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How To Hit Two-Thirds of Your College Bowl Bets...By Jay Graziani

The past two years I reported on a trio of handicapping situations specifically for bowl games, explaining the situations in depth in 2007: ( and revisiting them briefly in 2008: ( Each has historically won 2 out of 3 of its qualifying bets dating back to 1983, 1995, or 1997, depending on how many years of historical data was available for each - no small feat.

Holding to form, the 2008-09 bowl season was once again successful for this basket of situations, yielding a 12-6-1 record to add to 2007-08's 12-5-1 mark. Since their debut at MajorWager, these three simple systems have returned nearly 30% on investment, much better over that span than, for instance, the S&P 500.

While past results are certainly no indicator of future performance, these three simple handicapping situations are at least worth factoring into your college bowl handicapping this year, considering their long-term winning percentages over 67%, high Z-scores, and continued track record of success the past two years.

Here I recap each system's performance in last year's bowls and update their historical record, as well as provide the qualifying plays for this year's games. I'll keep the descriptions of each system brief; more details can be found in the prior articles. Z factors are listed for each record; for a refresher on what that means and why you should care, check here:

System 1: Play underdogs of 7.5 or more points in December Bowls
2008-09 record: 2-2: Memphis +10.5 (L), Miami +10 (W), Northwestern +14 (W), Minnesota +9.5 (L)
Historical record: 54-27-3 (67%) since 1983; Z-factor 3.0
2009-10 qualifiers: Wyoming +11.5, SMU +15.5, Boston College +9.5, Kentucky +7.5, Stanford +8
Notes: After going 4-0 in 2007, came back to earth with a 2-2 record last year. Texas A&M is on the bubble (+7) but may end up qualifying.

System 2: Play underdogs with higher Sagarin strength-of-schedule ratings than their opponents
2008-09 record: 7-3-1: Colorado State +2 (W), Southern Mississippi +4.5 (W), Miami Florida +10 (W), North Carolina State +6 (P), Maryland +2.5 (W), Air Force +5.5 (L), Vanderbilt +5 (W), South Carolina +3.5 (L), Virginia Tech +2.5 (W), Kentucky +3 (W), Oklahoma +5.5 (L)
Historical record: 65-34-2 (66%) since 1997; Z-factor 3.1
2009-10 qualifiers: 2009-10 qualifiers: Wyoming +11.5; Marshall +2.5; North Carolina +2.5; Idaho +2; Air Force +4; Stanford +8; Florida State +2.5; LSU +2.5; Michigan State +8
Notes: Followed a 6-3 record in 07-08 with another strong showing last year. If you played them early last year, you would have picked up two more winners (who closed as favorites and therefore didn't qualify based on closing lines) as well as turning a push into a win on North Carolina State, boosting the record to a very nice 10-3.

System 3: Play under the total in any January bowl game with a total above 50 where one team is favored by 3.5 or more
2008-09 record: 3-1: Michigan State-Georgia under 57 (W), Mississippi-Texas Tech under 65.5 (L), Ohio State-Texas under 52 (W), Florida-Oklahoma under 69 (W)
Historical record: 30-12-3 (71%) since 1995; Z-factor 2.8
2009-10 qualifiers: Northwestern-Auburn under 54.5, Ohio State-Oregon under 51, Florida-Cincinnati under 57, Northern Illinois-South Florida under 50, Connecticut-South Carolina under 51.5, Arkansas-East Carolina under 63.5, Texas Tech-Michigan State under 60.5, Boise State-TCU under 55, Georgia Tech-Iowa under 51
Notes: An unusually high number of games qualify this year (9) considering the annual average is close to 3.

Two years ago I also reported on the favorite bias in NCAA bowl games: ( In that article, I showed that underdogs strongly outperformed against the spread in bowl games, to the tune of 57% overall since 1997. I also showed that betting underdogs to win outright (on the moneyline) was the best way to take advantage of this mispricing in the lines. From 1997-98 through 2006-07, playing underdogs on the moneyline would have given you about 42% winners and a profit of over 50 units (considering a bet of 1 unit for each underdog on the moneyline).

Unfortunately, those trends have not continued in recent years. Underdogs greatly underperformed during the 2007-08 bowl season, notching a mere 14-17-1 record against the spread. Last year was fractionally better, yet still in the red, with the final tally standing at 16-17-1.

The real money to be made from bowl underdogs in the past was by wagering that they would win outright by betting on the moneyline. This trend hasn't held water either. In 07-08, underdogs were only 8-24 outright, for a loss of about 5.5 units for a bettor who wagered 1 unit on the moneyline of each game, the second worst performance of this angle since 1997. The 08-09 year saw but a single major upset, Utah as nearly a 10-point underdog, leading to a dismal 11-23 record and a loss of another 5 units.

As I mentioned last year, whether the underdog angle has finally run its course or is just in a short term losing streak, only time will tell. Underdogs were globally 52% against the spread this year, perhaps suggesting that underdogs will get a little extra respect during bowl season. That might spell another tough year for underdog backers, and once again goes to show that no good thing lasts forever, at least in the handicapping world.

Jay Graziani

If you would like to make or read comments about this article, you may do so by visiting the Mess Hall forum at MajorWager where a thread has been started. Please click HERE

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