During football season, I usually write about the NFL every week. But it wasn’t easy to make broad generalizations about teams on a Sunday in which more than half the games were significantly affected by snowy or frigid weather. And the college football bowl pairings were announced on Sunday Night. So, I made the executive decision to take a one week break from the NFL this week to discuss my personal strategies for winning during bowl season.
Motivation is the key factor for any bowl game.
Overall talent and team speed don’t mean a thing when the players don’t give a hoot about being there. That’s why underdogs tend to do fairly well against the spread in the earlier bowl games. It’s not a reward for a favorite to end up in front of a sparse crowd in Boise or Detroit facing a team they’re not particularly excited about playing, especially if their second tier bowl bid came as a result of a relatively disappointing campaign.
Always check the local newspapers
, blogs and yes, even twitter feeds for clues about any team’s level of preparation and intensity. If the favorite isn’t likely to be motivated, any halfway competent underdog is almost an automatic play.
Look for the areas of team strength that are not likely to be affected by a long layoff
. Remember, most teams will have been off the field for three weeks or even a month by kickoff of their bowl games. In particular, teams that run the ball well are generally good bets in bowl games. Run blocking is not something that suffers dramatically during a layoff, nor do the good running backs suffer from a month of rest. Teams that outrush their opponents cover the spread better than 75% of the time in December and January.
Bet the coach.
Some coaches seem to do well in bowl games almost every year, while other coaches treat bowl games like a reward for their squads, with plenty of time devoted to extra curricular activities, and not that much focus on the game itself. Some coaches stand strong in the underdog role; other coaches do their best work as favorites when given the opportunity to annihilate a weaker foe. These are not meaningless trends, or statistical aberrations. Rather, they are a statement about how a particular coach views the bowl process for his team.
Look for motivated and talented quarterbacks
. When it comes to college football, the best quarterbacks are often the biggest moneymakers for their supporters. Most QB’s are team leaders, and the rest of the club will follow their example. If a QB is prepared to make a statement in his bowl game, he’s generally the type of quarterback worth supporting with a wager. Look no further than the regular season for some prime examples, with elite quarterbacks like Jameis Winston from Florida State, Bryce Petty from Baylor and Nick Marshall from Auburn all guiding their teams to 9-3 (75%) ATS marks or better.
Defense means every bit as much as offense
. The dominant defensive clubs are strong plays in bowl games almost every year – just ask anybody who’s been betting on Alabama in recent bowl games. Strong defensive squads create turnovers and hold leads, exactly what you want from the teams you have bet on.
Teams that fall behind in bowl games tend to get frustrated
easier than they do in the regular season, one of the reasons why bowl season produces more than its fair share of blowouts, particularly as we get into the matchups featuring the very best teams in the first week of January. Nine of the twelve bowl games played on or after January 1st last year were decided by double-digit margins.
Heck, look at the conference championship games from last weekend as another clear example of fairly one-sided results, with six of the seven championship games decided by double digits. Don’t think that means the favorites dominate – four of the seven double digit wins on conference championship weekend were won by the underdog (Bowling Green, Auburn, Michigan State and Stanford). Be aware of this trend when betting in-game or at halftime – there will be plenty of ‘second half run-outs’ over the course of the next month
And, while this is obvious, it’s also worth stating clearly. Teams with the better quarterback AND the better defense are generally very good bowl bets, even though they’ll usually (not always) be the favorite.
Which gets me to perhaps the most important point of all – just pick the winner!
Straight up success correlates better with ATS success than any other factor, well over 80% of the time over the past 20 years. Those long term results also tell us very clearly that when you bet underdogs during bowl season, be sure to have at least a taste of the plus price return on the moneyline.
Bettors should also note the enormous potential returns on underdog moneyline parlays
– even modest three and four teamers. And it’s definitely worth noting that moneylines vary, often dramatically – much more than pointspreads
from sportsbook to sportsbook, as do underdog moneyline parlay rules. Line shoppers routinely get rewarded with bigger paydays, plain and simple.
Look for teams that are searching for respect or redemption
. When one club gets all the hype and publicity, and the other is virtually ignored by the media, or widely regarded as ‘lucky to be there’, the over-hyped team often comes in overconfident, while the under-hyped squad is usually more motivated. Pay particular attention to this in the later bowl games, when the media glare really heats up. Teams that enter bowl season off a disappointing series of late season losses can be strong ‘bet-on’ squads if they are properly motivated. Also look for teams that came out flat in their bowl last year, looking for a better showing this time around.
Be sure to handicap the conferences themselves
. When a particular conference shows strength early on in the bowl season, the remaining teams from that conference are often worth a play, or vice-versa. Every year there is a conference or two that does very well in the bowl games, while another conference or two will do very poorly. If you catch these trends early you can ride them all the way through the conclusion of the bowl season.
Don’t be afraid to pass.
With so many bowl games, and so many intangible factors to consider during bowl season, there will be numerous matchups that simply don’t offer much value to bet on, either side or total. Remember that the entire bowl season has fewer games than a single ‘normal’ Saturday college football card. Sure, we know these teams well – they are the cream of the crop in college football this season, and just about every club we’ll see over the next months has been on TV multiple times this year. But we don’t have 20 or 25 plays on a normal college football Saturday; there’s no reason to have that many plays when the card is significantly smaller.
Don’t let bad beats get you down.
I know it’s easier said than done, but people tend to get insane during bowl season when zany things happen at the end of the game. Anyone who had Duke in last year’s Belk Bowl against Cincinnati still remembers the sting of that loss, and it certainly wasn’t the only positively brutal beat of the bowl season. Wacky final minutes aren’t unique to bowl season, and bettors must do their best to avoid losing focus on the big picture (profitable results), even after a very tough beat (or two, or three).
Using these factors in your handicapping process should help you produce a profit this bowl season.
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