Welcome to college football bowl betting season.
If you are inclined to bet on college football bowls, here is what you should know about handicapping college football bowls.
Betting against the public, also known as going contrarian, is a smart long-term strategy for a number of reasons.
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First and foremost, the public usually loses. Casual bettors wager based on gut instinct and bias and largely ignore analytics and hard data. Average Joes bet with their hearts, not their heads, and focus almost exclusively on favorites, home teams, teams with better records than their opponents and teams with star players. The oddsmakers know this and will set lines with public bias in mind, shading numbers further toward the popular side. As a result, savvy contrarian bettors brave enough to back the unpopular side can extract additional value by taking advantage of artificially inflated or mispriced lines. Also, when the public loses, the house wins. And we all know the house always wins.
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 have a track record of success, bet large amounts, have decades of experience and have the respect of the sportsbooks.
However, contrarian value skyrockets at certain times of year. The first is March Madness. The second is bowl season.
Bowl games are a fantastic time to bet against the public because every single game is extremely heavily bet and flooded with recreational money. Many Average Joes might not bet college football all season but will place a wager or two just to join in on the bowl game fun. As a result, the market is softer than usual and easier to exploit.
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Another factor is the schedule itself. Bowl game lines are released weeks in advance, which provides extra time for the bets to build and build. Plus, many of these games are one-offs, with only one or two per day. Each one is nationally televised and most are in prime time, ensuring a massive public audience.
The stats don’t lie.
According to Bet Labs Sports, bowl teams receiving less than half of the betting tickets have gone 263-224 ATS (54%, plus 24.12 units) since 2005. Teams receiving 40% or less of the tickets have gone 158-107 ATS (59.6%, plus 42.25 units).
The sweet spot is bowl game dogs with a spread of plus 3.5 to plus 10. These teams have gone 153-122 ATS (55.6%, plus 22.02 units). You have to remember, the public is biased toward betting favorites. And all of these games will be played at neutral sites, which levels the playing field toward the dogs. If bowl game dogs plus 3.5 to plus 10 are getting 40% or less of tickets, they improve to 97-51 ATS (65.5%, plus 40.51 units).
Bowl season is also a great time to take advantage of inflated lines. This means the public hammers a favorite and moves the number further toward the favorite, providing extra points for the underdog.
For example, all bowl game dogs regardless of the spread have gone 262-234 ATS (52.8%, plus 14.09 units) since 2005. If the line stays the same or moves toward the dog (think plus 7 to plus 6.5), dogs are 125-136 ATS (47.9%, -16.94 units). However, if the line stays the same or moves away from the dog, giving the dog extra points (think plus 7 to plus 7.5 or plus 7 to plus 8), dogs are 161-132 ATS (54.9%, plus 19.95 units).
This bowl season is especially interesting because sports betting is being legalized all across the country. Last week Michigan became the 20th state to legalize it. As a result, casual bettors are entering the market more than ever, with many betting bowl games for the first time. Over the last three seasons, with more bettors entering the legal market and pounding favorites, bowl game dogs have gone 70-50 ATS (58.3%, plus 15.91 units).
If you identify a strong edge on a bowl dog, it’s also not a bad idea to consider betting the team to win straight up on the money line instead of the spread. Since 2005, bowl dogs on the money line have gone 189-313 (only a 37.6% win rate) but have won plus 43.38 units due to the plus money payouts. On the flip side, bowl favorites have lost -23.81 units due to laying the minus favorite number. The sweet spot is money-lining bowl dogs between plus 4 and plus 7 on the spread. They have gone 62-93 (40%), winning plus 30.17 units.
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 game the previous year, the dog has gone 74-53 ATS (58.3%), winning plus 17.09 units.
You can also take advantage of public bias by buying low on unranked bowl dogs vs. ranked favorites. The public falls in love with rankings and will almost always side with the higher-ranked team, which leads to overvaluing the ranked favorite. Unranked bowl dogs vs. ranked favorites have gone 43-33 ATS (56.6%) since 2005.
One important note to remember during bowl season: The books keep the limits low for the first couple of weeks 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. The big wise guys, known as whales, don’t get down until 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.
Also, one of the oldest phrases in betting is "bet favorites early and dogs late." Generally, the public will bet the favorite and move the number further 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 due to an influx of public action, it’s a good idea to wait until the bitter end to place your dog bet so you can get the number at its highest, most valuable point.