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Bad Betting Advice, Bowl Edition

Will MSU beat the odds and the spread? Which conference will reign supreme in Bowl Season? I have some thoughts...

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Bowl Season y’all! While some of us are still scrambling to finish up Christmas shopping, a handful of programs out there are putting the final touches on their preparations for one last game of football this coming weekend

Some people like to complain about the glut of bowl games. I am not one of those people. I have said it before and I will say it again: don’t wish for less college football. As a sports fan, that is tantamount to madness. In the depths of July, watching Arkansas State vs. Florida International in the Camellia Bowl is going to sound pretty compelling. Embrace it! Light up the fireplace, grab a beverage, and enjoy!

As for MSU’s bowl opponent and location, the Spartans will be traveling to New York City to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. MSU opened up as a 3.5-point favorite in Vegas and that line seems to be holding pretty steady. That translates to a 60% chance that MSU ends the season on a high note, with a winning record.

The computers seem to agree with this assessment. The FPI, in fact, agrees within a tenth of a point (-3.55) while my algorithm likes MSU by just slightly more: -4.7. The over-under for the game is sitting right at 50 points. If I take all this data together, my computer likes MSU to win roughly 28-24, beating the spread and hitting the over. But, the indicators are not strong and I must also say that MSU is only 3-9 against the spread this year and 5-7 on the “over.” So, take it all with a grain of salt.

As for the rest of the Bowl Action, here is my visualization of my algorithm’s picks vs. the opening Vegas line, followed by the same data using ESPN’s FPI:

As the data has accumulated over the year, both my algorithm and the FPI got a lot better at matching the spread, so I have no formal betting recommendations for the Bowl Season (all of the picks are withing the dashed lines). But, there are a couple of games that do deviate quite a bit and might be worth a wager, if you are so inclined. For example, my algorithm likes Florida, Ohio State, and Utah to cover, while it is not so confident about UNC, Wisconsin, or Texas A&M.

Both my algorithm and the FPI do have a few interesting upset picks, however, which are shown below.

Considering none of these spreads are over 3 points, none of these 9 upsets would be a shock. My Monte Carlo simulation of the bowl season suggests that we will see 12.4 ± 2.8 total upsets up until the National Title game in mid-January.

Another interesting aspect the Bowl Season is that it gives us a chance to get one final way to compare conferences to each other. Although the bowl match-ups are not specifically designed for parity, the win-loss record that each conference accumulates certainly does have an impact on the perception of the league going into next year, which will impact preseason rankings, which will carry through all the way to the next initial Playoff ranking in 2020. These things perhaps shouldn’t matter... but they do.

To this end, I find it interesting to compare the projected conference records, based on the Vegas lines, as well as the two computer models. That comparison is shown here, with the conferences sorted by the winning percentage projected from the opening Vegas lines:

So, if there were a trophy given out to the conference with the best final bowl record (and ESPN basically does do this. It’s called the Bowl Challenge Cup) the projected winner would be the SEC. Shocking, right? Vegas projects the SEC to go 8-1, with the sole loss coming in the Belk Bowl as Virginia Tech is favored over Kentucky by 2.5 points. However, the FPI is even more bullish on the SEC and has them favored in all 9 bowl games. My algorithm is a bit less optimistic. While I agree with the pick of VA Tech to beat Kentucky, I also like Indiana (-1) to edge Tennessee in the Gator Bowl.

If the SEC does drop more than one bowl game, the Sun Belt is positioned to steal the Bowl Challenge Cup. The Vegas lines and both computer systems all agree that the Sun Belt is likely to go 4-1 as a conference, with the sole loss coming Georgia State at the hands of Wyoming (-7) in the Arizona Bowl. Appalachian State and UL-Lafayette are both double digit favorites, while Georgia Southern is a 6-point favorite over Liberty in the Cure Bowl. Only Arkansas State (-3) is expected to be in a close games against Florida International in the Camellia Bowl.

In the middle tier of projected bowl performance is a group of five conference which Vegas predicts will finish within a game of five-hundred: the Mountain West, AAC, Pac-12, ACC, and the Big Ten. The computer models, however, differ a bit in some of these predictions.

In the Mountain West, my algorithm likes Hawaii to beat out BYU (-2) in the Hawaii Bowl which would push the conference record to 5-2. On the other hand, the FPI likes Washington State to upset Air Force (-3) in the Cheez-It Bowl, which if true could drop the record to 3-4.

In the AAC, both my algorithm and the Vegas project a record of 4-3, but we get there in different ways. I have Navy upsetting Kansas State (-2) in the Liberty Bowl, but I also have FAU taking out SMU (-3) in the Boca Raton Bowl. The FPI likes my Boca Raton pick, but not the Liberty Bowl pick and thus has the AAC at only 3-4.

In the PAC 12, the Vegas lines suggest a 4-3 performance overall and my algorithm agrees completely. However, the FPI is seeing things very differently. ESPN’s algorithm, rather shockingly, has the PAC 12 going a perfect 7-0. To get there, the PAC 12 needs the aforementioned Washington State upset over Air Force (-3) in the Cheez-It Bowl, as well as an Oregon win over Wisconsin (-3) in the Rose Bowl and a USC win over Iowa (-2.5) in the Holiday Bowl. While none of those outcomes would be a huge upset, does anyone actually think the PAC 12 is going to run the table? Yeah, me neither.

In the ACC, the Vegas lines paint a picture of a 5-5 bowl season. However, this includes a Clemson win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl Semifinal, and both my algorithm and the FPI see this game ending with a Buckeye win. In addition, as mentioned above, the FPI likes Kentucky over VA Tech (-2.5) in the Belk Bowl, which would push the ACC record down to 3-7 if ESPN is correct here.

In Big Ten country, Vegas projects a record of only 4-5 in the nine Big Ten bowls. My algorithm is a bit more optimistic, however, as I have Ohio State beating Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl and Indiana edging Tennessee (-1) in the Gator Bowl. As for the FPI, while it agrees with my Fiesta Bowl pick, it does not agree with the Gator Bowl upset, and instead has Wisconsin (-3) and Iowa (-2.5) both barely losing to PAC 12 teams in California, which would drop the B1G record to only 3-6.

At the bottom of the projected bowl performance heap are the remaining 3 leagues which are not expected to have Happy Holidays: the MAC, C-USA, and the Big 12.

In the MAC, both Vegas and my system project a record of 2-5 with no disagreement on any of the outcomes. The only deviation is that the FPI likes Western Michigan to upset Western Kentucky (-2) in the First Responder Bowl.

As for Conference USA, Vegas only has the conference favored in one of their eight bowls (Western Kentucky). However, both my algorithm and the FPI like FAU’s chances against SMU (-3) in Baco Raton. But, since the FPI also likes Western Michigan the FPI and Vegas agree on the final projected record.

Finally, that brings us to the bottom of the pile: the Big 12. In the conference’s six bowl games, Vegas only has them favored in the Liberty Bowl (K-State [-2] vs. Navy). The FPI agrees completely. But, my algorithm likes the Midshipmen in a very patriotic upset, which could sink the Big 12 conference record to 0-6.

I should note that as for the actual Playoff games, my spreadsheet has the following predictions:

  • Peach Bowl: LSU 42, Oklahoma 28
  • Fiesta Bowl: Ohio Sate 31, Clemson 24
  • National Title Game: Ohio State 38, LSU 27

Go Buckeyes ?!?!?

Finally, I will leave you with the upcoming Bowl schedule, including my projected winners (listed first) as well as the opening Vegas line for each game. Please note that I reconstructed the bowl names and sponsors from memory, so there may so some minor errors.

  • 12/20 -- Help Wanted Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo vs. Charlotte (+4.5)
  • 12/20 -- Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl: Utah State vs. Kent State (+8.0)
  • 12/21 -- Land of Entrapment New Mexico Bowl: San Diego State vs. Central Michigan (+4.5)
  • 12/21 -- Boys Don’t Cry Cure Bowl: Georgia Southern vs. Liberty (+6.0)
  • 12/21 -- Discount Retirement Community Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic vs. SMU (-3.0)
  • 12/21 -- Too Poor for a Sponsor Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Florida Int. (+3.0)
  • 12/21 -- 3rd Tier Japanese OEM Las Vegas Bowl: Washington vs. Boise State (+3.0)
  • 12/21 -- Keep-On-Truckin’ New Orleans Bowl: Appalachian State vs. UAB (+17.5)
  • 12/23 -- Redneck Lawn Care Gasparilla Bowl: UCF vs. Marshall (+17.5)
  • 12/24 -- Student Debt Crisis Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii vs. BYU (-2.0)
  • 12/26 -- No Scholarships Independence Bowl: Miami (FL) vs. Louisiana Tech (+7.5)
  • 12/26 -- Not-So Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Eastern Michigan (+9.5)
  • 12/27 -- Unmanned Drone Military Bowl: North Carolina vs. Temple (+6.0)
  • 12/27 -- Neon Green is the New Black Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs. Wake Forest (+3.5)
  • 12/27 -- Big 12 Family Reunion Texas Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma State (+4.0)
  • 12/27 -- Green Day On Holiday Bowl: Iowa vs. USC (+2.5)
  • 12/27 -- Salty Snacks Cheez-It Bowl: Air Force vs. Washington State (+3.0)
  • 12/28 -- Hindenburg Disaster Cotton Bowl: Penn State vs. Memphis (+7.5)
  • 12/28 -- National Lampoon’s Camping World Vacation Bowl: Notre Dame vs. Iowa State (+3.5)
  • 12/28 -- Average Chicken Sandwich Peach Bowl: LSU vs. Oklahoma (+10.0)
  • 12/28 -- Commodore 128 Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson (0.0)
  • 12/30 -- Large Scale Disaster First Responder Bowl: WKU vs. WMU (+2.0)
  • 12/30 -- Predatory Lending Music City Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Louisville (+3.5)
  • 12/30 -- Blockbuster 2.0 Redbox Bowl: California vs. Illinois (+4.0)
  • 12/30 -- What’s in Your Wallet Orange Bowl: Florida vs. Virginia (+13.5)
  • 12/31 -- Big Box Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky (+2.5)
  • 12/31 -- Frosted Flakes Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Florida State (+4.5)
  • 12/31 -- I Prefer Death, Liberty Bowl: Navy vs. Kansas State (-2.0)
  • 12/31 -- Mortgage Crisis Arizona Bowl: Wyoming vs. Georgia St. (+7.0)
  • 12/31 -- Regional Petroleum Alamo Bowl: Utah vs. Texas (+6.5)
  • 01/01 -- Dead Cow Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Minnesota (+8.0)
  • 01/01 -- Air-B&B Citrus Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan (+7.0)
  • 01/01 -- Rose Bowl, Sponsored by Capitalism: Wisconsin vs. Oregon (+3.0)
  • 01/01 -- Not State Farm Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Baylor (+8.5)
  • 01/02 -- Not Ticketmaster Birmingham Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Boston College (+6.5)
  • 01/02 -- Not TurboTax Gator Bowl: Indiana vs. Tennessee (-1.0)
  • 01/03 -- Infamous Idaho Potato Bowl: Ohio vs. Nevada (+6.5)
  • 01/04 -- Hopefully not a Militia Armed Forces Bowl: Tulane vs. Southern Miss (+7.0)
  • 01/06 -- Bank Fraud Lending Tree Bowl: UL Lafayette vs. Miami (OH) (+14.0)

That is all for now. Enjoy the Bowl Season and until next time, Go State, Beat the Demon Deacons!