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Added December 13th, 2009 by David Glisan

Handicapping the early college football bowl games

The college football bowl season gets underway next Saturday with the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, NM and the St. Petersburg Bowl in St. Pete, FL.  And throughout the next week you can be sure that somewhere in the mainstream sports media some dull normal IQ’d talking head will be kvetching about how there are too many bowl games, how they don’t mean anything, so on and so forth.  Maybe from the rah rah standpoint of the average knuckledragger that’s the case, but personally I love all of the relatively meaningless bowl games.  I wish there were more of them.  Were it up to me, they’d start the week after Thanksgiving and any team with 3 or more wins would be eligible.  The proliferation of bowl games has been a gold mine for sharp sports handicappers and the more wagering opportunities of any sort the better.

Its no secret to anyone who has watched college sports for any length of time that the relative level of motivation between the two teams involved has a lot to do with the eventual outcome of the game.  The early season bowls are a great place to find teams with differing levels of motivation, and this is a golden opportunity for the ‘sharp’ player as we’ll discuss momentarily.  Making it even better is the fact that college bowl games–like the Superbowl and NCAA hoop playoffs–brings out the ‘squares’ who love to bet favorites.  And that’s a perfect jumping off point for the most critical component of early bowl handicapping.

There’s a rule of thumb among serious sports bettors that suggests you should look to play underdogs in the early bowls and look to play on favorites in the later bowls.  Some use New Years’ Day as the dividing line, suggesting that in any pre-New Years Day bowl you should look to play on the dog and any bowl on New Years’ Day or later look to the favorite.  That may be oversimplifying the concept, but it does help illustrate the point we’re trying to make.

The reality is that for many schools, a bowl game is a consolation prize–and in some cases not a very good one–for a season that fell just short of goals.  Instead of playing in prime time on New Years’ Day, you’re playing on December 19th in Albuquerque.  The more historically successful a particular school or conference has been, the greater the potential for a ‘letdown’ after concluding the regular season with a big rivalry game or conference championship.

Conversely, for some schools a bowl appearance of any sort is a big deal.   A school or conference that hasn’t had much historical success is often more excited about a minor bowl appearance as it is a tangible sign that the program is headed in the right direction.  This better mindset toward a game is often enough to justify a wager, and particularly when the more motivated team is getting points.

Here are some other factors that can help determine a team’s mental/emotional approach to early bowls:

Coaching: In addition to the above dynamic, consider the job market for college coaches.  With the number of low profile bowls, a bowl appearance alone isn’t enough to save a coach on the hotseat.  Additionally, consider if a coach has been mentioned as a candidate for other jobs.  Teams sometimes take this personally, and don’t exert the same level of effort for a potential lame duck coach.  Conversely, there are circumstances where a coach has already been fired or is likely on his way out despite a bowl appearance.  In these games, the team will often play hard to win one for their departing leader.

NFL Aspirations: To the general ‘square’ public, there’s a misconception that a blue chip NFL prospect in a marginal bowl game will want to ‘put on a show’ for pro scouts.  More often than not, its simply not the case.  If a guy is already on the pro football radar, running for 200 yards in a marginal bowl game won’t improve his stature.  The more likely scenario is that he’ll want to minimize the risk of serious injury.  In other words, a top NFL prospect on a mid level team isn’t always a good thing from a handicapping standpoint.

Public Perception:  Listen to what the mainstream sports media says about bowl games.  Games where the superficial analysis suggests that one team or another is overwhelmingly superior is a red flag to take a look at the *other* team.  They’re gift wrapping a contrarian play against public perception for you, and it also plays into our other concepts.  Teams have a harder time getting ‘up’ for a foe they perceive as vastly inferior and if the underdog is getting a good number of points all they need to do is put up a competitive effort to cash our ticket.

Keep in mind that determining which team has the motivational edge isn’t always easy.  For example, the Las Vegas Bowl and Poinsettia Bowl both feature a couple of Mountain West teams (BYU and Utah) against a couple of Pac 10 teams (Oregon State and California) and everyone involved is in a similar position.  They’re all teams that had lofty ambitions coming into the season only to see them fall short.  Ultimately, every game needs to be treated as a unique proposition but the guidelines above are a good place to start the handicapping process.

 
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One Response to “Handicapping the early college football bowl games”

  1. I was curious if anyone knew anything about these professional sports ? I am thinking about signing up for this sports handicapping service. It looks pretty promising and its supported by a clickback guarantee which means your going to get your money back if you don’t like the system or it simply doesn’t work. Has anyone tried anything like this?

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