Let’s take a comprehensive and modern look at how to bet on the highest level of amateur football — the FBS Division I level, made up of 129 teams — and show the different types of wagers.
The most popular type of bet on college football is by making a straight wager on a given team (side), with bettors laying a (moving) point spread — the number of points oddsmakers have assigned to the favorite (the team expected to win) in that game. The favorites will always have a minus sign (-) in front of their point spread numbers while the underdogs will always have a plus sign (+) in front of theirs.
Unlike the point spreads in the NFL, which generally fall in a "pick ‘em" to sometimes (highest-ever and now almost unthinkable) 27-point range, the betting numbers in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) are much higher with much greater differences in the ranges of players’ talent and the conferences made up from the now-129 Division I teams.
The five elite Conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12) are called the Power Five and heading into this season, all 16 teams who had reached the 4-team College Football Playoff (CFP) — initiated in the 2014-15 season — had come from Power Five conferences.
Points can be scored in 1’s (extra points), 2’s (safeties, 2-point conversions by the offense and returned, missed 2-point conversions by the defense), 3’s (field goals) and 6’s (touchdowns). In this era of NCAAF, teams score between 0 and 100 with the number of points scored by a team rising to its highest average ever in 2016 (30.04 ppg), thanks, in great part, to the evolution of the spread offense and much more passing. Back in 2000, the average number of points scored by a team surpassed 26 for the first time.
The only FBS Division I team to ever reach the 100-point mark was the University of Houston, who scored 100 against Tulsa in 1928. The most lopsided college football game ever was in 1916 when Georgia Tech trounced Cumberland 222-0 in Atlanta in a game in which the Bulldogs saw 97% of the plays snapped in their territory.
Here’s a sample from SBROdds.com from last season's national championship game between Alabama and Georgia where the closing number was between Alabama -3 to -5, a good working example of showing how the point spread works with bettors able to win, lose or push depending on when and where a particular side bet was placed. Like with basketball, there is the standard -110 vigorish (11/10 odds) in making straight bets on both sides and totals in NCAAF games, and the bottom team is always the home team in the betting rotation with the corresponding betting (code) number to the immediate left of the team’s (school’s) name.
So to bet on a particular side in this sample — let’s say underdog Georgia — a bettor would have used betting (code) #152 to make a straight side wager on the Bulldogs, with the highest available (closing) number of points available in this sample being the (plus) 5 at Bovada and the lowest being the (plus) 3 at BetOnline.
With Alabama winning this particular game in overtime, 26-23 (+13), Georgia “covered” the 3½- to 5-point spreads (ATS) and “pushed” (bettors getting their money back) at sportsbooks where the number closed at 3. A $110 wager (at Bovada) would have won $100 and returned $210 — the initial $110 bet amount plus the $100 which was won by the bettor in this scenario.
In another betting lesson, because the Crimson Tide scored a TD (6 points) and won on their possession in OT — beating Georgia's 3 points in OT from a FG — Alabama didn’t have to kick the extra point (+1), meaning those holding tickets at 3, 3½ and 4 were all affected. Sometimes you don’t want your team to actually score a TD.
Totals Straight Bets
A total is the combined number of points scored between two teams in a game and the standard 11/10 vigorish is also applied when betting on totals (although some sportsbooks use lower -105 vigorish to increase their handles). Again, using the Alabama-Georgia championship game as an example, we saw a closing consensus total of 45, so bettors in the totals market could bet whether or not they thought more than 45 or less than 45 points would be scored, with one offshore sportsbook closing the game at 45½ and at another at 46.
With Alabama prevailing 26-23, you can see that a total of 49 points were scored, going "over" — by 4 points — the betting total in the game only because the game went to overtime. So, all the "over" bettors won (and felt lucky) and all of the "under" players lost (and felt robbed).
To put in a totals bet at the betting windows or online, you can use the betting code # from either team, just like in the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, soccer and other sports. In this case, a winning bettor could have bet either “151 Under” or “152 Over.”
Unlike college basketball (NCAAB) where the totals are lower than in the NBA, NCAA Division I college football totals are usually considerably higher than NFL game totals for several reasons, although the extreme low totals in an NCAAF season are now very close to what the lowest-low total would be in an NFL season, in the very low 30s.
Why are NCAAF totals generally higher? Despite playing the exact same 60-minute game length as the NFL — four, 15-minute quarters — the greater variance of skill levels (pros vs. amateurs), poorer defensive players in college, more passing and teams simply having to pass because they are down so many points with time ticking away in NCAAF games often leads to some cupcake-blowouts and total scores approaching and exceeding 100 (total points) and quite often games where some teams actually go "over" the posted total(s) by themselves — a real rarity in the NFL.
Check out the above example from last season where Western Michigan (71) and Buffalo (68) scored more points than the closing total (51) in a game which saw the over/under actually go over by 88 points — after a 77-point OT in a game which was tied at 31 (and already over) at the end of regulation. Like all wagers, totals bets can only be cashed after a game has ended and not after a total has gone over, the only way you could ever think you could cash-in early anyway.
First and Second Straight Bets
Sportsbooks will also post side and total numbers for the first and second halves of play in games. Here are the closing offshore numbers from the first half of that national championship game.
As you can see, favorite Alabama was a 2- to 3-point favorite in the first half, and with Georga up 13-0 at halftime, Bulldog backers (easily) won their first half point spread bets and didn’t even need the points (+15 to +16).
And with the first half total closing in a 21- to 22½-point range, "under" bettors easily won in the first half (+8 to +9½) in that game. Second half lines are usually posted right when a game goes to halftime and any points scored in a potential OT count toward the second half line — like the Alabama-Georgia game — so be aware of this unique betting reality. A bet on a fourth quarter total would not include any OT scoring.
Moneyline Straight Bets
A moneyline (straight) bet doesn’t involve laying or taking any points, but simply trying to pick the outright winner of a game with a moneyline market price, set by oddsmakers in a usual three- but sometime four-digit number (betting price compared to winning $100 or $1) that moves depending on what side (team) the public has been betting on.
In the Alabama-Georgia game, the moneyline on the Crimson Tide closed in a -177 to -200 range. The “opener” — located immediately to the right of the school’s name — is where the moneyline price first opened up when it was released to the betting public. In this case, the best (lowest) offshore sportsbooks to back Alabama would have been Pinnacle, BetOnline and Sportsbetting.ag, where a $177 bet on Bama would have won $100, while if Georgia would have won the game, the +200 (2-to-1 odds) at Bovada would have been the best payback with $200 to have been paid for every $100 wagered on the Bulldogs should they have won.
Some sportsbooks will offer moneylines on games only up to a certain point spread levels, while some mavericks post moneyline numbers for games with spreads of 20+. One of those few mavericks is 5Dimes, which posted a +60,000 (600/1) opening line for DI’s Howard against UNLV in Las Vegas on Sept. 2, 2017 for their historic FBS-DI mismatch.
When the Bisons, who, as you can see above — who closed at +55,000 on the moneyline (550/1) — beat the Rebels 43-40, UNLV (-45) suffered the biggest point spread upset in NCAAF history, as well as one of the biggest moneyline upsets ever in sports betting, although who knows how many backed Howard on the moneyline (although the number moved down, meaning some likely Bisons action at 600/1 to force the movement).
Explaining “Push,” “Pick,” and “Buying Points”
If a team favored wins a game by exactly the number of points you’re giving by taking the favorite or getting by betting on the underdog, the wager is considered a “push” (or “wash”), and the money you bet is returned. A “push” can happen with sides and totals, but only when numbers are “flat,” or have no ½ (point) involved. Here’s an example of a potential NCAAF game where both the side and total would push:
MICHIGAN -23 Illinois; Total: 63
FINAL SCORE: MICHIGAN 43 ILLINOIS 20
If you ever see “pick,” “pick ‘em” or “PK” on a betting rotation, it simply means the game is dead-even point spread-wise (0), giving the sports bettor the chance to simply “pick” his or her winner on an even-money basis, with vigorish applied of course. A pick can often be the point spread market itself being bet on up or down to a point where a game almost becomes an even money, moneyline bet in a sense, or oddsmakers will set a game at “PK” and the incoming action will dictate which team becomes the small favorite or if the line stays where it is — even money — and a pick.
“Buying points” isn’t usually done by most sports bettors in sportsbooks, but when it is, it’s done often in football season and less frequently in basketball season and usually involves “buying” half a point (+½) and paying -120 vigorish instead of the standard -110, or, buying a full point (+1) and paying +130 juice. Some offshores also allow bettors to buy 1½, 2, 2½ and even 3 points (or more) at obviously much higher, almost punishing rates of applied vigorish.
Many wiseguys and betting experts would steer gamblers away from buying points, although conventional wisdom says it’s much wiser to do so in football than in basketball where a commitment to playing good (and normal) defense late in games can go out the window. Sometimes a better option in college football is to employ a teaser and apply more points to the point spread(s) or total(s) you plan to use, but that means having to get (at least) two legs as winners, and, with much harsher odds.
Parlays (Off the Board)
A parlay means combining multiple elements (or legs) of sides and/or totals in a single handcrafted wager where all of the elements must win (or push) for the bet to pay out and be a winner. Sportsbooks in Nevada let bettors parlay up to 8 sides (or totals) in NCAAF while online sportsbooks BetOnline, Bookmaker and Bovada let NCAAF bettors combine 2 to 15 NCAAF teams, with rogues such as 5Dimes letting bettors put together monster 25-team parlays.
Parlay payouts vary from sportsbook to sportsbook, but are generally in a tight range so check out the specifics of what each one exactly has to offer. Here is a football (NCAAF and/or NFL) parlay odds payout chart from BetOnline:
And here is a sample 3-team parlay made in a sportsbook in 2011 which ended up losing, with this possible SEC fan putting $200 on 3 teams from the Power Five conference together at 6-to-1 odds — with all three games having the standard -110 odds — to try to win $1,200 on the wager.
In the three games on this parlay ticket, Auburn beat Florida 17-6 at home, covering ATS by 13 points, Alabama rolled Ole Miss 52-7, easily covering the 28-point spread by 17 points. But, South Carolina beat host Mississippi State by only 2 points (14-12) and, with this bettor having the Gamecocks -3 points, the parlay lost (by 1 point) with South Carolina having to win by 3 or more.
Should South Carolina have won by exactly 3, this bettor’s parlay would have simply been reduced down to a (winning) 2-teamer. If the Gamecocks won by 4+, the bettor would have won $1,200 (6/1 odds x $200=) and got his/her original $200 bet back.
Whereas with betting a specific NCAAF game or games off the betting board lets players lock in at the numbers provided to that particular point in time and to mix-and-match point spread, moneyline and totals bets together — with number changing in an open market — parlay cards, found primarily still in the more traditional brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in Nevada and in some of the newer sportsbooks cropping up in the U.S., incorporate using set numbers and usually either a “TIES WIN,” “TIES PUSH” or “TIES LOSE” rule applied in the card’s specifics on the back which can (intentionally) incorporate ½ points on them so as not to be able to have a result end in a tie (or push).
There are a number of different types of parlay cards in sportsbooks including ½-point, teaser, mega- or big-teasers, reverse teasers (or “pleasers”), $100,000 cards and even progressive cards (with Jackpots) among many various other newer types. And almost all parlay cards offer a mix of (some and most weekly NCAAF games as well as (usually) all of the week’s NFL games with the occasional game being “taken off the card” (for betting) due to a major injury or something else unforeseen.
And instead of reading out code numbers to a ticket writer at current prices off of the betting board, parlay card bettors are working with non-moving numbers and then filling in the circles on the bottom stub portion of the parlay card for the corresponding side or totals desired, along with the number of teams (legs, elements) wanted along with the specific bet amount, which often ranges from $1 to $500 on most parlay cards, which usually are available in sportsbooks mid-week after the lines have “hardened.” These stubs are then fed into a reading machine by the ticket writer at the sportsbook, quickly printing out the bettor’s ticket.
Above, find a sample of a ½-point, 12-team (leg) parlay card ticket mixing NCAAF and NFL teams from 2017 for $25 from the William Hill sportsbook inside the Sands Regency in Reno, Nevada, which ended up winning $62,475. With all ½ points on this card, there was no need for any “TIES WIN,” “TIES PUSH” or “TIES LOSE” rule.
A teaser lets the NCAAF bettor “tease” a desired point spread “up” or “down” a certain number of points for a chosen number of sides or totals (from 1 — extremely rare — to 8 and often more) to be used in a parlay-type wager. Winning teasers pay significantly less than do winning parlays because of the premium paid for buying and applying points. And the higher number of points you choose to use to tease your games by, the lower your potential payout. And like a parlay, if any leg in the teaser loses, the whole wager loses. Different sportsbooks have different rules on handling “pushes” (ties Against The Spread, a k a ATS), with customer-friendly ones grading them as as pushes and removing those game from the teasers.
Some offshores offer "sweetheart" (or “monster”) teasers, allowing gamblers to apply 10 points (or sometimes even more) to a given game. Sportsbooks have different limits on the number of teams a bettor can have in a teaser with some offshores allowing up to 10 teams and Las Vegas shops allowing fewer teams (a chart from Intertops is below). All off-the board and parlay card teasers usually let the bettor mix NCAAF and NFL teams for the coming weekend’s slate of games.
Using the championship game between Alabama (-3) and Georgia and the total (45) in a very basic 6-point, 2-team teaser (10/13) as an example, a bettor could have adjusted (closing) lines in the following ways:
So, there were no losers in this teaser scenario, which shows why sportsbooks often worry about them, in close games where the side and/or the total fall within the given range of the teaser points being applied, a 12-point range in this case which resulted in all four sides and totals winning due to the final (Alabama) 26-23 scoreline.
A round robin is a combination of parlays all in one bet, usually combining 2 to 10 teams in a mega-wager that creates multiple parlay combinations of the sides and/or totals selected, creating as many 2-team parlay combinations as possible. If your round robin has four, 2-team parlays (teams A-D) and you are betting $100 on each combination created, the total cost of the round robin would be $600 (6 possible combinations of legs). So the bettor’s 6, 2-team parlays would be (teams) A-B parlayed (for $100), A-C, A-D, B-C, B-D and C-D.
Round robin teasers incorporate the same working pay possibilities, with the obvious teased-odds providing a much lower-return should the wager end up being a winner, or return money, something rare that round robins can do — see a bettor get some of his or her money back despite losing a leg or legs within a given round robin.
And like with parlays, in the case of a push (or pushes) with sides or totals in a round robin (of 2-legged elements), all parlays attached to that pushing element become straight bets. The payout on each 2-team parlay is generally 13/5 (2.6-to-1). So if this theoretical bet saw all 6 legs as winners, then all 6 of the 2-team parlays would win $260 (at $100 each), winning a total of $1,560, plus returning all 6 original wager amounts (6 x $100= $600) with no losers present. A bettor could make 12 separate 2-team parlays on these four theoretical teams and still reach the same end, so a round robin also serves as a function of convenience in this context by letting the bettor only have to make one wager as opposed to 12 different ones.
Different sportsbooks have different numbers of teams and odds (and rules) associated with their round robins — one of the most exotic, looping types of wager that a bettor can make in brick-and-mortar and/or online-offshore sportsbooks — so, do some homework and sportsbook shopping if you’re serious about employing this type of bet, actually used much more often by both the recreational and professional gamblers during the football season. A somewhat intricate “Combination & Sub-Parlay Round Robin Tables” from Intertops is available here.
A futures bet is a season-long wager which usually involves picking a team to win the national championship (game) or maybe a team playing for its individual conference championship game like employed now by all of the NCAAF Power Five conferences. NCAA Division I FBS futures odds for the upcoming season are usually posted immediately after the completion of the previous season’s title game, or often before the previous season has actually ended with some sportsbooks in a rush to be first to the market with their numbers, which brings with it some limelight with the journalistic nature to report on these first (opening) numbers perceived as barometers of a team’s near-term futures fate.
Here is a sample of the 2018 NCAA National Champion (FBS) odds from 5Dimes for schools (teams) with odds of up to 100/1.
Bettors who wanted to back Alabama in this specific example at this particular point in time (again, before the 2018 NCAAF season kicked off) would get 2.1 x for every $1 bet on the heavy favorite Crimson Tide if they ended up becoming national champions, while anyone wishing to back Bama’s in-state rivals and heated SEC opponents, Auburn, would have been able to get them at 28/1 (+2800) in this particular futures bet market. So a random $100 amount bet on Alabama would win ($210) while the same wager amount on Auburn would have resulted in a $2,800 win (28 x $100=) in this scenario.
Some sportsbooks will also post odds on teams winning their division within their conference, and these numbers are much longer due to the nature of a given team only having to get through a smaller number of overall games to try to win its conference. Here is a sample of odds to win the ACC Atlantic Division, from 5Dimes again, heading into their 2018 season, something achieved by having the best record within the division, which then sends that team to the respective conference's championship game (which has its own respective odds).
And some sportsbooks, like 5Dimes, even offer progressive futures odds for national championship winners in the smaller college football divisions like the FCS DI (NCAA Division I Football Championship), DII (NCAA Division II) and DIII (NCAA Division III).
Futures Special Props Bets
Sportsbooks will also sometimes offer up special proposition bets, like online sportsbook Bovada did below in this 2018 Heisman Trophy props offering. Here were the the odds from that particular market heading into the 2018-19 season, including only players with odds of up to 125/1. So should Penn State QB Trace McSorley (+1500 = 15/1 odds) have ended up winning the Heisman Trophy that season, a bettor backing McSorley would have gotten paid 15x for every $1 bet on him. At this particular point in the betting market — two weeks before the season had kicked off — Stanford RB Bryce Love had emerged as the betting favorite to win the coveted award at +700 (7/1 odds).
Offshore sportsbook 5Dimes had the Heisman Trophy winner market broken down even farther, creating a sub-market prop, “Heisman Trophy Presentation [Ceremony] Invite” for those wanting to bet on a specific player who might have ended up being one of the several (but few) finalists invited to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York in early December.
And, also heading into the 2018 NCAAF season, BookMaker.eu was offering a special props bet on who the starting QB for Alabama would be for its Week 1 game, but by that time, the market had pretty much decided that it would be 5-star sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, winning the Alabama signal-caller’s job over incumbent Jalen Hurts, with a Tagovailoa backer having to bet $1,500 to (try to) win $100.
Live Betting (In-Game Wagering)
College football live betting (or in-game wagering) is an evolving and modern way to bet that allows bettors — often using SmartPhones and other mobile devices — wagering on NCAAF games to still be able to get down on the point spreads, moneylines and totals of a game after it has kicked off as well as be able to bet constantly adjusted sides, totals and moneylines throughout a game. This type of modern wagering also allows sports gamblers to “adjust” current positions and “lock in” profits, just like the nervous suits and ties do on Wall Street.
How can an in-game point spread or total change? Let’s say USC closed as a 6-point favorite over UCLA, and the Trojans scored 2 quick TDs for a 14-0 lead in the first 5:55 with the total at 63½. With USC already up 14, and 14 relatively “quick” points scored in the larger context (time remaining) of a game, sportsbooks would then adjust the (in-game) point spread on USC higher — knowing the Trojans are up by 14 and also knowing how much liability they have on both sides in that game — as well as adjusting the (in-game) total higher knowing 14 points have been scored with 9:05 still to be played in the first quarter.