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Don't get tricked with early bowls

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

Games you wouldn’t have watched (or bet) during the regular season launch the 2019-20 college football bowl bonanza Friday and Saturday.


Are you really going to bet Buffalo-Charlotte in the Bahamas Bowl (2 p.m. Friday, ESPN) just so you can say you played every game? While it’s fun to dream of cashing winner after winner through the bowl slate, the reality is that recreational bettors are likely to:


— Juice out (lose the vig with a 50-50 record) or drop serious money in these early bowl games because they don’t know much about minor conferences from distant parts of the country.


— Recklessly chase losses figuring they’re too smart to keep picking losers.


— Throw away bankroll that would have been better spent on more confident opinions in higher-profile matchups after Christmas. 


Why make glorified guesses on four-hour tourism ads for Albuquerque or Montgomery?


One way to bet smart in the bowls is to pass the first two days unless you can truly justify a strong opinion because of informed research. Instead, use that time to scout conferences. Teams from leagues showcased Friday and Saturday also dot the later schedule. What you learn about the Mid-American Conference or the Sun Belt this weekend might help you spot meaningful edges down the road. 


One caveat: Try not to judge a conference by its best team. Appalachian State is terrific this season. The Mountaineers are 16-point favorites in their bowl game. That doesn’t mean the whole Sun Belt rocks. Look for clusters of teams ranked similarly by respected sources, and see how those clusters do early.


With that in mind, let’s look at Friday and Saturday participants as ranked by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today (pre-bowl rankings in parentheses): 


— Conference USA: Florida Atlantic (54), UAB (107), Charlotte (117), Florida International (118).


— Sun Belt: Appalachian State (28), Georgia Southern (83), Arkansas State (92).


— Mountain West: Boise State (25), San Diego State (61), Utah State (71).


— Mid-American: Buffalo (81), Central Michigan (97), Kent State (105).


— American Athletic: SMU (34).


— Pac-12: Washington (19).


Independent Liberty (119) is also in action. You can think of the Flames as a Sun Belt-type team. 


Washington is the only program from a Power 5 conference on the pre-Christmas schedule. However, the Pac-12 has been so bad the last few years it might be a minor conference for bowl purposes. The Pac-12 went 2-5 against the spread last postseason, 2-7 ATS in 2017-18 and 0-6 ATS in 2016-17. That’s a combined 4-18 ATS.


As you log results and box scores — paying particular attention to execution stats like yards per play, third-down conversions and turnovers — see if you can find strengths or weaknesses that aren’t being captured in market prices. 


Your best five or 10 bowl opinions will likely outperform your next 20 to 25 leans. Invest accordingly.

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