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Handicapping The Bowls
By Erik Scheponik

Here are some important factors to remember when handicapping the College Football Bowl Season. Enjoy, Good Luck, and Happy Holidays!

1. MOTIVATION- What teams truly do or do not want to be in that particular bowl game? Stay away from teams that may have expected to be in a much better bowl, especially if the loss occurred in their last 2 games. It is hard for a team to get up for a bowl that they are only in because they did not do what they need to do. Also, watch for teams who were “screwed” out of a better bowl by being jumped in the polls, or BCS ratings. A perfect example of this over the last decade has been the Holiday Bowl. Aside from last year’s matchup (Cal wiped out Texas A&M and neither really applied to the following scenario), the underdog had covered 8 straight Holiday Bowls, and the favorite has usually been a sulking Big 12 team or Pac 10 team. 6 of those games have been outright upsets despite 6 of the 8 games having more than a touchdown pointspread! The Sun Bowl was also like this in the 1990’s. Try to get a feel for the motivation of teams like Missouri, West Virginia, and Oregon before backing them with your money. It is also important to note that some teams may have wanted a better bowl at the beginning of the year, but because of injuries, adversity, close losses, etc… they find themselves playing Fluke U in the Cereal Bowl at least a few days before New Year’s. These teams sometime look at the game as a way to salvage the season, remind us all of what could have been, and send their seniors out with a win.

2. DOGS AND OVERS EARLY- As a generic rule, more underdogs seem to cover in pre New Years non-traditional bowl games. As a matter of fact pre New Years dogs of 7> are on a 36-16 ATS run. Also, the early games tend to be played very sloppily, resulting in turnovers, blown assignments, and big plays on special teams. These early bowls also often pit teams from small conferences against teams vs. larger ones, matching up defenses with offenses that they have seen nothing like all year. These upstarts tend to lay it all on the line, throwing caution to the wind in their play calling. They also do not have the athletes on the defensive side of the ball to matchup with the superiorly talented favorite. This has resulted in many overs. In fact, over the last 7 years, all Bowl games played before and on December 26th are 28-15-2 to the OVER. However, this angle bears watching, as on two of eight early bowls played OVER last season.

3. UNDERS LATE- Once New Year’s Day comes around, the power teams have had ample time to prepare for a game that they worked all year to get to. The play is less sloppy, and many of these teams have gotten where they are with solid if not spectacular defenses. As a matter of fact, all traditional January Bowl Games with a total >48 are on a 36-16$ UNDER run. I am also a less afraid to late points at this stage of the game, because I know the superior favorite will be much more focused than in the early bowls. Please note that I am talking about TRADITIONAL January bowls (New Year’s Day and BCS games), not the GMAC and International bowl games, which have more of a December 15th feel to them.

4. COACHING- Just like in the regular season, one cannot underestimate the value of coaching. Getting a team ready off a layoff, adding new wrinkles, and attacking or defending an offense or defense that they are not used to seeing is all coaching. Also, during the off week, pay special attention to coaching changes not just at the top, but also up and down the staff. Will these coaches be coaching during the bowl game? Will the team of an outgoing coach play hard and want to send the coach out on a win? Or will they roll over and die, more worried about the new coach, or possibly examining other options.

5. INJURIES, SUSPENSIONS, ETC.- Bowl teams can have as little as 10 days (although not this year) or as much as 6 weeks between their last regular season game and their bowl game. Pay attention to suspensions and injury updates, as a lot can happen in that time frame. Also pay special attention to injured players returning to the lineup, and whether or not there was a notable difference in the team’s performance without that player throughout the season.

6. PEDIGREE- Respect the quality of a program during bowl season, and note that their performance in certain games this season, good or bad, took place for a variety of reasons. I love to take an underdog from a power conference before New Year’s Day. I like a team that doesn’t know they are the underdog. Some programs have talent and depth that they should not be an underdog to the team they are playing no matter what happened (within reason) down the stretch. Pay attention to strength of schedule, strength of conference, and the overall direction of the football program.

7. MONEY LINE DOGS- In the last 4 seasons 53 underdogs have won outright in the bowls, with some very big prices in this group. With all the intangibles involved in the bowls, and so much hinging on preparation and motivation, underdogs on the money line are a very strong play in these games. You hit a few of these and it can turn a breakeven bowl season into an extremely profitable one.

Bet the bowls intelligently. Do not ruin what you worked for all year to “go nuts” in the bowls. Conversely, if you have had a losing season, do not attempt to get even by betting larger because the end of the season is near. I believe that serious money can be made during the bowl season, it is one of my favorite times of the year to wager, but NOTHING IS A LOCK. Manage your money wisely, and remember College Football will be back next August. The Holidays is a time of year to unite and enjoy time with those special to you. Do not let a bad call, dropped pass, missed field goal, and above all else, RECKLESS MONEY MANAGEMENT ruin this special time of year…


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