Young Kwak / Associated Press
Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 | 2 a.m.
It’s awards season in college football, as many of the best players and coaches make the rounds across the nation before bowl games begin December 15. Gambling on the sport has become so popular that the best teams to bet on deserve their own recognition, so for the fourth consecutive year, we’re filling the void. Here are the 2018 College Football Betting Awards.
Team of the Year: Washington State Cougars
This award goes to the team with the nation's best record against the spread. Past winners are: 2017 Iowa State, 2016 Temple, 2015 Bowling Green
Everything was stacked against the Cougars coming into the season. They lost the vast majority of a roster that led them to a memorable 9-3 regular-season campaign last year, and coach Mike Leach had reportedly accepted the job at Tennessee until an agreement fell through. Plus, the team dealt with the tragic death of presumed starting quarterback Tyler Hilinski. Oddsmakers had every reason to rate Washington State as one of the weakest teams in the Pac-12. But the Cougars covered in their first eight games of the season, and went 10-2 against the spread overall—”one win better than any of the other 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Washington State is a 4-point favorite against Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl on December 28 in San Antonio.
Overachievement Award: Cincinnati Bearcats
This award goes to the team that furthest eclipsed its over/under season win total. Past winners: 2017 UAB, 2016 Wyoming, 2015 Iowa
Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell continues to produce results ahead of schedule at Cincinnati. The Bearcats had an over/under of five wins coming into Fickell’s second season and needed the minimum number of games to eclipse that by winning each of their first six contests. Cincinnati finished 10-2 straight-up, with the only losses coming to the University of Central Florida, which holds the nation’s longest straight-up winning streak at 25 games dating back to last season, and fellow betting standout Temple in overtime. The Bearcats will continue their winningest season in nine years in the Military Bowl on December 31 in Annapolis, Maryland, where they are 6-point favorites against Virginia Tech.
Covering Streak of Excellence: Vanderbilt Commodores
This award goes to the team that holds the nation's longest winning streak against the spread. Past winners: 2017 Fresno State, 2016 Penn State, 2015 Virginia
Behind underrated quarterback Kyle Shurmur and a terrific pass defense, Vanderbilt caught fire in the final five weeks of the season and covered in every game. The Commodores went only 3-2 straight-up, but the losses came by a negligible margin of 12 total points to Missouri and Kentucky. Coach Derek Mason went from reportedly fighting for his job to being connected to the opening at Colorado. But Mason says his full attention is on preparing the Commodores for the Texas Bowl on December 27 in Houston, where they'll face Baylor as 4-point favorites.
Note: The final three awards are more subjective, but are chosen after careful consideration from closely monitoring the betting market all season.
Bettors' Choice: Central Florida Knights
This award goes to the team that made the most money for gamblers through point-spread victories. Past winners: 2017 Penn State, 2016 USC, 2015 Oklahoma
There’s a well-established pattern as it pertains to teams the year after a breakout season: They tend to underperform, at least betting-wise, with extra action inflating their point spreads. The Knights broke from the trend this year. They followed an undefeated season last year with another undefeated season and went 9-3 against the spread in the process. Bettors consistently load the nation’s best teams on high-payout parlays, and UCF turned out to be the most reliable of this year’s group to give bookmakers recurring headaches. The Knights will have a chance to upset an SEC team in a New Year’s Six Bowl for the second straight year—and extend their win streak to 26 games—when they take on LSU in the Fiesta Bowl as 7.5-point underdogs.
Bookmakers' Choice: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
This award goes to the team that made the most money for the house through point-spread victories. Past winners: 2017 California, 2016 Wisconsin, 2015 Arkansas
Rutgers extinguished many of the same parlays UCF extended. As much as recreational bettors love to back the best teams, they’re just as enamored with fading the worst teams. At 1-11 straight-up, Rutgers belongs in any conversation of the worst teams, but that doesn’t preclude them from falling within astronomical betting numbers. The Scarlet Knights did that well, going 7-5 against the spread, including covering in each of their last five games—the only team other than Vanderbilt to do so. The last four covers came through a set of perennial powers in Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Vanderbilt got the nod for the Covering Streak category, since it will have the chance to add to its success in a bowl game, but Rutgers’ peculiar season deserved recognition of its own.
Underdog of the Year: Northwestern Wildcats
This award goes to the team that performed the best with the odds stacked against it. Past winners: 2017 Army, 2016 Colorado, 2015 Michigan State
The first Power Five conference game of the year came with Northwestern upsetting Purdue 31-27 as a 1-point underdog at the end of August. It was a taste of what was to come all year in the Big Ten, as Northwestern went 7-1 against the spread, 5-3 straight-up when taking points. The Wildcats’ prowess ran out in the Big Ten Championship Game, when it fell 45-24 to Ohio State as 16.5-point underdogs, but that wasn’t enough to ruin one of the best underdog seasons in recent memory. Utah should be wary ahead of laying seven points on the betting line to Northwestern on New Year’s Eve in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.