Hello, and welcome to our first installment of the Bowl Betting Bonanza (!). For the next three weeks, I'll be talking to handicappers and wise guys to get their take on why the lines for this year's bowl games are the way they are -- and where they think the value lies. Our first installment (BBBI) will cover the bowl slate from Dec. 19 to Dec. 23. Because you can never get enough coverage of the St. Petersburg Bowl, presented by Beef 'O' Brady's. (Seriously, that takes pandering to a whole new level, right?)
Anyway, before we begin, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at some of the factors that make linemaking for bowls different than for regular-season games. Hopefully, this gives you something to think about when you're making your picks. For guidance, I called Kenny White, the head of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the linemaking consulting firm which sends spreads to bookmakers all over Nevada.
First, Kenny told me, they take a look at the same factors they'd use for a regular-season game: Power ratings for both teams, how each team runs, throws, stops the run and stops the pass. But in a bowl game, there are a lot more intangibles. He looks at:
1. How a team ended the regular season: "Were they on a run to make the bowl or did they lose a lot?"
2. How much excitement is a team going to have headed into the bowl: "You're looking for a team that is thrilled to be there and looking forward to the game. Think about Alabama last season; they could have cared less [about playing in that bowl game]."
A subset of No. 2 is bowl experience, but not for the reason you think: "I'm more likely to give a team a higher ranking if it hasn't been to a bowl for a while, because that will generate excitement amongst the program and fans."
3. How much time off a team has had before the bowl: "Ohio State has had horrible bowl experiences because it was off for so long. When you are not playing it's hard to simulate game speed. It's like walking on the highway at 30 mph."
4. The weather on a school's respective campus: "The SEC, Pac-10, even the ACC tend to do better in the bowls than the Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East. I think the warm weather has a lot to do with that. Thirty days of practice in warm weather before a bowl game helps you get a lot more done than practicing in a bubble or outside in a cold climate."
Since some of you have asked, here is an over/under caveat: The biggest factor linemakers consider when making an over/under bowl line is how long a team has been off. "It's easier to play defense than it is to play offense. And historically teams with long layoffs take a while to get the rust off and get the offense going. Other than that, it's just straight matchups, as it is during the season."
Don't worry, I'll repeat these points (word for word) in Bowl Bonanzas II, III and IV (leading into the BCS games) so you can have them handy.
Meanwhile, here are Kenny's thoughts on the five bowl games between from Dec. 19 to Dec. 23.
OK, we gave you the key betting factors without having to be an ESPN Insider -- but to go into the trends of all the pre-Christmas bowl games (what influenced the line, how it was determined, where the smart money lies), you must be an ESPN Insider.