College football betting: Handicapping bowl eligibility

There’s just three weeks remaining in the college football regular season. With the nature of college football, each team has a different goal. The top schools want to make the Playoff and win a championship. Other schools want to compete for their conference and play for the conference championship. For some schools, the goal is as simple as winning six games and becoming bowl eligible. 

Bowl season is one of the best times of the year for a sports bettor, but before we enjoy the fruits of bowl season, we must figure out which teams are bowl eligible. There are 41 bowls, meaning 82 schools will be selected to participate. Through ten weeks, there are 49 bowl-eligible teams with 33 spots yet to be filled. 

The art of handicapping motivation

The sports analytics community has made it a point to question the value of intangibles such as motivation. They claim it’s not a real factor and it makes a minimal impact. I don’t agree with that take, I just think it’s an extremely hard factor to quantify. However, motivation definitely exists and it’s definitely a factor, especially in college athletics. 

We try our best to quantify motivation heading into bowl season, but we must also now consider whether these teams even want to extend their season and become bowl eligible. For a school like USC or LSU, it’s a certainly legitimate question. They’ve vastly underperformed, they’ll have a new coach next season and these players didn’t sign up to play in the Idaho Potato Bowl or any other random bowl they’d be placed in. 

Do coach Ed Orgeron and the LSU Tigers care about becoming bowl eligible? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

On the other hand, there are schools that are extremely motivated to become bowl eligible. These are usually schools with first year coaches where a winning program is being built. It could also be a veteran-laden team where the players just want to prolong their playing careers. 

Eight games this week with bowl implications

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Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech enters this week with a 4-5 record, meaning they’d need to win two of their final three games in order to become bowl eligible. The Hokies are 11.5-point favorites against Duke this week. Their final two games of the season are on the road against Miami and Virginia. Needless to say, a win against Duke feels necessary if they want to keep the dream alive. 

Does Virginia Tech care about being bowl eligible? Prior to last year’s weird season, the Hokies made a bowl game for 27 consecutive seasons. On the other side, there’s questions about the future of coach Justin Fuente. 

Texas Tech: Texas Tech is playing under an interim coach, but they have a new coach in waiting that players might be looking to impress. The Red Raiders are sitting at 5-4 and need to win just one of their final three games. Unfortunately for them, it looks like it’ll be a tough task. The Red Raiders are 10.5-point underdogs against Iowa State this weekend. The remaining schedule isn’t any easier as they get Oklahoma State and Baylor to round out their schedule. One might say this weekend is their most winnable game, so are they a potentially good play as an underdog?

USC: I don’t particularly think USC cares about becoming bowl eligible, but if you’re of the mindset that they do care, then their game this weekend against California is an absolute must win. The Trojans are 1.5-point favorites as they look to even their record at 5-5. USC would then need to beat either UCLA or BYU in their final two games. USC is looking for a new coach and has played uninspired football all season long. 

Syracuse: Syracuse is a team that I do think cares about becoming bowl eligible. Expectations were low for them entering the season and they’ve played hard all season long. Sitting at 5-4, the Orange need to win one of their last three games to become bowl eligible. Their best chance at a victory might be this weekend, as they are a 3-point underdog against Louisville. After this week, Syracuse gets NC State and Pittsburgh.

West Virginia: The West Virginia Mountaineers sit at 4-5, but they have a game against Kansas on their schedule, so for the purposes of this exercise, let’s make them 5-5. West Virginia would either need to beat Kansas State on the road this weekend or Texas at home next weekend in order to become bowl eligible. West Virginia is a 6-point underdog this weekend against Kansas State. Neal Brown is in that weird situation where he’s not on the hot seat just yet, but you can feel it coming as the team is nowhere near where they were under Dana Holgorsen. 

San Jose State: San Jose State has made just one bowl in Brent Brennan’s tenure, but they have a good chance of making it two this season. Sitting at 5-5, the Spartans need to win one of their final two games. San Jose State is a 4.5-point favorite against Utah State this weekend. They’ll want to take care of business this week as their final game is against Fresno State. 

South Carolina: It has not been a pretty season for South Carolina, but they’re still sitting here with a 5-4 record and one win away from bowl eligibility. The Gamecocks are 1-point underdogs against Missouri this week, and this is probably their best chance at a win. South Carolina closes their season with games against Auburn and Clemson. This is Shane Beamer’s first year as head coach in Columbia, so the team should be motivated to get it done. 

LSU: Ah, LSU. This is a tough one. Common sense tells you this team quit and doesn’t care anymore. Coach Orgeron is on his way out and the program will be turned on its head during the offseason. Then, they hang with Alabama and have a chance of pulling off an upset as a 30-point underdog. There’s no denying his players love him, so maybe they do play for the chance to give Orgeron a final bowl game. LSU is a 2.5-point underdog this weekend against Arkansas. LSU needs to win two of their final three games against Arkansas, UL Monroe and Texas A&M. 

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