Which Odds Makers Will Get today’s College Bowls Wrong?
Thirty-five 2013-2014 college bowls in football, some with bowl names that make parody difficult if not impossible. The sheer number of bowls (35) goes beyond satire. So it seems productive, as well as fair, to take a quick look at one of the least savory aspects of this high-skill, high-speed, high-injury activity, and review the picks and the odds makers.
Where bowls go, the odds makers follow. As of this writing, the picks and favored have been mostly right. But rather narrowly. Fifteen games have been played on the NCAA football bowl schedule so far. Of the fifteen, four picks have been wrong. Of the winning teams and right picks, four of the favored were damned with faint praise–favored, but not by near enough to be realistic.
- In Vegas, USC was favored over Fresno State–by six! The score was 45-20.
- At least the tepid pick for Colorado State over Washington State in New Mexico was right. Final score 48-45.
- In Idaho, however, San Diego State was picked over Buffalo by one. Final score: 49-24. Other sources picked Buffalo. More wrong than right.
- In New Orleans, Tulane was favored over Louisiana-Lafayette, although only slightly. Final score, Louisiana-Lafayette 24, Tulane 21. Wrong again.
Monday, Dec. 23, more importantly my brother’s birthday, gave us the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl: Ohio versus East Carolina (20-37). At least East Carolina was favored, although it won by more. Picks more right than wrong, arguably.
Christmas Eve Tuesday took us to the Hawaii Bowl, with Boise State versus Oregon State (23-38).
The line on Oregon State was three, and some writers picked Boise State. Oregon State won by fifteen.
Inadequate prognostication. Not by enough.
- In San Diego, Utah State was favored over Northern Illinois, and indeed won 21-14. Right.
- In Detroit, Bowling Green was favored to beat Pittsburgh by four-plus, more than once. Final score: Pittsburgh 30, Bowling Green 27. Solidly wrong.
Friday, Dec. 27, offered the Military Bowl, the Texas Bowl, and the Fight Hunger Bowl. The customary pronunciation of that last one is ‘fight hunger‘, with the stress on the latter word, meaning to combat the sad ill of people going without food. One sportscaster, doused in testosterone, called it ‘the fight hunger bowl’.
- Marshall was favored to beat Maryland in the Military Bowl and did, 31-20. An easy call, and they got it right.
- In the Texas Bowl, in Houston, Minnesota was favored over Syracuse by four or more. At the final, Syracuse won by 21-17. Prediction not very close. One forecaster did have some astute comments, and predicted right.
- In the Fight Hunger Bowl, regardless how you pronounce it, Washington was rightly favored over BYU, and won 31-16. Another easy call that they got right.
- Ranked [?] team #25[?] Notre Dame was favored to win over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl and did, 29-16. The predictions were right.
- In North Carolina’s Belk Bowl, North Carolina was favored, but not by nearly enough. The 39-17 defeat of Cincinnati was more lopsided even than the score indicated, let alone the predictions. Some sentimentalists picked Cincinnati. We need another Cincinnatus today, but the guess is still wrong.
- Speaking of lopsided, in the Russell Athletic Bowl Louisville was picked over Miami, but again not by enough. Final score Louisville 36, Miami 9.
- Prognosticators were on more solid ground in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, picking Kansas State comfortably over Michigan. Kansas State won 31-14.
What does a non-football expert take away from all this? Well, not too much. Some possible or tentative hypotheses:
1) Strong loyalties might make for wrong predictions. But on the strict thumbs-up-thumbs-down of picking the winning and losing team in a game, big-time indifference does not seem to make for accuracy. The better guesses came in games that more people care about. The bowls fewer people cared about, such as the New Orleans Bowl with two Louisiana teams and the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl that ran out of pizza for media, got picked/predicted wrong. Maybe more heads are better than fewer.
2) Other things being equal, the picks either did go or might as well have gone by conference. On the whole, the stronger the conference, the more likely an accurate pick. SEC schools have of course not played yet, since the best bowls have yet to come–more on that, later. But Colorado State was correctly picked over Washington State (Pac-12), Kansas State (Big 12) over Michigan (Big Ten), and Notre Dame (ACC) over Rutgers. It will be interesting to see whether this pattern, if it is a pattern, holds up for more bowls in which teams from strong conferences play each other. But in the meantime, it’s beginning to look as though either objectivity is overrated, or indifference doesn’t make for objectivity (accuracy). Maybe more resources of time and attention do make a difference in quality of prognostications . . .
3) For an expert gambler, it would make more sense to bet on the prognosticators than on college football.
For the record, this writer is against betting on college sports in the first place. To have the governors of two states wager a bushel of oysters against a bushel of corndogs, or whatever, is one thing. To wager money on the bones and brains of guys often not old enough to drink (legally) is another.
Also for the record, I have come around to the view that college football players should be paid. The laborer is worthy of his hire. After many years of holding the opposite position, I have switched. Partly this is the influence of reading articles by The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins.
Back to this season’s bowl games: How will the next picks hold up?
Coming up today and tonight, we have,
Monday, Dec. 30:
- Middle Tennessee picked over Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl, except when Navy is picked over Middle Tennessee: [? – ?]
- #10 Oregon favored over Texas in the Alamo Bowl: [? – ?]
- Ole Miss favored, somewhat, over Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl: [? – ?]
- In the Holiday Bowl, #16 Arizona State favored to beat Texas Tech by two touchdowns: [? – ?]
Who will get today’s games wrong?
More to come.