The college football off-season is the time to learn from the previous season(s) in preparation for the next one. With enough data, the day may come when we can predict, with profitable consistency, a college football team’s against-the-spread (ATS) record even before the season begins. While we continue to research and work for that day, we have discovered some principles that are helpful in determining which teams are likely to have good and bad ATS seasons.
Expectations play such a big role in setting college football point spreads and odds (linemaking). Based on our research, if we were to create the ideal conditions for a college football team’s profitable ATS season, then we would want the team to:
1) be unranked by any preseason polls,
2) have been unprofitable the prior ATS season,
3) increase their straight-up (SU) wins from the prior season.
To provide concrete examples of these desirable conditions, look no further than the Southeastern Conference (the SEC) in 2013. The two SEC teams with the best ATS records in 2013 were Auburn, 12-2 ATS, and Missouri, 11-3 ATS.
1) Neither team was ranked in the AP (Associated Press) Top 25 Preseason Poll- the most prestigious and famous preseason college football poll.
2) In 2012 (the prior season), Auburn was 4-8 ATS and Missouri was 5-7 ATS. Obviously, both teams had unprofitable ATS seasons.
3) Auburn increased their SU wins from 3 in 2012 to 12 in 2013. Missouri increased their SU wins from 5 in 2012 to 12 in 2013.
If we were to create the ideal conditions for a college football team to have a poor ATS season, then we would want the team to:
1) have a high pre-season ranking,
2) have been profitable the prior ATS season,
3) decrease their SU wins from the prior season.
To provide concrete examples of the undesirable conditions, once again, look no further than the SEC in 2013. No two SEC teams had more unprofitable ATS seasons in 2013 than Georgia, 3-9-1 ATS, and Florida, 4-8 ATS.
1) Both teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 Preseason Poll. Georgia was fifth and Florida was tenth.
2) In 2012 (the prior season), Georgia was 7-6 ATS, and Florida was 7-5 ATS. While those ATS records are not going to make bookmakers shiver, they were both profitable.
3) From 2012 to 2013, Georgia decreased their SU wins from 12 to 8, while Florida decreased their SU wins from 11 to 4.
Lessons for the Predictive Future
Knowing that two out of the three conditions can be determined before the season starts, begin your search for your ideal college football picks this off-season. In researching potentially successful ATS teams, look for those NOT listed in the AP Top 25 Preseason Poll. That poll is usually released in mid-August, still giving you a couple off-season weeks to study.
Look through the 2013 ATS records for all FBS teams, and look to the teams that had unprofitable ATS seasons. In 2013, nine teams beat the spread at least 75% of the time. Their combined ATS record was 91-26-2 (77.78%). Putting that into perspective, the bettor who wagered $110 to win $100 on every game those nine teams played in 2013 would have profited $6,240. Of those same nine tremendously successful 2013 teams, only ONE had a profitable prior (2012) season. The combined 2012 ATS record for those same nine teams was 48-62 (43.64%). Putting that into perspective once again, those nine teams that made $6,240 for $100-bettors in 2013, lost $2,020 in 2012.
Looking to satisfy that third condition, an increase in SU wins from the prior season looks more artful than scientific; however, you would be wise to look for teams with significant room for SU-win growth. In other words, do not start your search for 2014’s perfect ATS candidate with 2013’s undefeated Florida State. Following these principles, if you can find a group of desirable teams to bet on, and a group of undesirable teams to bet against, then history suggests that you are on your way to a profitable college football season- even before it begins.