Each year, around the holiday season, gamblers are blessed with another sacred time of year: bowl season.
From the matchups between college football’s best to games in empty stadiums among teams you’ve never heard of, it seems like the number of games just keeps growing each season. While this might not mean much for determining superiority in the college ranks, more games means more opportunities to bet and win.
Unfortunately, many bettors don’t know what to make of the wide range of games leading up to the main event. In this article, I’ll lay out four things to consider before betting on “small” bowl games.
1 – Who Wants It More?
Who doesn’t love a good sports cliché every once in a while? Even though I’m of the firm belief that “wanting it more” isn’t enough to carry a team through a season, it actually does play a major factor in a team’s bowl performance when there’s nothing else on the line.
Come season’s end, not every team is thrilled about having to add one more game to the schedule, especially if it’s coming at the end of a mediocre season where the final record sits at 6-6 or 7-5. It truly begs the question: Has the bar for what qualifies as a postseason team really been set this low? The answer is yes.
When it comes to bowl season, there are some teams simply see the game as another way they’re being taken advantage of by financial interests of the sport. Others, perhaps a much higher percentage, just can’t get up for a game that has no fans, no relevance publicly, and could potentially pose an injury risk for players who have been banged up in the late weeks of the season.
Now, I don’t want to make too big of a deal when it comes to the evaluating a team’s motivation to win. As common as it may be for teams to mail in the bowl game, the majority of teams do try to finish the season on a winning note.
Being able to make the distinction between which teams – for lack of a better word — care and which teams don’t is a crucial part of betting on football during bowl season.
Unfortunately, there’s no real formula to knowing a team’s motivation level. But there definitely can be some signs.
One example of a team that might be giving less than 100% effort is a Power 5 conference team that ends up in an obscure bowl after a rough season. Often times, the players on these teams are presumably high recruits, and thus, some typically have a chance at making the NFL. Over the past several years, it hasn’t been uncommon to see a team’s best few players sitting out to avoid injury.
The bottom line is that judging how much a team cares about a particular game is both an art and a science. In all cases, be sure to do your research beforehand and see if you can find any useful information that would suggest one of the teams isn’t going to be putting the best version of themselves on the field.
2 – Where Is the Game Being Played?
I know that the idea of game location playing a major role in the outcome isn’t as trendy as it used to be, but in some cases, it should definitely be considered.
Bowl games are often played in locations that teams wouldn’t typically be familiar with. In many cases, the games require long-distance travel, which can be significant if multiple time zones are crossed and teams don’t have enough time to adjust.
While some teams have to travel across the country to play their bowl games, others have the luxury of getting scheduled to play right in their own backyard. Many college teams, whether by luck of the draw or for some other reason, end up playing a game at a “neutral” site, but in reality, it’s within an hour or so from campus.
If a team is playing close to home, you should expect this to have an impact—even if it’s a minor one—in terms of their motivation. When it’s not an inconvenience to travel to an otherwise-meaningless bowl game, fans will show up to support their team. This can be the push some programs need to give their best effort in a game that they might not even want to be playing.
The bottom line is that because bowl games don’t follow the traditional “home and away” model, you need to make sure you’re checking a game’s location before you place your bet. The more information you’re able to gather, the better. And knowing where a game is being played doesn’t require too much work.
3 – The Forecast
Bowl season takes place at a time when much of the country is experiencing the first round of real winter weather. When the forecast calls for snow, all the experienced bettors know—bet totals!
Often referred to as the over/under, betting on totals is a great way to capitalize on a game where you don’t feel comfortable putting your money behind either of the teams playing in the game.
It’s a great option when you have a feel for how the game might play out in terms of pace and scoring, but don’t know which team is going to be doing the scoring.
You might be thinking that even if you check the forecast and see that the game is going to be played in a snowstorm, the sportsbooks will have already accounted for this in the total number. You’d be right in that it probably will have shifted, but the uninformed bettors playing the over will keep the number high enough that it could still be a wise play to take the under.
In any case, just as with the game’s location, you should get all the readily-available information before putting any action on the matchup. Besides, if you bet the over and flip on the game only to see it’s being played in a snowstorm or a monsoon, you’re going to be kicking yourself for not being better prepared.
4 – Is the Moneyline in Play?
In my opinion, the most underutilized tool in a bettor’s toolbox is the moneyline underdog. While I certainly understand the added risk that you’re accepting by not taking any points, you’re also giving yourself a shot at a much more rewarding payout.
Consider it this way: If you have a team that’s coming into a game as a 3-point (or less) underdog, the low spread number alone should tell you that the outcome of the game could go either way. In most cases, you’ll be looking at -110 odds on the spread. However, if you went with a moneyline bet on a team that’s coming into the game as a three point underdog, you’ll be looking at +115 on the low end and could potentially find the number around +130.
So, is the improved payout worth the risk of losing the points? I think it is. Here’s why.
The only scenario in which the points you’re paying for will come into play is a game where the team you bet on loses by 3 or fewer points. Essentially, if you bet on the spread instead of the moneyline, you’re saying that you think the game will be decided by this small margin.
Now, I acknowledge that it’s not that uncommon for games to be decided by one or two points, but I don’t believe it happens enough to justify taking the points over the improved odds on the moneyline. When it comes down to it, the extra money you win by taking the moneyline will, over time, cover your losses from the games when the three points would come into play.
It’s not hyperbole to say that gambling is the only thing that makes watching small college football bowls watchable. Not only that, but it could make them profitable if you know what you’re doing.
Before placing any bet on this type of game, use this list as a guide during the decision-making process and see if it can help you end the college football season strong.