It seems everyone has their own way to handicap the college bowl games. Some may have a system that involves playing favorites at a certain line, or fading teams based on how they finished the regular season. One popular trend I continue to hear about is the theory that you can take or fade a team from a major conference, against a team from a non-major qualifying conference.
There are currently 5 major conferences, also known as the “Power 5 Conferences.” They are the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. I took a look at how teams from these conferences perform against the likes of the rest of the FBS conferences in bowl games.
Power 5 Conferences Versus Mid-Major Opponents in Bowl Games
We looked at every bowl game since the 1980 season to see how power conferences matched up with mid-majors. What probably will not surprise you is that schools from bigger conferences have a winning record in these matchups. What might surprise you is that Power 5 teams are just 176-142 (55.3%) straight up in these games. What will almost certainly come as a surprise is that their record against the spread (ATS) versus mid-major teams is just barely better than a coin-flip (160-155, 50.8%, to be exact).
What does this tell us? As you already know if you’ve bet on sports for very long, sportsbooks are incredibly good at splitting the action on games, and I think this really shows that. It also tells us that motivation almost certainly plays a role in bowl games. For many Power 5 teams, matching up against a smaller opponent, in what is more than likely a smaller bowl game, probably doesn’t get players hyped up for the game. On the flip side, a smaller team getting a chance to knock off a big time program will probably bring their ‘A’ game.
It’s also likely that smaller teams that have been good enough to reach the bowl game have some grit (they won’t give up, making covering the spread more likely). This really expresses itself when we look at how double-digit favorites have done in these matchups. It doesn’t happen as often as you’d expect, but double digit favorites from Power 5 conference teams are just 12-15 (44.4%) against the spread versus mid-major opponents.
Breakdown by Conference in Bowl Games
All conferences aren’t created equal in this situation, in fact, some Power 5 conferences actually seem to rise to the occasion against smaller opponents. This could be due to expectations (a six-win team from the SEC is possibly less motivated than a six-win team from the Big 10). Here’s the breakdown:
Power 5 Teams Record vs Mid-Majors by Conference (ATS)
- SEC: 36-37 (49.3%)
- PAC-12: 32-34 (48.5%)
- Big 12: 28-32 (46.7%)
- Big 10: 20-17 (54.1%)
- ACC: 44-35 (55.7%)
Bowl Betting Tips – Conference Doesn’t Matter
What we can conclude from this is that coming from a big market team during bowl season isn’t really an advantage – at least against the spread. While teams are more likely to win their matchup outright, you should not let conference size play any significant role in betting on bowl games this season.