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Let's Go Bowling!

When it comes to late season football, be it college or the pros, there are many times when a team is motivated for a big game, and other times when a team is just happy to be there. These ingredients can produce some outstanding wagering opportunities.

The Miami Hurricanes had the misfortune to face some motivated Bowl opponents during the mid-1980s. They won the 1983 national title and two years later had the opportunity to do it again. Miami was 10-1 and a 7-point favorite to beat Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. The Volunteers were no chopped liver, having gone a combined 24-8-3 the previous three years and were 2-0 ATS in Bowl games, beating Maryland 30-23 as a 3-point dog. Yet, just like Rodney Dangerfield, the Vols were getting no respect.

Tennessee had a long and proud football history, but the Hurricanes were getting all the ink as the best team in the country. The fired-up Volunteers not only pulled the upset, but routed Miami 35-7 in the Sugar Bowl, ending the ‘Canes title hopes. The next year, Miami rolled through the regular season at 11-0 and were a 7-point favorite over Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, a game that pitted college footballs only two unbeaten Top-10 teams. The Hurricanes were brash and cocky, getting off the plane in Tempe, Arizona, wearing Army fatigues, claiming that they were going to war. That was arrogant rallying cry for Miami, a 6-point favorite, but the team hadn’t played many close games that season rolling over just about everyone. Sure enough, the going got tough in the Fiesta Bowl, and the quiet but determined Nittany Lions stunned the ‘Canes in a 14-10 upset. It didn’t help that they angered their opponent.

In 2000, Miami was the team that was angry at having been passed over for the BCS championship game. They then went out and whipped Florida, 37-20, as a 7-point favorite before winning it all the following season. That happened with USC a few years ago, getting passed over for the National title game. Disrespect and anger can fuel a team’s drive in bowl games.

It’s important to look at tradition when it comes to college teams in the postseason, too. Miami, Tennessee, USC and Penn State have a long history of big games and are more inclined to play with a lot of pride in Bowl games. But not all teams have that on there side. Take a close look at Northwestern. The Wildcats have been a surprise team in recent years that have been just happy to get to go bowling at 1-3 against the spread their last 4 bowls. It’s certainly showed in a 66-14 drubbing to Nebraska one season, and a 50-38 loss to UCLA a year ago as a +2 dog.

A late season upset win can take the fire out of a team, too, even if they later qualify for a bowl. The Virginia Cavaliers fit that mold in 1999. The Cavs seemed to pack it in after a late season upset of Georgia Tech. The Cavs went 0-3 ATS after that game including a 63-21 pounding to Illinois in the Micron PC Bowl as a 2-point favorite! A year ago that happened to Fresno State. The Bulldogs put on a passionate performance in a 50-42 loss to No. 1 USC as a +23 dog. Yet, they had no fire left, going 0-3 SU/ATS the next three games as a favorite of 15, 24 and 7 each time! They lost 31-24 to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl as 7-point chalk.

Another example is Notre Dame. While Lou Holtz was coach of the Irish, Notre Dame went 5-4 ATS in Bowl games. The Irish were competitive in all nine of those games except for one. Yet, when Bob Davie took over, Notre Dame went 0-3 SU/ATS in Bowl games. The Irish were competitive in only one of those three games and were routed 27-6 by LSU and 41-9 by Oregon State. Good coaching is needed to keep players focused on the bowl. Coaching ability combined with tradition made the Irish better under Holtz than Davie. Just look what happened when Holtz moved on to South Carolina, leading the Gamecocks to an impressive 8-4 season (from 0-11). South Carolina was pumped up in the Outback Bowl and as a +6 dog, blitzed Ohio State 24-7. The great coach and his turnaround team wanted that game badly, and played like it.

Many savvy sports bettors could see it coming a mile away, and there will be plenty more this coming Bowl season. So keep your eyes focused on teams that want to go bowling, and those that are just happy to be there or ones that may be burnt out.

By Jim Feist.
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