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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, December 14, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Great to have a busy Saturday to kick off the 2018-19 college football bowl slate. As promised, I’m back to look at time-proven keys for handicapping the early bowl games.

The most important factor…and this has always been true since the bowls began…is THE MOTIVATION FACTOR. You want to bet ON teams who are most excited to be there and who are focused on getting a result. You want to bet AGAINST teams who are disappointed to be in this particular bowl.

Any team that has to “settle” for a bid to a lesser bowl is going to play at half-speed, maybe 75% speed if you’re lucky. Teams who are excited often bring 110%. I know you can’t go over 100%. What I mean is…teams who are excited bring their full set of skills AND also some new wrinkles and trick plays that will help them on the scoreboard. Point spreads are based on expectations. Flat, disinterested teams play below those expectations (sometimes 4-5 touchdowns below!). Excited teams surpass those expectations, and can do so easily against a flat opponent.

So, that’s your first homework assignment for the early bowls, particularly Saturday’s games if you’re just now getting started. Evaluate each team’s hopes before the season began…and then again at mid-season to determine if their bowl is a celebration or a wake. You should also read local media reports for the teams, from their home cities and the bowl city’s newspaper.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s a motivational mismatch in every bowl game. Sometimes BOTH teams will be excited, and you should think about taking the Over rather than either side. Sometimes both teams will be disappointed, and an Under makes sense because both teams will kick the ball around all day.

Normally I put PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS first and foremost in my handicapping advice. Those are still important (particularly in the championship playoff). But, they’re honestly becoming less important in these early bowls.

*Stars on FLAT teams will just go through the motions

*Some stars play safe to protect potential pro careers

*Unheralded players on motivated teams will become stars

*Trick or gadget plays will create star “moments”

Don’t get me wrong, you should still avoid betting on horrible quarterbacks no matter how excited they are. And, excited teams with lousy defenses may allow too many points to cover. My point is that you should de-emphasize the element of PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS in early bowls as compared to the regular season.

Those two references bring us to the rest of your homework. For all the bowls, you should have a true sense of quarterback ability. Make a list of all the projected starters, then evaluate their regular seasons based on TD/INT ratio, rushing yards (if running is a big part of what they do), and success vs. bowl caliber teams. Try to give each player a report card grade based on their likely impact in the upcoming game. Any “A” or even “B” on a motivated team should be an obvious take. You should back off any “C-minus” or worse quarterback, no matter the motivation.

Next, evaluate team defense for every bowl entry. You should look at total yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, rushing yards allowed, and passing yards allowed. Some handicappers prefer using the rankings rather than the yards as a shortcut. For some, it’s easier to think of a team as #90 in the nation against the run rather than whatever the stat is. Whatever helps you absorb the strengths and weaknesses of each defense. Too many novice bettors focus on name recognition rather than skill sets. That’s why they lose.

By the way…historically, these early bowls are known to feature some really bad defenses. Nobody gets rich betting on bad defenses.

The best handicappers will take all the guidelines I’ve discussed today to look for “cocktails” where multiple angles come together. If you get a motivated team with a quality quarterback facing a flat team with a lousy defense…well, that’s a GAME OF THE YEAR type selection. Those scenarios yield 100-unit or 200-unit plays for my clients and I when they pop up. In some years, there are UNDERDOGS like that!

You regular students know that I can’t talk specific games in advance here in my coursework. That wouldn’t be fair to paying clients. After-the-fact, I might run a tutorial explaining my thought process. That way you can learn how to spot future big play possibilities. There should be room for such tutorials in our coursework the rest of the month.

KELSO STURGEON’S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling my office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours. You always get the most bang for your buck on longer term packages.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping will discuss bowl handicapping again down the road. Certainly I’ll have one meeting to talk about the Final Four matchups featuring Alabama vs. Oklahoma and Clemson vs. Notre Dame. Those will be played before New Year’s…so I’ll be able to post a separate discussion on handicapping January 1 bowls afterward. The schedule falls really nicely this season for our purposes.

Of course, there will be plenty to talk about in the NFL too. The Super Bowl chase just got even more interesting Thursday night with the hard-charging Los Angeles Chargers rallying to upset AFC favorite Kansas City on the road. The playoffs may be much more wide-open than everyone was thinking a month ago. We’ll learn even more about that in these last few weeks of December.

I greatly appreciate your attendance and hard work. See you again Monday.

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