We looked earlier at overrated factors in bowl handicapping – things the public just gives too much credit to. These include things like the past record of football coaches in bowls, the team’s record in bowl games, past meetings between teams, and lingering injuries. Since we looked on that side it only makes sense to look at the other – the underrated factors that don’t get enough attention from most bettors who get swept up in bowl fever. For college football handicappers, here are four of those factors:
Defensive line strength – There is no single factor that can allow a football team dominate another than defensive line strength. When a team on the gridiron has a strong defensive line they can disrupt both the passing and running games of their opponent, and they have a good chance of coming out on top if they are particularly good. When a defensive coordinator and his staff have several weeks to prepare for a game they are often able to scheme in ways that make an already strong defensive line even more effective. An offense also has a chance to scheme and get creative, but a good defensive line can have an edge over most offenses given time. Looking at statistics like negative pass play percentages, defensive yards per attempt, or third down percentage will give you a good sense of how effective the defensive line has been. Looking at how well the offense has done against similar defensive lines earlier in the season can give the college football bettor some insight into how they might respond in this case.
Comparative strength at quarterback – People spend a lot of time looking at how quarterbacks and their offenses match up with the opposing defenses, but they don’t spend nearly as much time looking at how the two quarterbacks compare to each other. It seems overly simplistic, but it proves helpful in bowl handicapping more often than you would guess – the team with the better quarterback has a big edge in the game. If a quarterback is clearly better to begin with and they have a lot of time to prepare for their opponent then they are going to be in good position. The simplest way to get a good measure of the comparative quality of teams is to look at yards per attempt. A YPA of better than seven is the indicator of a pretty good quality quarterback. It also generally means that the offense has some balance – a quarterback often can’t average big passing numbers if the opposition doesn’t have to be afraid of the running threat. If the gap between the YPA numbers for the two opposing quarterback is greater than two then there is a quarterbacking mismatch that could be hard for the lesser team to overcome. If the QB with the better YPA has been relatively consistent from game to game – not having a good performance followed by a bad one regularly – then the advantage is even more pronounced.
Special teams – College teams have had as much as a month off before their bowl game, and for much of that they haven’t been practicing. That means that football teams are inevitably going to be rusty. Rust often leads to sloppiness, and that’s often evident on special teams as much as anywhere. People rarely look at special teams when they are handicapping a game, but that forgotten unit can play a major role in the outcome of bowl games. The team with the edge in a bowl game can often be as simple as the one that is significantly better at special teams. If a football team is typically sloppy on special teams regularly then there is a good chance that they will be particularly sloppy in their bowl game and and knowing can help you make a winning football pick.
Conference performance in bowls – Teams play the majority of their games against football teams in their conferences, and those games are typically the most recent that teams have played. It only makes sense, then, that you can learn a lot about a team by looking at the other teams in that conference. This obviously isn’t helpful if a team is playing an early bowl, but if a game falls later in the schedule then you can get a good sense of the strength of both teams by the performance of the rest of the conference. If, for example, a team comes from a smaller conference that has done well in the bowls so far then they could be ready to shine here. On the other hand, if a BCS conference has struggled badly so far in the bowl season then it is quite possible that the struggles will continue with this team. This isn’t a fail-proof indicator for college football handicappers because there are so many factors involved, but it can be a powerful starting point.