Orange Bowl, Music City Bowl: Factors in betting Florida, Mississippi State

Because of intense TV coverage through the regular season, Southeastern Conference teams are consistently in the bowl spotlight. Some bettors believe this creates inflated point spreads that are worth fading. That approach worked last postseason, when the SEC went 5-7 against the spread (including two non-covers from Alabama in the playoffs).

Will it work again? It’s an important question with seven SEC teams about to take the field the next few days. Two are in action Monday. Smart handicappers will evaluate the league on the fly, factoring in today’s performances with prior bowls involving LSU and Texas A&M.

For evaluating Monday appearances, let’s dig deeper into the Music City and Orange bowls where SEC teams are favored.

— Mississippi State (-4) vs. Louisville, 4 p.m., ESPN

Mississippi State: 66th offense, 67th defense, 9th schedule, +2 turnover margin.

Louisville: 35th offense, 107th defense, 42nd schedule, -2 turnover margin.

Total offense and defense rankings are from the regular season and strength of schedule rankings are from Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings at USA Today.

It’s scary to ponder how poorly Louisville’s defense would grade out if it had faced Mississippi State’s brutal schedule! This point spread bounced between -31/2 and -41/2 through the long lead-in. Sharps like the ‘dog at +4 or better. Were the line to fall to the key number of three, cover percentages would flip to the favorite.

Mississippi State is not an impressive SEC entry, bowling only because of a late non-conference win over Abilene Christian and a lucky rivalry victory over Ole Miss. Should the Bulldogs crush the Cardinals, it would be an indicator for additional SEC success.

— Florida (-141/2) vs. Virginia, 8 p.m., ESPN

Florida: 54th offense, 10th defense, 29th schedule, +5 turnover margin.

Virginia: 82nd offense, 41st defense, 59th schedule, -3 turnover margin.

If you focus on Virginia’s poor offense facing Florida’s stellar defense and then adjust for schedule strength, it’s easy to see this underdog getting squashed. But, a point spread near two touchdowns is very high for a favorite lacking an explosive offense.

This number spent the holidays flipping between Florida -14 and -141/2. Clearly, respected ‘dog money was taking the hook. Florida is supposed to dominate. If it doesn’t, that would suggest other upcoming favorites might be overpriced as well.

Here are the other five SEC teams in action this week (listed first in each matchup). Only Kentucky has been an underdog through early betting. Dec. 31: Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech (Belk). Jan. 1: Alabama vs. Michigan (Citrus). Auburn vs. Minnesota (Outback). Georgia vs. Baylor (Sugar). Jan. 2: Tennessee vs. Indiana (Gator).

Those three New Year’s Day appearances should see all three SEC entries closing near touchdown favorites. The ultimate success or failure of your entire bowl betting slate may be keyed by your Wednesday picks. Between now and then, learn what you can about the market’s read on the SEC.

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