LAS VEGAS — After the College Football Playoff bracket was set Sunday, the rest of the bowl lineup fell into place. There are 40 bowls and the national championship game. Some will say only three games matter — the semifinals and the title game — but that’s far from the truth.
When there’s money on the line, no bowl is meaningless. Even the Cheez-It Bowl matters. Who goes to a buffet and complains about too many food options? Nobody. So there are not too many bowl games.
“Let’s look at it two ways,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker. “From the Final Four perspective, those three playoff games are as big as NFL playoff games in terms of wagering handle. We love to book ’em and people love to bet ’em.
“As far as the other bowls, the more games the better. I’m OK with 40 … Why not? Football is still king.”
The playoff matchups might be the easiest to handicap. LSU is a 13-point favorite over Oklahoma, and Clemson is a two-point favorite over Ohio State. There are no coaching changes or questions about motivation.
Yet with many other bowls, there are handicapping riddles and mystery angles to analyze.
“Betting on bowl games is kind of like the first scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’” said Dan Saley, a professional bettor who specializes in college football. “You’ve got flying poison darts coming at you, you’ve got spikes and giant boulders falling at you. That’s basically bowl game betting. It’s dangerous.
“You can lose all of your profits from the season by betting on bowl games. I know because I’ve known plenty of people who have done it, and I’ve done it years ago. You have to be judicious. There are so many variables you really have to address.”
Player suspensions are a holiday tradition. Magliulo also referred to the “new dimension” of players sitting out of bowls to prepare for the NFL draft, a move former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey made more popular when he skipped the Sun Bowl in 2016.
The bowl season is a totally different season. Who’s coaching and who’s playing? Which teams are most motivated to win? Some games are similar to the NFL preseason.
With that in mind, here’s a six-pack of the most intriguing bowl matchups aside from the playoff games:
Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 21
Washington (-3½) vs. Boise State
In Chris Petersen’s final game as Huskies coach, he faces his former program. The Broncos are coached by Bryan Harsin, a former Petersen assistant. Boise (12-1) is the Mountain West champion. Washington (7-5) was a disappointment in the Pac-12 this season, but quarterback Jacob Eason is a top NFL prospect and probable first-round pick.
Cotton Bowl, Dec. 28
Penn State (-7) vs. Memphis
Mike Norvell is leaving Memphis for Florida State but is tentatively planning to coach the Tigers (12-1) in Arlington, Texas, three days before he will be with the Seminoles for the Sun Bowl in El Paso. James Franklin is staying at Penn State, and the 10-win team from the Big Ten has an obvious advantage considering the distractions on the Memphis sideline.
“I need more information,” Saley said. “Does the old coach stay through the bowl game?”
Alamo Bowl, Dec. 31
Utah (-6½) vs. Texas
The Utes, blown out by Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, must regroup as they head to San Antonio instead of a playoff game or the Rose Bowl. The Longhorns were in a similar situation last year as 13-point ’dogs to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. After pulling off a 28-21 upset of a flat favorite, quarterback Sam Ehlinger said, “Texas is back.” This bowl is not what he had in mind.
Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1
Alabama (-7) vs. Michigan
Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh are not friends. Harbaugh and his Wolverines are reeling after another humiliating loss to Ohio State. Saban’s challenge will be to motivate the Crimson Tide for a non-playoff game.
Rose Bowl, Jan. 1
Wisconsin (-2½) vs. Oregon
The Badgers put a serious scare into Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. The Ducks spoiled Utah’s playoff plans. Saley said he bet Oregon at the opening line of +3½. This matchup in Pasadena features future NFL stars in Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.
Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1
Georgia (-7½) vs. Baylor
No match for LSU and Joe Burrow’s aerial circus in the SEC title game, the Bulldogs return to New Orleans a year after getting whipped by Texas. The Bears will be highly motivated.
As Magliulo said, “Georgia is back in the same spot again.”
Matt Youmans is senior editor of VSiN.com and hosts The Edge (1-3 a.m., weekdays).