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CFB Bowls: Turning History on its Head

   by Scott Spreitzer - 12/17/2007

For most of our lives, there was a very simple strategy for
handicapping college football bowls that worked out very well:

*You took underdogs in the early bowls, because the favorites
wouldn’t be very motivated in lesser games.

*You took the favorites from New Year’s Day on, because everyone
would show up to play in the big bowls, and talent would win out. The team
that won straight up usually covered. In big games where both teams
cared, the favorites would win and cover.

That didn’t just work for a few years. That worked for decades! You
probably grew up as a fan noticing that, and continued to apply the
strategy when betting on the games as an adult. Heck, you
used that approach if you were just trying to win the family bowl pool
against your grandparents, aunts, and uncles!

In recent seasons, we’ve seen something close to a full reversal. I
believe the following reasons have conspired to turn history on its
head:

*College football has added way too many bowl games, so there are a lot
of undeserving teams in the early bowls. If you’re not really good
enough to deserve a bowl bid, there’s a chance you’ll get routed
even if your opponent isn’t at peak motivation.

*There’s a better understanding amongst players now that the New
Year’s Bowls are meaningless too! In the past, there were strong relationships
between conferences and the marquee bowls, and the big game was seen as
the highlight of a season. Now, it’s just another game that isn't
the national championship.

*The increase on competitive balance across the major conferences has
made many bowl games a virtual coin flip. The pointspreads in those
games reflect perceived differences that aren’t really there. Anybody
can play with anybody over 60 minutes once you’re in the upper 25% of
the sport.

Given the bowl history you grew up with, you might be surprised to hear
what happened last year:

*Favorites were 9-3 ATS in the first 12 bowl games played, reversing
the tendency for dogs to cover early games.

*Underdogs were 15-5 ATS after that! The puppies had a great run
through the marquee bowls, and underdog Florida won the national championship
game outright against Ohio State.

On the whole, underdogs went 18-14 ATS over 32 bowl games. That will
make you money if you just blanket the dogs. But, you’re obviously
better off trying to trim out the non-deserving teams. They got waxed
in the first week of games.

I dug a little deeper last year, and noticed the following interesting
tendencies:

*In games matching teams from BCS conferences against teams from
OUTSIDE the BCS leagues, the “outsidersâ€쳌 went 5-2 ATS for a 71% cover rate.
This is consistent with the past, where lower profile teams rose up and
played great against disinterested opponents from big time conferences.
Among the winners last season were BYU over Oregon, Hawaii over Arizona
State, and you all remember Boise State over Oklahoma.

*In games matching two teams from BCS conferences, the UNDERDOGS were
12-6 ATS for 67% success. That corresponds with the competitive balance
point I was making earlier. If teams from big time conferences play
each other, the game is a virtual coin flip over 60 minutes and you might as
well take the points.

With all of this in mind, the following strategies make sense:

*Rank all the non-BCS schools from top to bottom using your power
ratings or respected computer ratings, and just CROSS OUT the bottom
half of the list! Don’t invest in these teams. Many are probably
undeserving of a postseason bid in the first place in terms of the
standards we all grew up with in the past. It’s okay to bet favorites
against these teams if you have indicators suggesting the favorites are
going to be focused.

*Take the top half of you non-BCS list when those teams are matched up
against BCS conference opponents. You’re likely to get a talented
motivated team facing a flat opponent that’s disappointed they’re
not in a better bowl.

*If two teams from BCS conferences are matched up against each other,
look to take the underdog. Obviously, this doesn't mean the dog is an automatic
play. Some circumstances will overrule the situation.

I’m not saying those strategies will run the table. I do think
they’re very likely to win a lot more than they lose in the coming weeks.
Beating the bowls is all about putting the percentages in your favor.
Right now, that means turning history on its head and doing what works!

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