With bowl season getting into full swing this week, we spoke to OddsShark gambling expert Jon Campbell about betting on the bowls and the College Football Playoff.
(Note: this interview was conducted on Thursday, December 22.)
The Spun: Washington is currently a 14.5 point underdog to Alabama in the Peach Bowl semifinal game. The Huskies have been great this year, but had their worst performance of the season against probably the most talented team on the schedule: USC. Do you think the Huskies have a realistic chance of keeping this one close? (Ed. note: the line is now down to 14 points at most sportsbooks.)
Jon Campbell: I like Alabama to cover the spread here. I think the spread’s still a little too low, I would’ve had Alabama closer to a 17-point favorite. I like Alabama at 14.5. Not too much shocks me anymore in sports and college football, but I think it would be a surprise for me and a lot of people if Washington does up winning this one. If you look at the moneyline, the payout is 6-1, so it’s not the craziest thing you’ve ever heard if Washington does end up winning this one, but it would be unlikely.
One thing I do like about them is that they take really good care of the ball. They’re No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin this year, so it’s going to be interesting.
The Spun: Over in the other semifinal, Ohio State and Clemson are pretty evenly matched, Ohio State’s a three-point favorite right now, but have had some moments of inconsistency this season. Which do you trust more in the Fiesta Bowl?
Campbell: Clemson’s the best bowl bet in the nation since 2012, they’re 5-0 against the spread, so it’s tough for me to bet against them here. They were 3.5-point underdogs for a long time and that line has come down. I like Clemson a lot more at +3.5, but I do think they can win this game. I think they match-up really well, and Deshaun Watson’s going to be a tough test for Ohio State as he is for everyone, and I just love this defensive front for Clemson. I love the Buckeyes too, they’re obviously a great team, but I do think Clemson has a really good shot to win this one straight up. I think they’re going to give Ohio State a lot of trouble.
The Spun: A number of bowl games feature interesting variables due to the coaching carousel. We’ve already seen Houston lose without Tom Herman, and WKU not miss a beat without Jeff Brohm. Overall, do you see any real trends for teams in the middle of a coaching transition, or is it more of a crap shoot?
Campbell: You kind of took the answer out of my mouth there. It really depends from team to team. With Houston losing Tom Herman, you’d think with that one they’d be the least affected, because the offensive coordinator now becomes the head coach, with Major Applewhite, but I think they had a real let down in their bowl game and the last game of the season with the coaching change. And then Western Kentucky, they don’t miss a beat without Jeff Brohm.
So it’s one of these things that I think the media likes to talk about more in general than it actually affects the team. I think nowadays the players, even at the college level, know the coaches could change at any time, so I think it is a bigger deal to the media than it is to the point spread, but it is something to pay attention to.
The Spun: Is there one prominent factor that you look at above the others when it comes to picking a bowl game?
Campbell: You have to look at which conferences are playing one another, and some conferences are better than others of course. That’s the first thing that always jumps out to me, and that’s a really quick handicap. The next thing I look at is defense first when I’m handicapping football in general, and I think most recreational bettors start with offense first, but I look with defense, and how well that defense matches up with the strength of the other team’s offense. That’s where I start.
The Spun: I think in bowl season, it seems to be a general thought that there’s more offense than normal, and we saw that in that Memphis-Western Kentucky game, but I saw you tweet on Wednesday that it was the first game to hit the over. Through the first eight bowls, we’re at 1-7 in over-unders. Is there something going on this year that you think has impacted the total points, or is it the randomness of bowl season?
Campbell: No, it’s just the way it goes, and it almost always balances out. The numbers are almost a perfect 50/50 when you look back to the 2012 season. And year-to-year, it balances out really close to 50/50, so there’s actually a little bit of an advantage to bettors now that we know the under has come in, and knowing that it balances out, I would recommend keeping a closer eye and look to the over first, because it should come around.
(Ed. Note: After today’s Army win over North Texas, the over-under record is 8-9, with seven of the last nine games going over. Good call, Jon.)
The Spun: Which of the remaining match-ups do you think is flying under the radar, but could be one of the more fun games left on the slate?
Campbell: I think maybe the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 29, Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech’s favored by seven, the total is 62. You’ve got two balanced offenses there that can do different things on offense, and I think that we might see a lot of points in this one, and I think it could be a close game. This is one that’s definitely flying under the radar and isn’t being talked about much, but it could be a fun game.
The Spun: If you could only place one bet for the remainder of this bowl season, what would it be?
Campbell: This is always a tough one because I like to lay a lot of bets, but if I had to pick one, it might be South Carolina getting 10 points against South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl. And that’s another bowl game that nobody really cares about but going back to the conference thing, this is an SEC team, the best conference all year, every year it seems, and they have a great defense that has 25 takeaways this season. So with them getting double digits, I think all of the focus is on South Florida’s offense, and it’s a great offense, but I think they’re going to be in tough against a pretty good SEC defense here that can also turn the ball over, and I just think 10 points is too many.
The Spun: That should definitely be an interesting one, and we talked before about coaches leaving. It’ll be hard to know what the impact of Willie Taggart going to Oregon will be.
To wrap up, does anyone manage to upset Alabama, or does the Crimson Tide take home the national title?
Campbell: I like Alabama. I know that’s not a really exciting answer, but they’re just too good this year. I don’t think anyone will beat them. Over a 60 minute game, they just do everything so well, and they’re going to beat whomever they have to play.