5 Betting Trends You Need to Know This College Bowl Season
The shortest regular season in major American sports goes by in a blink — one second it’s kickoff weekend, the next conference championship games are on deck. Soon enough we’ll have College Football Playoff selections and bowl invitations, getting the sport’s second season underway.
And indeed, bowl season can feel like a completely different animal, given the longer than usual layoff between games, the potential for transfers or coaches to depart and the penchant of some NFL-bound stars to skip bowl games altogether.
And yet, the regular season still matters — so here are five college football betting trends from the past 14 fall Saturdays that bettors should consider when wagering on bowl games.
1. Know The Teams That Exceeded Expectations
It’s one thing to play well, quite another to succeed when few expect you to. Nobody exceeded college football odds expectations in 2019 more than Baylor, whose over/under season win total was set by FanDuel Sportsbook at 6.5 — and the Bears blew that out of the water by finishing 11-1 and earning a spot in the Big 12 championship game.
That’s a difference of +4.5 over the preseason total, highest among the 129 FBS teams (all except Rutgers) that FanDuel offered as a over/under win total bet. That number was matched by Louisiana-Lafayette, who finished the regular season at 10-2 after facing a preseason total of 5.5. Both Cincinnati and SMU finished 10-2 to go four games over their totals; Air Force and Minnesota also went 10-2 to finish +3.5 over their initial totals of 6.5.
Teams Most Exceeding Preseason Betting Win Total in 2019
And among the several programs that finished three games over their season totals, the most notable was LSU, which went 12-0 after an initial over/under of 9 wins. All those teams will carry the momentum of unexpected success into bowl season.
2. Be Wary of Teams That Fell Flat
Most of the regular season’s biggest college football futures betting busts — such as Purdue, Houston, Arkansas, Fresno State and South Florida, who all finished four games under their season win totals — won’t be around for bowl games. But some more mildly disappointing team will be, proof that just making a bowl doesn’t necessarily equate to a successful season.
Take for example Miami, which is bowl eligible at 6-6, but fell well short of its season total of 8.5 and suffered embarrassing losses to Georgia Tech and Florida International.
Then there’s Texas, which was expected to be a playoff contender with a preseason total of 9.5 but finished 7-5 and has already shaken up its coaching staff. Washington also carried a preseason total of 9.5 only to finish 7-5, prompting coach Chris Petersen to resign.
Teams Most Falling Short of Preseason Betting Win Total in 2019
Without the Minshew Magic of 2018, Washington State was 6-6, well short of its preseason total of 8.5. And Michigan State, FIU and Ohio are all bowl-eligible at 6-6 but fell short of their respective preseason totals of 7.5. Teams that limp into lower-level bowl games often don’t want to be there, especially if they had much granted destinations in mind.
3. Look for Sustained ATS Success
Kentucky’s Mark Stoops did one of the best coaching jobs around this season, placing wide receiver Lynn Bowden behind center after a spate of quarterback injuries and still going 7-5. Against the spread the Wildcats were even better: 9-3, which tied with eight other programs for the best mark nationally in 2019.
Best Bowl-bound College Football Teams vs Spread in 2019
|Team||Actual record||vs. Spread|
No surprise, some powerhouses were also part of that group: Utah, Clemson, Auburn and Ohio State. But so were Louisiana-Lafayette, Central Michigan and Kansas State, who are all bound for bowl games (as well as Oregon State, which is not). One step below at 8-4 against the spread were the likes of Navy, Temple, Illinois and Florida Atlantic, all of which will all play in the postseason.
The big names get all the attention, but the spread applies to everyone, and some smaller names can still win big for bettors.
4. Beware Those ATS Disappointments
Then there’s the flip side of programs that haven’t generated much ATS success for bettors, even if they’re good enough to make a bowl game. The worst bowl-bound team against the spread is Michigan State, which fared just 3-9 for bettors and covered in just one of its last eight games. Florida State is also bowl-eligible at 6-6, but went 4-7-1 against the spread, covering in only two of its last seven.
Worst Bowl-bound College Football Teams vs Spread in 2019
|Team||Actual record||vs. Spread|
And not even the big names are immune from struggles against the spread — Oklahoma finished the regular season at 11-1 but a mere 5-7 ATS, which ranked them amid lesser lights such as South Carolina and New Mexico State. And while Penn State and Alabama each finished 10-2 they both broke even at 6-6 against the spread.
5. Look for Teams That Finished Strong
Last season, Clemson used a run of big wins as a springboard into the College Football Playoff, where it continued blowing out opponents en route to claiming the national championship. The Tigers of 2019 seem to be hitting a similar stride entering the ACC title game against Virginia, covering six of seven games to close the regular season — the exception was a 45-point win over Wofford as a 47-point favorite.
No wonder, then, strong ATS finishes to the regular season are often viewed as a positive omen entering bowl games. Utah has covered eight straight entering the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon. Notre Dame finished the year with four straight covers. Kansas State covered in six of its last seven, with five of those covers coming as underdogs.
And once again there’s Kentucky, the unsung darling of ATS bettors, covering in six of its last seven despite a receiver playing quarterback. It’s another trend to take note of as bowl season approaches.