College Football Bowl Betting Guide

Following a job well done during a grueling regular season, the reward for successful college football programs is a coveted spot in a bowl game.

Bowl season is a reward for viewers and handicappers, too, as these postseason tilts extend the fun of the NCAAF season for just a little bit longer.

Conference championship games occur during the last weekend of November or the first weekend in December. It marks the end of the sprint that begins in late August, but it’s not the end of the road.

After a small break, bowl season kicks off in earnest. In recent years, the stakes went up even further.

The College Football Playoffs involve the top four programs in the nation, as deemed by the selection committee. These teams face off in two of the biggest bowl games on the calendar, with the winners moving on to the national championship game in early January.

Since the playoffs have come into existence, they receive the bulk of the attention. However, there’s a whole lot more to see during bowl season.

In this NCAAF Bowl Betting Guide, we’re going to share all you need to know.

From how to place your bets to the biggest bowl games of the year, we have you covered. Let’s begin by taking a closer look at the answer to a frequently asked question.

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Is it legal to bet on college bowl games?

College football has a significant following within the handicapping community, which grows as additional states legalize sports betting.

As even more states climb on board, we can expect more of the same.

Yes, it’s legal to bet on college bowl games, but some caveats do apply in individual states. Let’s take a look at the rules for some of them:

  • Pennsylvania: Sports betting is legal online and in-person. There are no restrictions for betting on college football.
  • New Jersey: Sports betting is legal online and in-person. However, it’s prohibited to bet on games involving colleges that are in the state.
  • Indiana: Retail rollout of sports betting is ongoing while online wagering is coming soon. There are no restrictions for betting on college football.
  • West Virginia: Sports betting is legal at retail sportsbooks with online wagering opening in August. There are no restrictions for betting on college football.
  • Nevada: Sports betting is legal online and in-person. There are no restrictions for betting on college football.

For a complete guide to the rules and regulations on a state-by-state basis, be sure to check out our guide.

Understanding college bowl game odds, lines

The odds and lines for college football bowl games work the same as they do for the regular season.

For each game, oddsmakers will designate a favorite and an underdog. They’ll also attach a point spread to each game that helps to level the field, as well as a total, which designates the estimated total number of points scored in the game.

While it’s business as usual when it comes to the lines, some wrinkles need to be considered.

For starters, the overwhelming majority of college football bowl games occur at neutral sites. There are the occasional outliers, but for the most part, the home-field advantage is nonexistent for bowl games.

You should also know that the odds for bowl games are generally released well in advance of the actual game day. From a handicapping perspective, this is excellent news for those who like to take advantage of the lull in between the regular and postseason to break down games early.

For those who prefer to wait until closer to game time, they know the lines and odds have been out for a while. As a result, they may have shifted based on market action.

As a rule of thumb: It is always good to see where the lines stand when you are ready to place your bets.

Those small swings in odds and point spreads can add up, and they may even influence your final decision on the game itself.

Types of bets

All of the standard bets are available for college football bowl games. You will find wagering opportunities available on the following:

  • Moneyline: A moneyline bet is one of the most traditional forms of placing a wager. With this, a customer is placing a bet on the outright winner of the game. The three-digit number next to each team’s name specifies what a winning bet will pay out. A positive number is an amount that a $100 bet on the team will pay. A negative number is an amount that must be wagered to receive $100 as a payout.
  • Point Spread: The crown jewel of placing a wager tends to be on the point spread. This form of betting is a wager on the expected margin of victory in a game. Sportsbooks establish which teams will likely win and by how much based on a number of statistics. Once a point spread is established, bettors then choose if the favorite will exceed the margin of victory, or if the underdog will lose by less or win outright.
  • Totals: Totals, traditionally known as over/under, are bets placed on the combined score of both teams. Players then bet on whether or not the combined total will greater than or less than the number established by the sportsbook.
  • Futures and Props: Futures are bets on the probability of something happening in the future. Most future bets, i.e., who will win the World Series or the Super Bowl, are placed at the beginning of the baseball or football season. Proposition or “prop bets,” are bets placed on specific events occurring during a game or throughout a season. Typical bets are, i.e., who will score the first touchdown in a game or will a specific football player pass for a certain amount of yards.
  • ParlaysParlays are a bit of a challenge. Bettors can place a wager on more than one event or more than one team. The trick is, all the bettor’s choices must be accurate to payout.
  • Bowl Pick ’em: One of the most popular games is Bowl Pick ’em, where players pick the winner of each bowl game. These tend to pop up on various websites every season, such as ESPN, Yahoo and CBS. Sometimes each site will offer a huge payout or a prize to attend the national championship game. It’s possible that FanDuel and DraftKings could offer a Bowl Pick ’em contest for college bowl season, but it remains unknown.

In addition, assorted prop bets and live wagering are available when the games kick-off.

For now, let’s stick with the basics and consider the following hypothetical matchup:

University College and State College are big, in-state rivals who happen to play in separate conferences. As luck would have it, they both have had great regular seasons and are eligible for bowl consideration.

When the matchups are announced, University and State are paired up to play in the Higher Education Bowl, which is a few states away.

Here is where the oddsmakers have set the three main lines:

  • Moneyline: University -120, State +100
  • Point Spread: University -3
  • Total: 49.5 points

Armed with the line and odds, you can begin your research.

After handicapping the contest, you determine you like University to win a close and low-scoring contest.

You decide to place the following three bets:

  • Moneyline: University -120
  • Point Spread: University -3
  • Total: 49.5 points

The game kicks off, and you were pretty much on the money. It’s a tight affair overall with University holding on for a 21-19 win.

So, how did you do? You nailed the moneyline bet because University won the game.

Unfortunately, you missed the mark on the point spread as University only won by 2 points. To cover the spread, they had to win the game by 4 points or more. The total points scored in the game were 40, so you have yourself another win.

All told, you went 2:1 on your three wagers, which is not bad.

College football bowl schedule

For the 2019 season, NCAAF bowl season begins Friday, Dec. 20. There are two games that day, Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl and the Frisco Bowl, with the matchups naturally to be determined after the season comes to a close.

Bowl season continues through Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, with games on select days.

The busiest days on the calendar are Saturday, Dec. 21, the days following Christmas, as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The busiest days will see four games, while other days will only have a game or two.

The final game on the docket takes place on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, the College Football Playoff National Championship game. The game takes place at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and ESPN broadcasts it.

While not too far after New Year’s, this game makes for one of the most significant sporting events of the entire calendar year. The interest level is intense from both a viewing and wagering perspective.

In last year’s title game, the underdog Clemson Tigers surprised the favored Alabama Crimson Tide to win the title.

Now entering this season, those two programs are the favorites to meet in the final game once again.

DateGameStadiumTimeTelevision
Dec 20Bahamas BowlThomas Robinson Stadium,
Nassau, Bahamas
2:00 p.m. ESPN
Dec 20Frisco Bowl Toyota Stadium,
Frisco, Texas
7:30 p.m.ESPN2
Dec 21Celebration BowlMercedes-Benz Stadium,
Atlanta, Georgia
12:00 p.m. ABC
Dec 21New Mexico BowlDreamstyle Stadium,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
2:00 p.m. ESPN
Dec 21Cure BowlExploria Stadium,
Orlando, Florida
2:30 p.m. CBSSN
Dec 21Boca Raton BowlFAU Stadium,
Boca Raton, Florida
3:30 p.m. ABC
Dec 21Camellia BowlCramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama5:30 p.m. ESPN
Dec 21Las Vegas BowlSam Boyd Stadium, Whitney, Nevada7:30 p.m. ABC
Dec 21New Orleans BowlMercedes-Benz Superdome,
New Orleans, Louisiana
9:00 p.m. ESPN
Dec 23Gasparilla BowlRaymond James Stadium,
Tampa, Florida
2:30 p.m. ESPN
Dec 24Hawaii BowlAloha Stadium,
Honolulu, Hawaii
8:00 p.m. ESPN
Dec 26Independence BowlIndependence Stadium,
Shreveport, Louisiana
4:00 p.m. ESPN
Dec 26Quick Lane BowlFord Field,
Detroit, Michigan
8:00 p.m.ESPN
Dec 27Military BowlNavy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium,
Annapolis, Maryland
12:00 p.m. ESPN
Dec 27Pinstripe BowlYankee Stadium,
The Bronx, New York
3:20 p.m. ESPN
Dec 27Texas BowlNRG Stadium,
Houston, Texas
6:45 p.m.ESPN
Dec 27Holiday BowlSDCCU Stadium,
San Diego, California
8:00 p.m. FS1
Dec 27Cheez-It BowlChase Field,
Phoenix, Arizona
10:15 p.m.ESPN
Dec 28Camping World BowlCamping World Stadium,
Orlando, Florida
12:00 p.m. ABC
Dec 30First Responder BowlGerald J. Ford Stadium,
University Park, Texas
12:30 p.m. ESPN
Dec 30Music City BowlNissan Stadium,
Nashville, Tennessee
4:00 p.m. ESPN
Dec 30Redbox BowlLevi's Stadium,
Santa Clara, California
4:00 p.m. FOX
Dec 31 Belk BowlBank of America Stadium,
Charlotte, North Carolina
12:00 p.m. ESPN
Dec 31 Sun BowlSun Bowl,
El Paso, Texas
2:00 p.m. CBS
Dec 31 Liberty BowlLiberty Bowl Memorial Stadium,
Memphis, Tennessee
3:45 p.m. ESPN
Dec 31 Arizona BowlArizona Stadium,
Tucson, Arizona
4:30 p.m. CBSSN
Dec 31 Alamo Bowl Alamodome,
San Antonio, Texas
7:30 p.m. ESPN
Jan 1 Citrus BowlCamping World Stadium,
Orlando, Florida
1:00 p.m. ABC
Jan 1 Outback BowlRaymond James Stadium,
Tampa, Florida
1:00 p.m. ESPN
Jan 2 Birmingham BowlLegion Field,
Birmingham, Alabama
3:00 p.m. ESPN
Jan 2 Gator BowlTIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Florida7:00 p.m. ESPN
Jan 3Famous Idaho Potato BowlAlbertsons Stadium,
Boise, Idaho
3:30 p.m. ESPN
Jan 4Armed Forces BowlAmon G. Carter Stadium,
Fort Worth, Texas
11:30 a.m.ESPN
Jan 6Mobile Alabama BowlLadd–Peebles Stadium,
Mobile, Alabama
7:30 p.m. ESPN
DateGameStadiumTimeTelevision
Dec 28Cotton Bowl ClassicAT&T Stadium,
Arlington, Texas
12:00 pm ESPN
Dec 28Fiesta Bowl
(Playoff Semifinal Game)
State Farm Stadium,
Glendale, Arizona
4:00 or 8:00 pm ESPN
Dec 28Peach Bowl
(Playoff Semifinal Game)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium,
Atlanta, Georgia
4:00 or 8:00 pm ESPN
Dec 30Orange BowlHard Rock Stadium,
Miami Gardens, Florida
8:00 pm ESPN
Jan 1Rose BowlRose Bowl,
Pasadena, California
5:00 pm ESPN
Jan 1Sugar BowlMercedes-Benz Superdome,
New Orleans, Louisiana
8:45 pm ESPN
Jan 13College Football Playoff National ChampionshipMercedes-Benz Superdome,
New Orleans, Louisiana
8:00 pm ESPN

The road to the bowls

Not including the national championship game, there will be 39 bowl games on tap after the conclusion of the regular season.

There are 78 spots to fill, but college football at the FBS level has 130 total teams. In general, six wins is the magic number for a program to be eligible to compete in a bowl game.

However, there are exceptions in years in which fewer teams reach that mark than are needed to fill the slots. If five-win teams need to be considered, the schools that have reached the total are then ranked by their Academic Progress Score with those at the top of the list making the cut.

Many of the bowls have a direct relationship with the various college conferences, which means the schools in that league will generally be playing in those games.

While there have been traditional tie-ins for years, the implementation of the College Football Playoff has led to some of those affiliations becoming slightly flexible.

Key matchups to watch

During the season, the apparent goal is to win as many games as possible. However, some wins will carry more weight than others.

For example, a victory over a Top 25 program is a bigger feather in the cap for an FBS program than a win over a lower-level program from the FCS.

As the year plays out, keep an eye on the matchups that feature ranked teams facing each other. This can also be a great way to stay on top of the college football regular season without investing too much time.

For some casual observers, the sheer number of games on the weekly schedule makes them feel as if it’s impossible to get up to speed with NCAAF.

While only paying attention to the top games won’t expose you to the ins and outs of college football, it will allow you to understand the top programs.

After all, these will likely be the teams playing in the biggest bowl games of the year, i.e., the College Football Playoffs. In addition, conference championship week is a great time to get involved and dig into as many games as possible.

The winners of these games will be going places, and it’s often the best of the games on the bowl season schedule.

The big six: New Year’s bowls

While there are plenty of bowl games on the yearly schedule, some of them carry more weight and cachet than others.

Such is the case with the bowls that are dubbed as the New Year’s Six. These are the most prestigious bowls in college football, and each of them is chock full of rich history.

Let’s take a quick look at each of them:

  • Sugar Bowl: This game has been held annually since 1935. Local support was strong for a New Year’s Day bowl game, and the Sugar Bowl name was christened before the first contest was even held.
  • Fiesta Bowl: This game is played annually in Arizona and traces its roots back to 1971. The game has had a slew of sponsors through the years, with PlayStation holding the current rights.
  • Orange Bowl: This is another game that traces its roots way back to 1935. Played annually in Miami, the name is a nod to one of Florida’s most popular exports.
  • Peach Bowl: This game emanates from Atlanta and has been held annually since 1968. Initially put together as a fundraiser, the annual game has become one of the top bowl games of the year.
  • Rose Bowl: Dubbed the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl has been around since 1923. It coincides with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses parade.
  • Cotton Bowl: The Cotton Bowl in Dallas played host to an annual bowl game each year from 1937 to 2009. The game has since moved to AT&T Stadium and been renamed the Cotton Bowl Classic.

On this year’s calendar, the Peach and Fiesta bowls will host the College Football Playoff semifinal games. The other four bowls will feature the nation’s other top programs.

Biggest college football bowl rivalries

Alabama and Clemson have been the dominant forces in college football in recent times, and they have developed quite the postseason rivalry as a result.

They have met in January for the last four years in a row with each side picking up two wins. Could we see these two powerhouses meet for a fifth straight year?

These are the two dominant teams of this era, but there are plenty of other programs who have had stellar runs, too. These include Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida State and USC, to name a few.

Prior to the implementation of the College Football Playoffs and various national championship games, the best teams wouldn’t always decide things on the field.

This era is much different, so true rivalries of national powerhouses from various conferences can develop, just like the one we are witnessing with Alabama and Clemson.

College bowl payouts

Bowl games are not only an honor for the team; they also happen to be quite lucrative for the schools themselves. Each conference receives a base payout, which hinges on their Academic Performance Review standing.

For 2019, the Power Five conferences with ties to the Rose, Orange, and Sugar Bowl each received roughly $54 million. For the Group of Five conferences, which don’t have automatic bids to these bowls, each conference received around $81 million to divide.

Conferences which send a team to the College Football Playoffs receive an additional $6 million, while participation in a New Year’s Six Bowl generated an additional $4 million for the related conference. Each conference also gets a travel allowance of $2.25 million for these games.

In addition, schools receive money for winning the various games with payouts ranging from the hundreds of thousands to the millions.

Long story short, college football bowl games are big business.

College Bowl FAQ

What is a college bowl game?

A bowl game is a postseason contest, which may or may not have additional stakes involved.

What is the purpose of the college bowl games?

College bowl games help recognize programs for their performances during the year. The better the season, the more attractive bowl opportunities will be presented to a program.

How many teams play in the college bowls?

For this season, there are 39 bowl games (not including the national title game), which means 78 schools will be involved.

When do college bowls start?

For 2019, the first bowl games get underway on Friday, Dec. 20.

What are the best bowl games to watch in college football?

The New Year’s six bowls are regarded as the best games of bowl season. In recent years, two of these games also play host to the College Football Playoffs.

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