Makinen: Seven motivational factors for betting bowl games

December 18, 2022 02:07 PM
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Seven motivational factors for betting bowl games

If you’ve been with VSiN in any bowl season since our initial Bowl Guide back in 2017, you’re probably well familiar with my annual story detailing my Motivational Factors Checklist that I incorporate for handicapping each and every bowl game. It has become my most reader-requested article every year. To me, this checklist serves almost as a Ten Commandments for betting the bowl games. You have to have a handle on these variables for each game or you won’t be successful. Sure, you may win some games by going against the logic, but over the course of the season, it’s unlikely.

There is absolutely nothing more important in bowl games nowadays than each team’s motivation for competing. Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed in recent years, the disparity in the motivation levels of teams in any given game can reach levels not seen before. If you’re on the wrong side of that argument, perhaps by betting too early or by overlooking a massive factor, your bet can be done by the end of the first quarter. But when you’re right, these bowl games can be fun to sit back and enjoy.

Just a little background on how this Motivational Factors piece has developed over the years. In essence, it is a culmination of strategies that I have built upon and adapted over 27 years. It was about 1995 or so when I first got turned on to the college football bowl games, as 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 to me. Much has changed since. There are over twice as many bowl games now as there were back then. In fact, in the ‘95 bowl season, there were just 18 games, compared to what is scheduled to be 43. Because each one has its own storylines, traditions, and deserving groups of players, coaches and fans, I’ve always believed in the “the more the merrier” philosophy.

For as much change has occurred to the bowl season over the years, from a betting standpoint, many fundamentals are – 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 are a chance for a team to grow together with an extension of their season. Bowl games can also be very 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+ years, I have developed a checklist of key things to consider outside the norm of every day, every game football handicapping. I’ve always believed bowl games offer the bettor the best chance at success, since the time to prepare is unmatched on the yearly schedule, especially considering your knowledge 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. Handicapping the fundamentals at this time of the 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. Therefore, to be better than them and to achieve the success level that professional bettors do, you have to go further. In my opinion, my seven-factor checklist for bowl games does just that.

For this season, I’ve decided to shuffle the order of the seven factors. Last season proved to me the renamed “Personnel Disruptions” angle is the most important thing to track. The number of players choosing to opt out of bowl games to prep for the draft or not playing because of entering the transfer portal has become almost unbearable. In my opinion, it has the potential to ruin the bowl season altogether. Hopefully the recent announcement of expanding the CFP to 12 teams can help stifle that ugly trend. That discussion is for another time.

You will see that much of the analysis I will be getting into is difficult to quantify, but it can prove to be the difference in whether a team “shows up” for its bowl game. Be careful, as in most cases, the external factors that can affect a bowl game happen up until kickoff, and early bettors can end up eating their wagers if they were too overzealous early.

Again, I call these things my Seven Motivational Factors Checklist for Bowl Games. I’ve developed it by reviewing my notes over many bowl seasons. I like to think that this checklist has played a great role in my bowl game success, and I will be putting it to the test again in 2022.

You might be wondering why I chose to name this article as I have as not all of these factors would be considered “motivational.” Anything that goes into a team’s mindset or physical readiness can affect its motivational level. So, without further ado, here is my list of Bowl Game Motivational Factors that I consider before every game. Along with the factor, I’ll provide an explanation and some examples from past bowl seasons, along with some games that might be affected by it in 2022-23. If you believe in the fundamentals of my factors, be sure to put together your own thoughts as the games approach and follow the news wires (and VSiN of course) in the upcoming days for any pertinent updates. Believe me, there are always unexpected news stories that affect these games.

1)    Personnel Disruptions

Many things can cause distractions for a team between the final game of the regular season and the bowl contest. Some of them come out of nowhere and can throw a team for a loop at the most inopportune time. The glaring examples include coaches leaving, players getting into trouble for grades or behavior, and the ever-growing number of players choosing to transfer.

The player news can happen at any time and for any game. Case in point, three Oklahoma starters were suspended leading up to the 2019 semifinal playoff game, and their absence hurt in a blowout loss to LSU. In last year’s Peach Bowl, a New Year’s six-level game, Pittsburgh’s star quarterback Kenny Pickett chose to opt out of his program’s biggest bowl game in decades, and the Panthers looked nothing like the team that earned that bowl bid. A few days later, two of Ohio State’s top wide receivers watched the Rose Bowl from home as they prepped for the NFL draft, only to see teammate Jaxon Smith-Njigba put up a record performance in their absence.

As usual, there has been a bevy of coaching activity in college football that will be affecting the bowl games. Here are the main changes to observe.

- Cincinnati has lured Louisville’s Scott Satterfield away after losing Luke Fickell to Wisconsin. In one of the most intriguing bowl coaching situations in recent memory, the Bearcats have been matched up with the Cardinals in the Fenway Bowl. Satterfield will coach neither team however as both turn to interim coaches. Cincinnati goes with Special Teams Coordinator Kerry Coombs, while Louisville promotes former Super Bowl champ Deion Branch, current Director of Player Development.

-Louisville has found its permanent head coach by plucking former Cardinals QB Jeff Brohm from PURDUE. Although not known at the time, it was assumed that the Boilermakers would turn to an interim coach for their Citrus Bowl matchup with LSU. 

- Coastal Carolina will be turning to Chad Staggs, defensive coordinator, as he takes over as interim coach, keeping the seat warm for CCU’s next coach Tim Beck.

- Liberty’s Josh Aldridge has been promoted from co-defensive coordinator to interim coach for the Birmingham Bowl game, as new Head Coach hire Jamey Chadwell will watch from afar.

- North Texas has fired Seth Littrell after a trip to the Conference USA title game and has named Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett the interim coach for the Frisco Bowl.

- UAB made a splash by naming former ESPN analyst and Super Bowl-winning QB Trent Dilfer to its head coaching position. However, Bryant Vincent, who coached the team to a 6-6 record in an interim role, will get one last shot in that position in the Bahamas Bowl.

- Wisconsin is in a similar position to UAB in that interim coach Jim Leonard, who has declined an invitation to stay on the staff for new Head Coach Luke Fickell, will coach the Badgers in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Fickell is expected to play some role on the coaching staff in getting UW ready for the contest vs. Oklahoma State.

Distractions don’t always turn out negatively for a team, however, so be careful not to assume that as you assess specific situations. Plenty of bettors fell victim to it last year in the Alamo Bowl game between Oklahoma and Oregon, as Sooners’ players reacted very well to longtime former coach Bob Stoops coming back in place of the departed Lincoln Riley in their bowl game, routing Oregon 47-32. Some teams may take a coaching change or key injury(s) and use it as a motivational source.

There are several player availability scenarios that will play out in the time leading up to the respective games:

-   Cincinnati's Ben Bryant (QB) injured his foot in the Nov. 11 game versus East Carolina and missed the next two games after a 21-7 TD-interception ratio season. He will not play in the Fenway Bowl.

-   Minnesota's veteran QB Tanner Morgan, who has not played since Nov. 5 due to a head injury, is listed as questionable for the Pinstripe Bowl game versus Syracuse.

-   NC State has had four different quarterbacks throw more than 60 passes this season, and second-stringer MJ Morris, who had the best numbers in three games, is listed as questionable. Starter Devin Leary has entered the transfer portal as well.

-   BYU QB Jaren Hall suffered an ankle injury in the season finale and is questionable but trying hard to play.

-   Ohio's Kurtis Rourke (QB) missed the last few games of the Bobcats’ season after putting up huge numbers earlier, and he will miss the Arizona Bowl.

-   Tennessee’s QB Hendon Hooker was lost for the season with a torn ACL after a Heisman Trophy-caliber season through 11 games.

-   Iowa’s first-team quarterback Spencer Petras needed surgery for his shoulder injury and will miss the Music City Bowl game. Iowa’s second-team quarterback Alex Padilla entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer. Whoever gets the call for Iowa will be throwing their first career pass.

-   USC’s Caleb Williams suffered what is described as a severe hamstring injury and is listed as questionable for the Cotton Bowl game versus Tulane. By the looks of the opening line, oddsmakers are not expecting him to play.

-   The following quarterbacks have entered the transfer portal, and while all of them are still eligible to play in their teams’ respective contests, in most cases, they do not. They include Pitt’s Kedon Slovis, Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei, Notre Dame’s Drew Pyne, Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders, New Mexico State’s Diego Pavia, Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed, Miami Ohio’s Brett Gabbert, and Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz. Of the group, I would expect none of them to play.

-   As of Tuesday, 12/6, all of these players are likely to opt out of their respective bowl games to get ready for the NFL draft: Florida QB Anthony Richardson, Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Oklahoma DL Jalen Redmond, three players from Oklahoma (OT Anton Harrison, OT Wanya Morris, RB Eric Gray), Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez, Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr., Pitt DT Calijah Kancey, Utah RB Tavion Thomas, plus Washington State’s top two wide receivers, De'Shaun Stribling and Donovan Ollie.

- Other potential major opt-out news is awaited from Alabama QB Bryce Young, Texas RB Bijan Robinson, Louisville QB Malik Cunningham, UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and North Carolina WR Josh Downs.

The player opting out is one we will have to continue to watch until kickoff. Hopefully, unlike the last two seasons, we won’t have entire teams opting out. However, bettors have to realize how big of a deal this opting-out situation can be. I already mentioned the Pittsburgh scenario of 2021, but the game affected even more than that was the Quick Lane Bowl game between Nevada and Western Michigan. Nevada’s star QB Carson Strong, along with Head Coach Jay Norvell and several of Strong’s most prominent teammates, opted out of the Detroit festivities, and the line moved from Wolf Pack -7.5 to +6.5, a full 14-point swing. What was left of the Nevada roster was pummeled by the more inspired Broncos, 52-24.

Unfortunately, this trend is gaining more steam, not less. Yet it remains to be seen what effect a normal prep time between the regular-season finale and bowl games will have on this phenomenon. When you combine this with coaching changes for bowl teams, it’s clear that situations such as these can make for a hectic and emotional disruption in game preparation for student-athletes.

2)    Big Line/Total Movements

I indicated earlier that I am convinced that players and coaches know the point spreads in their bowl games. I am not convinced, however, that they follow line moves like actual bettors do. As they say, things like this are best left to the pros. I also inferred earlier that it is impossible to quantify the distractions a team faces in its bowl preparations. Perhaps line movements are the best and only way to even think about doing it. Using only the 2021 bowl season as evidence, oddsmakers essentially paved the road for bettors, as those that followed the action in the 22 games that saw 3-point or bigger line moves went 17-5 ATS.

Therefore, while I wouldn’t consider a line movement in a bowl game as a motivating factor for a team, the move itself should stand as a red flag for you when wondering if some unusual situation might be “distracting” a team. In general, oddsmakers are sharp enough at this point in the season to set lines that stay steady over the month-long period of bowl games. In fact, only 49 of about 896 bowl games over the last 30 years have seen line moves of 4.5 points or more from their opening number, including games where major player injury or suspension announcements were made after opening. However, it happened 11 times last year, easily a record. In fact, only seven games saw line moves of a 1/2 point or less, and three of those were in the playoff semifinals and title games.

Recreational bettors should consider themselves “lucky” because the experts are paving the road to bowl winnings by telling you which team to bet. As I mentioned, 49 games over the last 30 bowl seasons have seen line movements of 4.5 or more points. Here is the trend:

In bowl games between 1992-2021 that had closing lines more than four points off of their opening line, the team that the line moved towards is 31-17-1 ATS (64.6%).

Again, in most cases, line moves this big are typically caused by some distracting factor, such as a coaching change, suspension, or injury, and rarely due to a “miss” by oddsmakers. In short, with a 64.6% ATS success rate, let the experts interpret the distraction’s impact for you. Recognize that you can only take advantage of these findings by waiting until as close to kickoff as possible.

For this season, we already have a game that will be qualifying. Assuming things don’t change much from here on out, Oregon State has moved from a 5-point opening line favorite to a 10-point favorite as of this writing following the QB Richardson opt-out announcement for the Gators. Though no other games officially qualified as of press time, these teams were trending towards eventually reaching the 4.5-point move threshold: Fresno State, Boise State, Toledo, South Alabama, San Diego State, Bowling Green, and UCLA. All those teams listed would be the teams the line has moved toward based on personnel disruption news for the opponent.

Concerning totals, there are always a lot more games that move 4.5 points or more off their opening number by game time, but the reason for this can often be the gameday weather in addition to the other circumstances previously discussed. Regardless of the reason, bettors have been right at a 68-52-1 (56.7%) rate on totals moving 4.5-points or more. In the 2021-22 bowl season, bettors drove the totals off their opening numbers by 4.5-points or more in 11 games, going just 5-6. Again, keep an eye on the numbers as you approach game time, as the totals are usually stable in the first few days of opening, they typically experience their biggest moves in the hours before kickoff.

3)    Excitement level for the game

It’s natural for athletes at different levels to gear up more for some games or opponents than others. This point is exacerbated in bowl games, as quite frankly, some teams are happy to be there, and others are disappointed. Teams playing in a bowl game for the first time ever, or the first time in many years, are going to be more excited than those who underperformed this season or are going to a bowl game locale below their normal standards. While impossible to quantify this excitement level, if you don’t consider this factor, all the stats in the world are no good to you.

Over the last four years, I have listed games which I thought had a clear excitement level difference for the game. I was 20-15 ATS in these, including 5-4 ATS a year ago. Here is a list of potential games that could be defined by one team’s mindset. See if you agree, or be sure to formulate your own opinions on other games. Again, whether a team really “shows up” to play is usually the difference in winning and covering.

- OREGON STATE is riding high off a 9-3 SU and 10-2 ATS season. By all measures, it can be argued that the Beavers overachieved. In their bowl game, they will be facing a Florida team that doesn’t seem too interested in its bowl game for the second straight season. Last year, a hungry UCF team beat the Gators soundly. This year, OSU is capable of doing the same, even as a double-digit favorite.

- SOUTH ALABAMA wasn’t a big enough motivating factor for Western Kentucky quarterback Austin Reid to stick around and face in the New Orleans Bowl. He has entered the transfer portal after throwing for over 4,000 yards and 36 TD’s. The Jaguars quietly won 10 games this year and boasted one of the best run defenses among the Group of 5 teams. Without Reid, it’s hard to see WKU mustering much of anything.

- BOWLING GREEN has not been in a bowl game since 2015. The Falcons were matched up in the Quick Lane Bowl against a New Mexico State team that the college football world seems to be celebrating because of bowl eligibility. The Aggies, however, were once listed in my power ratings as the second-worst team in FBS. Don’t overlook BGSU’s rise to earn this bowl bid and put its program back on the map. Senior QB Matt McDonald and the Falcons will be hyped to represent their school as a remarkably small favorite to a likely overmatched team whose QB has decided to transfer.

- SOUTH CAROLINA was incredibly inconsistent in 2022 but did close the regular season on a huge high note, pulling upsets of both Tennessee and Clemson. In both games, the Gamecocks were in excess of 14-point dogs against extremely high-profile opponents. Talk about a team getting a jolt of late-season confidence. Now, HC Shane Beamer’s team gets another shot at taking down one of the biggest names in college football, Notre Dame, in the Gator Bowl. Not only that, but Beamer received an additional boost when QB Spencer Rattler announced that he would be playing in the game. Although Rattler wasn’t sharp the whole season, he was fantastic at the end, and as a former five-star recruit, figures to be the best player on the field in Jacksonville. His team is an underdog too, against a Notre Dame team whose quarterback is not sticking around.

- KANSAS finds itself in another 6-6 bowl with Arkansas. However, the teams got here in totally different ways. Kansas saw its program revived in 2022, and it will be playing in its first bowl game in 14 years. Arkansas was a disappointment this season, coming off a 9-4 campaign and bringing back a lot of experience. Guess which team is favored? Yep, the Razorbacks. Head Coach Lance Leipold has consistently gotten huge overachieving efforts from his teams, and I would expect nothing less from the underdog Jayhawks as they look to close their resurgent season with a bowl win.

- SYRACUSE has to be excited to be playing in the state of New York in the Pinstripe Bowl game after a 7-5 season wiped away a three-year bowl game drought. Minnesota has won five straight bowl games and Head Coach PJ Fleck typically gets his team up for these games. Last year, the Gophers beat an uninterested West Virginia team 18-6 as 5-point favorites. The primary difference this year, and the most critical handicapping element, is that the Orange are pumped to play in their home state and excited about what they have accomplished in 2022. They will be motivated as an underdog in front of what should be a pro-Syracuse crowd.

- FLORIDA STATE won its final five games of the regular season and put up 43.6 PPG to finish 9-3. Just after the bowl game announcement, QB Jordan Travis announced he is coming back for 2023. Certainly, this program has a lot going for it right now. Its opponent for the Cheez-it Bowl, Oklahoma, does not. The Sooners had their worst season in 25 years and are a big underdog for a reason in the game. Don’t mistake what looks like a good matchup because of program names. FSU is much better, and the Sooners have already had several players opt out.

- WASHINGTON was one of the country’s most improved teams in 2022, going from 4-8 to 10-2 behind the stellar play of QB Michael Penix Jr. The Huskies get a huge bowl opportunity at the Alamo Bowl when they square off with Texas, who will have the usual home contingent of fans for the contest. However, UW closed the season on a surge and was boosted by the announcement that Penix Jr. would be returning for 2023 and playing in the bowl game. Hard to see them not being extremely competitive here.

- UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson has started 47 games for the Bruins over the last five years and has essentially put the program back on the map. It has yet to be determined if he will play in the Sun Bowl, but if he does, he will give his team quite a jolt in what will be his final contest. I used to have a factor in this article called “stars in their last games” that suggested transcendent players were great bets in their final games. DTR would be, even as a 7-point favorite against a Pitt team that has already seen its quarterback hit the transfer portal.

- KANSAS STATE was surely watching ESPN the day after it clinched its first Big 12 title in 24 years and saw Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban proclaim that TCU suffered a bad loss to a bad team, referring, of course, to the Wildcats. Only a bit later was it announced that KSU and Alabama would square off in the Sugar Bowl. If that isn’t bulletin board material capable of motivating an already jacked-up team, I don’t know what is. The Tide aren’t likely to be taking this game as seriously, with a list of opt-outs already announced. And that doesn’t even include the status of QB Bryce Young, who we are still waiting on.

I’m sure you can come up with some other examples of games with reasons to question a team’s motivation, but these are the ones I thought of off the bat recalling my knowledge of past bowl seasons.

4)  Motivation of the Point Spread

They may say otherwise, but don’t let the coaches and players fool you. They know the point spreads of these bowl games, especially in this day of expanding sports betting regulation across the country. Having watched religiously for the last decade, I can tell you that ESPN’s popular College GameDay show has taken huge steps forward in putting more emphasis on this part of the game. That said, athletes take a lot from the respect they are getting heading into a bowl game. Nowhere is this respect level more clearly illustrated than in the point spread. Teams that feel slighted by this number tend to work harder to prepare and “prove everyone wrong” than those on the opposite side of the line. Those teams may perhaps take it easier in their preparation, or even worse, discount their opponent altogether. Be careful though; it’s not always the motivation of being an underdog that drives a team. Sometimes, favorites feel they aren’t getting enough respect. That can be just as powerful. Looking back at the last five bowl seasons, here are some winning examples of the logic I have put into building this factor:

In 2017, one of my top “point spread games” ironically was the highest bowl point spread ever. I actually felt that beating that highest-chalk-line ever would serve as motivation to Florida Atlantic for beating Akron. It did, big time. The Owls clobbered the Zips 50-3.

In 2018, one of my favorite point spread motivation plays was Utah State, a team that had scored 47.2 PPG and outscored opponents by nearly 300 points. The Aggies, at -7, were clearly underrated by oddsmakers against North Texas, and blasted the Mean Green 52-13.

In 2019, my most poignant call was on Alabama, a team that was left out of its usual playoff spot. The last time it occurred, the Tide rolled to a 49-7 win. I figured they would again play with a chip on their shoulder versus Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. They did and came away with a 35-16 win, coasting on an 8-point line.

In 2020, I was 3-1 in this factor No. 4, with one of my five calls getting canceled. The highlight game was Ohio State, who seemed to be fueled by the disrespect it was receiving from oddsmakers as it got ready for its playoff semifinal matchup versus Clemson.

In 2021, I picked a record high 11 games in this section and went 7-4 ATS, with the showcase game being the Peach Bowl matchup between Michigan State and Pitt. Both teams earned New Year’s Six bowl bids, but apparently only the Spartans valued the spot, with some of Pitt’s best players opting out. Even still, oddsmakers only made Sparty a 1.5-point favorite at the time of picking.  MSU played the disrespected role well and eventually won 31-21 as a 3.5-point closing line favorite.

With that in mind, here are 10 point spread scenarios that catch my eye for 2022-23:

- MIAMI OHIO will be a double-digit underdog to a UAB team that badly underachieved this season and is in the middle of a significant coaching transition.  The Blazers were expected to contend in the Conference USA after doing so the last four years and weren’t even close. The Redhawks have won four straight bowl games against the spread and seem to cherish their postseason opportunities.

- CINCINNATI has been installed as an underdog to a Louisville team that was 7-5 this season and could be without its dynamic starting quarterback Malik Cunningham for the Fenway Bowl. With or without him, the Cardinals have been an up and down mid-tier program in the ACC. Despite losing their head coach, the Bearcats have been one of the nation’s top programs over the last five years, going 53-10 overall. They lost all three of their games by a TD or less this season. This team will compete with vigor in Boston.

- SOUTHERN MISS was coming off back-to-back three-win seasons heading into 2022. Their 16 returning starters led the team to a bowl bid with a 6-6 mark. The Golden Eagles’ reward is a date with 5-7 Rice in the LendingTree Bowl. There is an unwritten rule that veteran teams can’t lose to 5-7 teams in bowl games; it is actually embarrassing. USM can and must take care of business as a 7-point favorite against a very unworthy Owls bunch.

- MARSHALL isn’t the world’s biggest college football powerhouse, but the Herd will face one of two teams that qualified for a bowl game despite being ranked in the bottom five of my FBS Power Ratings during the campaign. UConn was a definite feel-good story in earning its bowl bid, but the Huskies did lose five games by more than this point spread of +10. There is a reason Marshall is favored this big despite only scoring 24.2 PPG, and anything short of a blowout here won’t be satisfying.

- AIR FORCE, for a second straight season, is a Group of 5 team that arrives off a solid season only to find itself looking at the short end of the point spread against a very ordinary Power 5 opponent. Baylor was 6-6 out of the downtrodden ACC this season and wrapped up its season by getting whipped at Texas. Air Force is the far better defensive team, and in a similar situation last year, the Falcons beat Louisville, 31-28.

- MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE and San Diego State were both 7-5 teams this season. The Blue Raiders are 7-point underdogs in the Hawaii Bowl to a SDSU team that, like them, is a Group of 5 representative. The Aztecs fell short of their season win prop, averaging just 21.3 PPG offensively. MTSU beat its season win prop by 1.5 games and scored almost 30 PPG, topping the 30-point benchmark six times. Why is San Diego State such a big favorite?

- UTAH STATE and Memphis were both 6-6 teams in 2022, and it can be generally argued that the Aggies program is in a far better trending period than the Tigers. USU won its conference last year and struggled this season, mostly due to injury problems at the quarterback position. Memphis, meanwhile, was a Group of 5 power for most of the last decade but has now gone 6-6 in back-to-back seasons. The Tigers are no longer elite, and it’s difficult to find any reason they would possess extra motivation to cover a generous 7-point chalk line in the First Responders Bowl.

- NORTH CAROLINA is a sizable double-digit underdog to a team from a conference that has won just 11 of 36 games over the last six bowl seasons. What’s more, the Tar Heels and Oregon shared the same amount of regular season wins, nine. The Pac-12’s struggles in bowl games are well documented, and both Oregon State and Oregon are lined up to be the conference’s first double-digit favorite in bowl games since 2014! In their last 18 tries overall as bowl favorites, this conference’s reps are just 9-9 SU and 4-14 ATS. The Beavers are playing a Florida team whose potential effort figures to be questionable. I can’t see UNC quitting on this one, as Head Coach Mack Brown’s team may have faded late but they can take pride in their season.

TENNESSEE was one of the country’s best teams for much of the season, at one point reaching the top ranking in the polls. A loss to current #1 Georgia and a season-ending injury to QB Hendon Hooker have oddsmakers treating the Vols as if they were North Carolina. The point spread for the Orange Bowl is similar to that of the ACC title game. One huge difference. My power ratings show Tennessee as a 63 without Hooker. UNC is a 47. So, what gives? This line is simply off and seems to be overlooking that UT is thrilled to be playing in the Orange Bowl after going 3-7 just two years ago and 7-6 last year. Plus, the Vols clobbered Vanderbilt in the season finale without their star QB, racking up 522 yards of offense.

MISSISSIPPI STATE represents the SEC; Illinois comes out of the Big Ten. When it was announced that the two teams would be meeting in the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa on January 2nd, oddsmakers had the gall to come out with an opening line showing the Illini as 1-point favorites. How rare is it that a Big Ten team is favored over a SEC team in a bowl game? Well, since 2004, the conferences have met in 56 bowl games, and in only 14 of them, the Big Ten was favored. Surely those Big Ten teams were better than this current Illinois team, who at one point was having a magical season, but has come back down to reality with a 1-3 finish. Mississippi State, meanwhile, now a small favorite, was steady. Three of their four losses came at the hands of Georgia, Alabama, and LSU. While very good defensively this season, I don’t think Head Coach Brett Bielema’s defense has seen anything like Mike Leach’s system or QB Will Rogers.

5)    Head coach experience is very important

It’s not hard to understand; some coaches do better than others in using the extra preparation time involved in bowl games to get their game plans cemented and their teams physically and mentally ready to play. After all, these are the key ingredients to being a successful coach. With all the extras involved with bowl games, the importance of coaching is magnified. In preparation for this year’s bowl season, I have dedicated myself to taking a closer look at the coaching situations in bowl games. I am ecstatic that I did, as I was able to uncover some golden betting nuggets regarding first-time bowl coaches and experience differences in bowl games among coaches. Regarding the latter:

Since 2015, or the last six bowl seasons, head coaches with an experience advantage in terms of number of bowl games coached over the opponent have gone 144-99 SU and 142-99-2 ATS (58.9%)!

These are the bowl games for 2022-23, and the number of bowl games experience for each coach. They are listed in order of experience disparity. If the games are not listed, the bowl game coaching experience is EVEN.

KANSAS ST - Chris Klieman (2) vs. ALABAMA - Nick Saban (29); Edge - ALABAMA by 27

NORTH CAROLINA - Mack Brown (23) vs. OREGON - Dan Lanning (0); Edge - NORTH CAROLINA by 23

OKLAHOMA ST - Mike Gundy (16) vs. WISCONSIN - Jim Leonard (0); Edge - OKLAHOMA ST by 16

CLEMSON - Dabo Swinney (17) vs. TENNESSEE - Josh Heupel (4); Edge - CLEMSON by 13

IOWA - Kirk Ferentz (18) vs. KENTUCKY - Mark Stoops (6); Edge - IOWA by 12

AIR FORCE - Troy Calhoun (11) vs. BAYLOR - Dave Aranda (1); Edge - AIR FORCE by 10

FRESNO ST - Jeff Tedford (10) vs. WASHINGTON ST - Jake Dickert (1); Edge - FRESNO ST by 9

HOUSTON - Dana Holgorsen (9) vs. LA LAFAYETTE - Michael Desormeaux (0); Edge - HOUSTON by 9

UCF - Gus Malzahn (8) vs. DUKE - Mike Elko (0); Edge - UCF by 8

MISSISSIPPI ST - Mike Leach (17) vs. ILLINOIS - Bret Bielema (9); Edge - MISSISSIPPI ST by 8

PURDUE - INTERIM (0) vs. LSU - Brian Kelly (13); Edge - LSU by 13

WAKE FOREST - Dave Clawson (8) vs. MISSOURI - Eliah Drinkwitz (1); Edge - WAKE FOREST by 7

MARYLAND - Mike Locksley (1) vs. NC STATE - Dave Doeren (6); Edge - NC STATE by 5

TCU - Sonny Dykes (3) vs. MICHIGAN - Jim Harbaugh (8); Edge - MICHIGAN by 5

BYU - Kalani Sitake (5) vs. SMU - Rhett Lashlee (0); Edge - BYU by 5

GA SOUTHERN - Clay Helton (5) vs. BUFFALO - Maurice Linguist (0); Edge - GA SOUTHERN by 5

UTAH ST - Blake Anderson (7) vs. MEMPHIS - Ryan Silverfield (2); Edge - UTAH ST by 5

OLE MISS - Lane Kiffin (5) vs. TEXAS TECH - Joey McGuire (0); Edge - OLE MISS by 5

WASHINGTON - Kalen DeBoer (0) vs. TEXAS - Steve Sarkisian (4); Edge - TEXAS by 4

OHIO ST - Ryan Day (4) vs. GEORGIA - Kirby Smart (8); Edge - GEORGIA by 4

CONNECTICUT - Jim Mora Jr (5) vs. MARSHALL - Charles Huff (1); Edge - CONNECTICUT by 4

TOLEDO - Jason Candle (4) vs. LIBERTY - Josh Aldridge (0); Edge - TOLEDO by 4

WYOMING - Craig Bohl (4) vs. OHIO U - Tim Albin (0); Edge - WYOMING by 4

UTAH - Kyle Whittingham (14) vs. PENN ST - James Franklin (10); Edge - UTAH by 4

S ALABAMA - Kane Wommack (0) vs. W KENTUCKY - Tyson Helton (3); Edge - W KENTUCKY by 3

OKLAHOMA - Brent Venables (0) vs. FLORIDA ST - Mike Norvell (3); Edge - FLORIDA ST by 3

MIAMI OHIO - Chuck Martin (3) vs. UAB - Bryant Vincent (0); Edge - MIAMI OHIO by 3

FLORIDA - Billy Napier (4) vs. OREGON ST - Jonathan Smith (1); Edge - FLORIDA by 3

E MICHIGAN - Chris Creighton (4) vs. SAN JOSE ST - Brent Brennan (1); Edge - E MICHIGAN by 3

MIDDLE TENN ST - Rick Stockstill (9) vs. SAN DIEGO ST - Brady Hoke (6); Edge - MIDDLE TENN ST by 3

NEW MEXICO ST - Jerry Kill (3) vs. BOWLING GREEN - Scot Loeffler (0); Edge - NEW MEXICO ST by 3

MINNESOTA - P. J. Fleck (6) vs. SYRACUSE - Dino Babers (3); Edge - MINNESOTA by 3

TROY - Jon Sumrall (0) vs. TX-SAN ANTONIO - Jeff Traylor (2); Edge - TX-SAN ANTONIO by 2

KANSAS - Lance Leipold (3) vs. ARKANSAS - Sam Pittman (1); Edge - KANSAS by 2

PITTSBURGH - Pat Narduzzi (5) vs. UCLA - Chip Kelly (4); Edge - PITTSBURGH by 1

Digging further on the general experience difference, in bowl games since 2016 that have a difference of at least 10 bowl games coached between the opposing head coaches, the more experienced one is 33-17 SU and 34-15-1 ATS (69.48%). Looking at this year’s lineup, here are the games that qualify:

KANSAS ST - Chris Klieman (2) vs. ALABAMA - Nick Saban (29); Edge - ALABAMA by 27

NORTH CAROLINA - Mack Brown (23) vs. OREGON - Dan Lanning (0); Edge - NORTH CAROLINA by 23

OKLAHOMA ST - Mike Gundy (16) vs. WISCONSIN - Jim Leonard (0); Edge - OKLAHOMA ST by 16

CLEMSON - Dabo Swinney (17) vs. TENNESSEE - Josh Heupel (4); Edge - CLEMSON by 13

IOWA - Kirk Ferentz (18) vs. KENTUCKY - Mark Stoops (6); Edge - IOWA by 12

AIR FORCE - Troy Calhoun (11) vs. BAYLOR - Dave Aranda (1); Edge - AIR FORCE by 10

PURDUE - INTERIM (0) vs. LSU - Brian Kelly (13); Edge - LSU by 13 

First-time bowl game head coaches have struggled over the last seven seasons, going 23-45 SU and 23-44-1 ATS (34.3%) versus non-first-year coaches! These are the first-time head coaches in this year’s games:

NORTH CAROLINA - Mack Brown (23) vs. OREGON - Dan Lanning (0); Edge - NORTH CAROLINA by 23

OKLAHOMA ST - Mike Gundy (16) vs. WISCONSIN - Jim Leonard (0); Edge - OKLAHOMA ST by 16

HOUSTON - Dana Holgorsen (9) vs. LA LAFAYETTE - Michael Desormeaux (0); Edge - HOUSTON by 9

UCF - Gus Malzahn (8) vs. DUKE - Mike Elko (0); Edge - UCF by 8

PURDUE - INTERIM (0) vs. LSU - Brian Kelly (13); Edge - LSU by 13

BYU - Kalani Sitake (5) vs. SMU - Rhett Lashlee (0); Edge - BYU by 5

GA SOUTHERN - Clay Helton (5) vs. BUFFALO - Maurice Linguist (0); Edge - GA SOUTHERN by 5

OLE MISS - Lane Kiffin (5) vs. TEXAS TECH - Joey McGuire (0); Edge - OLE MISS by 5

TOLEDO - Jason Candle (4) vs. LIBERTY - Josh Aldridge (0); Edge - TOLEDO by 4 

WYOMING - Craig Bohl (4) vs. OHIO U - Tim Albin (0); Edge - WYOMING by 4

WASHINGTON - Kalen DeBoer (0) vs. TEXAS - Steve Sarkisian (4); Edge - TEXAS by 4

MIAMI OHIO - Chuck Martin (3) vs. UAB - Bryant Vincent (0); Edge - MIAMI OHIO by 3

NEW MEXICO ST - Jerry Kill (3) vs. BOWLING GREEN - Scot Loeffler (0); Edge - NEW MEXICO ST by 3

S ALABAMA - Kane Wommack (0) vs. W KENTUCKY - Tyson Helton (3); Edge - W KENTUCKY by 3

OKLAHOMA - Brent Venables (0) vs. FLORIDA ST - Mike Norvell (3); Edge - FLORIDA ST by 3

TROY - Jon Sumrall (0) vs. TX-SAN ANTONIO - Jeff Traylor (2); Edge - TX-SAN ANTONIO by 2

More on the rookie head coaches. When matched up against an opposing coach that has been in at least 10 bowl games, the rookie record over the last seven years slips to an abysmal 5-16 SU and 4-17 ATS (19%)! Obviously, these games will need to be considered solely by that angle:

NORTH CAROLINA - Mack Brown (23) vs. OREGON - Dan Lanning (0); Edge - NORTH CAROLINA by 23

OKLAHOMA ST - Mike Gundy (16) vs. WISCONSIN - Jim Leonard (0); Edge - OKLAHOMA ST by 16

PURDUE - INTERIM (0) vs. LSU - Brian Kelly (13); Edge - LSU by 13

Finally, it is in games that are expected to be tight that the coaching difference really stands out, as first-time bowl coaches are just 8-20 SU and 6-21-1 ATS (22.2%) over the last seven seasons in games with lines in the +4.5 to -4.5 range. These are the games that qualify on this powerful angle. Keep an eye on the line moves however for final qualification, as three games I cited last year eventually slipped out of the necessary line range:

OKLAHOMA ST - Mike Gundy (16) vs. WISCONSIN - Jim Leonard (0); Edge - OKLAHOMA ST by 16

HOUSTON - Dana Holgorsen (9) vs. LA LAFAYETTE - Michael Desormeaux (0); Edge - HOUSTON by 9

UCF - Gus Malzahn (8) vs. DUKE - Mike Elko (0); Edge - UCF by 8

BYU - Kalani Sitake (5) vs. SMU - Rhett Lashlee (0); Edge - BYU by 5

GA SOUTHERN - Clay Helton (5) vs. BUFFALO - Maurice Linguist (0); Edge - GA SOUTHERN by 5

OLE MISS - Lane Kiffin (5) vs. TEXAS TECH - Joey McGuire (0); Edge - OLE MISS by 5

TOLEDO - Jason Candle (4) vs. LIBERTY - Josh Aldridge (0); Edge - TOLEDO by 4

WYOMING - Craig Bohl (4) vs. OHIO U - Tim Albin (0); Edge - WYOMING by 4

WASHINGTON - Kalen DeBoer (0) vs. TEXAS - Steve Sarkisian (4); Edge - TEXAS by 4

NEW MEXICO ST - Jerry Kill (3) vs. BOWLING GREEN - Scot Loeffler (0); Edge - NEW MEXICO ST by 3

S ALABAMA - Kane Wommack (0) vs. W KENTUCKY - Tyson Helton (3); Edge - W KENTUCKY by 3

TROY - Jon Sumrall (0) vs. TX-SAN ANTONIO - Jeff Traylor (2); Edge - TX-SAN ANTONIO by 2

Having found these potent new angles, I feel the coaching analysis is close to complete. However, I’m sure there are readers out there who are going to want to know which coaches have fared best or worst in recent bowl games.

As usual, the coaches whose teams perform better in bowl games are much longer than those who don’t, otherwise they probably wouldn’t be coaching still. Here’s a quick bullet point list of the success stories:

-   Wyoming’s Craig Bohl has won three of four bowl games while going 4-0 ATS

-   Purdue’s Jeff Brohm is 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS with six OVER’s in bowl games, producing over 83 PPG on average

-   Troy Calhoun’s (Air Force) teams have gone 6-3 SU and 7-2 ATS in their last nine bowl games

-   Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) has a record of 12-6-1 ATS overall in bowl games

-   Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck has is on a three-game SU and ATS bowl winning streak, beating the point spread by at least six points each time

-   Mike Gundy (Oklahoma St) has a 5-1 SU and ATS current bowl game run at OSU

-   Nick Saban (Alabama) is 14-5 SU and 10-9 ATS since 2010 in bowl games

-   Kirby Smart (Georgia) has a 6-2 SU and ATS career bowl game mark

-   Dabo Swinney’s (Clemson) Tigers team is on an 11-3 SU and 10-4 ATS bowl game run

Now, the underperformers:

-   Mack Brown (North Carolina) owns just a 6-11 ATS record in bowl games since ‘00

-   Toledo’s Jason Candle is on a four-game SU and ATS bowl losing skid

-   Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) has five straight outright and ATS losses for Wolverines

-   Clay Helton (Georgia Southern) is 1-3 SU and 0-4 ATS in bowl games while at USC

-   Dana Holgorsen (Houston) snapped a brutal 1-6 SU and 0-7 ATS bowl slide with a win last year

-   Mike Leach (Mississippi St) is 5-7 SU and 2-10 ATS in his last 12 bowl games

-   Seth Littrell (North Texas) has five straight losses (1-4 ATS), allowing 44.6 PPG

-   Pat Narduzzi (Pittsburgh) has a record of 1-4 SU and ATS in five prior bowl games

While this might be understating the obvious, the coach factor is certainly one that has to be given consideration when wagering.

6)    Regional or Home-Field Advantage

In the bowl season, travel logistics can play a factor for teams and fans. It all affects how a game plays out. Over the course of the last 22 seasons, 33 bowl games have been played at one of the teams’ home fields. The host teams are 18-15 SU and ATS in those games. In 2022, for the third straight bowl season, no team will be playing on its home field.

The advantage that isn’t always as glaring, and therefore often overlooked, is a regional advantage. There are many examples of teams playing bowl games in their home state, perhaps less than three hours from their campus. The chances for that team to feel as if they are the home team by rallying their fans to the cause are much greater than the opponent, who, along with its fans, has to endure more rigorous travel to get to a bowl game.

There are many examples of the latter. Over the last three years, I have categorized 19 different games that had a significant regional field advantage. Those teams went 10-9 ATS, advancing the record of bowl teams with those types of edges on my ledger to 37-29 ATS (56.1%) in their last 66 games. While not as big of an edge as some factors I’ve already shared, and on perhaps a downward trend, that winning percentage makes it worthy of consideration alone.

You will find games like this on every year’s bowl card, as organizers do this to increase attendance figures and enhance the experience for the travelers. The trouble for oddsmakers is that this home field edge is difficult to quantify, and as a result, most bowl games not at a specific home field are treated as neutral games. Therefore, this is an easy spot for bettors to pick up at least a point or two of value on a line.

The list is about as long as usual for this year’s games, so here’s a look at the matchups that would qualify as regional or home-field advantage games on the 2022-23 bowl board:

-    North Texas (Regional) vs. Boise State in Frisco Bowl

-    Baylor (Regional) vs. Air Force in Armed Forces Bowl

-    LA Lafayette (Regional) vs. Houston in Independence Bowl

-    Syracuse (Regional) vs. Minnesota in Pinstripe Bowl

-    Texas (Regional) vs. Washington in Alamo Bowl

-    NC State (Regional) vs. Maryland in Duke’s Mayo Bowl

-    Georgia (Regional) vs. Ohio State in Peach Bowl

7)       Summary of Season

The new factor I added to the mix back in 2019 was called Summary of Season. Quite simply, it is analyzing whether a team under- or over-performed expectations for the season. Teams that have played better than expected are typically more galvanized than those that haven’t.  This has to be an obvious factor though. For instance, if Team A was picked third in its conference and finished second, that isn’t a truly obvious outperform situation. However, if a team was picked first and finished fourth, or picked last and reached a bowl game, those are more dramatic situations.

Here are some teams that did much better or worse than expected, or performed far differently from last season:

Better than expected (teams I cited last year were 6-5 ATS after 11-8-1 ATS in 2019 & 2020)

Troy had a preseason DK win prop of 6.5, finished 11-2 and Sun Belt champ

Oregon State went 9-3 on a DK win prop of 6.5, including 6-0 ATS streak to close season

Connecticut won just one game last season and rallied for 6-6 in 2022

South Alabama expected to finish under .500, but won their last five games to finish 10-2

New Mexico State rallied for a 5-1 SU and ATS finish and a .500 record after going 2-10 in ’21

Bowling Green earned their first bowl bid since ’15 with a 6-6 record and four upset wins as a dog of 6-points or more

Duke blew away the preseason win prop of three with 8-4 finish

Kansas qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2008 season despite a win prop of 2.5

Syracuse qualified for its first bowl game since ’18 by winning 7 games after an 11-24 record

Florida State had a DK win prop of 6.5, but won 9 games, their most since 2016

Washington improved by six wins over a year ago and finished 10-2

Ohio U finished 9-4 on a win prop of 5.5 and beat my preseason projection by 4.4 wins

Tennessee despite a disappointing finish, won 10 games and saw the  #1 ranking after DK projected 7.5 wins

Kansas State won their first Big 12 title since ’98. They were projected 7th in preseason

TCU had a DK win prop of 6.5 after a 5-7 finish in ’21 and went undefeated in regular season

Illinois is playing in their second bowl game in last eight seasons, as they contended for Big Ten West division crown

Tulane finished 11-2 and as AAC champion, their best season since an undefeated 12-0 in ‘98

Worse than expected (teams I cited last year were 2-4 ATS)

UAB was projected at the top of Conference USA after a four-year 35-15 SU run. They finished .500 in conference and overall

Florida went 5-6 after a season opening upset of Utah, including three losses as a favorite

Baylor expected to be a Big 12 title contender after their 12-2 record last year. They finished 6-6

LA Lafayette won their season finale to clinch bowl eligibility after three straight double-digit win seasons

Wisconsin expected to be a Big Ten West title contender, but finished with their worst regular season record since 2001

Oklahoma’s 6-6 record in Head Coach Brent Venables’ first season was their worst mark since ‘98

Digging further into the season analysis, there are some betting systems that I was able to uncover by looking at the seasonal records of teams headed into the bowl games.

System No. 1: Teams that won 0-3 games (25% or less) the prior season and qualified for a bowl game the next are 29-10-1 ATS (74.4%) over the last seven bowl seasons when matched against a team not in that situation.

Qualifying teams for 2022: Connecticut, Duke, Georgia Southern, Kansas, New Mexico State, Ohio U, Southern Miss, Tulane

System No. 2: Teams that improved by 6+ wins (or by 50%+) from the prior regular season are on a 13-6 ATS (68.4%) run in bowl games as underdogs

Qualifying teams for 2022: Tulane, TCU, Washington (Ohio U and Troy have very tight point spreads)

System No. 3: Teams that finished .500 by winning their final regular game to qualify for a bowl game against are on a 22-12 ATS surge (64.7%) as underdogs to +.500 opponents

Qualifying teams for 2022: Missouri

Regarding teams’ ATS records on the season, it seems that bettors do not want to put too much focus into a team’s success that season. It is actually a better fade factor, as teams with worse ATS records have actually proven to be better wagers, going about 52.5% in bowl games since ’92. Going even further…

System No. 4: Teams that are 25%+ worse against the spread on the season are 38-25 ATS (60.3%) over the last nine seasons in bowl games

Qualifying teams for 2022: Cincinnati, Marshall, Houston, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Alabama

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