SBR takes the time to show why everything you thought you knew about college football betting is wrong.
If you are a college football bettor, then your only betting adversary is your bookmaker. Your bookmaker is not necessarily an odds maker. An odds maker has the luxury of setting college football point spreads in the theoretical, mathematical world without the influence of betting activity. Bookmakers have no such luxury. Once set for the week, those pure odds makers do not have to reset or adjust their lines at all. Again, bookmakers are without that luxury. Although money is the root cause for any line adjustment, understanding expectations is an integral part of college football betting success. Against-the-spread (ATS) outcomes tend to result from those expectations. Of course, expectations have many forms. No matter where odds makers set the lines, every college football week sees bookmakers post some lines that differ from lines set by odds makers- even before those bookmakers have taken their first bet. Why? There is an expectation, based on history, that certain teams will be bet more heavily than others because of perceived: conference strength, star power, superior coaching, home field advantage, a more “talented” team, etc. This article examines what NOT to do with your college football picks.
More than a few people would tell you that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) is the best conference in all of college football. Do bookmakers know the public believes that? Of course they do. SEC teams played 56 regular season non-conference games in 2013. They beat the spread at the unprofitable rate of 48.21% in those matchups, even though the public majority backed the SEC side in 71.43% of those games. Consequently, if you know one side of a college football matchup features a team from a “power conference,” expect that side to be “shaded” (i.e. inflated).
Stars are expensive. The public still likes to bet on popular stars, especially offensive stars who have become household names. (If a college kid with just four years of eligibility becomes a household name, be prepared for his team’s side to be shaded.) The most famous position in all of football is still the quarterback. Entering 2013, the following five QB’s were among the most popular: Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater, and Tajh Boyd. Betting on the teams of those stars in 2013 would have beaten the spread at the rate of 47.69%, yet those stars’ teams received the majority of the betting action in 80.3% of those contests.
Coaching legends make for bad bets. Judging current college football coaching legends can be controversial, but heading into 2013, many felt that Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Brian Kelly, and Frank Beamer made a satisfactory top-5 list. Had you bet on those legendary coaches in every 2013 season game, your ATS winning rate would have been 46.03%. Of course, that is another unprofitable winning rate, yet the majority of the public betting was on that side 72.73% of the time in those games.
Home Field Advantage
Do not account for home field advantage twice. Home field advantage in college football is a real phenomenon. Over the past 11 seasons, the home team (defined as the team playing on its own field) won 61.3% of the time (straight-up). Odds makers, however, incorporate that advantage into the point spread. Too often, the public ignores that fact. The betting line you see already has home field advantage built into it. Knowing that public betting accounts for home field advantage twice (once with the Odds makers’ point spread, then again with public ignorance), bookmakers will shade those lines accordingly. Which college football stadiums are supposed to give their teams the greatest home field advantage? How about (LSU’s) Death Valley, the Swamp, the Big House, the House that Rockne Built, and the Third Largest City in Nebraska on Game Days? That is a popular and formidable list, even if your own would include others. Over the past 11 seasons, those “toughest places to play” have given bettors an ATS win rate of 45.75%. In real money terms, the bettor who wagered $110 (to win $100) on every one of those games would be down $5,080.
Avoid the team reputed to have the most talent. Heading into 2013, popular ESPN “Insiders” thought four of the five most talented teams in college football were Alabama, Texas, LSU, and Georgia. If you bet those teams all year, your ATS winning rate would have been 42%. Obviously, that is terribly unprofitable, yet those four teams had the majority of the public betting in 75% of their games in 2013. Bookmakers know the public will back those talented teams, so bettors should expect inflated betting lines.
Putting all of these elements together should lead you to the conclusion that public perception significantly influences the lines you get with your bookmaker. When you hear some analyst from Bristol repeating all the well-worn college football talking points about the more talented, better-coached team from some “power conference” with the star quarterback who cannot be beaten at home, take note ... and bet the other way.