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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, December 21, 2018 at 11:00 AM

I had been leaning initially to devoting Friday’s coursework to the NFL. We just talked about college football this past Monday when I reviewed the thought process behind my 100-unit winner on Utah State over North Texas. But, a surprising development in the bowls has made it essential that we talk more about the bowls today.

Favorites have won every game!

We’re eight games into the 2018-19 bowl slate. Favorites are 8-0 straight up, 7-1 against the point spread. The only non-cover was by a half-a-point…and some bettors pushed that.

I’m not here to tell you that favorites are going to keep it going at anything resembling this pace. Upsets are bound to happen. They always do. But, I do believe we’re seeing the natural effects of the following bowl realities…

*PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS usually determine who wins and covers bowl games. Favorites usually have more of those.

*If THE MOTIVATION FACTOR isn’t an influence…meaning both teams enter with the same mindset (both excited, both neutral, both flat), then PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS will rule the day.

I haven’t sensed any great “us against the world” scenarios for underdogs entering the first week of bowls. They weren’t all supposed to be this helpless! But, the closest thing would have been Middle Tennessee’s quarterback playing his final game for his head coach, who’s also his father. Nothing MTSU’s defense could do about Appalachian State.

And, while there weren’t many ideal motivational spots for favorites, there weren’t any teams completely disinterested in showing up either. Many bowl upsets are keyed by favorites demoralized about having to settle for a minor appearance, or who exhibited late season chemistry problems. To my version of the eye test, these favorites have shown up ready to flex their muscles.

Look at the dominant stats in a set of games where favorites were all laying seven points or less…

*Tulane (-3.5) beat Louisiana Lafayette 41-24, owning rushing yards to the tune of 337-84.

*Utah State (-7) obliterated North Texas 52-13. I’ve said enough about that one already.

*Fresno State (-6) beat Arizona State 31-20, posting a huge yards-per-play advantage of 6.8 to 4.2.

*Georgia Southern (-2.5) only beat Eastern Michigan 23-21 in the only non-cover for a favorite. Though, it did win rushing yardage 331-97. That’s owning the point of attack.

*Appalachian State (-6) beat Middle Tennessee 45-13, winning rushing yards 233-62 (on 6.9 to 1.8 yards-per-carry). Note that both Appalachian State and Fresno State LOST the turnover category 3-2, or they might have put up bigger victory margins.

*Alabama-Birmingham (-2) beat Northern Illinois 37-13, with a 7.3 to 3.9 edge in yards-per-play. Was never a contest despite the short line.

*Ohio (-2.5) beat San Diego State 27-0, with a 421-287 yardage edge on 6.8 to 4.6 yards-per-play. SDSU could only move the ball in the middle of the field.

*Marshall (-3) won at South Florida 38-20 (the game was played on South Florida’s home field, in front of what was mostly an empty stadium anyway), winning rushing yardage 282-92. “Thundering Herd” is right.

For you “first half” bettors, I should also note that the tone was set early in almost all of these games. Fresno State was tied with ASU 17-all at the break. Otherwise, the halftime scores in order were 24-10, 38-7, 17-7, 24-6, 27-10, 17-0, and 28-10. That’s seven double digit leads at halftime, even though the full-game point spread was a touchdown or less in all of them. Amazing.

Clearly, from those stats, favorites haven’t yet been running into opposing defenses that could stop them from controlling their destiny. PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS have been breaking games open in the first half (except for Fresno State). I believe that will be a general theme the rest of the way whenever THE MOTIVATION FACTOR doesn’t get in the way.

I don’t want this to be one big stat report. But, early evidence is also pointing to something that probably deserves more homework from you. The losing teams are posting very poor passing lines given the fact that they’ve been playing in extended garbage times most of the way. That’s a very important hidden “bonus” that can help out favorite bettors. If the lesser team doesn’t have a quarterback who can play catch up from behind, then it’s going to be a rout.

Here are the passing lines from the losers to this point…


17-34-4-193…North Texas (starting QB injured early)

19-31-2-129…Arizona State

17-26-0-204…Eastern Michigan

25-37-2-330…Middle Tennessee (rare production)

22-29-0-179…Northern Illinois

12-16-1-134…San Diego State

15-31-0-268…South Florida (still not enough)

Again….extended garbage time! Only the senior QB playing for his father topped 300 passing yards. In the past, we would have expected to see at least 250 yards for all of those losing teams. Now, in the era of dink-and-dunk…and all elite throwers going to the major conferences…we see a bunch of mid-major guys who can’t even throw for 200 yards against “prevent” defenses.

That sets up this week’s homework. I want you to calculate the average per-game passing lines for all remaining starting quarterbacks. Then, calculate a separate per-game average for their outings in losses. I’m confident that will unlock a few more winners for you do-it-yourselfers.

If you’d like additional help, KELSO STURGEON’S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling my office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours. You always get the most bang for your buck on longer term packages.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping greatly appreciates your attendance and hard work. I’ll see you again by midday Monday (Christmas Eve) for our next football discussion. That will most likely be about the NFL since we’ve had two college reports in a row.

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