Setting strategy records straight for sports bettors

Dec 31, 2013 3:06 AM

I did a national radio spot last week with a well-known host, who brought up three strategies as the “sharp Las Vegas method.” None of them work.

In fact, none have worked in years. I don’t think the host was an idiot – there’s just a bevy of bad information out there! My goal here is to poke holes in that outdated info.

The betting markets are not a static entity; always morphing and evolving. What worked 5, 10 or 20 years ago doesn’t necessarily work as 2013 shifts to 2014. And when it comes to college football bowls, the paradigm has clearly shifted from where it was a decade ago.

Through Sunday there were 15 bowl games played with 20 more to follow. Even from this very short sample size, you can see already that these three ‘tried and true’ strategies from years past have bitten the dust – exactly what happened last year, and the year before that!

Those three outdated strategies?

• Bet underdogs in early bowl games; bet favorites late.

• Bet OVERS in early bowl games, bet UNDERS late.

• Double digit underdogs are almost always a good bet.

When it comes to determining favorites or underdogs in bowl season, I personally ignore all games with a point spread of lower than -3. Otherwise, ‘cappers are left with repeating the Utah State – Northern Illinois Poinsettia Bowl dilemma – both teams being favored at some point prior to kickoff.

By leaving the very short spread games out of the aggregate numbers, you avoid those dilemmas. Focusing on games where there is a clear favorite and a clear underdog. The -3 or higher is my cut-off number.

Five of the 15 bowl games played had spreads of less than a field goal: Buffalo-San Diego St., Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Tulane, Utah St.-Northern Illinois, Marshall-Maryland and Cincinnati-North Carolina. In the other 10 early bowl games, favorites have turned a modest profit, 6-4 ATS.

It’s worth noting that the only bad beat thus far came when favored Washington State blew a two TD lead in the final minutes against Colorado State thanks to a pair of late turnovers. Otherwise the early bowl chalk would be 7-3 ATS.

There was no money to be made blindly supporting underdogs in early bowls last year. It was the same story in 2011 and in 2010; close to a 50-50 proposition in pre-New Year’s Day early bowl games. The last time dogs had a big year prior to New Year’s Day was back in 2009. It is worth noting, however, that twice in the last three years, blindly betting favorites in the post New Year late bowl games has produced a significant profit (7-3 ATS in 2010-11 and 9-2 ATS last year).

Last year, the early bowls went 14-9 to the UNDER. In 2011, OVERS went 12-11 in early bowls; not enough to turn a profit when you factor in the -110 juice on either side. In 2010, OVERS went 12-10 in early bowls. In 2009, the early bowl totals went 10-10 O/U. In 2008, UNDERS went 14-8 in early bowl games.

In 2007, OVERS went 11-10 in early bowl games only after a 5-1 run on New Year’s Eve. In 2006, UNDERS went 11-10 in those early games.

Not only has the “bet OVERS early, bet UNDERS late” strategy not shown a profit in the last few years; it hasn’t shown a profit in any year since the mid-00’s, a completely different era when it comes to the current betting markets! Bettors who have been using a “blindly betting OVERS” strategy or even a “pick and choose your OVERS, but don’t bet UNDERS” strategy have not done well.

If you’ve been using that strategy this year, you’ve been getting crushed! Through the first 15 bowl games, UNDERS have cashed at a 12-3 clip. Those aggregate numbers count USC-Fresno’s 45-20 final score as an UNDER with the closing total of 66; the only debatable result of the bunch.

Let’s not forget that long term database numbers have a multitude of games with debatable results, much like the Northern Illinois-Utah State example above, or the USC-Fresno game. Whoever entered the lines into the database had their own methodology that may or may not mesh with your personal reality of where the lines and totals opened and closed.

In the modern era, there are often some surprisingly large differentials between the closing numbers here in Vegas vs. the global betting marketplace in the offshore world. Databases don’t differentiate between Vegas and global numbers.

What about the blindly betting double digit underdogs strategy? From 2000-2009, blindly betting bowl underdogs of +10 or higher produced 65% winners (26-14-1 ATS). That was then, this is now!

Using the closing lines here in Vegas, we’ve seen two double digit spread games so far this bowl season. East Carolina was a 14½ point favorite against Ohio U. and Notre Dame was -15 against Rutgers. Both favorites won by double digit margins, but they split 1-1 ATS.

Last year, there were eight bowl favorites of -10 or higher. Betting the chalk in those games produced a 5-3 ATS result. Double digit favorites produced winners with Alabama over Notre Dame, Florida State over Northern Illinois, Oklahoma State over Purdue, Arizona State over Navy and Utah State over Toledo. The losers were Florida vs. Louisville, Texas Tech vs. Minnesota and SMU vs. Fresno.

In 2011, double digit favorites went 3-1 ATS. You could easily make a case that the chalk went 4-1 ATS, but my numbers had Arkansas closing at -9½ over Kansas State, not -10. In 2010, double digit favorites went 3-2 ATS. The last time blindly betting double digit dogs showed a profit was in 2009.

The distractions of playing in Hawaii were at least something of a factor in several of the double digit dogs that covered (and won outright) during this span. If you remove the Hawaii games from the equation and bet every other double digit favorite over the past four years, you’ve made a nice chunk of change.

So, those three strategies don’t work anymore. What is working? Two things, worth repeating and updating from my last bowl preview column.

Just pick the winner! The straight up winner is 14-1 ATS through the first 15 bowl games, the only non-cover coming from Notre Dame against Rutgers. “Straight up success correlates better with ATS success than any other factor, well over 80% of the time over the past 20 years. Those long term results also tell us very clearly that when you bet underdogs during bowl season, be sure to have at least a taste of the plus price return on the moneyline.”

Be sure to handicap conferences. “When a particular conference shows strength early on in the bowl season, the remaining teams from that conference are often worth a play, or vice-versa.”

MAC Bowl teams entered this season on a 8-17 SU and ATS run in bowls since 2007; consistently overvalued after beating up on a steady diet of absolute bottom feeders during the regular season. This year, MAC teams are 0-4 SU and ATS; failing repeatedly once again.

Looking at some emerging major conference trends for 2013-14, Big 10 teams are 0-2 SU and ATS so far this year (0-4 if you count Rutgers and Maryland, both of whom join the conference next year). PAC-12 teams are 3-1 ATS this year, and the only loser was the aforementioned Washington State bad beat in the final minute.

Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]

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