Picking the Bowl winners: find the coaching edge

December 12, 2000 6:59 AM
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In the first-part of our series of ways to handicap college bowl games, we offered nine ways to break down a game. Here are several more protocols to examine before placing your wager:

10) If a team has a new head coach for a bowl game, the coach tends to do well even though he hasn’t had long to work with the team. Since 1978, new coaches are 5-3 in bowl games. Coaches aren’t usually fired or leave between the end of the season and a bowl game. Usually a coach wants to finish the bowl with his team before going to the new job.

This year, watch what happens with Dennis Franchione at TCU (he’ll coach through the bowl game, 200 miles from his new coaching home) and Kirk Koetter at Boise State. Some other teams are likely to have new head coaches for their bowl games.

Alabama thought it would do more for recruiting to have Franchione visible to recruits on the sidelines Dec. 20 in Alabama. He will still have time to come aboard after Christmas with his new staff. Some coaches are also using the open positions at other colleges as leverage for new contracts or contract extensions.

11) If a key assistant coach leaves before the bowl, that can also be crucial. (Last year, offensive coordinator Leach left Oklahoma to be head coach at Texas Tech, and that made a negative difference for Oklahoma).

This is a significant factor this year, as 15 Division 1-A teams have coaches who have either resigned, were fired or retired. This is more than last year in sheer numbers (nine in 1999), but also more in perennial bowl teams. At least eight teams this year are usually bowl teams vs. only three last season.

Programs like USC, Arizona State, BYU, North Carolina, Missouri and West Virginia want their coaches with the program as soon as possible. In other words, a situation like last year’s hiring of Tom Cable for Idaho’s head coach is unlikely to happen with assistant coaches this year. Cable was allowed to continue with Colorado as offensive coordinator through their bowl game (scored 62 points), then joined Idaho in January after their bowl win.

This year, with competition high for good coaches, expect them to leave before the bowl. (New coaches will come from successful bowl teams). Raiding bowl teams creates a vicious cycle as raided bowl teams seek other bowl teams to replace their head or assistant coaches.

The most important analysis when a team loses an assistant or head coach is where the replacement comes from and what changes that will create for the team.

An example is Clemson losing offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and how that will affect a great Tigers offense in the Gator Bowl.

12) All things being equal (they never are), the better defense will prevail in a bowl game. Rush yards allowed and pass-efficiency defense are the biggest factors, but scoring defense is also important.

13) Dogs tend to do well before New Year’s Day and poorly on New Year’s and beyond. This is a generalization, but, if all else fails and two teams are considered equal, than lean this way.

14) What is a team’s previous record in bowl games? If they have won most bowl games, they tend to have more confidence to get the job done.

15) Playing surface plays a role in a bowl game. Is a team playing on a surface similar to that at their home field? A grass team can have trouble playing on artificial turf (or vice versa).

16) The location of the game can make a big difference. Does one team have a home field advantage or very close to home? Usually one or two teams are close to their home field.

17) Which team has the better record on the season? That team has an advantage in most cases.

18) Does one team enjoy a favored status with the betting public? If one team has a good reputation and the other team is unknown (or less thought of), sometimes the line will overcompensate for name recognition factor.

19) Has a key player been injured who’ll be back for the bowl game? Besides getting the player back, the whole team can be uplifted. Also look for injuries in bowl practice and late suspensions.

20) Which team has the better fan base of alumni and boosters who will attend the game? Some teams get a larger fan base attending the bowl game, which will further motivate the players.

Others will be in an area where many active alumni live.

21) Check the weather report for game day. Cold weather, wind or rain can affect the game plan. Weather conditions can take away a team’s strength advantage and make the match-up more even. Long-range forecasts are available on the Internet.

22) Consider the number on the Total if the game looks like it will be an immovable object meeting an irresistible force.

23) Which team and staff has a desire to win? Which is taking a vacation? Some teams are disciplined. Others feel the bowl itself is a reward. Is the team getting the most out of bowl practices or just sightseeing? Does the coach take them away from their hotel to an undisclosed location the night before?

This is different than No. 6, which deals completely with the player and fan attitudes at the time of accepting the bowl bid. What will a coach do at the bowl location in terms of practice, scheduling and motivation?

The type of preparation at the bowl site is critical.