College Bowl Games: Five Bowl Game Betting Angles to Consider

Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma are big underdogs to LSU. We cover that and other bowl game betting angles.

Jalen Hurts wants to remind you that big underdogs have made a big splash in bowl season (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

College Bowl Season is here, along with the excitement and bragging rights that goes with it. It’s also an opportunity for those that like to participate in bowl pools or just have a little skin in the game when there is a game on the television. Today, we are going to focus on some interesting bowl game betting angles to consider as you look at matchups.

We’ll note that some trends have smaller sample sizes, given the nature of looking at around 40 games per year, so you can judge what you think is relevant versus what you think is not. If you want to look through all the bowl results, you can do your own research with our custom trends tool.

You can see all the 2019-2020 bowl game odds here, including point spreads, money lines, and point totals.

Now to the bowl game betting angles. (All of these are for bowl games played through the 2018-2019 season and do not include any games from this bowl season).

Big Bowl Upsets

Bowl games have a reputation for being unpredictable. Motivations for playing in a game can vary, players can be suspended or sit out the game, and some teams are just more excited to be there.

Does the data support that bowl games have some big upsets? Well, in the games with the biggest point spreads, and longest money line odds for the underdog, the answer is yes.

Two of the four largest underdogs since 2008 have won outright (Oklahoma +613 vs. Alabama, and Texas Tech +644 vs. Arizona State, both in 2013). If you had wagered an equal amount on every bowl game underdog with a money line of +300 or more, you would be up +22.8 units since 2008. Those results come from just 17 wins by big underdogs across 65 games in 11 years.

This is a strategy, though, that will result in a lot of smaller losses in exchange for a few big hits. As the past results show, the favorites have won these games nearly 75% of the time.

Here is every game with a money line of +300 or more in a bowl game from 2008 to 2018:

YearBowl GameUnderdogFavoriteSpreadO/U TotalMoney LineResult ATS Result
2014New MexicoTX El PasoUtah State1045302LossNo Cover
2018LibertyOklahoma StMissouri1071.5302WinCover
2008Capital OneMichigan StGeorgia957305LossNo Cover
2011TexasNorthwesternTexas A&M9.569305LossNo Cover
2011PoinsettiaLA TechTX Christian1055.5305LossCover
2016HolidayMinnesotaWash State8.561308WinCover
2015OutbackNorthwesternTennessee9.548.5308LossNo Cover
2014Music CityNotre DameLSU8.550.5310WinCover
2017OutbackS CarolinaMichigan941.5310WinCover
2016MilitaryWake ForestTemple10.541.5310WinCover
2012BCS ChampionshipNotre DameAlabama1039.5311LossNo Cover
2010New MexicoTX El PasoBYU10.551314LossNo Cover
2017CottonUSCOhio State1065321LossNo Cover
2016BirminghamS CarolinaS Florida1058321LossCover
2012Capital OneNebraskaGeorgia9.562322LossNo Cover
2009New MexicoWyomingFresno St1054.5326WinCover
2012Famous Idaho PotatoToledoUtah State1059.5330LossNo Cover
2008St. PetersburgMemphisS Florida10.557330LossNo Cover
2018CottonNotre DameClemson10.558330LossNo Cover
2016New MexicoTX-San AntNew Mexico954336LossCover
2016Music CityNebraskaTennessee9.559336LossNo Cover
2015CottonMichigan StAlabama1045.5336LossNo Cover
2013BCS ChampionshipAuburnFlorida St11.567336LossCover
2008SugarUtahAlabama9.545340WinCover
2008EmeraldMiami (FL)California1050.5340LossCover
2016Heart of DallasNorth TexasArmy10.547340LossCover
2009SunStanfordOklahoma1053.5346LossCover
2018Famous Idaho PotatoW MichiganBYU1052346LossNo Cover
2008RosePenn StateUSC1044.5355LossNo Cover
2010HolidayWashingtonNebraska11.554.5358WinCover
2009HawaiiS MethodistNevada10.569.5361WinCover
2017PeachCentral FLAuburn10.566367WinCover
2009SugarCincinnatiFlorida1259.5377LossNo Cover
2012Fight HungerNavyArizona St1354.5385LossNo Cover
2017IndependenceS MississippiFlorida St1348.5393LossNo Cover
2016PeachWashingtonAlabama12.550.5396LossNo Cover
2012TexasMinnesotaTexas Tech1355400LossCover
2013Chick-Fil-A DukeTexas A&M13.575.5403LossCover
2015LibertyKansas StArkansas13.556.5418LossNo Cover
2015IndependenceTulsaVA Tech1462422LossCover
2012HawaiiS MethodistFresno St1362.5423WinCover
2011InsightIowaOklahoma13.558431LossNo Cover
2011Maaco Las VegasArizona StBoise State1465439LossNo Cover
2016St. PetersburgMiami (OH)Miss State14.557.5439LossCover
2008AlamoNorthwesternMissouri1466445LossCover
2018SugarTexasGeorgia12.559.5450WinCover
2012SugarLouisvilleFlorida1447454WinCover
2014Foster FarmsMarylandStanford1444.5457LossNo Cover
2012OrangeN IllinoisFlorida St14.558461LossNo Cover
2016Miami BeachCentral MichTulsa1367.5464LossNo Cover
2013Beef'O'Brady'sOhioE Carolina14.563471LossNo Cover
2013AlamoTexasOregon14.567481LossNo Cover
2016Famous Idaho PotatoIdahoColorado St1664.5481WinCover
2013PinstripeRutgersNotre Dame14.553519LossCover
2016ArizonaS AlabamaAir Force14.554519LossNo Cover
2013FiestaCentral FLBaylor1774519WinCover
2018OrangeOklahomaAlabama14.580.5526LossCover
2010FiestaConnecticutOklahoma14.553.5548LossNo Cover
2010Maaco Las VegasUtahBoise State15.557562LossNo Cover
2013SugarOklahomaAlabama1751.5613WinCover
2013HolidayTexas TechArizona St1772644WinCover
2012Heart of DallasPurdueOklahoma St1868671LossNo Cover
2017Boca RatonAkronFla Atlantic23651211LossNo Cover

Goodbye, Coach

Is there any disadvantage when a coach leaves a program (either by taking a new job or getting fired) before a bowl game is played? The evidence suggests that there is no such systematic disadvantage. Or at least, to the extent it exists, it is accounted for in the point spread.

Going back over the last decade, there have been 46 times prior to this season that a coach left a program and the school had a different head coach for a bowl game than they had all season. The teams playing with a different head coach are 26-20 straight up, and 25-20-1 against the spread.

That’s not enough for us to say that you should actively play on a team with a new coach. It does suggest, though, that you should not freak out too much and lean against a team because they have a different coach. Every case is different.

Bad Bowl Game Rebounds

Bowl games feature blowouts, upsets, and some crazy results. But what happens a year later in a bowl game after a team was on the receiving end of a beat down or suffered a humiliating upset as a big favorite?

Since 2008, there have been 70 teams who have (1) lost a bowl game and failed to cover the spread by at least 17 points, and (2) returned to a bowl game the following season.

After removing the six matchups between two teams that both qualified, we are left with 58 teams. Those teams are 33-25 against the spread (56.9%) over that span. The rationale behind such an effect is that the players (and coaches) remember how the most recent bowl game went, and a team that suffered some humiliation may be more motivated in their bowl preparation a year later.

Over the last three years, such teams are on a scorching hot 18-4 run against the spread. (Of course, that means that before the last three years, these teams had a losing record against the spread, so the evidence that this trend is meaningful is not clear).

Underdogs who struggled the previous year perform better than favorites have. (Though we will note the sample sizes become even smaller). Underdogs who meet the criteria are 18-10 straight up and 18-9-1 against the spread since 2008. If you had wagered the money line on all underdogs who failed to cover the spread in the previous year’s bowl game by at least 17 points, you would be up +24.8 units in 28 games since 2008.

Underdogs this bowl season who failed to cover last year’s bowl game by at least 17 points include:

  • Western Michigan, +3.5 vs. Western Kentucky (Lost to BYU 49-18 in 2018 as 10-point dog)
  • Michigan, +7 vs. Alabama (Lost to Florida 15-41 in 2018 as 4-point favorite)
  • Temple, +4.5 vs. North Carolina (Lost to Duke 27-56 in 2018 as 3-point favorite)

Cold Weather Bowl Games are for the Dogs (and Overs)

Traditionally, college bowl games were played in warmer weather venues (compared to the rest of the country in winter). With the expansion of bowl games, though, we have seen a greater variety of locations start to host games. There is now a bowl game in Boise, Idaho and in New York City, for example.

Using data from Weather Spark, we pulled the average daily high temperature on January 1st in each of the bowl host cities. (Bowl games played in a dome were denoted as such as well). Then, we compared the spread and over/under results since 2008 based on the typical climate in the host cities in bowl season.

 SU  ATS   TOTAL   
TEMPERATUREWLWIN PCTWLTWIN PCTOUNOVER PCT
50 degrees and under36280.563263710.414412300.641
51 to 60 degrees72320.692525020.510515030.505
61 to 70 degrees42260.618323600.471264200.382
71 degrees and above52310.627443810.536374510.452
Dome Games46350.568384120.481384300.469
OVERALL2481520.62019220260.48819320340.488

The cold weather venues (those with an average January 1st daily high of 50 degrees or lower) have resulted in more underdog covers and point totals going over the number compared to other bowl games. Underdogs have covered in 58.6% of the bowl games since 2008 at a colder venue. The point total has gone “over” in 64.1% of such games.

The coldest venues currently hosting a bowl game are:

  • Boise, Idaho (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl), 36 degrees
  • Bronx, New York (Pinstripe Bowl), 41 degrees
  • Annapolis, Maryland (Military Bowl), 45 degrees
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico (New Mexico Bowl), 47 degrees
  • Nashville, Tennessee (Music City Bowl), 49 degrees
  • Memphis, Tennessee (Liberty Bowl), 50 degrees

Only four bowl games have featured at least 8 “Overs” in the last 11 years. Three of those bowl games with the highest “over” rates since 2008 are among the four coldest venues for bowl games, and two of them are the only bowl games played at high elevation. (The other is the New Orleans Bowl, which has gone over in 8 of the last 11 bowl games).

In games played at average temperatures above 60 degrees, meanwhile, the games have gone “under” the total 57.9% of the time since 2008. That includes every outdoor game played in Florida, Arizona, and Southern California, as well as the Hawaii and Bahamas Bowl.

Home Cooking?

If we count teams as playing at home if they are in the same metropolitan area as the bowl game (even if not played at the venue they play the majority of their true home games in the regular season), then teams that get to stay at home are 12-13 straight up and 12-13 against the spread since 2008.

That is to say, it seems as though the betting market properly prices the impact of teams in these situations.

Expand out, though, and there is some evidence that teams with a regional proximity edge can provide value.

We divided every bowl team since 2008 into four categories:

  • (1) playing in home metro area,
  • (2) playing in home state,
  • (3) playing in a state that neighbors their own home state, and
  • (4) all others.

Teams that get to play in their home state, when playing against an opponent who is not from the same state or a neighboring state, are 52-37 straight up, and 46-41-1 ATS (52.8%).

Teams that get to play in a neighboring state, playing against an opponent not from that state or a neighboring state, are 56-39 straight up, and 50-44-1 ATS (53.2%).

Both of those situations are just above the 52.4% cutline for profitability (if we assume 10% vigorish). But let’s isolate it to underdogs who get to play near home, against opponents coming from further away.

Underdogs who are from the same state or a neighboring state to where the bowl game is played, when playing favorites who do not meet that criteria, are 32-34 straight up, and 38-26-2 ATS (59.1%). Despite being the betting underdogs, they have won nearly as many games as they have lost since 2008.