Last year I took a look at some historically solid NCAA bowl game situations in "Examining Some College Bowl Game Wagering Situations" (http://www.majorwager.com/index.cfm?page=27&show_column=604). The three systems combined for a 12-5-1 record last year. For 2008, I'll 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 last year's article. Z factors are listed for each record and were explained in an earlier article (http://www.majorwager.com/index.cfm?page=27&show_column=665).
System 1: Play underdogs of 7.5 or more points in December Bowls
2007-08 record: 4-0 (Navy +8.5 (W), Southern Mississippi +11 (W), East Carolina +10.5 (W), Central Michigan +8.5 (W))
Historical record: 52-25-3 (67.5%) since 1983; Z-factor 3.08
Notes: Despite a below-average bowl season for the underdogs last year (45% against the spread), this system managed to find some gems in the rough.
2008-09 qualifiers: Memphis +13, Miami Florida +7.5, Northwestern +12, Minnesota +10
System 2: Play underdogs with higher Sagarin strength-of-schedule ratings than their opponents
2007-08 record: 6-3 (UCLA +6 (W), Eastern Carolina +10.5 (W), Texas A&M +5.5 (L), Mississippi St +3 (W), Colorado +3.5 (L), Oregon +6.5 (W), Florida State +3 (L), Virginia +6 (W), West Virginia +8 (W))
Historical record: 58-31-1 (65.2%) since 1997; Z-factor 2.86
Notes: One play last year (Florida State) was only an underdog due to 25 players being suspended or injured for the game. As usual, the larger underdogs performed better in this system (underdogs of 6 points or more were 5-0).
2008-09 qualifiers: Colorado State +3, Southern Miss +4, Notre Dame +1.5, Miami Florida +7.5, Louisiana Tech +1.5, NC State +7, Maryland +1.5, Air Force +3, Vanderbilt +4, South Carolina +3.5, Virginia Tech +2, Kentucky +2, Oklahoma +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
2007-08 record: 2-2-1 (Florida-Michigan under 59 (L), Virginia-Texas Tech under 59 (P), Georgia-Hawaii under 69 (W), West Virginia-Oklahoma under 63(L), Kansas-Virginia Tech under 53(W))
Historical record: 27-11-3 (71.1%) since 1995; Z-factor 2.60
2008-09 qualifiers: Michigan State-Georgia under 54, Mississippi-Texas Tech under 70.5, Ohio State-Texas under 53
A separate article last year examined the favorite bias in NCAA bowl games (http://www.majorwager.com/index.cfm?page=27&show_column=602). 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). In that same article, I made a case for why playing underdogs across the boards would not be profitable in 2007-08. Unfortunately for underdog bettors, my predictions turned out to be accurate.
Underdogs greatly underperformed during the 2007-08 bowl season. Against the spread, they were a mere 14-17-1 (45%), far below par considering their 57% historical performance. The 2007 bowl season was only the third time since 1997 that betting the underdogs across the board would have left you in the red. Even worse, 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.
One way to perhaps leverage the underdog bias this year is to try to bet contrarian according to conference. The SEC and Big 12 are the consensus "top" conferences, while the Big 10 and Pac-10 (excluding USC) are widely seen as inferior this year. It's likely that he "public conferences" will see more betting money, and teams from these conferences are more likely to have their lines overinflated by an eager betting public. As usual, the mid-major conferences will often be undervalued relative to the major conferences, if for nothing else than lack of media attention.
Nonetheless, in a year with a high level of apparent parity (with the Top 25 rankings seeing large changes week in and week out throughout the season), it's likely that the favorite bias may be lessened compared to historical results. Underdogs across the board covered nearly 49% of their games against the spread this year, and that's generally a negative indicator for underdog performance against the spread in the subsequent bowl season, particularly for the moneyline angle. Signs point to underdog bettors having yet another subdued, if not outright disappointing, year. Whether this angle has finally run its course or is just in a short term losing streak, only time will tell.
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