College Football Betting: Bowl Season Strategies



The college football season is over, but with the bowl games having ended four weeks ago, there is a lot of information to process. Get some perspective on how to handle the next bowl season in December of 2019.

Fade Ranked Teams

A lot of fans who bet on bowl games will look at a matchup and see that one team is ranked in the top 25 while another is not. This is not a universally true point, but in most cases, a casual bettor will see the ranked team and think that team is a much better play against the unranked team. That is often a shortsighted move, so fading the ranked team often becomes the wise play which can not only win a game but also separate you from the crowd.

Recent stats show that betting against ranked teams has been very close to even (50 percent) against the spread since the 2005 bowl season. From this past bowl season, three unranked teams won outright against ranked opponents in bowl games: Northwestern beat Utah in the Holiday Bowl. Oklahoma State beat Missouri in the Liberty Bowl. Iowa beat Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl. All told, unranked teams went 3-3 both outright and against the spread versus ranked teams, fitting the 50-percent pattern described above.

Bad ATS Teams Are Good Bets

The flow of the regular season often comes to a halt in bowl games, which are different games played in neutral sites against unfamiliar opponents after a multi-week layoff which robs a hot regular-season team of momentum and gives a struggling regular-season team a chance for a fresh start. Teams which have covered the spread in 70 percent or more of their regular season games have gone under .500 in over 120 of the most recent postseason games.

Flip the script, and the bad ATS teams from the regular season often bounce back during the bowl games. Since 2005, these “bad ATS teams” – which can generally be viewed as teams which did not cover ATS more than 50 percent of the time during the regular season – have been above .500 when facing opponents which did cover over 50 percent of the time in the regular season.

In this past bowl season, Wake Forest – 4-8 ATS during the regular season – beat Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. TCU, also 4-8 ATS during the regular season, beat Cal in the Cheez-It Bowl. Memphis was 8-5 ATS during the regular season. Cal was 6-5-1 ATS during the regular season.

Pick The Unpopular Underdog

This fits into some of the principles outlined above. The public and so many of the casual sports bettors are going to flow to the popular choices, whether due to a top-25 ranking or regular-season ATS track records. Casual fans like to bet on the favorite. The favorites have received over two-thirds of spread-based betting tickets since 2005. Oddsmakers realize this kind of trend and adjust their lines accordingly.

Underdogs have a winning record against the spread in bowl games since 2005. Underdogs getting under 50 percent of public bets can be viewed, in broad historical terms, as sensible plays in bowl games.

Minnesota beat Georgia Tech outright this past bowl season. Michigan State covered against Oregon. Iowa won outright versus Mississippi State. Kentucky won outright versus Penn State. Texas won outright as an 11-point dog against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.