Common Mistakes Made by College Football Bettors, Part 2

Sunday, August 9, 2015 6:07 PM UTC

Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015 6:07 PM UTC

Let's reexamine an article I wrote last year entitled, “Common Mistakes Made by College Football Bettors”  to see how my tips fared in the 2014-2015 college football season.

Prior to the start of the 2014-2015 season, I wrote an article entitled, “Common Mistakes Made by College Football Bettors.” The article audaciously set out to detail why everything you thought you knew about college football betting was wrong. Hyperbole? Perhaps just a bit, but the article focused on public perception, since that is what tends to motivate the “public bettor” to wager his money, and money drives betting lines. Making quick work of the Transitive Property, therefore, leads to the conclusion: public perception drives betting lines. Admittedly, that is an oversimplification, but I submitted five areas of conventional college football thinking to support that claim. The five examples used were conference affiliation, coaching, home field advantage, star power, and talent. This article reexamines those same areas to see how they fared in the 2014-2015 college football season. (In other words, this article is a whole lot of I told you so! Despite that, your college football picks will be better for it, so allow me to brag AND help you at the same time.)


Conference Affiliation
Despite the “drought” in the Southeastern Conference- not winning a national championship in two whole years- the SEC is still widely considered the best college football conference in the nation. What has changed over the course of the past few seasons is the concept of divisional pride. Bragging about participating in the SEC used to be enough, but more and more you hear about the dominance of the SEC West. Another division that will continue to get increased publicity is the Pac-12 South. With partisan lines being drawn by division now, we examined what the consensus believes to be the greatest division in college football: the SEC West. In 2014-2015, versus non-conference opponents, the SEC West went somewhere between 44.12% and 51.43% against-the-spread (ATS), depending on when the bet was placed. (The difference of outcome was the difference between opening and closing betting lines.) Recalling that, in the football betting world of bet-$11-to-win-$10, 52.38% is the breakeven point, betting on the SEC West when they played nonconference opponents was unprofitable, yet in 94.29% of those games, the public majority was on the SEC West team!


In last year’s article, I claimed that legendary coaches make for bad college football bets. I cited Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Brian Kelly, and Frank Beamer as examples of active coaching legends. In 2014-2015, the teams coached by those legends beat the spread at a rate of 47.06%, yet they had a majority of the public betting on their side in 75% of all their games.


Home Field Advantage
I contend that the average college football bettor accounts for home field advantage (HFA) twice, even though he may not know it. In the non-betting straight-up (SU) world, home field advantage in college football is a real phenomenon. Over the past 10 seasons of college football, the Home team has won (SU) at a rate just above 61%. Both oddsmakers and bookmakers know this, so it is “factored into the line” by the time anyone has the opportunity to bet a game. In his betting analysis, for the average bettor to credit a side with some form of HFA simply because the game is being played in one team’s stadium is to account for HFA twice.

Entering 2014, ESPN polled 99 coaches about the toughest places to play in college football. The top five results were LSU, Texas A&M, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. The public majority bet on those Home teams in 72.73% of all the 2014-2015 college football games played in those “toughest places to play,” yet the ATS winning rate for Home teams from those places in 2014-2015 was just 45.45%.


Star Power
I told you last year that stars are expensive. When a college football player becomes a household name, either hide your wallet or look for opportunities to bet against his team. Since college football players have precious little time to make a name for themselves while they are still playing in college, the best position to play for a rising star is quarterback. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports (formerly of ESPN) wrote an article published in August of 2014 detailing the best quarterbacks entering the 2014 college football season. For the college football faithful, each name reached household status. They were Jameis Winston (Florida State), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Trevor Knight (Oklahoma), and Everett Golson (at the time, from Notre Dame). A public majority bet on the teams of those stars in 76.47% of all their 2014-2015 games. They beat the spread at the abysmal rate of 42.65%.


At first glance, this category looks a lot like star power above. The difference, however, is that the focus here is not on individuals, but on overall team talent. That might seem like a vague, nebulous, and subjective area for judgment, but there are plenty of college football media touting the overall talent or strength of a team. For example, according to his most important power ratings’ system, Phil Steele’s 2014 Power Poll had Florida State, Alabama, UCLA, Oregon, and Oklahoma as the five best teams in the country. Steele claims that poll reflects the “strength” of each team. Whether strength equals talent is debatable, but we do not think it unreasonable to use those terms interchangeably in this context. Therefore, Steele’s most talented five teams entering the 2014-2015 season finished by beating the spread at the ignominious rate of 40.58% even though their side was the majority betting side in 76.81% of all their matchups.


If you were the ultimate “square” bettor, and you liked to bet on the SEC West, the coaching legend, the toughest place to play, the greatest names in college football, and the teams with the most talent, you would have been on the majority side 78.02% of the time in 2014-2015. That means that, if you are a “dime” bettor (trying to win $1,000 per bet), then you would have been out $49,300 from the 2014-2015 season. On the other hand, if you learned from my article last year and bet your dime against those in the popular categories for each matchup, you would have been on the majority side just 21.98% of the time, but you would have ended the 2014-2015 college football season up $22,100. So, the question goes to you: Would you rather bet like everyone else or make money?


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