Friday’s Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium featuring Michigan State and Wake Forest will showcase a battle of extremes. This type of matchup can cause headaches for handicappers because there’s no obvious difference-maker.
Here’s a quick look at national stat rankings entering the bowls for the Bronx battlers, along with strength of schedule rankings as posted by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. VSiN has included turnover margin for additional context:
Michigan State vs. Wake Forest, 3:20 p.m., ESPN
Michigan State: 101st offense, 18th defense, 31st schedule, -1 turnover margin.
Wake Forest: 12th offense, 78th defense, 68th schedule, +7 turnover margin.
The favorite has a stellar defense but an awful offense. The underdog can pile up big yardage, but is soft defensively at the point of attack. MSU is more battle-tested, but sloppier when forced out of its comfort zone.
This line sat at Michigan State -31/2 for days, suggesting sharps were either passing entirely, or leaning toward the more physical favorite that’s likely to own the point of attack. If professional bettors had any passion for the underdog, they would have taken the hook out off the key number of three long ago. The spread did move to four at William Hill and other spots Christmas Day.
It was telling sharps didn’t want any part of Wake +31/2 even though Michigan State has covered only one spread the past two months! That was in a 27-0 shutout of helpless Rutgers. Sparty is 3-9 ATS for the season, and flunked litmus tests against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State by a combined score of 144-24.
Markets were more in sync with Wake, which complied a 5-6-1 ATS record. But, its only game against a superpower was a 52-3 loss to Clemson.
In other Friday bowl action:
- North Carolina likely will close around 41/2-point favorites over Temple in the Military Bowl (noon, ESPN). Though, in any bowl, lines can move dramatically on last-second news about player availability.
- Texas A&M was bet up from -41/2 to -61/2 favorites over No. 25 Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl (6:45 p.m., ESPN). The key number of seven would likely bring in aggressive underdog money. Sharps were happy to take the Aggies at -6 or lower. Modeled cover percentages likely flip at seven.
- No. 16 Iowa probably will close near -2 vs. No. 22 USC in the Holiday Bowl (8 p.m., FS1). This is the only Friday bowl matching two ranked teams. Telling that neither sharp nor recreational action lifted the line toward the key number of three.
- Air Force may flip between -21/2 and -3 all day vs. Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl (10:15 p.m., ESPN). That’s been the story through early betting, with constituencies stepping in at favorable prices either way.
Bettors shouldn’t base investments solely on sharp sentiment. But, they should respect line value near key numbers, and ponder why pros are passing on certain teams at available prices.