Betting tips: How to attack the 2021 college football bowl season

My direct messages are always open on Twitter. Lately, one of the most asked questions I’ve received is, “Would you bet (insert game) early or wait?” The first slate of college football postseason/bowl games doesn’t kickoff until next week, starting Dec. 17. A lot can change when games are weekly, even more so when you have a break in between. The main area of concern: player opt-outs.

We have reached that point in the season where a player decides if he wants to continue playing college ball for one last year to potentially improve his draft stock, wants to forego his final year of eligibility to prepare for the NFL draft, or simply skip out on the bowl game after announcing preparations for the 2022 NFL draft.

Take North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell. The Tar Heels are 7.5-point favorites to the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30. Howell confirmed his participation for that game on Twitter earlier this week. That’s just one part of the offense. We saw last year how player opt-outs at key positions could largely affect the outcome of a game.

Prior to UNC facing Texas A&M in the Capital One Orange Bowl, the Tar Heels' No. 1 and No. 2 running backs, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, opted out. These two players accounted for 2,385 of UNC’s 2,740 total rushing yards and 28 of 35 total rushing scores. Receiver Dyami Brown, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards along with eight scores, also made a go at the draft. Plus, LB Chazz Surratt had also opted out. He led the team in tackles and was tied for the team lead in sacks. Howell definitely showcased his best effort but all the missing players made this matchup too much to overcome. The Tar Heels lost 41-27 as 7.5-point underdogs.

Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) warms up prior to a college football game against Syracuse on Nov. 27. (Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) warms up prior to a college football game against Syracuse on Nov. 27. (Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

2021 player opt-outs

As of now, the biggest name that could sit out is Pitt QB Kenny Pickett. Pitt is coming off an 11-2 regular season, a convincing 45-21 defeat over Wake Forest to win the ACC conference championship, and is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. The Panthers are set to play Michigan State in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30. Pitt opened as 4.5-point favorites and has since dropped to 1.5 after Pickett told Dan Patrick on Wednesday morning that he was “undecided” on participating. This came after the resignation of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple on Tuesday.

Twitter is a great tool for keeping track of the players entering the transfer portal, opting out for the draft or injuries that may occur prior to any bowl game. However, my go-to source is Rotowire. The site does a great job of listing injuries, opt-outs, coaching changes and anything else that could be beneficial to handicapping a game, especially this time of year.

Player injuries

Considering there’s still some time until bowl games begin, that unfortunately leaves opportunity for injuries to occur — or on the flip side, time for a player to recover.

One example could be Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon. He was the starter for most of the season but has been dealing with a hamstring injury as of late and his backup, Blake Shapen, has taken his place. The Bears (-1.5) don’t face Ole Miss until New Year’s Day in the Sugar Bowl, which gives Bohanan even more time to recover. Which quarterback will get the start? It's something to track before placing a wager.

Another example: Oklahoma State RB Jaylen Warren did not play in the Big 12 championship. Could he be back to face Notre Dame (-2.5) in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day? Definitely something to track as the Cowboys offense looked lost without its leading RB against the Bears.

Additional tips

Though it has been a bit of a warm fall (at least in Austin), do make sure to look at the weather. Not every game is in a sunny paradise like Hawaii. Plus, since most games are on a neutral field, check to see if it is a dome or outdoors. This could make the difference if thinking about taking the OVER or UNDER on a game total.

Also keep an eye on any coaching changes that may occur — hiring, firings and resignations. The coaching carousel has been bananas up until now and potentially may not be over.

You could also consider motivation as a factor. Although there is no metric for motivation, you could go off the simple idea that this is a team’s first bowl and they’ll give it everything they’ve got. Or you could look at a team like Oklahoma State, which lost its big matchup to Baylor to not only lose out on the Big 12 title but also a potential spot in the playoff.

Lastly, a good reminder: A sportsbook is required to put a line on every single game but that does not mean you have to place a wager on every single game. Be selective and always remember to practice bankroll management.