What volatile early bowls can teach you

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN.com) 

‘Twas the day before Christmas … and there’s almost nothing to bet.

The NBA is off. The NHL is off. College basketball is off. The NFL returns Sunday. Only BYU vs. Hawaii on the islands is on Tuesday’s college football bowl slate. You might not have watched either team play a single time all season. 

This paucity of possibilities at least gives handicappers a chance to review bowl fundamentals based on games that have already been played. 

VSiN begins by directing you to Appalachian State’s 31-17 win as a 14-point favorite over UAB on Saturday night. Why that game? It was the only bowl result of the first two days that landed within a touchdown of the point spread. Every other result missed the market by at least nine points. 

Margins from high to low in the first eight bowls: San Diego State covered by 33 over Central Michigan, Florida Atlantic covered by 31 over SMU, Washington covered by 27.5 over Boise State, Kent State covered by 17 over Utah State, Buffalo covered by 15 over Charlotte, Liberty covered by 11.5 over Georgia Southern and Arkansas State covered by 9 over Florida International.

Lessons for bettors:

— Bowls are volatile. The divergence in skill sets and motivation in unique environments often leads to one-sided results. This is particularly true in minor bowls. But it’s also a factor in later marquee matchups whenever a major-conference entry is disappointed with its bid. Plan for it; don’t be surprised by it. 

— That volatility means it’s crazy to bet teasers. You’ll rarely pick up meaningful value buying those six, seven or 10 points. Also, if you like the underdog, you should consider putting some of your investment on the money line. But if you like the favorite, it’s usually not a good idea to pursue the safer approach of just asking them to win the game. Hopefully you or your friends didn’t get caught saying “there’s no way SMU is going to lose to Florida Atlantic” on Saturday. Betting is about probabilities, not certainties.  

— It’s important to review how bowl entries performed during the regular season when playing from behind. Any team with shaky quarterback play is likely to implode in such scenarios. Underdogs with passers who can rally after a bad half are much smarter bets.

— It’s true that after-the-fact won-lost records for bowl teams with the most rushing yards are often loaded (6-1-1 out of the gate). Leading teams run clock  on the ground, while trailing teams get very pass-heavy. Still, studying skill sets involving the point of attack is important for anticipating which teams are most likely to control their own destiny. You’re much more likely to write the script of a bowl game in advance when you find meaningful advantages in rush defense.

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