College football inspires a ton of passion, and that’s especially true when the stakes get high. The NCAAF regular season has plenty of those moments, and even more come our way with a packed postseason of bowl games.
A college football bowl game is the reward for a regular season’s job well done. There are more than 40 of these games each season. They can be unpredictable, as some teams are up to the task and happy with their position, while others aren’t.
That’s just part of the intrigue, all of which is made even better by the fact that you can bet on it. The legal and regulated sports betting environment continues to grow across the U.S., and that includes Michigan, of course.
When college football bowl season rolls around, you’ll have plenty of games to choose from. You can stick to the marquee matchups, or dig even deeper for the games involving lesser-known programs.
Our complete college football bowl betting guide will walk through everything you need to know, including the best spots for you to get in the game legally and safely. We’ll also have some insight on the best bet types to make, as well as some tips you can use while breaking down the games. Let’s get to it.
Yes. As sports betting has been legalized in Michigan, there have been questions about the legality of wagering on college sports. For example, in New Jersey, while a green light has been given to wagering on NCAA events, bettors are prohibited from placing wagers on games involving NJ teams.
Here in Michigan, it’s not an issue. Sports betting legislation was passed in 2019, and the official rollout took place the following year in person. Online gambling began in 2021.
Betting on college sports is allowed, including on schools located in the state. That’s great news for fans of Michigan and Michigan State, as well as all of the other programs that make their home here.
College bowl season attracts lots of betting interest, so it’s an active time for sportsbooks. The odds and lines for the games often move as a result. Staying on top of the movements is a key part of the handicapping process, and our live Michigan odds feed makes that a non-issue.
After college football bowl game matchups are announced, sportsbooks will release the betting lines for each contest to the public. Bettors quickly begin to weigh in, and action will stay strong right up until kickoff.
There are several different ways to bet on the games — each of which we’ll touch on in a bit — but the default listing for the game centers on the three bet types which attract the most wagers. Here’s what a random line might look like:
|Oregon||+3.5 (-110)||+150||O 52.5 (-110)|
|Michigan||-3.5 (-110)||-130||U 52.5 (-110)|
For this fictitious matchup between the Ducks and Wolverines, the game listing shows the team names and a series of numbers next to each of them. From left to right, these numbers represent the following: point spread, moneyline and total odds.
A glance at the line tells us that Michigan is a 3.5-point and the overall favorite, and that the game projects to have a decent amount of scoring — the bar is set at 52.5 points.
After the public begins weighing in, it’s not uncommon to see some movement in bowl game odds and lines. For example, a rush of point spread bets on Oregon plus the 3.5 points could lead the spread to be adjusted by a half-point or more. The odds attached to that bet could also shift based on the action.
The same concept applies to the moneyline and total. If we use the former as an example, a good amount of action on the Oregon side could lead the moneyline odds to be adjusted to something like this.
Oddsmakers have responded to the public’s assessment of the game by adjusting the odds. The Ducks’ side of the equation has been made less attractive, while the odds for Michigan have improved in terms of the potential return for successful bets.
What’s happening is a bid to even out the action a bit more to the sportsbooks’ liking. If they wind up too lopsided on a game, that opens up a greater liability on their end. Since the operators are for-profit entities, steps are taken to avoid these actions.
The movement in the college bowl odds and lines can tell you a lot about the public sentiment on a game, so it certainly bears watching. Also, keep in mind that the numbers aren’t necessarily the same at each sportsbook. As part of your handicapping process, take the time to check out the offerings at multiple operators to find the best prices on the games.
For each game on the docket, you’ll have different options to consider. The main bet types will see tons of action, and clicking on the “more wagers” option in an app’s individual game listings will open up even more possibilities.
Here’s a rundown of the most popular bet types, starting with the big three.
The moneyline bet is perhaps the most straightforward wager you’ll come across. All you need to do is pick the winner out of the favorite and underdog, which are represented by negative and positive odds, respectively.
For a spread wager, oddsmakers install several points that need to be accounted for. You can choose the favorite minus the points, or the underdog plus the number. Whichever side you pick has to cover the spread for a winning bet.
This wager is based on the total combined points scored in the contest by the two teams. Sportsbooks set a benchmark number upon the initial release of lines, and bettors then get to decide where they think the total will fall.
As mentioned, there are lots more bets to consider. Here are three other types of wagers that generate lots of action at the betting window.
A parlay is a wager in which you include two or more outcomes on a single betting slip. The rewards can be high, but the risk also rises with each selection added. For example, you could place a parlay bet on three moneyline picks.
Same-game parlays are also becoming popular staples on more well-known Michigan sportsboook apps, but often with payouts somewhat reduced in comparison with traditional, multi-game parlays.
Props are often found under the “more wagers” link in the individual game listings. These are side bets on things that might happen during the game or benchmarks reached at its conclusion. Here are some examples of what you might come across.
The bowl game schedule is once again jam-packed. From the end of December through early January, we have 40 postseason contests to potentially look forward to. The exact dates and start times are still being finalized for select contests, but many dates, locations and TV networks are set.
|Dec. 17, 2021||Bahamas Bowl||Nassau, Bahamas||Middle Tennessee (6-6) vs. Toledo (7-5)||Noon||ESPN|
|Dec. 17||Cure Bowl||Orlando, Fla.||Northern Illinois (9-4) vs. Coastal Carolina (10-2)||6 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Dec. 18||RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl||Boca Raton, Fla.||Western Kentucky (8-5) vs. Appalachian State (10-3)||11 a.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 18||New Mexico Bowl||Albuquerque, N.M.||UTEP (7-5) vs. Fresno State (9-3)||2:15 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 18||Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl||Shreveport, La.||BYU (10-2) vs. UAB (8-4)||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Dec. 18||LendingTree Bowl||Mobile, Ala.||Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs. Liberty (7-5)||5:45 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 18||L.A. Bowl||Los Angeles||Utah State (10-3) vs. Oregon State (7-5)||7:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Dec. 18||R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl||New Orleans||Marshall (7-5) vs. Louisiana (12-1)||9:15 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 20||Myrtle Beach Bowl||Conway, S.C.||Tulsa (6-6) vs. Old Dominion (6-6)||2:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 21||Famous Idaho Potato Bowl||Boise, Idaho||Kent State (7-6) vs. Wyoming (6-6)||3:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 21||Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl||Frisco, Texas||UTSA (12-1) vs. San Diego State (11-2)||7:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 22||Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl||Fort Worth, Texas||Army (8-3) vs. Missouri (6-6)||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 23||Frisco Classic Bowl||Frisco, Texas||Miami (Ohio) (6-6) vs. North Texas (6-6)||3:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 23||Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl||Tampa, Fla.||Florida (6-6) vs. UCF (8-4)||7:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Dec. 24||Hawai'i Bowl||Honolulu||Memphis (6-6) vs. Hawaii (6-7)||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 25||Camellia Bowl||Montgomery, Ala.||Ball State (6-6) vs. Georgia State (7-5)||2:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 27||Quick Lane Bowl||Detroit||Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Nevada (8-4)||11 a.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 27||Military Bowl (presented by Peraton)||Annapolis, Md.||East Carolina (7-5) vs. Boston College (6-6)||2:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 28||TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl||Birmingham, Ala.||Houston (11-2) vs. Auburn (6-6)||Noon||ESPN|
|Dec. 28||SERVPRO First Responder Bowl||University Park, Texas||Louisville (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)||3:15 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 28||San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl||San Diego||UCLA (8-4) vs. N.C. State (9-3)||5 p.m.||Fox|
|Dec. 28||AutoZone Liberty Bowl||Memphis, Tenn.||Texas Tech (6-6) vs. Mississippi State (7-5)||6:45 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 28||Guaranteed Rate Bowl||Phoenix||Minnesota (8-4) vs. West Virginia (6-6)||10:15 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 29||Fenway Bowl||Boston||Virginia (6-6) vs. SMU (8-4)||11 a.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 29||New Era Pinstripe Bowl||New York City||Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Maryland (6-6)||2:15 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 29||Cheez-It Bowl||Orlando, Fla.||Clemson (9-3) vs. Iowa State (7-5)||5:45 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 29||Valero Alamo Bowl||San Antonio||Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Oregon (10-3)||9:15 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 30||Duke's Mayo Bowl||Charlotte, N.C.||North Carolina (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6)||11:30 a.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 30||TransPerfect Music City Bowl||Nashville, Tenn.||Purdue (8-4) vs. Tennessee (7-5)||3 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 30||Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl||Atlanta||Michigan State (10-2) vs. Pittsburgh (11-2)||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 30||SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl||Las Vegas||Wisconsin (8-4) vs. Arizona State (8-4)||10:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 31||TaxSlayer Gator Bowl||Jacksonville, Fla.||Wake Forest (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)||11 a.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 31||Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl||El Paso, Texas||Miami (Fla.) (7-5) vs. Washington State (7-5)||12:30 p.m.||CBS|
|Dec. 31||Goodyear Cotton Bowl (CFP Semifinal)||Arlington, Texas||Alabama (12-1) vs. Cincinnati (13-0)||3:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Dec. 31||Arizona Bowl||Tucson, Ariz.||Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Boise State (7-5)||4:30 p.m.||Barstool|
|Dec. 31||Capital One Orange Bowl (CFP Semifinal)||Miami Gardens, Fla.||Michigan (12-1) vs. Georgia (12-1)||7:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Jan. 1, 2022||Outback Bowl||Tampa, Fla.||Penn State (7-5) vs. Arkansas (8-4)||Noon||ESPN2|
|Jan. 1||Vrbo Citrus Bowl||Orlando, Fla.||Iowa (10-3) vs. Kentucky (9-3)||1 p.m.||ABC|
|Jan. 1||PlayStation Fiesta Bowl||Glendale, Ariz.||Notre Dame (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State (11-2)||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Jan. 1||Rose Bowl||Pasadena, Calif.||Ohio State (10-2) vs. Utah (10-3)||5 p.m.||ESPN|
|Jan. 1||Allstate Sugar Bowl||New Orleans||Baylor (11-2) vs. Ole Miss (10-2)||8:45 p.m.||ESPN|
|Jan. 4||Texas Bowl||Houston||Kansas State (7-5) vs. LSU (6-6)||9 p.m.||ESPN|
|Jan. 10||CFP National Championship (presented by AT&T)||Indianapolis||CFP Semifinal winners||8 p.m.||ESPN|
An invite to a bowl game is a reward for a job well done. As such, teams have to hit a certain mark to gain eligibility. For a standard NCAAF season in which teams play a 12-game schedule, they must at least have as many wins as losses.
Thus, six wins is the magic number. A record of 6-6 normally gets it done. Also, teams just can’t rack up wins against lower levels of competition and call it day. In general, just one win over an FCS school counts towards bowl eligibility.
Beyond the bowls, there’s also the matter of the College Football Playoff, which involves the four best teams in the nation as judged by the CFP selection committee. The semifinal matchups take place at two of the marquee bowl games, while the final is a standalone contest.
Polls are a big part of NCAA football, from the preseason throughout the regular season, and it’s the same story for the playoffs. At about the midway point of the regular season, the CFP poll starts getting released weekly.
When the final poll comes out after conference championship games, the top four squads qualify for the CFP. This poll also has a bearing on the teams that wind up playing in the New Year’s Six Bowls, which are the biggest of the bunch on the postseason menu.
Although each bowl game on the docket is special in its own right, some just carry more cache than the others. That’s especially true these days, as two of the biggest bowls also serve double duty as CFP games.
The most highly-anticipated bowl games are known as the New Year’s Six. Each has a special legacy that has spanned decades. Let’s take a quick look.
The Sugar Bowl is held annually at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The game traces its roots back to 1935, which makes it one of the oldest bowl games still going strong today. In the last edition, Ohio State took down Clemson by a score of 49-28 in a College Football Playoff semifinal game.
Last appearance by local team: 2012 — Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20
The Fiesta Bowl first came our way in 1971 and currently makes its home at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, taking over for Sun Devil Stadium in 2006. The last edition saw Iowa State take down Oregon 34-17.
Last appearance by local team: 1986 — Michigan 27, Nebraska 23
The Orange Bowl is also one of the oldest traditions on the menu, with the inaugural game taking place back in 1935. The current venue is Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Last season, Texas A&M defeated North Carolina by a score of 41-27.
Last appearance by local team: 2021 — Michigan vs. Georgia (College Football Playoff)
The Peach Bowl has been held annually in Atlanta since 1968. Mercedes-Benz Stadium serves as the current venue, taking over for the Georgia Dome in 2016. At the last one, Georgia beat Cincinnati 24-21.
Last appearance by local team: 2021 — Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh (New Year’s Six)
Known as ‘The Granddaddy of Them All,’ the Rose Bowl has been held annually since 1916. The appropriately named Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, generally serves as the location. Last time out, Alabama defeated Notre Dame 31-14 in a College Football Playoff semifinal game that was moved to Arlington, Texas, because of protocols related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last appearance by local team: 2014 — Michigan State 24, Stanford 20
Held annually at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Cotton Bowl has a history that spans back to 1937. The Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas was the previous home until 2009. Oklahoma beat Florida 55-20 in the last contest.
Last appearance by local team: 2017 — Wisconsin 24, Western Michigan 16
You can apply many of the same tenets you would use for handicapping the NCAAF regular season to bowl games. You want to examine the matchup in full detail, as well as performance against any common opponents during the season.
Also, there are a few specific things you’ll want to keep a close eye on as you break down the bowl games.
The two biggest programs here at home, Michigan and Michigan State, have quite the storied records for bowl season. The Wolverines check in with a mark of 21-27 in 48 postseason games, while it’s 13-16 for the Spartans through 29 bowls.
The two programs have had some memorable games over the years, but some have naturally stood out more than others. They’ve also both faced off with other major programs at times. Let’s take a look.
The roots of college football in the state of Michigan go back to the late 1800s. Although the two marquee programs capture much of the attention, there’s a trio of smaller schools that have quite the following as well. Here are some of the key details on each.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Jim Harbaugh took over as Michigan head coach in 2015. While the team has been competitive under his watch, they have yet to get over the hump in the Big Ten. The bowl game record for the Wolverines over that span also leaves a lot to be desired. Since beating Florida in the Citrus Bowl in 2016, Michigan has dropped four bowl games in a row, including a defeat to Alabama in the 2020 Citrus Bowl. Harbaugh’s postseason record at Michigan is just 1-4.
The Wolverines have an all-time mark of 8-12 in the Rose Bowl. The program made regular appearances in ‘The Granddaddy of Them All’ from the 1970s through the early 2000s, but it has been a while since the last trip. That came back in 2007, when Michigan fell to USC by a score of 32-18.
It has been a while since either program has turned the trick, but the Spartans were the last of the two to pull it off. Michigan State last won the crown in 2015, finishing up with an overall mark of 12-2 and a record of 7-1 in conference play. The team matched up with Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Cotton Bowl, losing by a score of 38-0. Michigan’s last title came in 2004, when it matched Iowa with a 7-1 mark in Big Ten play. The Wolverines finished the year with an overall mark of 9-3, losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl by a score of 38-37.
The number has been steadily climbing through the years and has exploded since the turn of the century. For the 2021 campaign, there are a whopping 44 bowl games scheduled, including the national title game. The games are popular attractions both on the tube and from a wagering perspective, and interest is only expected to grow in the coming years as more and more states legalize sports betting.
The vaunted New Year’s Six bowl games, Cotton, Fiesta, Rose, Orange, Peach and Sugar, are considered the biggest, and they tend to be the most popular attractions as well. In recent years, the games which have also served as CFP semifinal contests have been the biggest draws. For the 2021 season, the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl have the honors on that front. Both of those contests are scheduled for Dec. 31, 2021.