Bowl season builds and builds over the month of December, starting with the smaller bowls starring small conference programs that barely qualified for the six-win cut off.
From there, the bowl games grow in attractiveness and talent, as Power 5 conference members seep into the schedule before the big boys do battle on New Year’s Day. Those pre-January 1 bowl games are a betting market dominated by professional bettors, which is why you’ll see some odd line movement in the weeks before kickoff.
The most telling pattern of sharp money is watching for reverse line moves: when lines move against the number of bets, not with. Generally, if eveyone is betting a 3-point favorite, the line would move to -3.5. However, when wiseguys get involved and go against that public consensus, you’ll see bookies respect that sharp opinion and instead drop that -3 to -2.5.
Here are some guaranteed sports picks and pre-New Year’s bowl games seeing reverse line movement and the reasons why:
Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. South Florida Bulls
Line: Opened USF -3, now USF -2.5
The Bulls are one of the biggest consensus picks of the college football postseason, drawing more than 65 percent of total tickets written for this December 23 bowl game. But despite that one-sided count, the line is swaying toward the Red Raiders, falling from the key number of a field goal to South Florida -2.5.
Texas Tech flirted with a quarterback controversy late in the season but after bringing back the Red Raiders from 10 points down versus Texas, Nic Shimonek will be the man under center for the Birmingham Bowl. He leads a potent offensive attack that averaged almost 327 yards through the air and more than 34 points per game. There is also some familiarity between these teams, with Bulls coach Charlie Strong coaching at Texas for three seasons.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah Utes vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
Line: Opened Utah -4.5, now Utah -6.5
This spread blew through the key number of six points and could climb to Utes -7 if news on West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is bad for the Mountaineers. Grier broke his finger against Texas on November 18 and while his status for this December 26 matchup is unclear, signs point to WVU having to go with backup Chris Chugunov.
That key injury hasn’t swayed football bettors from hammering the Mountaineers, with nearly 69 percent of side wagers sitting on West Virginia. Sharp money got involved early and bet the Utes all the way up to -6.5. Utah has also covered in its last four against Big 12 opposition and is 9-3 ATS in its last dozen bowl appearances.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa Hakweyes vs. Boston College Eagles
Line: Opened Boston College +3, now +2.5
Another move off the key number of three highlights the action for the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankees Stadium on December 27. Iowa is drawing 65 percent of the ticket count but when it comes to actual game tickets, it seems Hawkeyes backers would rather watch this one on TV than travel to the Bronx in the middle of winter.
Boston College could be one of the most undervalued teams on the entire bowl calendar. The Eagles scored wins over Louisville, Virginia, Florida State and battled ACC rivals and fellow bowl teams North Carolina State and Virginia Tech in tough losses. Boston College allowed a total of just 60 points over its final five games of the season and takes on a Iowa offense that didn’t show up most nights in Big Ten play.
Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Line: Open: OSU -6.5, now OSU -4.5
Heading toward this December 28 kickoff, more than 73 percent of bets are on Oklahoma State. That should have had the opener of -6.5 punching through the key number of seven and upwards, but it seems sharp money has another idea. There have been two points trimmed from this spread, with oddsmakers respecting the Hokies action.
Virginia Tech is one of the toughest defenses in the country and has experience slowing down up-tempo attacks in the ACC. The Hokies shut down opposing passing games to only 186.4 yards per game and held foes to just under two touchdowns. The Cowboys rely on their high-octane air game to move the chains, but didn’t run into a defense this stout in the Big 12.