USA Today Sports

How to handicap college football bowl season like a pro

Handicapping a bowl game is, in many ways, the same as any other college football game. The team that scores the most points still wins, coaching and matchups matter, controlling the tempo can lead to wins, and so on.

In a few key ways, though, betting bowl games is a whole different animal. Here are three big ways the postseason games present unique challenges bettors have to compensate for:

Coaching changes

In a perfect world, no coaching changes would be made until the end of bowl season. That’s obviously not the case, though.

Handicappers need to be particularly aware of teams that have lost their head coaches. Few teams will fire their coach before a bowl game, but strong coaches frequently move on to their next job before their current team plays in a bowl.

Most often those coaches don’t coach their old team in the bowl because they need to get started on recruiting for their new team. You need to be aware of who the interim coach is, whether a permanent replacement has been named yet, and what impact that is has on the players and their preparation.

It’s not just head coaches that are a factor, either. Rutgers, for example, doesn’t play in the Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame until December 28, but the dust had barely settled on the regular season before they fired three assistants. That will have a clear impact on their bowl preparation.

A hot assistant, that is sure to be in demand at other programs, will face all sorts of distractions heading into his bowl game. Michigan State defensive coordinator is charged with getting his nation-leading unit ready for Stanford and the Rose Bowl, but he’s also heavily in demand as a head coach. Will he be at his best, or will he be focusing at least somewhat on what comes next?

Players coming and going


In the month between the regular season and a bowl game, a whole lot can happen to players. Grades come out at most schools, so the prospect of academic-related suspensions is high and can have a big impact on bowl games. It’s crucial to understand who is available and which players may miss a quarter or the whole game.

The extra month to heal can make missing players available again. Nebraska, for example, could go into their Gator Bowl date with Georgia with senior QB Taylor Martinez back at the helm after his long injury absence. The roster that appeared in the final regular season game isn’t necessarily the one we will see here.

Even if players are at the game, their heads may not be. If it has become very likely that a player will leave school early after the bowl to go pro, then they quite possibly can be distracted by what comes next and won’t perform at their best in the bowl.

Location, location, location


While every game is theoretically on a neutral field, bettors need to consider which locations give one team a clear edge.

Maryland will have an edge at the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland. Cincinnati fans will be outnumbered by Tar Heels at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. Longhorns fans have far fewer travel headaches to get to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl than Oregon fans do. North Texas, which plays in a suburb of Dallas, will have much more fan support in the Heart of Dallas Bowl than UNLV will.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that the virtual home team will win. Handicapping is never that easy. In a tight call, though, location could be the deciding factor for a bettor.

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Posted by Crusher13
7 months ago

Ironically, he mentions the Mean Green. Love Mean Green at the "old" Cotton Bowl on New Years morning!!
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Posted by sstotenkopf
7 months ago

let us not forget, i dont get paid for my picks but this guy does,let us not forget that most important fact!i reserve the right as a customer to be critical when the reults have not been justified,period end of discussion!
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Posted by sstotenkopf
7 months ago

put your money where your mouth is weston and back these picks from doc and let me know how you make out. oh yeah ,and you know where to find me to give me thos results.
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Posted by sstotenkopf
7 months ago

where does this so called handicapper doc get his info on nebraska qb taylor martinez?like thats any kind of edge.do us all a favor and stop posting this genius' articles,he must be getting paid per word because no one can possibly be this bad!
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Posted by weston555
7 months ago

This article had pretty good info. The difference between a winning and losing bettor is looking for every possible angle to determine a winner. I think this article covered three factors that matter when betting on bowl games. If you can think of something else, do tell.....EXPERT!
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Posted by CalBear
7 months ago

Don't forget another major factor...Motivation. Oregon, for example, has made it clear they are disinterested in essentially anything but the BCS Championship. Bama should also be in let down mode.
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Posted by jcjcjc24
7 months ago

I would agree on Bama if they weren't playing Okla. Bob Stoops has taken jabs at the SEC a couple of times. I think Bama may destroy them. I think Ohio St will have no motivation after blowing a chance at the title game.GL
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Posted by YukonTrav
7 months ago

my thought exactly. How could this article miss this HUGE factor in capping bowl games?? silly ... but yeah, motivation also comes into it, as does momentum ... good catch Calbear
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Top Response

Posted by jcjcjc24
7 months ago

"I would agree on Bama if they weren't playing Okla. Bob Stoops has taken jabs at the SEC a couple of times. I think Bama may destroy them. I think Ohio St will have no motivation after blowing a chance at the title game.GL "