How to handicap bowl season: Six betting tips for rookies

Dec 5, 2012 |
How to handicap bowl season: Six betting tips for rookies
Former NIU head coach Dave Doeren won't coach in the Orange Bowl.
Photo By - USA Today Sports
Former NIU head coach Dave Doeren won't coach in the Orange Bowl.
Photo By - USA Today Sports
When it comes to betting, college bowl season is a completely different animal compared to the regular season.

Between the long layoffs, motivation or lack thereof, coaches leaving, different climates, unique conference matchups and a bevy of other intangibles, there are many moving parts when it comes to bowl games and bettors need to be wise to all of them.

This year there are 35 bowl games spread between the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 15 and the BCS National Championship on Jan. 7. Here are some handy handicapping tips that apply to those two bowls and every game in between.

Line moves

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when betting on college bowl games is line movement. Many of the lines will be out for over a month and move multiple times in different directions. Because of the long layoff between the final regular season games and team's bowl game, a lot of things can happen.

Coaching changes

Coaches often change in December. Take for instance what happened when North Carolina State fired Tom O'Brien. The Wolfpack are headed to the Music City Bowl but will be coached by offensive coordinator Dana Bible.

North Carolina State hired Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren as his replacement, but he won’t coach his new team or his old team. Northern Illinois will be coached by offensive coordinator Rod Carey in the Orange Bowl. Teams react differently to these situations but it is important to be aware of them.

Pitt played in the Compass Bowl in 2010 under lame-duck coach Dave Wannstedt, who had already been fired. The Panthers rallied around him and won. West Virginia played as big underdogs under interim coach Bill Stewart in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, the Mountaineers responded by blasting Oklahoma.

When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati to take the job at Notre Dame, his Bearcats went to the Sugar Bowl without him and fell apart in a 51-24 loss to Florida.

Player suspensions

Another thing that happens during the long layoff is college grades are released. Each bowl season there seems to be at least one marquee player ruled academically ineligible for their bowl game.

Keep an eye on those developments as well as injuries and any other suspensions. Many of these players are in locales like South Beach and New Orleans, things happen at night and stories inevitably surface.

Conference trends

For bettors who like to keep an eye on trends, college bowl season offers plenty of conference trends with a long history.

Many bowl games feature traditional conference matchups like the Big Ten/Pac 12 showdown in the Rose Bowl, the Big 12/Pac 12 matchup in the Fiesta Bowl, the Big Ten/SEC matchups in the Capital One Bowl, Gator Bowl and Outback Bowl and Big 12/SEC matchup in the Cotton Bowl.

Many of these conference matchups have produced consistent point spread winners over the year. For example the Big Ten has struggled in the Rose Bowl over the past decade, losing eight of the last nine games.


Motivation is another key element to focus on when handicapping college football bowl games.

Northern Illinois may consider the Orange Bowl its Super Bowl. But how thrilled is Florida State to be playing them? Georgia was five yards away from the national championship game. Now the Bulldogs aren’t even going to the BCS, instead heading to the Capital One Bowl to face a Nebraska team that just gave up 70 points in its conference championship game.

Location and travel

Location, location, location. Be aware of where games are played at.

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is played on the blue turf at Boise State in usually freezing conditions. San Diego State is in the Poinsettia Bowl played in San Diego. Vanderbilt is playing in the Music City Bowl just seconds away from its campus in Nashville.

The Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, Fight Hunger Bowl and Pinstripe Bowl are all played in baseball stadiums. Bowls like the New Orleans Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Little Caesar's Bowl are played in domes.

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