (1.5); MARYLAND +15.5 (1); and NEBRASKA +9.5 (2). I'll have an analysis of these plays next week. [Late breaking news would deter me from, at this moment, making a play on Colorado, until the possible suspension situation is cleared up. (An allegation of gang rape may involve some Buffalo football players.) If more than two starters are suspended for the game, I'd pass. The info on this will be at various sites on the Web, like ESPN.]

Parlays tend to favor the bookmaker more so than straight bets, but I traditionally make a three-team bowl parlay, and I hit it with satisfying frequency. It won two of the last three years (and missed by just one team the other year), and you get back six for each buck bet. This year I'll make my bowl parlay from my three 2 unit plays: Texas A&M, Kansas State, and Nebraska. So go Big 12!

Here are my totals plays. Little explanation is needed here: Where I think the defenses are solid enough to come in under the posted total, I'll bet 'em Under. If the opposite, Over.

GMAC Bowl, Dec. 19: E Carolina/Marshall Over 66 (1.5)

Las Vegas Bowl: USC/Utah Under 46 (1) TCU/Texas A&M Under 43.5 (1)

Sylvania Alamo: Texas Tech/Iowa Over 60.5 (1)

Silicon Valley Classic: Fresno St/Michigan St Over 63.5 (1)

Capital One Florida Citrus(whew!) Jan. 1: Michigan/Tennessee Under 49 (1)

Nokia Sugar, Jan. 1: Illinois/LSU Over 56.5 (1.5)

My "leans," or opinions on the games I'm not betting, are North Texas, Marshall, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Boston College, Texas, Cincinnati, Louisiana Tech, Purdue, Louisville, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, and Illinois.

Bob Owens will be back next week with more discussion of college football.

Bob Owens
Bob Owens has been a freelance writer for 20 years, authoring numerous articles on sports and betting. In the late 1980s, he was an advisor on betting and promotions for the Caliente bookmakers in Mexico. He's based in San Diego.
Bob Owens
Bob Owens has been a freelance writer for 20 years, authoring numerous articles on sports and betting. In the late 1980s, he was an advisor on betting and promotions for the Caliente bookmakers in Mexico. He's based in San Diego.