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Handicapping the Bowls

   by Al McMordie - 12/25/2006

Bowl season is in full swing. From a wagering standpoint, you have to approach bowls a little differently than regular season games. One reason is that teams often don’t have any common opponents and play against different conferences, which can make examining match-ups tricky. For instance, last week BYU of the Mountain West conference was playing a Pac-10 school, Oregon. On the one hand, overall the Pac 10 is better than the Mountain West as far as recruiting talent and developing powerful teams.

On the other hand, it’s still possible to develop a talented team in lesser known conferences (such as Boise State of the WAC in recent years). A few years ago Boise played Iowa State of the Big 12, and crushed them 34-16. And the Utah Utes went undefeated 3 years ago under coach Urban Meyer.

Another factor is that some teams are excited to play in a bowl, while other teams might look at it as a disappointment as they had their sights set on a better season or a bigger bowl. Over the weekend South Florida played an inspired game and beat up East Carolina, 24-7. Notice what the USF athletic director Doug Woolard said after the game: "There's only one time for a first time. It was important to get our first bowl victory." It was the first bowl win ever for the school. Needless to say, everyone involved in the program was sky-high for the game and they played like it.

"This is the next step," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. "If you lose, all of a sudden you're 0-2 in bowl games and everybody is asking, 'Can you win a bowl game?' This was important for the Big East Conference and important for us. It meant a lot to me and our players." In their inaugural bowl trip last year, the Bulls were shut out by N.C. State, but scored points early in this one. "We came out pumped up," said one player.

Another angle to look at it is whether a coach has a winning record in bowl games. Coaching is such a huge factor in both pro and college football. Despite losing to Texas in last year’s national title game, USC coach Pete Carroll is still 3-1 SU/ATS the last four years in bowls, winning those three games by double-digits each time. Penn State coach Joe Paterno is 5-2 SU/4-3 ATS his last seven bowls. Good coaches know how to use the extra time for preparation and to get the kids to focus on game day.

Also, it's important to consider the effect of playing in a bowl game for the first time, or after a long absence. Some schools are so delighted to break a long drought for the school that they don’t focus well on PLAYING the game! Look at the Troy/Rice bowl game last week. Rice hadn’t been to a bowl in over a decade, yet they were a favorite in the game. Troy was playing its third bowl over the last six years. Troy got the straight up win easily as a dog.

Finally, pay close attention to how a team has played on the road or at neutral sites. Any team, even bad ones, can play hard in front of the home fans, but it takes a focused, disciplined and well-coached team to play hard on the road. Some teams play great at home, but are awful on the road. That’s a sign that the team only gets up to play in comfortable surroundings, something that can be a detriment come bowl time, especially if they are traveling a long way to the bowl. It’s a great time to be a college football fan! Make sure you analyze and wager wisely. Happy holidays....Al McMordie.

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