7 Factors To Consider Before Betting College Football Bowl Games

Written By Brett Gibbons on December 8, 2021
college football bowl season

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 Oklahoma’s 35-point win over Florida coming last year as just three-point favorites in the Cotton Bowl? Well, Florida had a bunch of players opt out of the bowl game, and Oklahoma’s team was at full strength coming off a Big XII Championship.

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 Opt-Outs

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, Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett is seen by many as the top overall quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft. He announced his intentions to play in Pitt’s Peach Bowl against Michigan State. The inclusion of Pickett means you can consider Pitt just about the same team they were during the season and it keeps their expectations consistent.

On the other hand, Purdue’s star receiver David Bell and star pass rusher George Karlaftis both opted out of the Music City Bowl against Tennessee. Bell’s 93 receptions this season and 1,286 receiving yards accounted for 24% of Purdue’s total team receptions and 31.5% of their total receiving yards. Missing out on such a valuable weapon changes the expectation of the offense.

Aside from stars, look for swaths of bowl game opt-outs at certain levels that could impact the team. For example, Virginia Tech hasn’t seen major first-round NFL talent opt out, but several defensive linemen have.

Personnel changes, mainly opt-outs, should weigh the most heavily of these factors.

Players transferring

Players that have entered the transfer portal cannot play for their team. Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener announced his intent to transfer, leaving an open competition for the Bulldogs at QB just before their bowl game. Should that backup have limitations or a different skillset than Haener, Fresno State has just two weeks to completely change their offense.

Coaching changes

It won’t be difficult to find examples of coaching changes after the wild November college football just endured. Oklahoma, USC, SMU, Fresno State 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. Sonny Cumbie at Texas Tech has served as interim coach for the entire month of November. That interim situation is different compared to Virginia’s, which found out Bronco Mendenhall was stepping away on December 2.

Was a school blindsided by the change (Notre Dame, Oklahoma)? Or did they part ways with their old coach (Texas Tech)? Did that coaching change affect the locker room (usually determined by a flux of transfers leaving like SMU)?

It’s important to note that newly hired coaches don’t coach in these bowl games. So, Brian Kelly won’t be on the sidelines for LSU. Check the status of coaches who have been hired for other jobs. As mentioned, Cumbie (who has been hired by Louisiana Tech) will still coach in the Liberty Bowl, but Billy Napier (hired by Florida) will not coach in the New Orleans 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 Ohio 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 Muncie, Ind. travel down to Montgomery to see Ball State face Georgia State? Probably not as eagerly as 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, Kent State traveling to Boise, Idaho for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl may be a stress on the team versus their opponent, Wyoming, who will travel a third of the distance Kent State did.

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 No. 24 San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Championship game that kicked off at 9 a.m. local time.

Nevada is a candidate for kickoff time adjustment this year, as they travel back through three time zones to play Western Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl at 11 a.m. EST (8 a.m. locally for the Pack).

College Football Bowl Games: Factors to disregard

Motivation

How many times has “they weren’t motivated” or “this game just didn’t matter” or “they didn’t care” been used as excuses to explain major conference teams being upended by smaller conference teams in college football bowl games? If you’re on Twitter, you’ve seen this a lot.

The bottom line is, a lack of effort shouldn’t be used when considering what games and sides to bet.

Motivation is often a word used lazily in place of other real factors surrounding the team. Did their coach leave the team suddenly? Are they playing at an odd local time? Those factors can affect team motivation, but should be factored in separately rather than just hand-waving off Florida because they “didn’t care.”

Overall Records

10-3 Utah State takes on 7-5 Oregon State. 11-2 Houston takes on 6-6 Auburn. Since bowls are determinant on conference tie-ins, some weird-record matchups occur. However, Auburn is a favorite in this game.

Records should be taken in context. Six of Utah State’s 10 wins came against teams below .500; whereas, Oregon State has wins over No. 10 Utah and Arizona State. Therefore, the Beavers are favorites despite having three less wins.

Common Opponents

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.

Since that Oregon loss, Ohio State changed defensive personnel and play callers, leading to a vastly improved unit. Oregon since that win lost their star running back, who accounted for 161 yards and two Oregon touchdowns. Furthermore, Oregon and Utah are two completely different teams.

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.

College Football Bowl Season odds

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Written by
Brett Gibbons

Brett is an avid sports traveler and former Division-I football recruiter for Bowling Green and Texas State. He’s a graduate of BGSU and works as an auditor for Google content curation products. He’s also contributed to Sports Illustrated and Fansided during his young writing career.

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