College football bowl games can feel like a mess of upsets, and betting them can seem like a daunting task.
For example, who could have seen Michigan State’s upset win over Pittsburgh coming last year in the Peach Bowl? Well, Pitt had more players opt out than Michigan State did.
Betting bowl games is similar to, but not exactly the same, as betting the regular season. There’s no home games and personnel and coaching moves can make a difference. Get a leg-up in your office bowl pool by understanding factors that are unique to college football bowl games before making your picks.
Below, we’ll look at several factors I consider or disregard when betting the college football bowl schedule.
College Football Bowl Games: Factors to consider
Players opting out early for the NFL Draft has become more and more common. Specifically, players opting out of bowl games that lack championship consequences. When considering betting bowls that feature high-value NFL Draft picks, make sure those players are playing first.
For example, Kentucky QB Will Levis is seen by many as a top quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft. He announced his intention to skip the Music City Bowl against Iowa– along with teammate Chris Rodriguez– leading to a five-point blitz in favor of the Hawkeyes.
On the other hand, UTSA star Frank Harris and Florida State QB Jordan Travis announced their returns to their teams for next season and will play in their respective bowl games. For the Roadrunners and Seminoles, we can expect consistency from their regular season results.
Aside from stars, look for swaths of bowl game opt-outs at certain levels that could impact the team. For example, Cincinnati hasn’t seen major first-round NFL talent opt out, but several defensive players have.
Personnel changes, mainly opt-outs, should weigh the most heavily of these factors.
Players that have entered the transfer portal cannot play for their team. Coastal Carolina star pass rusher Josiah Stewart announced his intent to transfer, leaving a major hole on an already-porous Coastal defense. Other major transfer names include Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders, Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz, and Pitt’s Kedon Slovis.
It won’t be difficult to find examples of coaching changes after the wild November college football just endured. Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Purdue, Louisville, and others are dealing with coaching vacancies for the first time in their bowl games and will be under the direction of an interim coach.
However, it’s worth noting when this coaching change occurred. Jim Leonhard at Wisconsin has served as interim coach for most of the season. Same with UAB’s Bryant Vincent. Those interim situations are different compared to Purdue’s, who found out Jeff Brohm was stepping away on December 7.
Was a school surprised by the change (Purdue, Louisville, North Texas)? Or did they part ways with their old coach (Wisconsin)? Did that coaching change affect the locker room (UAB)?
It’s important to note that newly hired coaches don’t coach in these bowl games. So, Scott Satterfield won’t be on the sidelines for Cincinnati. However, Fickell was involved with the bowl prep for Wisconsin. Check the status of coaches who have been hired for other jobs. As mentioned, Leonhard will still coach in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, but Jamey Chadwell (hired by Liberty) will not coach in the Birmingham Bowl.
Location and time
Weather doesn’t play a huge factor in bowl games since most of them are in favorable climates and many are held in domes. However, where those games are held can affect the expectation for crowd support.
The Rose Bowl is a prestigious and historic venue near a destination city. Fan support for Utah and Penn State won’t lack; in fact, this game will likely be a sellout.
Contrast that to, say, the Camellia Bowl, which is held in Montgomery, Ala at the Cramton Bowl. Will folks from Buffalo, NY, travel down to Montgomery to see Buffalo face Georgia Southern? Probably not as eagerly as the Utah fans.
The distance traveled is also important in the right instance. This shouldn’t be a factor taken into account for New Years Six bowl games or bowls linked to the College Football Playoff. However, New Mexico State traveling to Detroit, Mi., for the Quick Lane Bowl may be a stress on the team versus their opponent, Bowling Green, who will travel an hour to get there.
Kickoff time should be taken into account in certain instances. Is the game across time zones and starting abnormally early? To see the affect on that, look at what happened to Nevada last year in the Quick Lane that kicked off at 8:00 a.m. internal time (11:00 a.m. ET).
National brand teams used to winning games who end up in cut-rate bowls often lack the motivation to win. Last year, Florida was whipped by UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl despite it coming against an in-state rival. This year, teams like Oklahoma (Cheez-It Bowl), Florida again (Las Vegas Bowl), and Ole Miss (Texas Bowl) may be affected by motivation.
Is a team beat up and just looking for the end of a toiling season? Oklahoma State (Guaranteed Rate Bowl) could fit that bill.
Other sources come from unique coaching changes. UAB will likely play extremely hard for Vincent in his final game as coach despite the team penning a letter to UAB to retain him. Conversely, Louisville will likely play hard to beat Cincinnati, who hired away Satterfield unexpectedly.
This Bowl Season, there’s been a ton of it. San Diego State opened as a 1.5-point favorite over Middle Tennessee in the Hawaii Bowl. However, that quickly moved to SDSU without any major opt outs or changes. Similarly, Kansas State saw the line move three points in their favor, from -6.5 to -3.5.
Lines for the Rose Bowl, Fenway Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, Music City Bowl, and LA Bowl all saw favorites flip.
Particularly in the instance of the Cotton Bowl– where USC has 79% of betting tickets– Tulane saw market movement in their favor by three points. When a line moves one way despite the majority of tickets being on the other side, that’s an indicator of a sharp move. You want to be on the side of the sharp movement.
College Football Bowl Games: Factors to disregard
9-3 Coastal Carolina takes on 7-5 East Carolina. 9-4 Ohio takes on 7-5 Wyoming. Since bowls are determinant on conference tie-ins, some weird-record matchups occur. However, ECU is a favorite in this game.
Records should be taken in context. Without McCall in the lineup, Coastal Carolina was thumped 47-7 by James Madison. After hearing that coach Hugh Freeze was headed for Auburn, Liberty lost 49-14 to New Mexico State. Understand why these teams have the records they do and consider what, if anything, has changed.
Last year, Utah beat Oregon twice and Oregon beat Ohio State; therefore, Utah will beat Ohio State? In college football, comparing common opponents– especially at opposite ends of the season– is a betting fallacy. It played out the opposite, with Ohio State besting Utah in the 2022 Rose Bowl.
Be sure to evaluate each team individually, what they do well and what their weaknesses are to make better informed bets. In bowl games, there’s lots of firsts in matchups and every game is across conferences, making this evaluation process more difficult. But be sure to do your due diligence.
The transitive property does not apply to college football bowl games.