Best bowl games to bet outside College Football Playoff

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LAS VEGAS — Believe it or not, there is much more to the college football bowl season than waiting for Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney to butt heads. The Alabama-Clemson fight for No. 1 is becoming a tired theme. The four-team playoff might as well be named the Saban/Swinney Invitational.

The playoff aside, a typical bowl season is full of surprises. There are coaching changes, player injuries and suspensions and, more often in recent years, star players opting to sit out to prepare for the NFL draft. For various reasons, including motivation or a lack of it, there are always upsets.

Throw the COVID-19 pandemic into the mix and what will the rest of 2020 and the New Year bring? Fewer bowls but more unpredictability.

“I think it’s going to be the most volatile bowl market we have ever seen,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “There will be COVID news we get late, and there’s going to be a lot of information out there. This is why sportsbooks have [wagering] limits, because sometimes people get the information before we do. My advice is to approach these games with caution.”

Many of the betting lines will run wild as money follows the information. The money moves do not always win, of course. Bettors and bookmakers will be watching closely for breaking news and moving numbers.

“There is too much uncertainty with some of these teams,” said Vinny Magliulo, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker and VSiN oddsmaker. “From both sides of the counter, there are so many more factors you have got to take into consideration this year.”

Coronavirus chaos has reduced the bowl season from more than 40 games to fewer than 30. The schedule is overflowing with bizarre matchups and other oddities.

The Rose Bowl has been moved from Pasadena, Calif., to Arlington, Texas. The New Mexico Bowl will be played in Frisco, Texas, and a team with a losing record (Houston) is a double-digit favorite. South Carolina is going bowling with a 2-8 record.

Magliulo said, “How are you supposed to predict some of these games?”

It’s never easy, and this bowl season might be the granddaddy of all handicapping challenges.

In the playoff semifinals set for Jan. 1, Alabama opened -20 against Notre Dame, and Clemson is -7.5 against Ohio State. Both games will attract NFL-sized wagering handles. But, again, the story is not all about the Crimson Tide and Tigers.

Some of the best bets can be found in the minor bowls, and there are five especially intriguing matchups to watch.

Boca Raton Bowl, Tuesday

BYU (-6.5) vs. Central Florida

Both offenses rank in the nation’s top six in scoring, with the Knights averaging 44.3 points and the Cougars averaging 43. Outside of the playoff, this quarterback showdown is about as good as it gets. BYU’s Zach Wilson and UCF’s Dillon Gabriel each have 30 touchdown passes, and Wilson’s stock is rising as a potential first-round pick.

The Cougars (10-1) hoped for a major bowl but instead will play in Florida three days before Christmas. This line has moved 2.5 points in BYU’s favor mostly because of a few key player opt-outs on the other side.

Cure Bowl, Saturday

Coastal Carolina (-6) vs. Liberty

The Chanticleers, who upset BYU on Dec. 5, ran the table in the Sun Belt Conference and are shooting for a 12-0 finish. Grayson McCall has 23 touchdown passes with two interceptions. The Flames (9-1) are led by ex-Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze, whose offense gets a spark from dual-threat quarterback Malik Willis.

Coastal Carolina Cure Bowl
Quarterback Grayson McCall and undefeated Coastal Carolina will play Liberty in the Cure Bowl.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cotton Bowl, Dec. 30

Florida (-3) vs. Oklahoma

In a wild SEC championship shootout, the Gators fell short in a 52-46 loss to Alabama. Will they have enough left in the gas tank? Florida quarterback Kyle Trask is a Heisman Trophy contender, but tight end Kyle Pitts has opted out and his next game will be in the NFL. The Sooners, who held off Iowa State to win the Big 12, will go into next season as national title contenders with quarterback Spencer Rattler returning.

Peach Bowl, Jan. 1

Georgia (-7) vs. Cincinnati

No realist expected the American Athletic Conference champions to land the fourth playoff spot, but the Bearcats (9-0) were disrespected with a No. 8 ranking by the playoff committee. Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell will be coaching a team with a point to prove.

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart faces the possibility of several players opting out to prepare for the NFL draft. Is this a classic case of a motivated ’dog taking on an unfocused favorite?

Orange Bowl, Jan. 2

Texas A&M (-7) vs. North Carolina

Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher hopelessly lobbied for a playoff spot, so this bowl could be a letdown. The Tar Heels, led by rising star quarterback Sam Howell, match BYU’s scoring average (43.0).

Notre Dame’s 31-17 win at North Carolina on Nov. 27 is a big reason the Fighting Irish landed the fourth playoff spot and the opportunity to get crushed by the Crimson Tide.



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