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Bad Betting Advice, Bowl Edition

MSU’s season might be over, but there are still numbers to crunch and bad advice to give.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Well, what can I say? It’s been a long, hard, weird year. It looked for a while like college football wasn’t going to happen at all. Some have argued that it was a fool’s errand to even try. It certainly did not go perfectly, but we have officially made it to bowl season.

Michigan State might be done for the year, but there is still football left to played and that means that there are still numbers to crunch. By my count, there are 27 bowls still to play. Let’s have fun with it. So, for one last time this year, I would like to provide you, the reader, with a final dose of Bad Betting Advice.

Bowl Picks

Figures 1 and 2 give the final computer projections for the year, both from my algorithm and the FPI, respectively.

Figure 1: Bowl game result projections from my algorithm relative to the opening Vegas lines
Figure 2: Bowl game result projections from ESPN’s FPI relative to the opening Vegas lines

As always, the upset picks for the week can be extracted based on the games that fall to the left of the red line. Those are summarized below in Table 1.

Table 1: Bowl week upset picks from both my algorithm and ESPN’s FPI

For this final go-round, the computers like a total of five upsets, the biggest of which is my algorithm’s prediction that Ohio State will beat Clemson in the National Semifinal game. Also notable are the FPI’s picks that Auburn will beat Northwestern and Oklahoma will beat Florida. Note that the FPI’s upset pick of UCF over BYU didn’t work out last night for ESPN’s computer.

Both computers have performed exceptionally well in upset picks this year, so I would guess around half of those remaining picks will come to pass. I should also note that my simulation of bowl week suggests that a total of 9.1 plus-or-minus 2.4 upsets are likely to occur.

As for recommended bets, Table 2 below summarizes my final bit of advice for the season.

Table 2: Bowl week recommended bets, based on the computer projections

In this particular bowl season, my algorithm does not trigger any specific bet, but my analysis of FPI lines results in a total of three recommendations. Norte Dame, Auburn, and Ohio State are all projected to cover the spread.

Bowl Preview

A good way to take a quick overview of the Bowl landscape is to compare the projected bowl record of each conference, based on the Vegas lines as well as the computer projections. That comparison is shown below in Table 3.

Table 3: Projected bowl records for each conference based on the Vegas lines and computer projections.

One of the first things to notice is that the Big Ten is predicted to have a pretty successful bowl season. The Vegas line and both computer systems all agree that Indiana (-7) is likely to win and cover in the Outback Bowl versus Ole Miss. The same is true for Iowa (-11) versus Missouri in the Music City Bowl and Wisconsin (-7) versus Wake Forest in the Duke’s Mayo (a.k.a. Belk) Bowl.

The story is a little bit different for the Citrus Bowl matchup of Northwestern (-3) versus Auburn. In this case, my algorithm predicts that the Wildcats will still win, but that they will not cover the three-point spread. The FPI takes things one step farther. As shown above in Table 1, the FPI is picking Auburn in the upset.

As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes opened as 7.5-point underdogs to the Tigers, but both computers project a much better result from the Scarlet and Gray. The FPI still favors Clemson, but by the slimiest of margins (0.010 points). My algorithm has the Buckeyes actually winning by less than two points, which would potentially give the Big Ten a perfect record.

The other Power Five conference projected to have a good bowl season in the Big 12. According to Vegas, Big 12 teams are favored in five of their six games. The only exception is the highest profile game: the Cotton Bowl matchup between Florida (-3) and Oklahoma. Interestingly, the computers like Oklahoma’s chances to at least cover. The FPI actually favors the Sooners to win straight up (which potentially could give the Big 12 a perfect record) while my algorithm has Florida winning by 0.02 points (which is very hard to do...)

In other Big 12 action, Vegas has Oklahoma State (-4) favored to beat Miami in the Cheez-It Bowl (a.k.a. Camping World, Russell Athletics, and Champs Sports Bowl), TCU (-6) favored to beat Arkansas in the Texas Bowl, and West Virginia (-9) is favored to beat Army in the Liberty Bowl. In general the computers are uniformly picking against the Big 12 teams to cover in these three bowl, with the exception of the Texas Bowl where the FPI does suggest a bet on TCU.

This leaves the two remaining Big 12 bowls which both involve Pac-12 teams. Specifically, Texas (-11) is favored versus Colorado in the Alamo Bowl and Iowa State (-3) is favored to beat Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. By extension, the Pac-12 therefore projected to go 0-2 in Bowl Season. Both computer systems agree with the final results, but both pick Oregon to cover in the Fiesta Bowl. My algorithm also likes Colorado to cover in the Alamo Bowl while the FPI favors Texas.

While the Big Ten and Pac-12 were bowing out of bowl games, the SEC was doing the opposite. The SEC initially was scheduled to play in 12 of the 28 games until Tennessee opted of the Liberty Bowl due to COVID protocols and was replaced by Army. South Carolina has also pulled out of the Gasparilla Bowl versus UAB for the same reason.

As it stands now, the Vegas lines suggest that the SEC should only except to win four of those remaining 10 contests. Note also that the original Vegas lines had both Tennessee and South Carolina as underdogs, so the cancellations will likely benefit the SEC’s overall bowl record.

The potential bowl loses for Arkansas (to TCU in the Texas Bowl), Auburn (to Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl), Ole Miss (to Indiana in the Outback Bowl), and Missouri (to Iowa in the Music City Bowl) have been covered above, as has Florida’s projected win over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

The SEC has a total of three contests scheduled against ACC teams, and Vegas projects a 2-1 record. Specifically, Alabama (-20.5) is a big favorite over ACC-lite team Notre Dame in the National Semifinal and Texas A&M (-5) is favored to beat North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. The computers are mixed on these two contests. My algorithm has the SEC covering in both games, while the FPI favors the ACC team. Kentucky (+3) will also face NC State in the Gator Bowl. While Vegas favors the ACC team in this matchup, both computers picks the upset here.

In the remaining two games, the SEC team has drawn a Group of Five opponent. Georgia (-8) is expected to beat Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, but the computers are split on which team will cover. In the final SEC matchup, Mississippi State (+1) will face Tulsa. Vegas sees a win for the AAC team here and the computers both project Tulsa to cover.

While the SEC is expected to struggle, they can take comfort in the fact that the ACC is expected to do worse. Vegas projects a record of only 2-4 (with Clemson and NC State winning), the FPI projects a 1-5 record, while my algorithm predicts a 0-6 record. All six of those games involve Power Five opponents that were discussed above.

As for the Group of Five conferences, the Sun Belt is expected to have a very good Bowl Season. Vegas and both computers project a perfect 5-0 record and Appalachian State already got on the board with a win over North Texas on Monday in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. In other notable action, Coastal Carolina (-4) is favored over Liberty in the Cure Bowl and Louisiana (-13) is favored over UTSA in the Bowl First Responder Bowl.

The American Athletic Conference is also projected to have a good year. Vegas and the computers projected a 4-2 record or better with Houston (-13) and Memphis (-11) as big favorites over Hawaii and Florida Atlantic in the New Mexico and Montgomery Bowls respectively. Tulsa (-1) is also favored over Mississippi State in the Armed Forced Bowls. Conversely, Cincinnati (+8) is a long shot to beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl.

That said, two games are already in the books as Tulane (-4) was favored to beat Nevada in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but they wound up losing by 11. UCF (+3) was an underdog to BYU in the Boca Raton Bowl and wound up losing by 26, much to the chagrin of the FPI, who picked UCF in an upset.

The MAC is only scheduled for two bowls and Vegas and the computers all project a split. Buffalo (-1) is a narrow favorite over Marshall in the Camellia Bowl while Ball State (+7) is an underdog to San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl. Speaking of San Jose State, the West Coast Spartans are the only Mountain West team projected to get a bowl win as Hawaii (+13) is an underdog to Houston in the New Mexico Potato Bowls. That said, Nevada got an upset win already, which will likely boost the conference’s record.

Finally, that brings us to lowly Conference USA. The conference was originally projected to win only one Bowl game, but South Carolina (+5) cancelled their date with UAB in the Gasparilla Bowl and the remaining six teams are all expected to lose.

Well, the pretty much puts a bow on this year’s bowl season. As a final note, based on my computer’s projection Alabama will face Ohio State in the National Title Game on Jan. 11. If the Buckeye can survive Clemson, I would project Alabama as a 13-point favorite to raise the crystal trophy. If Clemson were to advance, the spread projects to be about 14-points.

That is all for now. As always, enjoy and Go Green.