The Final Four of college football kicks off on New Year’s Eve, with No. 1 Alabama facing No. 4 Cincinnati in the afternoon window, and No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Georgia for the nightcap.
But first, amateur football watchers got Middle Tennesse State upsetting Toldeo in the first game of a Friday doubleheader, followed by a shootout between Northern Illinois and the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina, part of 44 bowl games before the national championship on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.
For bettors, college bowl season offers ample opportunities to lay cheese on games like the Bahamas Bowl and the Cure Bowl well before the Cotton and Orange Bowls. Why not get some action going?
With that, let’s go bowling.
All times Eastern; spread analysis updated late-night before each slate of that day’s games
Friday, Dec. 17 (Two Games)
Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee State (6-6) vs. Toledo (7-5), noon on ESPN
Sportsbooks initially tabbed this game at an opening spread of 7.5 points, just over a key number in football betting. Since then, books re-opened the spread at Toledo -9 and bettors backed the favored Rockets. As of late Thursday night, most books were up to 10.5 points, just over another key number, which offered potential buyback on Middle Tennessee State.
Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois (9-4) vs. Coastal Carolina (10-2), 6 p.m. on ESPN2
The Chanticleers return to the Cure Bowl a season after they lost to Liberty, 37-34, as the No. 9-ranked team in the nation, which was their lone defeat of that campaign (11-1). Coastal Carolina opened as an 8.5-point favorite over Northern Illinois and were bet up to 10.5 and 11 points across the major sportsbooks.
Saturday, Dec. 18 (Seven Games)
Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky (8-5) vs. Appalachian State (10-3), 11 a.m. on ESPN
As of late Friday night, this point spread settled back to the opening mark of 2.5 points after ping-ponging between 2.5 and three. This game received action on both sides, with App. State backers hitting -2.5 once Western Kentucky bettors lowered it from three points. From Friday afternoon and through the evening, the spread bounced between the two numbers four times.
Celebration Bowl: South Carolina State (6-5) vs. Jackson State (11-1), noon on ABC
Deion Sanders revitalized the Jackson State program in his second season, coaching them to an 11-1 record. Sportsbooks opened this game at 12 points in favor of “Prime Time’s” squad. Since then, bettors steadily chipped away at that large number, lowering it to 10 points at a majority of books, with some books still at 10.5.
New Mexico Bowl: UTEP (7-5) vs. Fresno State (9-3), 2:15 p.m. on ESPN
Fresno State opened as a 13-point favorite over the University of Texas at El Paso. Action was on UTEP as the spread lowered to 11.5 and 11 points across the books.
Independence Bowl: UAB (8-4) vs. No. 13 BYU (10-2), 3:30 p.m. on ABC
Sportsbooks tabbed BYU as an eight-point favorite when this spread opened. Bettors took UAB catching over a touchdown, which lowered this spread to seven points. Some books dropped to 6.5 points, showing bettors felt there still was value on UAB at a key number of seven. Once 6.5 points was available, BYU bettors took those points after early UAB bettors worked the opening number down.
LendingTree Bowl: Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs. Liberty (7-5), 5:45 p.m. on ESPN
Liberty opened as the favorite, right on a key number of seven points. From that mark, bettors took Liberty to cover over a touchdown to such an extent that this spread is approaching, and has hit at some books, another key number of 10 points. Most books list 9.5 points.
L.A. Bowl: Oregon State (7-5) vs. Utah State (10-3), 7:30 p.m. on ABC
Sportsbooks put this opener on the doorstep of a key number, at 6.5 points in favor of Oregon State. That was the perfect mark for Beavers backers, who bet the spread to seven points and even pushed it to 7.5 at a few books. As of late Friday night, 7.5 points was still available depending upon the sportsbook, showing no significant buyback on Utah State at that number to move the market to a consensus seven points.
New Orleans Bowl: Marshall (7-5) vs. No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette (12-1), 9:15 p.m. on ESPN
For the nightcap of Saturday’s slate of bowl games, bettors sided with underdog Marshall at an opening spread of five points, betting it down to four. Although this game will be held at a neutral site, it’s inside the Superdome in New Orleans, about two hours east of La.-Lafayette’s campus. Since 2011, The Ragin’ Cajuns have played in the New Orleans Bowl five times, winning four. Saturday is their sixth trip and bettors believe that even if Marshall can’t beat the “home” team, they can keep it close enough to cover a fairly small spread.
Monday, Dec. 20 (One Game)
Myrtle Beach Bowl: Old Dominion (6-6) vs. Tulsa (6-6), 2:30 p.m. on ESPN
Tulsa was installed as a seven-point favorite over Old Dominion and the spread has been bet up to nine or 9.5 points across major sportsbooks, still offering value on Tulsa under a key number of 10 points.
Tuesday, Dec. 21 (Two Games)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Kent State (7-6) vs. Wyoming (6-6), 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
Kent State opened as a 3.5-point underdog to Wyoming and was wagered down to three. Bettors took “the hook,” a half point, on Kent State to cover over a field goal and erased the slight edge on the underdog. The majority of books have not returned to 3.5 points, which shows there’s no significant action on Wyoming -3 to bump the spread to -3.5, which would undoubtedly return Kent State backers to the action since they already jumped on that number.
Frisco Bowl: UTSA (12-1) vs. No. 24 San Diego State (11-2), 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
University of Texas San Antonio opened as a 2.5-point favorite and early bettors backed San Diego State, dropping the spread to two and a low mark of 1.5 across the market.
Wednesday, Dec. 22 (One Game)
Armed Forces Bowl: Missouri (6-6) vs. Army (8-4), 8 p.m. on ESPN
Big wagers on Army -2.5 moved the opening spread from that mark through a key number of three, and up to four points at some books. Others were at 3.5 points.
Thursday, Dec. 23 (Two Games)
Frisco Football Classic: North Texas (6-6) vs. Miami (OH) (6-6), 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
The market sat at a consensus three-point spread after money came in on North Texas as 4.5-point underdogs.
Gasparilla Bowl: UCF (8-4) vs. Florida (6-6), 7 p.m. on ESPN
Florida was favored at six points to open and has either stayed at that number or gone to -6.5. Slight support for the Gators has been the early action but since this spread is still sitting under a key number of seven shows that support for them to cover by a touchdown is somewhat shallow.
Friday, Dec. 24 (One Game)
Hawaii Bowl: Memphis (6-6) vs. Hawaii (6-7), 8 p.m. on ESPN
Bettors showed no love to Hawaii playing in its own bowl game. Memphis opened as a four-point favorite and has been bet up to either seven or 7.5 points.
Saturday, Dec. 25 (One Game)
Camellia Bowl: Georgia State (7-5) vs. Ball State (6-6), 2:30 p.m. on ESPN
Sportsbooks opened this game at three points in favor of Georgia State, a ho-hum kind of spread on Christmas. It’s now up to a range of 4.5, five and 5.5 points as bettors hit Georgia State.
Monday, Dec. 27 (Two Games)
Quick Lane Bowl: Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Nevada (8-4), 11 a.m. on ESPN
The biggest move on the spread thus far, Nevada opened as a 6.5-point favorite. It’s now Western Michigan favored between six and 6.5 points across the board of sportsbooks.
Military Bowl: Boston College (6-6) vs. East Carolina (7-5), 2:30 p.m. on ESPN
Boston College opened as a three-point favorite and the spread hasn’t budged off that number.
Tuesday, Dec. 28 (Five Games)
Birmingham Bowl: No. 20 Houston (11-2) vs. Auburn (6-6), noon on ESPN
Early bettors grabbed Houston +3 at the opening number to drop this spread to 2.5 points across the market. No significant buyback on Auburn -2.5 has come yet to bump the spread back to three points.
First Responder Bowl: Air Force (9-3) vs. Louisville (6-6), 3:15 p.m. on ESPN
One of the tighter opening spreads of the college bowl slate, Air Force was favored by one point. Bettors flipped the script to Louisville at either one or 1.5 points.
Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State (7-5) vs. Texas Tech (6-6), 6:45 p.m. on ESPN
Early movement has come on favored Mississippi State, from an opener of 8.5 to nine points at a couple books.
Holiday Bowl: UCLA (8-4) vs. No. 18 North Carolina State (9-3), 8 p.m. on FOX
Favored N.C. State fell from -2.5 at opening to a one-point favorite after bettors hit UCLA.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4), 10:15 p.m. on ESPN
Bettors hammered West Virginia +6.5 down to a majority of +3.5 points, still leaving more meat on the bone above a key number of three.
Wednesday, Dec. 29 (Four Games)
Fenway Bowl: SMU (8-4) vs. Virginia (6-6), 11 a.m. on ESPN
Opening at a pick ’em, bettors dictated the spread in favor of Virginia to upward of two and 2.5 points.
Pinstripe Bowl: Maryland (6-6) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6), 2:15 p.m. on ESPN
This game sits at a pick ’em after books opened Virginia Tech as a three-point favorite and bettors jumped all over Maryland at that number.
Cheez-It Bowl: No. 19 Clemson (9-3) vs. Iowa State (7-5), 5:45 p.m. on ESPN
Books put Clemson -1 on their boards and bettors hit Iowa State, to the extent the spread flipped to a high-water mark of the Cyclones favored by two points.
Alamo Bowl: No. 14 Oregon (10-3) vs. No. 16 Oklahoma (10-2), 9:15 p.m. on ESPN
Favored Oklahoma ticked up slightly from an opener of four points to 4.5.
Thursday, Dec. 30 (Four Games)
Duke’s Mayo Bowl: North Carolina (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6), 11:30 a.m. on ESPN
Early bettors made it clear, North Carolina -5.5 was mispriced and moved the spread to 8.5, nine and 9.5 points in the Tar Heels’ direction.
Music City Bowl: Tennessee (7-5) vs. Purdue (8-4), 3 p.m. on ESPN
Purdue -2.5 at opening was flipped, heavily, to Tennessee -4.5 and five points.
Peach Bowl: No. 12 Pittsburgh (11-2) vs. No. 10 Michigan State (10-2), 7 p.m. on ESPN
Big movement on Michigan State +3.5 made them a dog-to-favorite at two, 2.5 and three points.
Las Vegas Bowl: Wisconsin (8-4) vs. Arizona State (8-4), 10:30 p.m. on ESPN
No significant market-wide money pushed this spread off Wisconsin favored by seven points… except at Circa Sportsbook in Vegas, which budged off a key number of seven to six, another key number.
Friday, Dec. 31 (Five Games)
Gator Bowl Bowl: No. 17 Wake Forest (10-3) vs. No. 25 Texas A&M (8-4), 11 a.m. on ESPN
Competing action, favored Wake Forest went from 4.5 points to five at some books, yet, dropped to four at others, a market discrepancy.
Sun Bowl: Washington State (7-5) vs. Miami (FL) (7-5), noon on CBS
A coin toss for sportsbooks, opening this game at a pick ’em. Miami (FL) -2.5 was the market’s response.
Arizona Bowl: Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Boise State (7-5), 2 p.m. on TBD
Books tabbed the surf-turf Boise State Broncos as double-digit favs at -10. Acton on Central Michigan at a key number of 10 splintered the market across respective books to a range of nine, eight and 7.5 points.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS, NEW YEAR’S EVE
COTTON BOWL CLASSIC: NO. 4 CINCINNATI (13-0) vs. NO. 1 ALABAMA (12-1), 3:30 P.M. ON ESPN
The No. 1 team in all the land opened as a 13-point favorite and was bet up to 13.5 at most books, still under a key number of 14 points. This spread has hovered around the opener, and upward of 13.5 but has yet to hit another key number of 14 points — the upper echelon of football points betting.
ORANGE BOWL: NO. 3 GEORGIA (12-1) vs. NO. 2 MICHIGAN (12-1), 7:30 P.M. ON ESPN
Georgia was installed just over a key number, at -7.5, against Michigan. Early action was on the Bulldogs, pushing them to upward of -8.5 points.
Saturday, Jan. 1 (Five Games)
Outback Bowl: Penn State (7-5) vs. No. 21 Arkansas (8-4), noon on ESPN2
Favored Penn State was bet down from four points to 2.5, two and 1.5 across the market.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 9 Oklahoma State (11-2) vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (11-1), 1 p.m. on ESPN
Golden Domer backers took Notre Dame -1.5 and bet them to -2 and -2.5, still under a key number.
Citrus Bowl: No. 15 Iowa (10-3) vs. No. 22 Kentucky (9-3), 1 p.m. on ABC
Early bettors have no faith in Iowa, which books put at 1.5-point favorites. The point spread is Kentucky -2.5 and three points.
Rose Bowl: No. 11 Utah (10-3) vs. No. 6 Ohio State (10-2), 5 p.m. on ESPN
Books opened on a key number of seven, leaving the market to dictate which way this spread would go. Bettors snubbed the Buckeyes at that number, betting Utah to 6.5 points.
Sugar Bowl: No. 7 Baylor (11-2) vs. No. 8 Ole Miss (10-2), 8:45 p.m. on ESPN
Bettors jumped on Baylor +2 at the opening number, showing books they mismarked this game. It now sits at either a pick ’em or Baylor -1, the slimmest of margins.
Tuesday, Jan. 4 (One Game)
Texas Bowl: LSU (6-6) vs. Kansas State (7-5), 9 p.m. on ESPN
Bettors flipped LSU -2.5 to favor Kansas State in a range of 1.5, two and 2.5 points to close out the last bowl game before the College Football National Championship on Jan. 10 of the New Year.
Mario Sanelli writes about sports betting for BeerLife Sports. He previously was the editorial assistant and a general-assignment reporter at The Denver Post for five years after serving as chief editor of The Metropolitan at MSU Denver. Mario was a NFL and college football insider with Mile High Sports for six years.