Handicapping College Bowl Games After Coaching Changes
As we head into the college football bowl season, the coaching carousel in the sport has been very boring so far - at least compared to past years. Clay Helton somehow managed to keep his job at USC, and that stopped what would likely have been a big game of coaching musical chairs. Jeff Brohm decided to stay at Purdue against all odds, and Bill Clark took an extension at UAB. And guys like Mack Brown and Les Miles took jobs that would otherwise have caused an existing program to lose a coach. At this point we have only two teams that are heading into bowl games without a head coach and only a small handful of other teams that are missing a significant coordinator.
Coaching changes before bowl games are so important for bettors to keep an eye on because they can have such a big impact. A departing coach can take his team's motivation with him with his emotional departure, but that isn't always the case. Bettors need to look at each situation - who left, how and why, who is replacing him for the game, and what it could mean for the team - to extract any betting edge they possibly can from the situation. Here is a look at the significant changes that are happening heading into this bowl season:
New Mexico Bowl, Utah State ( -10) vs. North Texas, December 15: Texas Tech wasted no time after firing Kliff Kingsbury, hiring presumed first choice Matt Wells away from Utah State quickly. Wells had immediate success at Utah State when he took over after Gary Andersen went to Wisconsin. Then he had a couple of lean years, but he bounced back very strong this year, leading the Aggies to a 10-2 record. They would have played for a conference title if they hadn't lost to Boise State in their last game. Frank Maile, who has been the co-defensive coordinator for the last three years, will be the interim coach for this game. Maile has no chance of being the new coach, though, so the strength of his words could be muted. And the new coach has not been named yet, so that search will be a distraction during bowl practices - especially with the rumors that Andersen could return to run the team again. Further adding muddiness, Wells will reportedly be involved in game planning leading up to the game along with offensive coordinator David Yost and co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who are both going to Lubbock with Wells, and Wells will be on the sidelines for the bowl game but won't be coaching. At their best the Aggies should win this game handily. But Seth Littrell is a good coach, and he will have his team ready. If the distractions and mixed messages become too much, it could really be a problem for the Aggies.
New Orleans Bowl, Appalachian State (-7) vs. MTSU, December 15: The news that coach Scott Satterfield has left for Louisville has long seemed inevitable but is only breaking as I write this. His hiring hasn't been officially announced, so we don't yet know how he and App State will handle this. He has a big task trying to stabilize recruiting in Louisville after a disastrous season and the school's failure to land their dream candidate in Brohm, so if Satterfield is involved in this game at all, his attention is sure to be distracted. As above, at their best App State would win this game very handily, but the potential distraction here makes it a much tighter game.
Camping World Bowl, Syracuse (+7) vs. West Virginia, December 28: Jake Spavital, the offensive coordinator who gets a lot of credit for the success of QB Will Grier and the West Virginia offense this year, is heading to Texas State as the new head coach. At this point it hasn't been determined if he will be around for this game. Reports are that he wants to, but it hasn't been decided yet. This is such a key recruiting month, and Spavital will pull more talent than Texas State usually gets. So, even if he is aboard for the game, he isn't going to have been at full capacity leading up to the game. Incredibly, this is the first time Dana Holgorsen has seen one of his assistants become a head coach, so this is new ground for him. Syracuse is a plucky team - even if they laid a massive egg against Notre Dame when it seemed like they had a chance to make a statement - so Spavital's absence could be an issue. We also don't yet know if Grier and a couple of other potential high draft picks will even play in this game, which could have as big of an impact on how to bet the game as Spavital's role could.
First Responder Bowl, Boston College (+3) vs. Boise State, December 26: B.C. offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has left to take the Bowling Green head coaching job. At this point the plan seems to be for Loeffler to be back to call plays for the game. I usually wish that a coordinator didn't stick around in a situation like this because he's not going to be at his best. In this case, though, this is far from a dynamic offense, so I am not too concerned either way. Of much bigger concern is the status of running back A.J. Dillon, who plays a major role in this offense and was hurt in the last game of the season, leaving his status unclear for this game.
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