Network Notebook: Lessons from Early Bowls

KEY INDICATORS FROM FIRST FIVE BOWLS COULD PROVE PREDICTIVE FOR REST OF SLATE

If you watched the five-game kickoff to this season's college football bowl slate, you probably noticed a few key factors repeating themselves. Though, if you were more focused on the NFL doubleheader because big-name college teams weren't playing yet, you missed out on information that could help you clean up the rest of the way. We'll aim to fix that for you right now.

KEY #1: TURNOVERS
Many bowl teams are turnover prone. Whenever there are THIS many postseason games, you have a lot of teams who aren't very good at executing their offenses when they run into bowl caliber opponents. Look at the turnover counts from Saturday's games:

North Texas 5, Troy 2
Western Kentucky 3, Georgia State 1
Oregon 4, Boise State 3
Marshall 2, Colorado State 0
Arkansas State 3, Middle Tennessee 3

Now, avoiding turnovers doesn't mean you automatically win. Colorado State lost anyway to Marshall. But you have to be prepared for sloppy games. That means keep your bankroll in check unless you're VERY confident you're going to win this category. Don't bet Unders too heavily because high turnover games often create cheap points. If you do happen to find a safe, conservative team that's likely to win this category by two or three turnovers, THEN you can think about stepping out with a big bet.

KEY #2: THE RUNNING GAME
If you can move the ball on the ground, you have a much better chance of scoring points without miscues. Or, from the other end of the spectrum, if you CAN'T move the ball on the ground, you're asking your quarterback to carry way too much of the load. Here are the rushing yardage totals from Saturday's five games.

Troy 130, North Texas negative 8
Georgia State 143, Western Kentucky negative 2
Boise State 112, Oregon 52
Marshall 239, Colorado State 70
Middle Tennessee 120, Arkansas State 109

That's 5-0 straight up and ATS for the team that won rushing yardage in each game. But, you can see why things got crazy with turnovers even for the winners. Those are low totals for most of the victors. Only Marshall was able to crack 150 yards on the ground! Be on the lookout for underdogs who can win this category. Focus on favorites who have a chance to run for at least 200 yards, and hopefully more than 250 yards. Low rushing totals create volatility that's probably bad for your bet.

KEY #3: THE MARKET DOESN'T KNOW THE MID-MAJORS WELL
It was very clear this past weekend that the betting markets were mostly guessing about teams from Conference USA, the Sun Belt, and the Mountain West. Underdogs won four of the five games outright, even though nobody was favored by less than a field goal. If you have a good read on these lesser known teams (particularly how they're likely to perform at the point of attack), you may be getting as much as a touchdown's worth of line value with your bets. A lot more of this level of team is about to take the field, as the Mid American Conference and the low end of the American Athletic Conference hasn't even been heard from yet.

KEY #4: COACHING TURMOIL MATTERS
Now, we're not going to suggest that any team changing head coaches is going to play as badly as Oregon did Saturday vs. Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. If not for two defensive touchdowns (that started near their own end zone), they might have been down more than 35 points at halftime. But, history has shown that it's enough of a factor for some teams that you can't just listen to media hype and discount it. "Oregon will be FINE" the guys at ESPN were saying. Try to get a read on how the team performed late in the season...what the players thought of the prior coach...and how healthy the team will be at the skill positions. Oregon was probably hurt much more by their star running back sitting out the game to get ready for the NFL draft. Look for spots where a coaching distraction might be compounded by personnel losses.

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We'll be back with you at the end of the week to preview a big NFL game. Right now, the frontrunner is Atlanta at New Orleans, but we're also considering the LA Rams at Tennessee. The stage is set for a fantastic postseason in both the college bowls and the NFL Playoffs. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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