College Football Bowl Lines: Early Market Odds Movement to Consider

Teddy Covers

Monday, December 7, 2015 7:34 PM GMT

With all College Football Bowl matchups going live we now have a few weeks to decide when & where to lay our NCAAF picks. This begs the question as whether to bet now or later?

The bowl slate has officially gotten ridiculous, with 40 bowl games to be played between December 19th and January 2nd, before the hype begins for the national title game the following Monday Night. The bowl pairings were announced last night, and the very first pointspreads were posted this morning.

Let’s take a quick overview to see where the early money is going – and why it’s going in that direction – to aid bettors pondering the age old betting question, when it comes to getting the best of the number – ‘Should I get my wager down right now, or should I wait until closer to kickoff’.

The wiseguy bettors moving the lines this morning were not necessarily ‘tipping their hand’ as to which sides they liked with their College Football Picks. Those initial bets are often more about locking in a wager around a key number than any strong opinion. The biggest bettors certainly weren’t looking to kill their own markets by betting their preferred side before the markets were anywhere near maturity – before they could get multiple max wagers down at multiple sportsbooks.

Rather, the earliest line moves tend to be about market convergence -- bettors deciding which of the various ‘opening lines’ both in Vegas and offshore was the ‘correct’ line moving forward. And it’s not unusual to see an early betting market ‘head fake’ or two, where bettors send the line moving in the opposite direction of what they really want, expecting other books to react to the initial line move, thus offering a bigger marketplace to get their wager down at a better pointspread somewhere down the line. That being said, there are some legitimate ‘opinion’ moves from the early betting action. Many of those opinions have to do with the betting marketplace fixation on ‘strength of schedule’, supporting teams that have stepped up in class repeatedly while fading teams that didn’t. I’ll be using the Sagarin Strength of Schedule numbers here, because the marketplace uses them, even though there are some clear flaws in his methodology (in my opinion).

To illustrate the market support for ‘tested’ teams against supposedly untested ones, the very first bets came in support of Utah and against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Utes finished the regular season with a #28 ranked strength of schedule; while the Cougars ranked 40 spots higher

I personally think that SOS disparity is ridiculous. BYU faced bowl teams in Nebraska, Boise, UCLA, UConn, Michigan, Cincinnati, San Jose and Utah State; not exactly a slate filled with weaklings. Utah had a few more ‘step way up’ games ,most notably Oregon and USC. But the biggest difference was more about BYU facing FCS Wagner in mid-October, dragging their SOS down. The markets are likely to fixate on the raw SOS numbers, but savvy bettors can (and should) be able to find many instances where those raw SOS numbers are not telling the true story.

We’ve already seen some Utah State money (SOS #73) come against Akron (SOS #121), as the initial -6.5’s were bet up to -7 on the College Football Odds board. UConn (SOS #69) has taken initial money as an underdog against Marshall (SOS #138). Don’t expect the Washington (SOS #21) -8.5 line to go down against Southern Miss (SOS #135). And note that 6-6 Auburn (SOS #10) is favored over a nine win Memphis team with an SOS of 65 and a head coach that just left for Virginia Tech.

Be aware of these strength of schedule numbers, regardless of whether you agree with them. The betting markets are paying attention to them, offering bettors some legitimate value when they look to go the other way….