College football occasionally poses a problem for professional bookmakers.
"I know we can balance our book on any program, by taking the points spread in or out slightly," one of the legalized sportsmen in Las Vegas declared. "But sometimes, with the colleges, it's difficult to attract action for a team, no matter what you do."
Last year's Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma and Wyoming presented such a problem. Oklahoma State and Brigham Young, teams from the same Big Eight and Western Athletic conferences, had played a week or so earlier, in the Tangerine Bowl. State romped, 49-21.
Bettors reacted predictably, by storming aboard the Sooner schooner.
"There were days," the Vegas bookie said, "when I came out onto the floor, I had to ask the tellers. 'Can't anyone here spell Wyoming?' It's WYOMING. Let's see you practice it on some (betting) slips."
Eventually, two days before the kick off, a rich cowpoke stumbled into the sporting parlor and threw a $30,00 lasso, taking more than three touchdowns and three extra points but winding up with O as Oklahoma breezed, 41-7.
"Any time that Man From Wyoming wants to come back here, the trip's on me," the bookie said.
So far as I'm concerned, anyone who attempts to handicap college football is asking for trouble. Or least I am, when I do. But the boss insists, each New Year's holiday, that "Playing 'Football'" address itself to the future pros.
It is a humbling experience.
Ah, yes. I once touted Notre Dame over Nebraska in the 1972 Orange Bowl. Never was Notre Dame so humiliated, losing, 40-6.
Often, when I ask a serious player why he intends to back a certain college team, the response has to do with "good information" he has received. A man flipping a coin probably has as much chance of winning.
I don't want to touch any team I haven't had a chance to see play several times. With the pros, television makes that easy. With the colleges, it's rare when a top team is on the tube more than twice a season.
But what the heck. No losing streak can last forever.
Notre Dame should do a decent job of stopping Earl Campbell, and the Heisman Trophy winner is 80 per cent of teh Texas offense. The Longhorns throw out of fear. Notre Dame throws to tight and Ken MacAfee. Take the Irish, getting 6 points, in the Cotton Bowl.
Michigan, giving 15 points, is my Rose Bowl pick. Bo Schembechler is a bully. He loves to beat up on undermanned squads, such as Washington's. There will be no stopping the Wolverines, if they've finally found a team they can beat in Pasadena.
The Sugar is billed as a coaches' bowl, Woody vs. Bear. What a pity the losing coach can't be forced to retire, then this game would have some positive purpose. Alas, the loser probably will be Bryant, not Hayes. I've got to go with Ohio State, getting one point. The Buckeyes probably should have been undefeated. They were a little unlucky in losing to Oklahoma and Michigan.
Finally, there's what's left of the Orange Bowl. The smartest bettors in the civilized world are those who reached in early and helped themselves to Oklahoma, giving 10 points, when the line first was posted. That was before several of teh Arkansas players were suspended, and the price went out to 13, then to 17, before being taken off the Big Board in some areas.
Oklahoma was the best team I saw by November. One look at the sideline closeups told why: they seem to have a number of guys who will be too old for the NFL in a couple of years.
So that's it, a holiday feast of Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Oklahoma. Just remember, I have a friend who can't wait for this column. He then goes against my bowl selections makes enought mythical money to cover his dreams for eight months, until the NFL cranks up again.