2012 College Football Bowl Games: Does Motivation Matter?


The college football bowl season is nearly upon us and since one of the goals of The Saturday Edge is to educate its audience, I have asked each of our cappers to write something about their thoughts on the subject of betting on college football bowl games.

I thought I’d start it off by reviewing some of the notes I have accumulated over the years and sharing a few of the more pertinent bowl handicapping tips that I like to use and/or not use when analyzing a bowl game.

However, as I started writing about motivation I found that I had enough to say about the subject to turn it into a single bowl article.

You may not agree with my views on the role motivation plays when handicapping a college football bowl game, but hopefully it will stimulate some conversation so we can get some opposing views and/or we can expand on the topic.

Handicapping Motivation – OVERRATED

I have said this before, and I will say it again, motivation has got to be the single most overrated factor when handicapping a college football (bowl) game.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand and agree that “motivation,” “lack of motivation,” “team psychology,” or whatever word or phrase you want to use to describe it exists. The problem is NO ONE can pinpoint it.

I guarantee you that for every game where the “more motivated” team won and/or covered, there will be just as many games where the “less motivated” team won and/or covered.

For me the motivation factor is just icing on the cake for a game that I capped and liked a particular side. If that side also happens to “appear” to have a motivational edge, great. If not, oh well. But I am not going to handicap a bowl game, decide that team A is the better team and then wager on Team B just because I think they have the motivational edge.

Cincinnati v Duke

A good example of a perceived motivational edge from this year’s bowl slate seems to be Cincinnati v Duke. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Duke would appear to have the motivational edge over Cincinnati. The Blue Devils haven’t been to a bowl game since 1995 and last week Cincinnati lost their head coach Butch Jones to Tennessee.

But why should that make Duke the more motivated team?  Perhaps Cincinnati is just as motivated because they tied for the Big East title yet got relegated to a lesser bowl and now were abandoned by their coach. Maybe these factors work to piss the Bearcats off and they are looking forward to taking out their frustrations on an average, at best, Duke team.

My point is you just don’t know what factors are going to motivate or not motivate a particular team. You can’t know for sure which team is going to be more motivated or better prepared.

Read to get an idea of a team’s state of mind

Again, as stated earlier, their simply is no guarantee of knowing how a team is going to perform in a bowl game. I’ve read negative comments by coaches, players and fans just to see that team have a great game and vice-versa.

A great example while looking over my notes is the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl between Northern Illinois and Fresno State. I believe the line opened around NIU -4 or -5, but closed at -1.5 because NIU was in “turmoil.”

Not only had they just lost the MAC Championship game 27-22 to an inferior Miami, OH team in crushing fashion (allowing a 4th and 20+ yard conversion followed by a 33 yard TD pass w/ 33 seconds left in the game), their head coach Jerry Kill resigned following the game to accept the head coaching position at Minnesota. Kill did not coach in the Humanitarian Bowl, instead assistant coach Tom Matukewicz served as the interim head coach for the bowl game.

Here are some of the things I read that were written about this game:

The timing of the announcement further hurts the program due to Kill most likely taking the bulk of his staff to Minnesota. Seven of NIU’s nine assistants have extended ties to Kill. The Bulldogs are a senior-dominated team with four losses against a tough schedule.

The Bulldogs aren’t likely to look past a wounded Huskies team. Northern Illinois must deal with the frustration of losing to an inferior team in the conference title game, and losing their coach in the same weekend. The team’s mental state is a concern against a talented, Pat Hill-led Fresno State group.

Final Score: NIU 40  Fresno State 17

Damn, if I could have just read all the signs better. LOL!

Making too much of motivation

Just because a team is highly motivated doesn’t necessarily mean it will win. Effort counts, certainly, but it can’t always overcome talent. There’s nothing that says that the football team that won their bowl game 50-0 the previous year isn’t just as eager to duplicate that result as the team that was humiliated on the other end of that score is to reverse that outcome.

Final Thoughts

My main point or argument of this entire article is that trying to figure out group “psychology” or which team is more “motivated” is an almost impossible task. Sure motivation exists, and yes every once in a while you’ll get lucky and be able to pinpoint it. But you won’t be able to do it consistently.

Therefore from my perspective if you cap a game and you like team A and they also appear to have a motivational edge, great. However, if motivation is the only reason you can find to justify wagering on Team A, than perhaps you should just pass on the game.

Do you agree or disagree with my views on motivation when it comes to handicapping college football bowl games? Let me know in the comment section below. I definitely want to hear everyone’s thoughts on this subject.

Related Content

College Football Bowl Pick’em Selections and Strategy

FREE Newsletter Exclusive Bowl Picks


Popular Video