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Bowl Season Primer

With coaching changes galore going down across the country, the bowl season can be a tricky proposition for gamblers. I like to put an emphasis on two things, motivation and location.

One game that favors a side in terms of both location and motivation is the Music City Bowl, where Vanderbilt will take on North Carolina St. As of Dec. 8, most books had the Commodores installed as 6 ½-point favorites.

Obviously, Vandy is located in Nashville so the location favors it. In terms of motivation, the Commodores will have plenty.

For starters, head coach James Franklin turned down overtures from multiple schools and signed a contract extension that will keep him at the school for at least a third season. In short, there’s never been this type of buzz for Vandy football.

Vandy hasn’t won nine games in the modern era so motivation is certainly not a question mark. As for North Carolina State, there are motivational concerns.

Tom O’Brien has been fired and many of the assistants on the staff are (understandably) more concerned about finding their next jobs than prepping the Wolfpack for the Commodores.

When this scenario played out for Florida following Ron Zook’s dismissal, the results weren’t good. While the rest of Zook’s staff coached the Gators in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl vs. Miami, Charlie Strong was the only assistant being considered by Urban Meyer for UF’s new staff.

This led to bitterness that was best portrayed by Larry Fedora, who spent most of December blasting Jeremy Foley and the UF administration. It was easy to sympathize with Fedora, who had directed the SEC’s No. 1 offense is in his first year as a coordinator.

With coaches on their way out the door, players don’t feel as if they are going to be held accountable. We don’t know how N.C. St. will respond to this situation, but the Gators got trounced by Miami in Atlanta in a similar scenario.

Purdue is another team that has seen its head coach shoved out the door. The Boilermakers are 17-point underdogs against Oklahoma St. in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. On the flip side, the Cowboys saw their head coach turn down other schools to stay in Stillwater.

One team that won’t be going through a coaching change – finally! – is Pitt. Paul Chryst just completed his first year with the Panthers, but his old team (Wisconsin) just saw its coach bolt for Arkansas. Early speculation was that Chryst, the former offensive coordinator for the Badgers, would be a leading candidate.

However, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, who went to great lengths to recommend Chryst to the Pitt brass, isn’t going that route. Unlike many others in the cut-throat business of college football, Alvarez still puts class before anything.

Alvarez announced Thursday that Wisconsin would not pursue Chryst “because it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.” The Panthers players have to be thrilled after losing a slew of coaches over the last several seasons.

While Wisconsin might feel betrayed by Brett Bielema’s exit to The Ozarks, its players have to be excited to play for Alvarez, who Bielema replaced seven years ago. With the Badgers going to the Rose Bowl (as 6 ½-point underdogs vs. Stanford) despite an 8-5 straight-up record, I don’t think there’s cause for including them among team who could be lacking motivation.

Louisville is another team that won’t be lacking motivation. In fact, you would think the Cardinals will be inspired after their head coach, Strong, turned down Tennessee to stay at the school that’s headed to the ACC. U of L will be playing in its second BCS bowl in school history when it takes on Florida at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

The Gators are favored by 14 at most books. UF will be fired up as well, returning to a BCS bowl after two years of mediocrity. With a victory, Will Muschamp’s second team will most likely finish the year ranked second in the nation.

No. Illinois will be making its BCS debut when it collides with Florida St. at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Most spots have the Seminoles tabbed as 13 ½-point ‘chalk.’ Even though the Huskies lost their head coach to N.C. St., motivation shouldn’t be a problem with the opportunity to play on the big stage.

If anything, FSU might be the squad gamblers should worry about in terms of motivation. The ‘Noles had national-title hopes but finished 10-2 against a soft schedule. And don’t think of the location as being a huge advantage for FSU because the drive from Tallahassee to Miami is at least 7 ½ hours.

Keep an eye on this Texas Tech-Minnesota matchup at the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston. Yes, the location favors the Red Raiders, but how will the shocking departure of Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati impact this squad?

I’m not fond of this Minnesota team, but it is thrilled to be bowling for the first time in three years. The Gophers are double-digit underdogs (+13) at most betting shops.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--Bovada has released a plethora of proposition wagers for the bowl season. One that I found very interesting is the total for wins by SEC schools. Bovada has this number at 8 ½ with ‘under’ wagers at a minus-120 price while the ‘over’ has regular juice (-110). Nine SEC teams are bowling and all are favored, including Florida and Georgia as double-digit ‘chalk.’ Alabama is favored by 9 ½ or 10 vs. Notre Dame in the national-title game. The shortest SEC spreads belong to Ole Miss (-3.5 vs. Pitt) and Mississippi St. (-2 vs. Northwestern).

--There are eight schools favored by double-digit margins and that’s not including Alabama and Arizona, both of whom are currently at 9 ½ or 10.

--Bovada’s total for Big 12 bowl victories is 5 ½ ‘under’ (-130). Nine of the league’s 10 teams are in the postseason, but Texas, Kansas St. and Oklahoma are underdogs. Also, Baylor and Iowa St. are involved in pick ‘em affairs.

--Best under-the-radar matchup: Baylor vs. UCLA. I love this game that promises to feature a lot of offense.

--Kansas St. owns an 11-1 spread record in its last 12 underdog situations.

--LSU has great history in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl with blowout wins over Ga. Tech and Miami to its credit. The Bayou Bengals are favored by four over Clemson at the Ga. Dome on New Year’s Eve. They also dealt out woodshed treatment to Georgia at this venue in last year’s SEC Championship Game.

--Highest total: 79-80 range for UCLA-Baylor at the Holiday Bowl.

--Lowest total: 41 for TCU vs. Michigan St. at the Buffalo Wings Bowl.

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