There are at least two weeks between the last significant college football games of the regular season and the first bowl games. Time to think is often the enemy of handicappers – the more time they have, the more they will think about things that could be significant, and the better the chance that they will wind up confusing themselves. This time allows devoted college football handicappers to look at every possible aspect of bowl matchups. They will inevitably start seeing ghosts in the shadows – giving things more credit than they deserve. Here are, in my eyes, four of the most overrated aspects of bowl handicapping – the things that always seem to be more attractive than they really are. Understand them and use them in your college football handicapping.
Past meetings between teams – In all but the most rare of circumstances college football teams that are meeting in bowl games haven’t met previously during the year. In a lot of cases they haven’t played each other for many years – if at all. Because college football changes so much and so quickly, a gap of even a year between games means that there will be different players in key positions, and likely different coaches coordinating some parts of the teams. If the gap between games is longer than a year then the differences are even more pronounced. In short, the football game that is about to be played bears little resemblance to past games that have been played – other than the names on the jerseys. It can be really alluring when you see that one team has beaten another seven times in a row. If we were talking about hockey then I would be all over that. In bowls, though, I couldn’t really care less. All it really tells you is that one team is historically stringer than the other. If the rest of your football handicapping can’t tell you if they are stronger or weaker now then you have a problem – regardless of what history says.
Team’s performances in past bowl games – Just like I don’t care about matchups and what has happened in the past, I really don’t care about what teams have done in the past in bowl games. Chances are that the coaching staff has changed, and the roster has certainly changed since the last bowl game was played. On top of that, virtually every other aspect of the games has changed from the past as well – timing, location, opponent, style of play of that opponent, and so on. Getting too excited by the fact that a football team has won nine straight bowl games can be very deceptive, and it can lead you to make decisions you shouldn’t be making. Those wins tell you that they have been well prepared in the past, and that they have matched up well with past opponents. It tells you absolutely nothing about their current preparation or the way they match up now.
Coach record in bowl games – This is just as meaningless as the last point. If you think about it for a second you can think of countless situations where a ‘genius’ coach doesn’t look so much like a genius anymore when his talent levels takes a dip. A coach could have a strong bowl record because he is masterful at preparing for bowls, or he could have one because he has had better talent than his opponents and has had good luck in the opponents he has to face. You can figure out which one is the case by looking closely at those games, but your time is much better spent by just looking at the current game – how the team’s match up in terms of talent, and so on.
Injuries – Injuries are obviously always a factor in football, and they are to a degree in bowl games as well. The problem, though, is that it can be easy to overstate the impact of those injuries in bowl games. During the regular season you can gain a big advantage in games by getting a good sense of the players who are playing at less than one hundred percent. The walking wounded can’t contribute at full strength, and that can mean that the team isn’t as strong as the betting public assumes they are. Looking for these same situations in bowl games, though, can be dangerous. Leading up to bowl games football players have had a lot of time to get healthy, to get therapy, and to find ways to deal with any lingering injuries more effectively. I’m not suggesting that every player who plays in a bowl game is totally healthy. The problem, though, is that college football handicappers basically have to guess how much an injury is going to be a factor because you don’t have anything reliable to base it on – like recent games. Guessing doesn’t have a real place in winning sports betting.