Six college football games making sportsbooks sweat this bowl season

One Las Vegas sportsbook always takes a ton of Wisconsin betting action, and it's got them in a stick spot for the Cotton Bowl on January 2.

Every bowl game has the potential to create an issue for the sportsbooks, from the huge playoff semifinals and the rest of the New Year’s Six right down to the Poulan Weedwacker Bowl.

Well, maybe not that last one, since there isn’t a Poulan Weedwacker Bowl, though Poulan Weed-Eater was once the title sponsor of the Independence Bowl.

But you get the point. There are 40 bowl games, more than enough to have oddsmakers sweating out a side or two. We talk with the folks at a few Vegas books and an offshore shop about which bowl game could hit them the hardest.

Cotton Bowl: Western Michigan Broncos vs. Wisconsin Badgers (-8)

Las Vegas is littered with sports bars that affiliate themselves with various sports teams, particularly in the NFL and college football. (Side note: I’m neither a Browns nor Ohio State fan, but the Tap House has such good pizza – especially with its half-price after-midnight specials – that’s it a must-go-to anyway.) And as it turns out, some sportsbooks consistently draw fans of certain teams, as well.

The Golden Nugget, downtown on Fremont Street, attracts an inordinate number of Wisconsin fans on a weekly basis. So that makes the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium a potential landmine for sportsbook director Tony Miller and his crew.

“We’re already loaded on Wisconsin,” Miller said, noting the Nugget opened the Badgers (10-3 SU, 9-3-1 ATS) at -7.5 on Dec. 5 and has been at -8 for a few days now. “The ticket count is basically running 10/1, and that matches the money, too. I’ve taken a couple of limit bets on Wisconsin already.”

One of those, a $6,000 wager Thursday, ultimately forced the move to -8. Miller is now hoping that number will draw some buyback on the unbeaten Broncos (13-0 SU, 9-4 ATS).

“It’s one of those situations where we’re waiting for a sharp to come in and take the 8, and I haven’t seen it yet,” he said. “But we’re gonna need it.”

Miller finds the situation unusual, because he’s still getting Wisconsin money at -8, when there are better numbers elsewhere.

“That’s how the public is. They don’t care that they could walk across the street and get 7.5,” he said. “They’ll stay with us and lay the 8. They’re not shoppers, they just love Wisconsin. I could put 10 up on the board, and they’d lay the 10!”

Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs vs. Navy Midshipmen (+6.5)

In his role as sports director of offshore site, Scott Kaminsky doesn’t get a lot of time to just sit and watch games. However, he did get a good look at the Navy-Temple game for the American Athletic Conference title on Dec. 3. He took what he saw from Navy’s loss there – specifically, the season-ending injury to quarterback Will Worth – and its subsequent loss to Army, and is putting it into play for the Armed Forces Bowl.

Which means he expects The Greek will need Louisiana Tech in Friday’s game.

“We took early action on Navy using a higher number, and will continue doing so,” Kaminsky said. “I kept it high the whole time, and I’m still trying to draw more Navy money.”

Indeed, the game opened LaTech -3.5 and quickly went to 4 at The Greek, and Kaminsky’s shop is currently higher than almost every other book, at LaTech -6.5. Kaminsky explained how this strategy came about, and even drew him to make some wagers.

“The last week of the season, I was watching Navy play Temple,” he said. “The Navy quarterback is worth more to his team than any other player in college football. He got hurt, and so did Navy’s best running back. So I started firing away on live betting on Temple.”

And indeed, the Owls flattened the Midshipmen 34-10 as a 1.5-point favorite.

“Now, the next week comes, and I’m ready. Army-Navy, and Navy’s QB is out,” Kaminsky said. “It opened Navy -10, and I took the 10 with Army, and called three or four friends and told them to take the 10.”

The line ultimately closed around six at most shops. It was a close game, and Army trailed in the fourth quarter, but the Black Knights were generally dominant and ultimately won outright 21-17. Kaminsky sees more trouble brewing for Navy (9-4 SU, 7-5-1 ATS) on Friday against the Bulldogs (8-5 SU and ATS).

“This is the third week I’m pounding against Navy. I laid 3 with Louisiana Tech,” he said. “I don’t see how Navy is gonna stop their passing game.”

Now, he’s just waiting for Midshipmen money to roll in the rest of this week.

“I hope the smart guys come back on Navy. I want to try to get Navy money,” he said. “I know the public is not gonna come in on Navy, but if the wiseguys will, I’ll let them have a bunch.

“We want LaTech to win.”

So conversely, a Navy victory could be a big fat Greek loser.

Poinsettia Bowl: Brigham Young Cougars vs. Wyoming Cowboys (-9.5)

This is the next bowl game on tap this week, with a 9 p.m. Eastern kickoff on Wednesday night from San Diego. BYU (8-4 SU, 9-3 ATS) has been good against the linemakers all season long, going 4-1 ATS in its last five games while winning its last four SU.

Wyoming is 8-5 SU and ATS, but lost three of its last four (2-2 ATS). The Cowboys got blasted 56-35 as a 3-point chalk at New Mexico, then lost the Mountain West Conference title game on its home field, 27-24 to San Diego State as a 7-point home ‘dog.

“So far, the public and the sharps are on the same side,” said Chris Andrews, sportsbook director at the South Point. “Definitely, our rooting interest is for Wyoming right now. You never know, it might swing back. I think this will be a fun game. The total is 57, which is not real high, but certainly not low.”

At this point, the game will certainly be more fun for Andrews and his shop if Wyoming wins, a sentiment echoed a few miles up Las Vegas Boulevard at Wynn Las Vegas.

“BYU opened up an 8-point favorite, that game is up to 10,” said Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports for the Wynn. “It’s pretty one-sided. Things can change, but that’s where we’re at right now. By game time, who knows?”

Orange Bowl: Florida State Seminoles vs. Michigan Wolverines (-6.5)

Michigan (10-2 SU, 6-6 ATS) fell short of the College Football Playoff, and its consolation prize is a trip to Miami to take on Florida State (9-3 SU, 7-4 ATS). It’s almost 500 miles from Tallahassee to Miami, but the Seminoles at least have home-state advantage in this game.

Not that it matters to bettors, which has Treasure Island sportsbook director Tony Nevill sweating, just as many do in the Miami heat.

“They’re betting Michigan,” Nevill said. “We’re still at 6.5, which is where we opened, but it’s all one way. It’s all on Michigan, betting on the team that became a bridesmaid. The good news, it’s a home game for Florida State. The bad news, Michigan travels really well. As I call them, the Michigan millions!”

So it’s safe to say Nevill and Co. will not be Michigan men on Jan. 2.

Independence Bowl: Vanderbilt Commodores vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack (-4.5)

Camping World, not Poulan, is now the title sponsor for this game, set for Monday in Shreveport, La. At The Mirage, North Carolina State (6-6 SU, 8-4 ATS) opened as a 3.5-point favorite over Vanderbilt (6-6 SU, 7-5 ATS). N.C. State went to 4 a week ago and 4.5 on Saturday, with perhaps some surprising action that certainly has sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback worried about Wolfpack wagers.

“North Carolina State winning would be our worst-case scenario,” Stoneback said. “We took a 6-figure bet on N.C. State, and the public has been betting N.C. State a little bit too. So that, by far, is our biggest decision.”

In other words, Vandy would be dandy for The Mirage.

The Unknown Bowl

This is perhaps the one that every sportsbook director is sweating out – the game they don’t yet know could hit them hard, but ends up smacking them in the face like a wet dishrag, just the same. There’s still two weeks of bowl games to go, including all the traditional biggies and of course those CFP semifinals between Alabama and Washington (Peach Bowl) and Clemson and Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl.)

So Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US, isn’t yet sure what side could bust his bottom line. But he knows it’s out there somewhere.

“I don’t see a game out there that scares me right now,” Bogdanovich said. “We may have some big bettors who make it a big decision. In fact, we’ll definitely have that. I’m just not sure where. The day of the game, people start firing. It just works out that way.”