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Bowl Handicapping

   by Scott Spreitzer - 12/15/2008

There may not be as much buzz about the college bowls overall this year as we've had in the past. I have to admit that there are several "ho-hum" matchups on the card this season. And, even some of the big name teams may have that attitude about marquee appearances just because they're disappointed about missing the championship game.

Well, even if you're not as excited as usual about watching the games on TV, you should be VERY excited about handicapping the games! The key to picking pointspread winners in college bowl games is knowing which teams are excited and which teams aren't. In some matchups, that's literally EVERYTHING! The regular season stats don't matter. The won-lost records don't matter. The talent matchups don't matter. The team that's excited plays its heart out, and the team that's bored barely shows up. Ballgame.

Here's a quick and easy guideline you can use simply with team motivation in mind:

*If you believe that only one team will be enthused about the game, Bet that team! Don't worry about the pointspreads. If you look back over the years, you'll see that pointspreads are often irrelevant in the bowls anyway. Whoever wins the game covers the spread. Figure out who's most likely to win the game based on motivational factors.

*If NEITHER team is likely to be excited about the game, look for a total play based on the weaknesses of the rosters. If you have bored teams with shaky offenses, take the Under. If you have bored teams with soft defenses, take the Over and look for a shootout. There's no need to force a team side play if you can't get a true read on a motivational edge. The lack of excitement from both teams can still trigger strong selections.

*If BOTH teams are likely to be excited (few of those this year outside the BCS Championship game), look for a total play based on the strengths of the rosters. Excited teams with good offenses are definitely going to play a shootout. It will be like watching a Big 12 South or Conference USA game. Excited teams with good defenses are going to play a field position war that's likely to go Under the total.

How do you go about figuring out who has the motivational edge? Here are some ideas:

*Look for any team who performed below expectations during the regular season to be disappointed about their bowl. They were dreaming big dreams, and are probably in a game that doesn't get the juices flowing. Teams who limped home with poor Novembers are notorious for no-showing their bowl games. Being "bowl eligible" doesn't make you "bowl ready." Look for November fade-outs to continue fading.

*Look for any team who performed above expectations during the regular season to be excited about their bowl. They hadn't counted on a postseason treat back in September. Now they're going to get one.

*Look for teams who closed the season with a rivalry victory to be flat in their bowl. This can be a great indicator because the public remembers the big win and expects it to create "momentum" for the postseason. What happens more often than not is that the team kind of played their bowl game already in that rivalry war, and they don't have any intensity left for what amounts to an exhibition game.

*Look for teams who got caught napping in letdown spots in their season finale to bounce back strong in their bowl game. This isn't common, but happens a few times a year. You should always look to take quality teams with a chip on their shoulder. This group qualifies.

*Look for senior heavy teams who want to go out on a winning note. This is their last game together as a unit, and they want it to be special. Experience is a great thing anyway in this sport. Experience plus motivation is a very strong combination.

*Look for underdogs who are likely to be offended about their underdog status. Boy is this a good one. The kids had a few weeks to read in the paper that they're the lesser of the two teams. Some head coaches keep pounding on this point to get the players ready. They come out breathing fire, and the flat footed favorite never gets back in the game.

If you're lucky, you'll find some spots where different indicators are lining up. You'll find some seniors who are offended about being an underdog facing a team that's either flat off a rivalry win, or disappointed because they're not playing in a better game. You'll find demoralized teams who will just be going through the motions matched up against good teams that happened to get caught napping their last time out. What's going to happen when those good teams wake up?!

The bowls start on Saturday December 20, then run all the way through January 8. The games will be coming hot and heavy once they start. Do your preparation work NOW. If you're motivated to pick winners, you'll find the teams who are motivated to cover the spreads!

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