Betting against public is smart bowl strategy


Betting against the public, also known as “going contrarian,” is a smart long-term strategy for a number of reasons. First and foremost, more often than not the public loses. Casual bettors bet based on gut instinct and bias and largely ignore analytics and hard data. Average Joes bet with their heart, not their head, and focus on favorites, home teams, teams with better records than their opponents and teams with star players. The oddsmakers know this and set lines with public bias in mind, shading numbers toward the popular side. As a result, savvy contrarian bettors who are brave enough to back the unpopular side can extract additional value by taking advantage of artificially inflated or mispriced lines. Think of it this way: If you walk into a bar and everyone is betting on Team A, you want to be holding a ticket on Team B.


Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just figuring out where the public is and going the other way. Contrarian betting is a solid foundation, but you also need to do your homework and ensure you’re on the sharp side as well. This means being with the professional bettors who win at a high rate, have a track record of success, bet large amounts, have decades of experience and have the respect of the sportsbooks. Lastly, you need to make sure you shop for the best line and beat the closing number.


However, there are certain times of year when contrarian value skyrockets. The first is March Madness and the second is college football bowl season. 


Bowl games are a fantastic time to bet against the public because every game is heavily bet and flooded with recreational money. Many Average Joes may not bet college football all season long but will place a wager or two just to get in on the bowl game fun during the holiday season. As a result, the market is softer than usual and easier to exploit.


Another factor is the schedule itself. Bowl game lines are released days — or in some cases weeks — in advance, which provides extra time for the bets to build and build. Unlike the regular season, many of these games are one of only a couple played on a particular day. Each one is nationally televised and most are in prime time, ensuring a massive public audience. You will also see media narratives form on specific teams and games, which creates a bias trap that the public often falls into.


We’ve never seen a bowl season like this one because sports betting is being legalized all across the country. As a result, casual bettors are entering the market more than ever before, with many betting bowl games for the first time.


The easiest way to bet against the public during bowl season is to back underdogs. Why? Because the public loves betting favorites. According to Bet Labs Sports, bowl game dogs have covered at a 52.3% clip since 2005. This may not sound that impressive, but regular-season dogs have covered at only a 50.2% clip. This means bowl dogs cover 2.1% more often.


Another reason bowl dogs have increased value is that all of these games will be played at neutral sites. This levels the playing field toward the dogs and benefits the team getting points.


Bowl season is also a great time to take advantage of inflated lines. This means the public hammers a favorite and moves the number toward the favorite, resulting in “free” points for the underdog.


If the line moves at least 1 point away from the dog, giving the dog an extra point or more (think + 7 to + 8), dogs are 107-85 ATS (56%) since 2005.


Experience, or lack thereof, can also be a big factor in bowl games. If a dog is going up against a team that failed to qualify for a bowl the previous year, the dog has gone 77-57 ATS (58%) since 2005.


You can also take advantage of public bias by buying low on unranked bowl dogs against ranked favorites. The public falls in love with rankings and will almost always side with the higher ranked team, which leads to overvaluing of the ranked favorite. Unranked bowl dogs against ranked favorites have gone 46-37 ATS (55%) since 2005. 


One important note to remember during bowl season: the books keep the limits low once a line is released. Their goal is to allow sharps to come in at low limits and help them shape the line to its strongest point. As a result, it’s important to wait until game day, when limits are raised, to make a final determination on a game. Many wiseguys and syndicates get down hard game day, so make sure to keep your eye on the VSiN live odds page to follow late moves before kickoff. Late moves are always the most meaningful, specifically those that take place in the final hour before kickoff.


Also, one of the oldest phrases in betting is “bet favorites early and dogs late.” Generally speaking, the public will bet the favorite and move the number toward the favorite (think -7 to -8). So if you like a favorite, it’s a good idea to bet it early before it moves to a worse number. However, since bowl game dogs have so much value this time of year, it’s a good idea to wait until the bitter end to place your dog bet so that you can get the number at its highest, most valuable point.


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