It was around 1995 when I first really got turned on to college football bowl season, as I felt it really added a lot to the holiday season. As a bettor, having extra time to handicap and then watch all of the games was extraordinary. Much has changed since, not the least of which is that the number of games more than doubled over the years. In fact, in the ’95 bowl season, there were just 18 games, compared with 40 last year. Of course, with COVID-19 rearing its ugly head in 2020, that number will be smaller, but still, the more the merrier. There was only one game before Christmas in ’95, and believe it or not, only one game on New Year’s Eve.
For as much change has occurred, from a betting standpoint, there are many fundamentals that are the same and will be the same for as long as they have bowl games. Specifically, bowl games are a reward for a winning season (or .500 in many cases). They offer an opportunity for a team to go through a special process and grow together through an extension of their season. More on this later, but that time frame is obviously going to be a lot shorter than usual this year. Bowl games also can be defining in terms of which teams prepared best and took the game most seriously, a surefire indicator of program culture and discipline.
Studying bowl games for the last 25-plus years, I have developed a checklist of key things to consider outside the norm of everyday, every-game football handicapping. I have always believed that bowl games offer the bettor the best chance at success, since the time to prepare is unmatched on the schedule, especially considering the knowledge you have of the teams after 12 or 13 games. It’s not like the beginning of the season when each team’s prospects are defined by question marks at so many positions. Despite the 2020 bowl season being shorter and most teams having played fewer games, handicapping the fundamentals at this time of year is as straightforward as analyzing one team’s stats against another and sprinkling in adjustments for schedule strengths. That part of it is relatively easy. However, oddsmakers have this down as a part of their routine for setting the lines too. Therefore, in order to be better than them, and to achieve the success level of professional bettors, you have to go further.