Joshua S. Kelly, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Shai Werts
LAS VEGAS — Even though we’re still a few weeks away from the marquee bowl games, there are some intriguing matchups on Saturday and they are attracting some interesting betting traffic.
I spoke with a few bookmakers around town and, even though the New Mexico Bowl and Las Vegas Bowl may be the two bigger bowls on Saturday, it’s the Camellia Bowl that has everyone’s attention.
The sportsbooks aren’t expecting any major action on any of the bowl games — especially since there is NFL action on Saturday — but just because the betting public isn’t paying close attention to, what appear to be, insignificant games, the sharp players will tell you this is where they have an opportunity to make some serious money.
The Camellia Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs. Georgia Southern (-3) | O/U: 47.5
This line opened as a pick ’em but there has been a buzz around the books about this game since this game was posted. Everybody was on Georgia Southern.
At first glance you’d expect the opposite to be true as Eastern Michigan — despite having a worse record — played a tougher schedule, beat Purdue and hung in games with Buffalo and San Diego St.
Georgia Southern, on the other hand, won nine games but play in a weaker conference and were trounced by Clemson. But all the action has come in on Georgia Southern and it’s causing the oddsmakers to second guess themselves.
“I think the opening line was a bit of a miss,” Jason Simbal or CG Technologies said. “I think [that number] gave some of the sharper players the opportunity to beat the books early on this one. Eastern Michigan is a 3-point underdog here now. They opened as a favorite. All the money that came in after we released the line was sharp money.”
Simbal doesn’t think this line will get any smaller, either, as public action won’t balance out the bigger bets on GA Southern. “We don’t expect much public money on this game so we expect a majority of the action to be from the sharps. Unless we get a wave of Eastern Michigan money coming in Saturday I can see this line possibly creeping up even further since I don’t expect much push back on this game.”
Derek Wilkinson, a supervisor at the Westgate SuperBook, said they will be rooting on EMU, as well.
“We have had a lot of action on this game. It’s by far our most heavily wagered game for this Saturday and the line movement reflects that,” Wilkinson explained. “We opened Eastern Michigan -1 and now we have GA Southern -3. All of the sharp money is on GA Southern. We took five figure bets at +1, -1.5, -2, and -2.5. We will definitely need Eastern Michigan on Saturday.”
New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Utah State (-7.5) | Over/Under: 68
While the names aren’t very sexy, their records certainly are. North Texas finished 9-3 and was competitive in Conference USA while Utah State finished 10-2 and was in the mix in the Mountain West.
Despite their similar overall records, these two teams have fared differently against the spread. North Texas finished 4-8 against the number while Utah State finished 9-3.
Of course, the biggest reason this line has moved towards North Texas is that Matt Wells, Utah State’s head coach, announced he was going to leave for Texas Tech.
“From the time the announcement was made that Coach Wells was leaving to go to Texas Tech it’s been all dog money coming in on North Texas,” Simbal said. “The Aggies opened as an 11-point favorite and the sharps came in all the way down the ladder to push the line to -7.5. It wasn’t until we got the line to -7.5 when we finally got some bets on Utah State which pushed the line back up to -8 where it’s at now here and we haven’t gotten much play since. It seems like -8 is probably the right number here. If you managed to get North Texas at a number higher than -8 you’re probably in a good position.”
Wilkinson said the Westgate hasn’t seen much action for the New Mexico Bowl yet, but expects that to change on Saturday.
“This line has dropped a lot since the coaching announcement was made,” Wilkinson noted. “We opened at Utah St -9.5 and we’re currently at -7.5. We haven’t seen a whole lot of action on this game, but the market has shifted significantly to drop the line. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some large wagers come in on Utah State if that line gets down to -7 which would likely come in on Saturday. Right now we need North Texas by a small margin.”
Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State (-6) vs. Arizona State | Over/Under: 53.5
Even though Fresno State plays in a smaller conference than Arizona State, it is coming off a win over Boise State in the Mountain West Championship game. That explains why the Bulldogs are receiving plenty of support in the Las Vegas Bowl.
“We took a sharp, 5 figure bet on Fresno St at -4.5,” Wilkinson said. “We’re currently at -5. Right now we have most of our liability on Fresno St and I don’t see that changing but we will have a lot of Sun Devils followers staying here this weekend so we could get some late action on ASU.”
It’s a similar pattern at the CG Technologies’ properties as well.
“We’ve gotten some heavy sharp action on Fresno early on here,” Simbal noted. “They laid -3, -4 and -4.5 and that was all sharp money.”
The overwhelming support for the Bulldogs is surprising Simbal as usually bigger bettors like to play the underdog in these smaller bowl games.
“What’s funny about this game is that usually people come in and like to bet the dog in games where they’re somewhat unfamiliar with the teams playing. But that’s not the case here. In fact, we actually took a bet at -200 for $5,000 on Fresno St, it’s up to -210 now so that doesn’t especially bode well when the sharps continue to bet a line up and then take the favorite to win at a minus money line,” Simbal explained. “I think that suggests Arizona State could be in trouble here. I do expect some ASU money as we get closer to game time. There will be a lot of Sun Devils supporters in town for the game. But from what we’re seeing behind the desk, it suggests to us Fresno is a pretty live favorite here.”