On Jan. 1, 2016, the way college football stars look at bowl games changed forever.
That was the day former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, a projected high first-round NFL draft pick, suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.
The devasting injury caused Smith to slip to the second round and lose millions of dollars. It also served as a cautionary tale the next year for Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, who sat out their bowl games rather than risk injury.
Fast forward to Friday, when the ever-expanding 43-game college bowl season kicks off. In addition to handicapping a team’s motivation and the coaching carousel that is flying off the rails — with 28 changes this year — bettors must be aware of a plethora of players who are opting out.
“Five years ago, those of us who seriously follow college football had never heard the terms ‘opt out’ or ‘transfer portal,’” professional sports bettor Paul Stone said. “Now it’s not only a real part of the sports vernacular, but it’s a very significant part of a bowl game handicap.”
A perfect example took place Thursday. Stone, who went 36-29 ATS to finish runner-up to pro handicapper Bruce Marshall (36-28-1) in the Review-Journal College Challenge, had told me Wednesday that Texas-San Antonio was one of his best bets.
A team on the rise, the Roadrunners are motivated and playing in their home state in the Frisco Bowl against a San Diego State squad that was exposed in a 46-13 loss to Utah State in the Mountain West title game.
But on Thursday, it was reported that UTSA star running back Sincere McCormick plans to declare for the NFL draft and won’t play in Tuesday’s bowl game. So Stone opted out of his best bet on the Roadrunners (-2).
“He’s a huge part of their offense,” said Stone (@PaulStoneSports).
Massive line move
Stone, who won last season’s RJ Bowl Challenge with a 10-2 ATS record, instead made Western Michigan his best bet. He made the change after the line swung by 12½ points — from UNR -6½ to Western Michigan -6 — after UNR quarterback Carson Strong announced he’ll enter the draft and opt out of the Dec. 27 Quick Lane Bowl.
UNR coach Jay Norvell also left for Colorado State and several other players entered the draft portal.
Stone said he bet on Western Michigan +7 after forecasting that Strong would opt out. Westgate SuperBook vice president of risk Ed Salmons also bet the Broncos +6½ after finding some information on social media.
“These games are kind of like preseason football now,” Salmons said. “You’ve got to constantly read up on Twitter and see which teams are really up for the games and are going to play their players.
“That said, a lot of lines will move a couple days before the game because now you have COVID involved.”
Yahoo! Sportsbook betting analyst Pamela Maldonado (@pamelam35) made Army her best bet in the RJ Bowl Challenge. Salmons also likes the Black Knights (-4) over Missouri in Wednesday’s Armed Forces Bowl.
“Army’s style is unique and they’re just a hard team to defend,” he said. “A team like Missouri that struggles to stop the run to begin with will struggle in this game because Army will hold the ball for 40 minutes.”
Marshall (Goldsheet.com) also likes Army and made Air Force, -1½ over Louisville in the First Responder Bowl, his best bet.
“Usually the service academies give you an honest effort and are generally a good value in the bowls,” he said. “This is one of the best Air Force teams (coach) Troy Calhoun has had. It’s a very modest Louisville team.”
Salmons and former RJ College Challenge champion Dana Lane expect Virginia to play hard for coach Bronco Mendenhall in his final game at the school. Lane made the Cavaliers, -2 over SMU in the Fenway Bowl, his best bet.
“The coaching matchup should favor the Cavs, with this being the last game for Mendenhall,” said Lane (@DanaLaneSports). “And Sonny Dykes will not be on the Mustangs’ sideline after accepting the head coaching position at TCU.”