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January 20, 2019

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Bowl Pick’em Against The Spread: Part 4

Tua passes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) passes the football during the pregame warmups of their NCAA college football game against Mississippi on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Oxford, Miss.

The most scrutinized point spread of the year has made its way to betting boards.

Alabama opened as high as a 7-point favorite over Clemson in the College Football Playoff on Saturday night while putting finishing touches on its 45-34 Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma. That’s down to as low as minus-5.5 after early action on Clemson, which thumped Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl. Expect to see more shifts, and get more discussion surrounding them leading up to next Monday’s national championship game.

But there’s plenty of time to think about that game. Don’t let it get in the way of the one last buffet of betting action over the next two days.

Eight months is a long time to wait for another full college football betting menu, so Talking Points is out to make the most of the end of bowl season.

Check below for picks on the last 11 bowl games. The blog has gone 368-341-14 picking every game this season — 45-31-1 on plays — and 13-14 on bowls. Games are labeled in three separate confidence categories, and lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

Military Bowl at 9 a.m. Monday in Annapolis, Md.: Virginia Tech plus-6 vs. Cincinnati, over/under: 53.5. Cincinnati made a bigger leap than any team in the nation this season, but the Bearcats’ three worst games against Central Florida, Temple and Ohio. They lost the first two and failed to cover in all three. That’s notable because those three teams are the only ones Cincinnati faced that grade out better than Virginia Tech by Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings. The Hokies look wore because they played a much tougher schedule, but the extremely young team has made some strides with two straight wins and covers. Lean: Virginia Tech plus-6.

Sun Bowl at 11 a.m. Monday in El Paso, Texas: Stanford minus-4.5 vs. Pittsburgh, over/under: 52. Hard to lay a price in a game that figures to be low scoring, but the line movement has eased the pain to a degree. The Cardinal opened as high as an 8.5-point favorite, which was preposterous but the brief settling spot of minus-6.5 felt fair. Stanford is more talented at the vast majority of positions, and seemed to overcome a mid-season swoon with three straight wins to end the regular season. Lean: Stanford minus-4.5.

Redbox Bowl at Noon Monday in Santa Clara, Calif.: Michigan State plus-2.5 vs. Oregon, over/under: 48. A lot of conflicting indicators here, as Michigan State has taken the majority of the money presumably because of their defensive advantage — the Spartans are giving up 4.5 yards per play to the Ducks’ 5.4 yards per play. But Oregon more than makes up for it with its offensive edge — it’s gaining 5.8 yards per play to Michigan State’s 4.6 yards per play. Oregon also gets to play much closer to its campus, but Michigan State gets an easy checkmark in the coaching department. Guess: Michigan State plus-2.5.

Liberty Bowl at 12:45 p.m. Monday in Memphis: Missouri minus-9 vs. Oklahoma State, over/under: 74. Missouri should win this game, but the line has gotten a little out of control by virtue of the Tigers’ impressive last month. Missouri has won four straight, by an average of 24 points per game, but Oklahoma State is far better than all but one of those opponents — Florida being the exception. Guess: Oklahoma State plus-9.

Holiday Bowl at 4 p.m. Monday in San Diego: Northwestern plus-7 vs. Utah, over/under: 46. From a purely statistical standpoint, Utah should roll in this game. The Utes have been .9 yards per play better on offense and .8 yards per play better on defense than the Wildcats against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. But Northwestern consistently overachieves under coach Pat Fitzgerald, including this year when its gone 6-1 against the spread, 4-3 straight-up as an underdog. Lean: Utah minus-7.

Gator Bowl at 4:30 p.m. Monday in Jacksonville, Fla.: North Carolina State plus-7 vs. Texas A&M, over/under: 55.5. No matter how talented, neither a linebacker nor a wide receiver, or the combination of the two, are worth 2.5 points on the spread. That’s what the betting market seems to be implying here, however, as the line has swelled towards Texas A&M with news that Wolfpack linebacker Germaine Pratt and wide receiver Kelvin Harmon are sitting out. Lean: NC State plus-7.

Outback Bowl at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Tampa, Fla.: Iowa plus-7 vs. Mississippi State, over/under: 42. Hard to lay this many points in a game with the lowest over/under of bowl season, not to mention with a team that’s had trouble scoring at times this season. Mississippi State’s offense is predicated entirely on running the ball, but Iowa has one of the nation’s best defensive lines and has given up only 3.3 yards per rushing attempt on the year to rank in the nation’s top 10. Play: Iowa plus-7.

Fiesta Bowl at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Glendale, Ariz.: LSU minus-7.5 vs. UCF, over/under: 55.5. This is being characterized as another shot for the Knights to take down an SEC goliath. But let’s not forget stock was down on LSU coming into this season with the expectation that it was fielding its least talented team in recent memory. UCF would have been no more than a 3-point underdog, and perhaps even favored, back then. The Knights have done nothing wrong during another undefeated season to merit this large of a shift. The additional half-point seals a pick on UCF. Lean: UCF plus-7.5.

Citrus Bowl at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Orlando: Kentucky plus-6.5 vs. Penn State, over/under: 47.5. Number looks exactly right, so will resort to a couple of admittedly flimsy strategies — going contrarian and predicting motivation. Penn State projects to be one of the most popular picks on the board despite Kentucky on the surface being much more excited to play in a bowl game off of its best regular season in 41 years. Guess: Kentucky plus-6.5.

Rose Bowl at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Pasadena, Calif.: Washington plus-6.5 vs. Ohio State, over/under: 57.5. Let the (unintentional) procession of underdog picks continue. There’s nothing to indicate a touchdown gap exists between these two conference champions. In fact, F/+ has the Buckeyes and Huskies as incredibly rated with the former at No. 8 and the latter at No. 9. And from a desire standpoint, the Rose Bowl became Washington’s goal after suffering a third loss midseason while Ohio State had much higher aims. Lean: Washington plus-6.5.

Sugar Bowl at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday in New Orleans: Texas plus-12.5 vs. Georgia, over/under: 58. Never fun to pick against Texas coach Tom Herman as an underdog, but Georgia has an advantage across its entire roster as long as it’s properly motivated. There’s as large of a gap between these two teams as any matchup in bowl season, so Georgia profiles as a 14-point favorite. That’s not much value, but it’s a slight bit. Guess: Georgia minus-12.5.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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