Consider Playing Surface as Key Factor When Betting College Football

Jason Lake

Thursday, July 16, 2015 12:15 PM GMT

There was a time when people would look at the splits between grass and turf before making their NCAAF picks. Does this strategy still hold water in college football?

In 2014, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football wizards ended an 84-year tradition: They took out the grass playing surface and replaced it with FieldTurf. It didn't seem to help the Irish too much, as they went 8-5 SU and 6-7 ATS while posting an 8.56 SRS, their worst performance in five years under head coach Brian Kelly. But Notre Dame also drove the OVER to an 8-5 record last year. The UNDER had gone 20-8 in South Bend from 2010 through 2013 inclusive.

Was this predictable? Once upon a time, savvy bettors would pay close attention to the splits between grass and turf before making their college football picks. That seems to have fallen out of vogue in the new millennium with the arrival and spread of improved artificial surfaces like FieldTurf. Then again, now that more and more people are making NCAAF picks against the total, perhaps it's time to revisit the old grass/turf splits.

 

OVER in the Clover
Perhaps. Thirteen games is a small sample size, and on top of that, Notre Dame's move to FieldTurf was a more dramatic shift in environment than a typical team playing on grass one week and turf the next. The grass field at Notre Dame Stadium had become an absolute mess, too, and needed to be re-sodded four times in 2013.

Also, getting reliable data on those turf/grass splits isn't always easy. If you have your own database and you're assiduously updating it to reflect the ongoing changes in surface, fantastic, but even major recognized sources for this info appear to have been letting their data grow stale. One popular source had the OVER going 7-3 for Notre Dame on grass last year; another had the Irish playing just twice on grass. By my count, there were four such games: at FSU, at Arizona State, at USC, and in the Music City Bowl victory over LSU at LP Field (now Nissan Stadium). By the way, the OVER went 3-1 in those four games.

Must Read: ‘College Football Games of the Year’

My New Kentucky Home
Having said that, turf is faster than grass, and there's at least one stadium we know of making the shift in 2015: Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Kentucky Wildcats. The switch is part of a larger $120-million reno job that includes new suites and expanded club and loge box seating. The new turf was installed in mid-June, and it does look pretty spiffy.

But will it make enough of a change for our NCAAF picks? Maybe not; the OVER already went 8-4 for the Wildcats last year, including 5-2 at Commonwealth Stadium. However, the defense has lost linebackers Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith to the NFL, so maybe that will combine with the new turf to keep scoring high in Lexington. Maybe. Bet accordingly, and may the prolate spheroid be with you.