Vegas Action Report: Sharp Group Playing Houston, Louisiana Tech on Saturday
Danny Wild, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Kelvin Hopkins Jr.
We’re still a few days away from the bigger college bowl games, but this Saturday’s card certainly has some intriguing games.
Before we get to this Saturday’s bowl menu, let’s check in on the College Football Playoff betting market.
“The team that has seen the most action in the two playoff games has definitely been Clemson,” John Murray, a director at the Westgate SuperBook said. “We saw the number get pushed up from as low as Clemson -11 to Clemson -13.5, before we settled back at Clemson -13. I still expect a flood of Notre Dame support as we get closer to December 29,” he explained. “There’s already been plenty of support for the Irish on the moneyline. We had a guy come in this week and bet 10K on Notre Dame +400 and we moved to +375. Right now the ticket count on the moneyline is 25 to 1 in favor of Notre Dame.”
As for the other game, Murray said their house is seeing two-way action on the spread.
“The Oklahoma – Alabama game has been pretty evenly split with plenty of support for both teams. We haven’t moved off our opening number of Alabama -14, as there has been plenty of money both ways,” Murray noted. “The moneyline has been far more one-sided with Oklahoma getting 16 money line bets to every one for Alabama. The books will probably be rooting for both favorites on the moneyline come December 29, although there will be plenty of money line parlays including both favorites.”
Birmingham Bowl: Memphis (-3) vs. Wake Forest | Over/Under: 73
Memphis is coming off a 56-41 loss to UCF in the AAC Championship and the reward for losing in the title game is a date with Wake Forest in Birmingham. A key win at Duke earned the Demon Deacons a bowl bid. Can they make the most of it?
Jason Simbal of CG Technologies has seen professional money come in on both teams in this one.
“The early bettors laid -3.5 right away and moved the line to -4 but as soon as we did that, they took Wake Forest and the +4. So we moved the line back to -3.5 where it stands now,” Simbal began. “So you’ve got some sharps who want to take +4 and some who want to lay -3.5 so we have solid two-way action here. I think ultimately -3.5 seems about right here. Where we are getting one-sided action is in the total of 73 and everyone is taking the over but we’re not seeing enough action yet to push that number higher. I think it will go up though.”
Derek Wilkinson, a supervisor at the Westgate, said they haven’t seen noteworthy action on this one yet. “Not much action on this one from the public or the wise guys. The line has stayed at Memphis -3.5. We do have a little bit of parlay and teaser liability on Wake Forest. However, I like Memphis. They score too many points for that inconsistent Wake team. Right now we need Memphis by a slim margin,” he said.
Armed Forces Bowl Houston vs. Army (-5) | Over/Under: 60
This has been an exceptional year for Army. The Cadets won 10 games, beat Navy and almost pulled off a stunning upset against Oklahoma.
Army will likely need to put up some points against a high-flying Houston offense, but the Black Knights scored over 30 points in eight of 12 games this season.
Houston is coming off three losses in its last four games and generally underwhelmed this season.
Murray indicated that most of the money is on Army, but there’s a catch.
“We took a very sharp bet from a group I really respect on Houston +5.5 vs. Army,” Murray said. “I thought that one was interesting because Houston will be without Ed Oliver and Isaiah Johnson defensively. Both are sitting out in preparation for the NFL Draft. Other than that one sharp group taking the +5.5, almost all of the money has been on Army and that moved the number up from the opener of -3.
“The tickets right now are more about 6 to 1 on Army. I’m anticipating a low scoring game with Army winning. I’m not sure if they can cover 5 though and I think with the betting trend here this line could go a little higher. The book will likely still need Houston come kickoff Saturday,” Murray said.
Simbal says he’s seeing much of the same at the CG properties but they have some liability with Houston on the moneyline.
“What I’m seeing here is bettors are still liking the spread on Army but they also seem to like the moneyline on Houston,” Simbal explained. “The line opened at -3 and went to -3.5 right away. I think that opening line was a little too low in hindsight but we had a big house player take Army at -4 which is why we pushed the number to -5. But the public seems to be coming back on the moneyline at +170 on Houston. So if Army manages to win and not cover it will be a very Merry Christmas here for sure!”
Dollar General Bowl: Buffalo (-1) vs. Troy | Over/Under: 49.5
Buffalo has put together a very solid season, falling just short against Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game. It will be interesting to see if they can bounce back from that.
Troy had a bounce-back season in 2018 and has drawn some sharp bets over the past few days.
Given the fact that these teams are very different, this game has proved a tough nut to crack for both bookmakers and bettors.
“Buffalo opened at -2.5 [at CG Technologies] and then went up to -3, then quickly went back down to -2.5,” Simbal said. “I thought it would climb back up steadily from there but I was wrong and the line has only continued to drop and is now down at -1.5. So it seems that the public can’t make heads or tails of these two teams when you match them up against one another. I apparently can’t either because I thought Buffalo would take most of the money. I honestly have no idea where this game will go from here. Maybe we’ll see a big shift on Saturday but I get the impression bettors are just going to toss a coin on this one.”
Hawaii Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Hawaii (-1) | Over/Under: 61
Hawaii was one of the biggest surprises of the football season. Many Vegas sportsbooks expected a three-win season from the Rainbow Warriors, who proved doubters wrong with a hot start.
Louisiana Tech did nothing fancy on it way to a seven-win season. The Bulldogs best win probably came against North Texas, which isn’t saying all that much.
Just like in the Dollar General Bowl, there is no clear pattern for this game.
“We’ve seen some sharp bets on both sides of this one. It opened at Hawaii -2 and has dropped to -1. However, we took a fairly big bet on LA Tech at +2,” Wilkinson said. “But LA Tech didn’t look good in their last two games of the season, Hawaii has had some bad losses this year too. I like Hawaii in a close one here; mainly just because it’s in Hawaii and LA Tech could be looking at this trip as a vacation. The book needs LA Tech for the moment but I think the late money will likely be on Hawaii as well.”
Murray added a comment about the large bet they took on LA Tech +2: “That bet came from the same group that took Houston +5.5 against Army. I always follow what that group does because they have a very high percentage of winners this college season.”
Simbal thinks this will end up being a Pros vs. Joes game.
“This is another game where the line has moved toward the dog. Hawaii opened here at -2.5 and the sharps took the +2.5, they took +2 and they even took +1.5. It’s down to Hawaii -1 pretty much everywhere,” he explained. “I still think the public is going to jump in on Hawaii late. But the over is getting bet hard here. It opened at 57.5 and is up to 61 here and I only see that going up.”