December 10, 2015 by
Derrick Henry had a huge game earlier this season against Wisconsin. Can he have similar success against Michigan State?
The Big Ten and the SEC are about as close to rivals as two leagues can be. The bowl season always offers several high-profile matchups, mostly on New Year’s Day, where the conferences match up. They’re easily the leagues with the most television exposure, with the Big Ten Network being owned by Fox and the SEC Network owned by ESPN. But until last season, their rivalry was about as hard-fought as the battle between a hammer and the nail.
Over a four-year period, the SEC’s bowl record validated its reputation as the best conference in the country. The SEC has a 26-14 record while the Big Ten is at 14-21 in that same timeframe, due in large part to the consistent New Year’s Day beatdowns the SEC delivered.
But last season marked a change. The overall performances were close to even, with the SEC going 7-5 and the Big Ten clocking in at 6-5. In the head-to-head matchups, Wisconsin beat Auburn and most important was the high-profile victory of Ohio State over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff semi-final.
It wasn’t the whole story—Missouri also beat Minnesota and Tennessee coasted past Iowa. But the two biggest stories of last year’s college football postseason were Ohio State’s national title and the collapse of the SEC West. In addition to Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all laid an egg in their bowl matchups. The defeats were a big blow to SEC prestige and an offseason where Michigan’s hire of Jim Harbaugh was the most significant development added to the positive buzz moving around the Big Ten.
The SEC reclaimed some mojo in non-conference play this season when Alabama handled Wisconsin, but the real test begins now. Each conference has put ten teams in bowl games and they’ll play head-to-head in five of those, including another Playoff matchup when Alabama meets Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
I want to walk through some of the factors my staff and I at WinningEdge.com are looking at with each game, both the head-to-head conference matchups as well as ones they’ll play against other leagues. But before beginning, I want to remind everyone of an adage that many in football handicapping subscribe by—it’s that the pointspread matters less in the bowl season than any other time of year.
The reason is that underdogs often end up winning outright—disinterested favorites are common and Las Vegas can misfire in pricing teams from disparate parts of the country with few common opponents. I mostly agree with this line of thinking and believe the focus of football betting should be picking the outright winner. For those of you who are in bowl pools where you’re required to pick every game against the number, that’s a good thing to keep in mind.
But for those of you who wager these games individually, be careful not to oversimplify. The spread still matters, even if not as decisively as in the regular season and knowing how to pick your spots—how to narrow the card down to which games to bet and how many units to invest still have to be settled by the number. I’ll be constantly evaluating how these conferences and others match up throughout the bowl season before making final gameday decisions. Read the rest of this entry →