There have been some obvious conference trends in bowl games that have turned up since the 2000 season, and many of those angles should continue to succeed over the 2011-12 bowl matchups.
The 2011-12 College Football Bowl Season has arrived, as the festivities kick off with three games on Saturday, December 17. There are more bowl games than ever this season with 35 in all, culminating with the BCS National Championship Game on Monday, January 9, 2012, with will be the highly anticipated rematch between the LSU Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Before making your college football picks for the bowl games though, we have gone back and analyzed how each conference has done in bowl games in the last 11 bowl seasons since 2000, breaking down the results by favorites and underdogs based on the closing lines from Pinnacle Sports. Many of the results are very interesting, and after looking at this year’s bowl matchups in greater detail, we do anticipate these discernable trends to continue for the most past this year.
We are presenting one key angle for all six of the major conference, as well as the bowl plays that fit the angles with analysis. We discuss the bowls where we think that the bowl history of the last 11 years will repeat, as well as those that we will avoid. All trend records are since the 2000-01 Bowl Season and all lines quoted are the current odds at Pinnacle Sports.
Play on ACC underdogs (31-14-1, 68.9 percent ATS)
The ACC is considered one of the weakest of the BCS conferences, and we admit deservedly so. However, the conference has generally played with a chip on its shoulder in the bowls, looking to shed it soft image. Even with the conference currently in a decided down period, ACC bowl underdogs have still gone 10-6, 62.5 percent ATS the last three seasons.
There are four bowls where the ACC has a chance of keeping its bowl underdog success alive, and we will begin with what we feel are its two best chances.
North Carolina +5 over Missouri (Independence Bowl – Monday, December 26): In this battle of 7-5 teams, Missouri has transitioned to a running team this year after relying so much on its running backs in previous seasons, as the Tigers averaged 236.5 rushing yards per game, That was mostly vs. bad Big 12 defenses though, and the problem here is they are facing a stout North Carolina run defense that is allowing only 3.1 yards per rush. We also do not like the way Missouri ended its season with a narrow escape vs. Texas Tech and a sloppy win vs. Kansas, failing to cover each game as a heavy favorite.
Virginia Tech +2½ over Michigan (Sugar Bowl – Tuesday, January 3, 2012): Virginia Tech is 11-2, but it is 11-0 vs. teams not named Clemson. That is probably a case of the Hokies just matching up poorly with the Tigers, so we expect to see the team that won its other 11 games in this contest. Michigan finished at 10-2, but the Wolverines played a favorable schedule that included eight home games. Michigan was just 2-2 away from home including a bad loss vs. Iowa.
Now here are two other bowls with ACC dogs that we are not quite as confident about.
Wake Forest +6½ over Mississippi State (Music City Bowl – Friday, December 30): Wake Forest got a chance to see what it could do vs. an SEC team late in the year, and the Demon Deacons got blown out at home 41-7 by Vanderbilt! Then again, they may have a saving grace as Mississippi State may not want to be here after having loftier aspirations this season.
Virginia +1½ over Auburn (Chick-fil-A Bowl – Saturday, December 31): Virginia was one of the biggest surprises in the country at 8-4, but outside of a 14-13 upset of Florida State, the Cavaliers didn’t really beat anything. We would actually like Auburn quite a bit here if ACC dogs haven’t been doing so well, as the Tigers are just as happy as Virginia to be here after losing so much talent after last season, and they are the better team.
Play against the Big 12 in all bowl games (48-32-5, 60.0 percent ATS)
The Big 12 is generally an offensive-minded conference that treat defense as an afterthought, so even with some highly ranked teams and many BCS bowl appearances, the conference has hit at just a 40 percent clip ATS the last 11 years mainly due to its teams facing better defenses in the bowls than it faces during conference play. Last season was no exception with the conference going just 2-5-1 ATS
There are plenty of opportunities to play this angle this year with the Big 12 placing eight teams in bowls, and we already discussed one fade in Missouri in the Independence Bowl. Of the other seven bowls, here are four that we like.
Rutgers -1 over Iowa State (Pinstripe Bowl – Friday, December 30): Iowa State pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year by handing Oklahoma State its only loss and knocking the Cowboys out of the National Championship Game. That one win may have Iowa State overvalued though, as the Cyclones then proceeded to lose their last two games to finish at 6-6. Now Rutgers is no powerhouse, but the Scarlet Knights did go 8-4 and their defense is allowing only 18.8 points and 311.5 yards per game. Good defenses usually give Big 12 offenses trouble, and the Knights are playing close to home at Yankee Stadium.
Iowa +14 over Oklahoma (Insight Bowl – Friday, December 30): This play has more to do with desire, as Oklahoma had national title hope before the season but looked disinterested down the stretch after those hopes were dashed. If this team couldn’t show up vs. Oklahoma State, why should it show for this minor bowl?
Stanford +3½ over Oklahoma State (Fiesta Bowl – Monday, January 2, 2012): Say what you will about whether or not Oklahoma State deserves to play for the national title, but we see the Cowboys losing straight up in what amounts to a consolation game for them here. Stanford has the offense to keep pace with the Oklahoma State offense, especially since the Cardinal have better balance with a good running game to compliment a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Andrew Luck, and Stanford has the much better defense, allowing more than 100 fewer yards per game.
Arkansas -8 over Kansas State (Cotton Bowl – Friday, January 6, 2012): Kansas State has overachieved all year, which is a tribute to Coach Bill Snyder, but the talent disparity between these teams simply appears to be too much. It is a toss up between Arkansas and Georgia as to which is the third best team in the SEC, and the Razorbacks’ only two losses this season came vs. LSU and Alabama.
And here are the three other bowl games where we are not as enamored with the idea of fading the Big 12.
California +3 over Texas (Holiday Bowl – Wednesday, December 28): We think that Texas is one of the best 7-5 teams in the nation, and the Longhorns have an excellent pass defense. Thus, a pass-first team like California could have trouble scoring here.
Washington +9 over Baylor (Alamo Bowl – Thursday, December 29): Unlike Texas, we think that Washington is weak 7-5 team, and the potent Baylor offense led by quarterback Robert Griffin III might be able to name the score in this game.
Northwestern +10 over Texas A&M (Meineke Car Care Bowl – Saturday, December 31): We don’t necessarily hate the idea of fading the Big 12 in this spot, especially since Texas AM fired Coach Mike Sherman. The fear we have though is that the Aggies may take this opportunity to show just how good they really are without Sherman holding them back, and when both of these teams play at full capacity, we simply feel that A&M is the far superior team.
Play against Big East underdogs (14-10, 58.3 percent ATS)
Granted, this sample size is not as large as the others, but we feel that the Big East is the very worst of the BCS conferences this year so we would indeed like to fade the conference as much as possible when its teams are dogs, as those could be potential blowouts even vs. mid-major schools.
At least that was out intent before the bowl matchups came out. As it stands though, there are only three Big East bowl dogs this season and we only like one of those fades a whole lot.
N.C. State -2½ over Louisville (Belk Bowl – Tuesday, December 27): Louisville has to be disappointed, as it had the inside track to a BCS bowl berth when it ended its season by winning its last two games, but results of games played after Louisville’s season ended gave the Big East title to West Virginia, moving Louisville from a BCS bowl to the Belk Bowl. Ouch!
Here are the other two bowls with Big East dogs.
Vanderbilt -2½ over Cincinnati (Liberty Bowl – Saturday, December 31): The Big East fade could work here, but we are just not comfortable about giving points with Vanderbilt away from home, notwithstanding the Commodores’ season ending blowout at Wake Forest.
Clemson -3½ over West Virginia (Orange Bowl – Wednesday, January 4, 2012): West Virginia is the only Big East team that we respect as an underdog, and while Clemson did beat Virginia Tech twice, the Tigers were mostly terrible the second half of the year.
Play against Big Ten favorites (18-9, 66.7 percent ATS)
The Big Ten has actually performed well as an underdog in bowl games, going 35-26-1 ATS in that role since 2000, but as you can see, the results have been entirely different when the conference is expected to win.
There are three Big Ten favorites this bowl season, and we intend on fading two of them. One of them was already discussed as we like Virginia Tech to beat Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Here is the other one.
Western Michigan +2½ over Purdue (Little Caesars Bowl – Tuesday, December 27): The Western Michigan Broncos won their last two games to finish at 7-5, and this team can certainly score points, as demonstrated by a 68-19 shellacking of Akron in the season finale. We are not fans of any of the Purdue quarterbacks and the Boilermakers finished at just 5-6-1 on the college football odds despite facing a manageable non-conference schedule.
We are not so confident about fading the Big Ten in the other matchup.
UCLA +2 over Illinois (Fight Hunger Bowl – Saturday, December 31): UCLA fired head coach Rick Neuheisel and this team really had no business playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Bruins are in this bowl despite a losing 6-7 record!
Play on Pac-12 underdogs (22-10-1, 68.8 percent ATS)
Along with playing on ACC underdogs, playing on Pac-12 underdogs has been the most profitable subset in bowl games the last 11 seasons. Well, the good news is that there are a whopping six opportunities for this pastern to continue this year. The bad news is that we only like two of those Pac-12 dogs. One of them is Stanford as mentioned.
Utah +3½ over Georgia Tech (Sun Bowl – Saturday, December 31): This is the other one. Georgia Tech went just 1-6-1 against the spread in its last eight games, and this is an extremely one-dimensional running team that has no come-from-behind capabilities if it goes down by a couple of scores.
Of the four Pac-12 underdogs where we are not as confident about history repeating, we already discussed California, Washington and UCLA. That leaves just one more.
Arizona State +14 over Boise State (Las Vegas Bowl – Thursday, December 22): Arizona State is playing for a lame duck coach while Boise State is a one-point loss to TCU away from being undefeated and in a BCS bowl. Plus the Broncos have made a habit of blowing out major conference schools whenever possible.
Play on SEC underdogs (24-19-1, 55.8 percent ATS)
The SEC has been the best conference in college football for many years, but that is such common knowledge that one would think it is hard to find decent line value. Thus, although the nearly 56 percent success rate for SEC underdogs is not as high as our other angles, it would still be lucrative if it holds up in the long run so we are going with it.
Now there are eight SEC teams that are bowling this year, and besides the two combatants facing off in the National Championship Game, the other six SEC teams are all favored. That leaves just one possible SEC bowl underdog this year, and we say “possible” because the National Championship Game could very easily close as a Pick!
Keep in mind that we are using Pinnacle as our source for all of our data, so while other books have lines of LSU -1 or Pick for this game, we are counting LSU as an underdog as long as Pinnacle keeps it in that role, which actually makes us very happy as that was out choice to win the National Championship long before this season began anyway!
LSU +1 over Alabama (BCS National Championship Game – Monday, January 9, 2012): The Tigers prevailed in Alabama during the regular season and they are now closer to home at the Superdome. But we really like the Tigers because Alabama Coach Nick Saban will be stubborn in force-feeding running back Trent Richardson the ball even after LSU continuously stuffs him, and the Tigers actually rushed for 148 yards against the supposedly impenetrable Crimson Tide run defense the first go-around.