Bookies know from experience that football bettors like to put their money on the favorites when betting sides and the over when betting totals. That prompts bookies to inflate the numbers, forcing you to pay a premium if you want to follow the crowd.
But if you took the contrarian position when placing your bets on the 40 bowl games played over the holidays, you would have done spectacularly well. Underdogs covered the number 62.5 percent of the time (25-15) and the under came through 60 percent of the time (24-16) on totals.
If I had followed that strategy on the 13 bowl games I recommended, I would have gone 9-4 instead of 8-5. Still, I had a solid 61 percent win rate that produced a $250 profit for $100 bettors.
My recommendations were based on four angles that have shown over the years to work well in the bowl environment. Three of them generated positive results. Here’s the breakdown:
Honor America: I recommended the three military academies in their games, primarily because the players are disciplined, focused and goal-oriented. My bets on Navy and Air Force were winners. Army beat North Texas but didn’t cover the -10.5 points.
Overrated: I recommended bets against five Mid-American Conference teams, a conference I think is overrated. (Based on its dismal performance, I may include the Big 10 in this group next year.) All five of them lost their games and I went 3-2 against the spread.
Disappointed: I wrote that Colorado and Utah would be disappointed after late season tumbles, and recommended bets against each. Colorado was clobbered by Oklahoma State and while Utah beat Indiana, it didn’t cover the number, making me 2-0.
Momentum: This is the only angle that didn’t work this year. I thought Southern Cal and Oklahoma finished strong and recommended bets on each. Both won, but USC didn’t cover the -7 against Penn State. I also recommended a bet against Baylor, which lost its last six games and has a new coach coming in. But with the new coach sitting in the stands, the Bears clobbered Boise State.
That leaves one more question: Who’s going to win Monday’s national championship game, Alabama or Clemson? From a bettor’s perspective, will the trend continue with the underdog covering and the total going under?
Alabama is favored by 6.5 with the over/under at 50.5 as I write this on Friday. Since most games are decided by 3, 7 or 10 points, 6.5 is a bad number if you’re betting the underdog. Both teams have strong defenses while Alabama has a mediocre offense, so I’d be inclined to bet the under if I was putting my money down.
But I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the game.