When it comes to handicapping bowl games, one of the key things you have to look at is motivation. Statistics are nice and can’t be ignored completely, but it’s not the determining factor like it is during the regular season.

While there’s several scenarios that could have a team not all that interested in their bowl game, I decided to focus my attention on the team who finished just outside of playing for a chance to win a national title.

For the purpose of this article I looked at the No. 3 ranked team in the final BCS standings during the BCS era (1998-2013). For the current playoff system I included the No. 5 ranked team that just missed out on the 4-team playoff.

To make it easier to view I put all the findings in a table format below. As you can see, I included the opponent, spread, the final score and both the SU and ATS results.

YearTeamOpponentSpreadScoreSUATS
1998Kansas StatePurdue-1334-37LL
1999NebraskaTennessee-431-21WW
2000Miami (FL)Florida-737-20WW
2001ColoradoOregon-316-38LL
2002GeorgiaFlorida State-826-13WW
2003USCMichigan-728-14WW
2004AuburnVirginia Tech-616-13WL
2005Penn StateFlorida State-926-23WL
2006MichiganUSC+118-32LL
2007Virginia TechKansas-321-24LL
2008TexasOhio State-8.524-21WL
2009CincinnatiFlorida+12.521-54LL
2010TCUWisconsin-321-19WL
2011Oklahoma StateStanford-441-38WL
2012FloridaLouisville-1423-33LL
2013AlabamaOklahoma-1531-45LL
2014BaylorMichigan State-341-42LL
2015IowaStanford+6.545-16LL
2016Penn StateUSC+6.552-49LW
2016MichiganFlorida State-6.533-32LL
OVERALL9-115-13

I included Michigan in 2016 since they lost their last game against Ohio State in what essentially was a playoff game to get in, then Penn State lost the Big Ten title game or they would have been in.

While the No. 3 team started out a respectable 4-2 ATS its been all downhill since 2003. Thirteen out of the last 14 teams who met our criteria for just missing out on a chance to play for a national championship, have failed to cover the spread in their bowl game. That brings the overall ATS record of these teams to 5-13. Not only are they not covering, they are struggling to win the game outright. These teams have just a 9-11 SU record.

One of the interesting things  from the research is how poorly teams have done when listed as a substantial favorite. There were 3 instances where a team was favored by double-digits. All 3 lost the game outright.

As you can see the results are pretty clear-cut. The disappointment of missing out on the title game seems to have quite a negative impact on teams when it comes to their bowl game.