Bowl Capping Different Than Regular Season
by Robert Ferringo - 12/06/2006
(Note: this is an excerpt of an article that is running in the Nov./Dec. issue of High Roller Magazine.)
While the current system may be shakier than a Middle East cease-fire, college football is a unique animal in the gambling world precisely because of its peculiar postseason. The holiday bowl season offers a month-long orgy of marketing and violence unrivaled by anything on the sports calendar. It's the optimum occasion to fleece your co-workers into sucker bets on their alma maters. And if there's a better cure for a New Year's hangover than a backdoor cover, I haven't found it.
There is a plethora of factors that distinguish bowl games from conference play. Everything from the schedule and preparation to the emotion and motivation is incomparable. Even the professional oddsmakers I spoke with admitted that books approach bowl lines from a different angle than they do regular season games.
"Some teams lack motivation if they feel they deserve a better bowl game or they just missed out on a BCS game by losing down the stretch," said Jay Kornegay, sports book head honcho at the Las Vegas Hilton. "Marquee conference games have emotion on both sides - you never have to worry about a lack of it. You tend to look at those games as 'regular' games. ... (But) emotion plays more of a part in bowl games."
Besides emotional keys, the bowl schedule has a significant impact on players and coaches. From September through November schools generally play every Saturday. But because the regular season ends in late November and bowl games aren't played until mid-December or early January teams can go weeks or even a month without playing live.
An oddsmaker at Bodog, interviewed under the condition of anonymity, believes that the jigsaw slate of the holiday bowl season offers sportsbooks a significant advantage. "We have time on our side," he said. "We can analyze the line moves and post a stronger opening line, and we can stay one step ahead of the players."
Not so fast, my friend. The casinos are always one step ahead of the bettors, but there are ways that seasoned gamblers can utilize the extra prep time.
Many of the postseason pairings are pre-determined by contractual obligations between the bowls and the conference. For instance, the Hawaii Bowl pits the Pac-10's third-place team against the WAC's second-place club. Because you know that, you can begin researching potential match-ups as early as mid-November. That gives you time to analyze specific situations and trends and formulate an educated opinion before the line is even posted.
Staying ahead of the curve is especially crucial if you plan on backing a favorite in an early bowl game. Since square bettors overwhelmingly play the chalk, you need to put yourself in position to pounce on those early lines faster than Maurice Clarett can say, "Gotta get my Goose on!"
Secondly, you can turn the intricacies of the bowl schedule in your favor by remaining patient. Underdogs have been the money play over the past two years, posting a respectable 24-32 record and a fruitful 33-23 mark (58.9 percent) against the spread. Since we've already noted that the general public loves playing the favorites, the extended time between games allows "dog-catchers" to wait out line movements and strengthen their earning potential.
Let's say that Michigan is facing Clemson in the Dow Chemical Humanitarian Bowl. You like the Tigers at +6.5 and are thinking about pulling the trigger. In this situation a pro will anticipate a rush on the side of the Wolverines - a traditional football factory - and wait out the line shift. Eventually, that game may be had with Clemson across a key number at +7.5. This may seem trivial, but over the long haul these subtle moves will have a fantastic impact on your bankroll.
Finally, a seasoned gambler is always on the prowl for highly profitable middling opportunities. Since the gap between posted bowl lines and kickoff for bowl games is wider than the one in Madonna's teeth there is always the increased probability that you'll find a game on which you can bet both sides and play for a big payday.
Here are a few other helpful tips for the upcoming bowl season:
- A hot recent trend is to play favorites before Christmas and back underdogs after. Over the past three years, favorites that played before Dec. 25 have posted records of 16-1 straight-up and 12-5 against the spread (70.6 percent). Conversely, the chalk is just 36-31 SU and 25-41 ATS (37.9 percent) after a visit from Santa.
- Play against public teams. Everyone and their grandmother are going to back classic football programs like Notre Dame and Alabama in their respective bowl games. It's not a coincidence that those programs are a combined 1-9 ATS in their last 10 bowls.
"Sharps usually get pinned up against the public in betting," said our unnamed Bodog bookmaker. "If you know your players are going to bet the public team then you can shade the line because the sharps will usually take the dog in those cases. This will help you balance the action. As risk managers, knowing your player base is crucial, as it will give you the jump start on the players and put you in the best possible position to win."
- The best two underdog conferences are the SEC and the Pac-10. The SEC is 8-2 SU and 10-0 ATS as a dog in recent years. The Pac-10 is 26-22 SU and 37-10 ATS (78.7 percent) in the underdog role since the start of the 1997 bowl season.
- Do your homework when it comes to conference power rankings. Just because a 9-2 school out of the Mountain West is facing a 6-5 crew out of the SEC doesn't mean that the MWC team is going to roll. To the contrary.
"I would be sure to research each conference participating," Kornegay said. "This doesn't mean looking at the polls or watching (ESPN's College) Game Day. Researching all the out-of-conference games teams played during the course of the season will give you a true measurement of how strong that particular conference may be."
- Location, location, location. Over the past three seasons there have been 12 bowl games in which one school was playing on its home turf. Those teams have gone 8-3-1 ATS. Also, without any appreciable rhyme or reason, the designated "Home Team" over that same span has gone 51-32 ATS. That's a 61.4-percent clip. However, over the past four seasons, teams playing within their own state are just 15-14 when facing an opponent from another state.
Carpe diem, my friend. And good luck.