The purpose of this piece is to provide even the most novice sports bettor a look into the different aspects of sports betting. The focus of this particular article is on how to bet college football via the point-spread. When it comes to gambling, NCAA Football is a completely different beast than its NFL counterpart. College football betting provides gamblers with a greater slate of games throughout the week compared to the NFL, including usually 25 plus matchups on Saturdays alone.
The point-spread, or line, is a type of bet that equalizes the chance of winning a wager (see example below). An underdog team’s spread will be accompanied with a “+”, while a “-” indicates a team that is favored. The spread bet in college football is the most common bet that is made. This bet is interesting because it allows you to bet on either team, regardless of how mismatched they may be.
Let’s use a Florida Gators-Miami Hurricanes game to look at the odds and hypothetical result to further understand betting on the spread:
The Gators are the 10th ranked team in the country, while the Hurricanes are unranked. On paper, the Gators are almost certain to win this game, but what helps neutralize this game from a betting perspective, is the line itself. The point-spread for this game is 7 points.
Bettors who want to wager on Florida -7 would be betting on them to win by more than 7 points. For those that wanted to bet on Miami, you’d want them to either win the game outright or to lose by less than 7 points. If Florida were to win exactly by 7 points, the wager would be deemed a push, and you’d get your money back, regardless of what side you placed action on.
Now, imagine the final score of the above mentioned game ended: Florida 24 – Miami 30.
Basically, if you had Florida -7, you would’ve lost your bet. And, if you had Miami +7, you would’ve won, because despite losing the game, the Hurricanes covered the spread by losing by less than 7 points.
Again, spreads make every game more evenly matched in terms of betting, regardless of how lopsided the game actually looks on paper.
So how do oddsmakers come up with the spread?
Generally, bookmakers rely on their own Power ratings. These ratings are a lot like the power rankings we all dive through weekly on various websites. The only difference is these ratings are much more precise, and serve a distinct purpose in the betting world. These ratings allow oddsmakers to consistently handicap teams and games across the entire season. There are also other factors that come into play like history between the two teams during their previous meetings, injuries, home field advantage, and of course every bookmakers “secret sauce”.
Generally, oddsmakers are looking to balance their books, which usually means they want an equal amount of bets to come in on both teams. If they can accomplish that type of balance, they will make their money via the juice (also known as the vig), which is a guaranteed profit of 10-percent of all money bet on the losing team. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for edges just like all of us on every game.
Key Factors to consider before betting on the point-spread:
Coaching and playing styles
Some College Football head coaches are more aggressive than others, like Florida Atlantic University’s Lane Kiffin. He doesn’t merely want to win, he wants to win by a huge margin and take the opponents hearts.
How would that come into play you ask? Imagine FAU is favored by 7, and winning by seven late in the fourth. This is where a coach like Kiffin might just try to run up the score due to his attacking nature. Winning margins also have an effect on the rankings, so the notion makes sense, especially for a school like FAU.
On the other hand, there are teams that are more conservative, and pound you via the running game. For example, take Georgia Tech and their Triple option offense. These types of run-heavy teams and coaches want to win the game without taking unnecessary risks. Oftentimes, this means these types of teams will forego high-risk scoring opportunities for a more moderate approach and tempo. Imagine again that a team like Georgia Tech is favored by 7 and up seven late in the fourth. Their coach more times than not will just run out the clock instead of trying to score.
These are a couple of examples as to why it is important to identify which teams and coaches use an aggressive playbook and which use a conservative playbook early in the season.
One of the ways bettors can gain an edge when it comes to betting on the point-spread is by evaluating injury factors. Late in the season, pretty much every team is dealing with a number of injuries, but some are more notable than others. In general, every college football player is given a value toward the actual weekly point spread. Quarterbacks and star position players are worth more in college than the NFL.
Depth and the number of quality players on each collegiate team is one of the reasons why. So when it comes to injuries, predicting how changes to offense or defense might affect game flow will give you a much better barometer of how a game might play out. Take Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence for example. Last season Clemson averaged 44.3 points per game, but that rose to 47.44 points per game in the nine games that Lawrence was the starting quarterback, excluding playoffs. The Tigers offense just runs more efficiently with Lawrence at the helm.
Yes, oddsmakers would factor in an injury as big as Lawrence’s to the point-spread if it were to occur. But, once a quarterback has an offense humming, especially at the college level, it won’t be the same scoring-wise without him.
When teams that are closely matched play one another, a play here or there may end up being the difference in winning or losing your wager. If you can figure out how a game will be from a tempo perspective after an injury you may be able to comfortably predict the outcome regardless of a victory. There’s no substitute for injury knowledge and how it will affect a team’s offense and defense when it comes to evaluating matchups.
Home Field Advantage
In general, teams play better at home, but this is an even stronger point to hammer in college sports. It’s been proven that most college kids just play better when their stadiums are packed and their home crowd is behind them.
Usually, the home team is seen as having a 3-point advantage right off the bat. What that means is that if you see a spread where the home team is listed at -3.0, the oddsmakers consider the two clubs to be fairly evenly matched.
Breaking down the right Stats
A lot of gamblers make the mistake of looking at team’s season stats as opposed to recent ones before betting on the point-spread. If the team they want to bet on is averaging 45 points per game on the season than most bettors will probably assume that they will score about that point range again in their next game. But it could be that they are averaging 45 points because they scored 73 points one game against a weak non-conference opponent, that skewed their season average. The same team could easily be struggling to score in their recent games, versus quality conference opponents, but that wouldn’t be reflected in their season average.
Also, use yards per play, not yards per game. Yards per game is influenced by team and coach philosophy (as stated above), and game flow. It is better to look at the yards per play on offense and defense over the team’s last three games instead of looking at it in a whole season point of view.
If you are looking to see how fast a team plays, or their tempo, look into plays-per-minute. That way you can see how quickly teams are getting to the line to snap the ball. The faster, high scoring teams play more quickly, which leads to more plays and possessions, which leads to more points. Remember, every point matters when it comes to betting the spread.
It is very easy for longer range stats to tell an inaccurate story, so you need to be sure you aren’t fooled by that when you make your betting decisions.
There’s still a lot to consider if you want to make regular and consistent profits when betting on the point-spread. The bookmakers are very good at setting these lines, so you’ll rarely find spots where it’s obvious which way you should bet. You’ve got to do your research and try to make genuinely informed judgements. You need to be patient too, and wait for the right opportunities. Now, go get them!