12/18/2008 12:00AM

It's not that hard - just pick winners

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LAS VEGAS - The college bowl season kicks off Saturday and handicappers are spending countless hours trying to figure out who is going to beat the spread.

However, a handicapper friend of mine, Mike Rose, 65, of San Antonio, says all you have to do to show a profit over the long run is figure out who is going to win the game - thus his "pick the winner theory."

He's no professional handicapper. In fact, he's retired from the apartment supply business, though he still consults for the company he created in 1976 and then sold in 1999. He posts at ViewFromVegas.com under the name tpking, with the "tp" being an abbreviation for a vital product.

"I started noticing in the early 80s that even though I'd be taking an underdog and getting 7 or 8 points, it would rarely ever materialize that the points would come into play," Rose said. "Either the favorite would win and cover or the underdog would win the game. You could stick the points where the sun don't shine 90 percent of the time. If your team can't win, they can't cover."

Rose doesn't keep exact statistics on that, so I asked handicapper Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com. He confirmed that Rose's theory has been borne out - at least in bowl games. He said that since 1980, the straight-up winners in bowl games are 468-81-9 (85.2 percent) against the spread. And except for the years in which the Patriots won the Super Bowl by a field goal, the vast majority of Super Bowls also haven't had the points come into play.

While I've had a very good NFL season, I pretty much broke even in college football, but I did much better on games that Rose and I agreed upon in our e-mail correspondences. I tend to go more on what I see from teams on TV, more the equivalent of a trip handicapper in horse racing, while Rose is more of a numbers man.

"I use a math model that a friend of mine who went to MIT developed," Rose said. "I have to update with the results every week, but it gives a statistical comparison of the teams."

Rose says the "pick the winner theory" applies best when the game means everything to both teams, such as in a conference championship game in college football or an important regular season game. Rose points to this Sunday's Giants-Panthers matchup for the No. 1 seed in the NFC as a classic example of such a matchup.

So, here are the bowl games in which Rose and I agreed on betting the underdogs. I'm taking them with the points, but Rose says the better bet might be to take the money line since the points probably won't matter and the payoff will be bigger when you win: Navy over Wake Forest, Notre Dame over Hawaii, West Virginia (pick-em) over North Carolina, Louisiana Tech over Northern Illinois, Oregon over Oklahoma St., Pittsburgh over Oregon St., Penn St. over USC, Virginia Tech over Cincinnati, and Oklahoma over Florida.

Most readers know I have a hard time laying any points, but these are the favorites we agreed on: TCU over Boise St., Florida St. over Wisconsin, California over Miami-Fla., Rutgers over North Carolina, Nevada over Maryland (my top play of the bowl season), and Iowa over South Carolina.

Bills +7 vs. Broncos

The Broncos are (still) trying to clinch the AFC West title, and a lot of people are on them because they "need to win" and the line has been inflated. But the saying in Vegas is just because a team needs to win, doesn't mean it will win (or cover). If the Broncos could turn it on whenever they wanted, they wouldn't be in this position. Besides, I've had a lot of success fading the Broncos this year, and that's reflected in the fact that even though they're 8-6 in the traditional NFL standings, they're a lowly 4-9-1 in the NFL against-the-spread standings, third worst to the Jaguars and Rams at 4-10. The Bills played well last week on the road before giving the game away vs. the Jets. They would have won if they stuck with the running game, and the Broncos are weak against the run and should get a steady diet of Marshawn Lynch.

PLAY: Bills for 2 units.

Falcons +3 1/2 vs. Vikings

This is a key game in the NFC playoff race. Minnesota quarterback Tavaris Jackson played well last week, but faces a tougher test with the Falcons' defense. The loss of Pat Williams leaves a hole in the Vikings' defensive line that Michael Turner should exploit on the fast turf. That should slow down the pass rush and allow Atlanta QB Matt Ryan to have a good day as well. This fits in my thinking as a "pick the winner" game.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.

Chiefs +4 vs. Dolphins

This is a case of two teams that have been very good to me. Despite the Dolphins' winning record, I've faded them many times as a favorite (they're 1-4 against the spread in that role), while the Chiefs are 2-12 in the NFL's standings but 7-6-1 against the spread with three straight covers. Again, the Dolphins need this game in the AFC East race, but I'll take the few extra points built into the line and take the Chiefs as a live underdog again.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-1 for a net profit 0.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Season DRF record: 23-12-2, including 1-2-1 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 8.6 units.

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