I find it to be just as easy to handicap college football bowl games as it is during the regular season, but there’s definitely a different approach to it. Bowl games are more about motivation than anything, but it can be tough to figure out which team is more motivated.
Here are numerous different factors that I look into when handicapping bowl games. With each bowl game, I recommend using these factors to determine which team has more working in their favor and, thus, a better chance to cover the spread. Let’s get started.
These are pretty big. I tend to try and stay away from teams whose head coaches leave. It becomes a distraction for the players and they don’t know what their future holds with the next coach, so more times than not they don’t play as well when their head coach leaves.
If the interim coach is an offensive or defensive coordinator and the rest of the coaches are intact, these teams tend to have a better chance of playing well even with the head coach gone. I certainly don’t like backing teams whose offensive coordinators have departed. Defensive coordinators don’t have as much of an affect, but it’s still something to consider.
This is something I don’t look into very often, and maybe I should more. There’s no doubt that some coaches know how to get the best out of their players over a long break that comes with playing in a bowl game. So, it would be good to look at bowl records of head coaches and maybe find the ones that you should look to back, or the ones that you should stay away from or fade.
This is a factor that I look hard into. If a team was better down the stretch, chances are they are going to play better in the bowl game. If a team was terrible over the final few games and limped into a bowl game, they are more likely to continue to play poorly.
But, you have to look into the reason for a big finish or a weak finish. Did the schedule get tougher or easier? Were there key injuries? Also, oddsmakers know that the betting public is more likely to back a team that finished strong over a team that had a terrible finish. So, it can be factored into the line, and there could be value in backing a team that finished poorly.
It can also be a chance for a team with a poor finish to get a win to end on a high note. Conversely, the team that finished strong can be feeling pretty good about itself no matter how the bowl game goes. So it doesn’t always work one way or the other. I still tend to like to back teams with a better finish than a poor finish, but I can usually tell if a line is way out of whack because of this and find value in backing the team with a poor finish, too.
Alright, this is a pretty big one in terms of motivation. Did a team lose a conference championship game, and as a result get a weaker bowl game? Obviously, the more wins you have and the better you finish, the better bowl game you get. Teams that suffered a crushing loss at the end of the season to get a worse bowl game usually aren’t as excited to play in the weaker bowl game.
This is the same as what you look for in the regular season. Good passing teams against bad passing defenses, good running teams against bad run defenses, good run defenses against good running teams, good pass defenses against good passing teams. I tend to look for how the teams have done toward the end of the year rather than the season statistics as a whole.
I also tend to back good defensive teams over good offensive teams. Defenses with extra time to prepare just seem to have a bigger impact on the game than offenses with more time to prepare. There is an entire season of film for the defensive coordinators to learn offensive tendencies.
Finding out how teams did against other bowl teams can tell a lot about how they are likely to perform in the bowl game. Even if a team had a poor record against other bowl teams, but played them tough, I like to back these teams. I look to fade teams that did poorly against other bowl teams and were blown out in most of those games.
Teams from Power 5 conferences play tougher schedules. That’s why their records are going to be worse than teams they play from smaller conferences that play easier schedules. I tend to back the teams from the bigger conference because they played tougher schedules, but because they have a worse record, the team from the smaller conference is often times favored, or overvalued, because they have the better record.
This is one factor that gets overlooked. Which team is going to have more fans in attendance? It’s pretty easy to conclude that a team playing in its home state is going to have more fans there than a team playing from out of state. A team cannot possibly fail to show up when there are more fans there because they don’t want to let those fans down. A few examples of this that I have come across already through the first few games that I’ve previewed for 2014 are as follows:
Motivation, how teams did against other bowl (good) teams, and location of the game are probably three of the biggest factors for me when it comes to how bowl handicapping differentiates from regular season handicapping. But they’re all important. Just back the team with the most factors working in there favor, and you should come out a winner this bowl season.