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:
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.