College football bowl season ideal time for contrarian bets

Betting against the public, also known as “going contrarian,” is a smart long-term strategy because more often than not, the public loses. Casual bettors wager based on gut instinct and bias and largely ignore analytics and hard data. They bet with their hearts, not their heads, and focus almost exclusively on favorites, home teams, teams with better records than their opponents and teams with star plays.

Oddsmakers know this and will set lines with public bias in mind, shading numbers further toward the popular side. As a result, savvy contrarian bettors who are brave enough to back the unpopular side can extract additional value by taking advantage of artificially inflated or mispriced lines.

There are certain times of year when contrarian value skyrockets. The first is March Madness and the second is college football bowl season.

Bowl games are a fantastic time to bet against the public because every game is heavily bet and flooded with recreational money. Many Average Joes may not bet college football all season long, but will place a wager or two just to join in on the fun. As a result, the market is softer than usual and easier to exploit.

Another factor is the schedule itself. Bowl game lines are released days and even weeks in advance, which provides extra time for the bets to build and build. Plus, many of these games are one-offs, with only one or two per day. Each one is nationally televised and most are in prime time, ensuring a massive public audience. You also will see media narratives form on specific teams and specific games, which creates a bias trap the public often falls into.

As sports betting is being legalized all across the country, more casual bettors are entering the market and betting bowls for the first time.

The easiest way to bet against the public during bowl season is to back underdogs. Why? Because the public loves betting favorites. According to Bet Labs Sports, bowl game ’dogs have covered at a 52.3 percent clip since 2005. This may not sound that impressive, but regular-season ’dogs have only covered at 50.2 percent. This means bowl dogs cover 2.1 percent more often.

Another reason bowl ’dogs have increased value is the fact all of these games will be played at neutral sites. This levels the playing field and benefits the team getting points.

College football bowl betting
Spencer Rattler and Oklahoma are three-point underdogs against Florida in next week’s Cotton Bowl.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is also a great time to take advantage of inflated lines. This means the public hammers a favorite and moves the number further toward that favorite, providing extra “free” points for the underdog. If the line moves at least 1 point away from the ’dog (think +7 to +8), ’dogs are 107-85 ATS (56 percent) since 2005.

Experience, or lack thereof, can also be a big factor in bowls. If a ’dog is going up against a team that failed to qualify for a bowl the previous year, the ’dog has gone 77-57 ATS (58 percent) since 2005.

You can also take advantage of public bias by buying low on unranked bowl ’dogs versus ranked favorites. The public falls in love with rankings and will almost always side with the higher-ranked team, which leads to overvaluing of the ranked favorite. Unranked bowl ’dogs versus ranked favorites have gone 46-37 ATS (55 percent) since 2005.

One important note to remember during bowl season: The books keep the limits low once a line is released. Their goal is to allow sharps to come in at low limits and help them shape the line to it strongest point. As a result, it’s important to wait until game day, when limits are raised, to make a final determination on a game. Many wise guys and syndicates get down hard game day, so make sure to keep your eye on the live odds page to follow late moves before kickoff. Late moves are always the most meaningful, specifically the ones that take place in the final hour before kickoff.

Also, one of the oldest phrases in betting is “bet favorites early and ’dogs late.” The public will bet the favorite and move the number further toward it (think -7 to -8). So if you like a favorite, bet it early before it moves to a worse number. However, since bowl ’dogs have so much value due to an influx of public action, it’s a good idea to wait until the bitter end to place your ’dog bet so that you can get the number at its highest.

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