Five Things I Learned About Picking Bowl Games

The 2013-2014 bowl season and the final year of the BCS was a success. I finished 21-14 against the spread picking every game and finished strong going 10-2 in games on New Years Day and after. Picking and trying to handicap each game gave me a reason to watch every bowl even if it was a minor one. I learned many things about picking bowls. Here are the five biggest takeaways that I will remember when picking games next season.

1. Football in the Midwest is down- I will always look to pick against the Big 10 and MAC next season. It’s no secret the Big 10 has struggled for the last two seasons and they seem to be overmatched by other conferences during the bowls. Big 10 teams finished 2-5 straight up and 3-4 against the spread. Not horrible records but it’s not very impressive if you look closer. The Michigan State win and cover in the Rose Bowl was a terrific showing by the Spartans and they proved why they were one of the most balanced teams in the country. Nebraska won and covered against Georgia and Iowa covered by half a point in a seven-point loss to LSU. However, Georgia and LSU were both missing their draft-bound quarterbacks with injuries. Minnesota lost to 6-6 Syracuse and Michigan had no shot against Kansas State. Wisconsin and Ohio State dropped their bowls to South Carolina and Clemson respectively. The Big 10 is adding Rutgers and Maryland next season, which will make the conference even more mediocre. Rutgers covered but lost by 13 to Notre Dame and Maryland lost to Marshall. Maryland’s 11-point loss came in their home state, against a Marshall team that lost to Rice in the C-USA championship game. That Rice team lost by 36 points to 6-6 Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl. The MAC gets a lot of attention for a non-BCS conference because ESPN shows their marquee November games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights when there is no other football on. It was on these “Maction” broadcasts where Northern Illinois and their Heisman nominee quarterback Jordan Lynch got national attention. When teams like the Huskies and other MAC schools played in bowl games it wasn’t pretty. The conference was 0-5 straight up and against the spread. The bottom of the conference is weak so most of the MAC teams beat up on bad teams to gain bowl eligibility. With Lynch gone, the conference might have a hard time finding national headlines from any of their teams next season.

2. The spread usually doesn’t matter- In 35 bowl games, the point spread only mattered four times. That means in the other 31 games, the team who won the game straight up also covered the spread. The Notre Dame-Rutgers, Texas A&M-Duke, LSU-Iowa and Florida State-Auburn games were the bowls where the favorite won the game but didn’t cover the spread. The Florida State-Auburn game was the first time in the modern BCS era where the point spread mattered. The previous 14 National Championship games didn’t matter. So if you feel strongly about an underdog covering a spread, you might want to pick them to win outright if you are in a straight up pool. The double-digit underdogs that won straight up were Texas Tech, UCF and Oklahoma.  

3. Don’t automatically pick against interim coaches- One of the biggest parts of picking bowl games is trying to predict the motivation of teams. It’s expected that teams with a coach who took another job before the bowl game will struggle. However, USC, Washington and Arkansas State covered and won their games without their regular season head coach on the sideline. Boise State and Bowling Green were the two teams that lost. One reason teams with an interim coach were 3-2 was that the line was adjusted knowing there would be a different coach. In the USC-Fresno State game, the Trojans probably should’ve been double-digit favorites but because beloved Ed Orgeron was gone, USC was only giving about a touchdown.

4. Look to favor BCS teams against non-BCS teams- BCS teams were 6-2 against the spread when they played teams from conferences that don’t have an automatic BCS berth. The talent gap is wider and the strength of schedules during the regular season are a big reason why this is the case.

5. Pick against teams that controlled their BCS National Championship destiny- I said earlier that motivation is very important and two perfect examples of this were the Sugar and Orange Bowls. Alabama was two wins away from going to their third straight National Championship until they were shocked in the last game of the season at Auburn. Ohio State was a lone win away from a trip to Pasadena before falling to Michigan State in the Big 10 championship game. These teams expected to play for that national title before losing and instead were sent to different BCS bowls. Both teams lost and in the case of Alabama, they didn’t look motivated at all based on their defensive performance. Baylor lost late in the season with a national title shot and they got off to a slow start in their Fiesta Bowl loss. If Missouri had beaten Auburn in the SEC championship game, they would’ve played Florida State in the National Championship. The Tigers won their bowl game, but Missouri didn’t control their own destiny at the time of the SEC championship because they played before Ohio State’s loss in the Big 10 championship game.

Another stat worth noting is teams playing in their home state were 2-4 against the spread. That doesn’t include the in-state clash between Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette in New Orleans. Make sure to save or bookmark this page and take a look at it in 11 months when picking the bowls games in 2014-2015.


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