College Football is one of the most popular major sports in the United States, both to watch with weekly viewers well into the millions.  But what about those who want to get into betting on NCAAF?  Well, we got you covered with this extensive betting guide to help you get ready for the upcoming 2019 NCAA season.  Wagering on college ball is a totally different type of beast than the NFL.  The sheer amount of games going on for most of the week and dozens of games on Saturday provides many opportunities to beat the books.

The Basics of College Football

130 teams make up NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, the highest level of collegiate football.  Teams are divided up into conferences, with teams vying for both conference and division titles.  The FBS is currently comprised of 10 conferences, which are referred to as the “Power Five” and “Group of 5.”  The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference (B1G), Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, and Southeastern Conference (SEC) make up the Power 5 teams.  The American Atlantic Conference (AAC), Conference USA (C-USA), Mid-American Conference (MAC), Mountain West Conference (MWC) and Sun Belt Conference make up the remaining 5.  Rounding out the 130 teams are 6 independent programs; Army, BYU, New Mexico State, Notre Dame, Liberty & UMASS.

For the 2019 season, we have a kickoff date of August 24th with the last regular season game on  December 14th.  The postseason then culminates on January 13 with the 2020 National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.  This will be the 6th playing of the College Football Playoff (CFP) after its debut in 2014.  Teams play 12 games during the regular season with the best 4 chosen by a committee to compete in the playoffs. Teams are also given the opportunity to play in “Bowl Games” dependant on their overall records come season’s end.

Betting NCAA Football

One of the major advantages to betting College Football, or NCAA sports in general, is the sheer amount of action going down any given week.  With each team playing a dozen or more games each year, it creates hundreds of opportunities during the leadup to bowl season. Then we get conference championships, bowl games and of course the College Football Playoff. All in all, this adds almost 50 high-quality matchups to the schedule.  Between new talent to root for each season, the big upset wins, legendary rivalries and a true passion from the players you really are missing out if you’re not wagering on College ball. I want to talk about the common types of betting to kick things off, but first, let’s learn how to read odds before we talk about how to beat them.

American Moneyline Odds

For ‘ML odds’ each team is given odds to win the game plain and simple.  An integer with a negative sign in front of it (-110) indicates the favorite and the number represents how much would be required to bet to win $100.  Conversely, a number with a plus sign in front of it (+110) denotes an underdog with the value being the payout of a 100$ bet, plus whatever the original stake was.  For the purposes of this article, all odds will be presented in a (+/-) format unless otherwise noted.

Decimal Odds

The majority of English betting is done in either decimal or fractional odds.  Odds in decimal format represent the percentage of payout based on the original bet. So, for example, if you bet $100 at 1.1 odds you would win $110 or %110 of the original bet.

Fractional Odds

Rounding out the most likely odds formats you will encounter are fractional odds.  These work the same as decimal odds but look markedly different. The value represents the potential payout as a fraction of your bet.  So laying $100 at ½ would win you $50, or half of $100.  Underdog odds are represented by top-heavy fractions (2/1) where a $100 bet would win you $200, or double the original wager. 

Over / Under Odds

These odds can be used for many different things like how many goals will a player score, or how many penalties in the 3rd quarter.  But for now let’s focus on the main use, full game betting totals. This refers to betting on how many points each team will score. Totals use the same (+/-) system as other US odds but with a twist, the point values are also attached and can make reading them difficult.

Michigan Wolverines o19 (+110) vs Ohio State Buckeyes u21 (-110)

The above is to be interpreted as UM’s game total odds to go under 19 points are +110 while OSU’s line to go under 21 points are -110. Either team can be bet over or under, with the odds adjusting accordingly.

Now let’s take a look at the common types of betting you can expect to see when beginning your college football betting career.

Moneyline Betting (ML)

Moneyline or Straight-Up (SU) betting is one of the 3 most common forms of sports wagering along with spreads and totals.  We’re starting here because straight up betting is really quite straightforward, pick a winner between the two teams.  It doesn’t get much easier than that folks.  Now where the book learning part comes in is when it comes to reading and considering the odds. 

Let’s say that Michigan and Ohio State are playing, the moneyline would look something like this. Michigan Wolverines +125 vs Ohio State Buckeyes -140.  One thing to note off the top is that traditionally the 2nd team listed is the home squad.  So at those odds, a $100 bet on UM would be a win of $125 plus stake for a total payout of $225.  On the flipside, the same bet on OSU would win you 71.43 for a net total of $171.43.  There is a variant of ML betting known as 3-way wagering where a tie is added and given its separate odds. Not an issue in college football but something to keep an eye out for.

Against The Spread Betting (ATS)

The 2nd most common form of football betting is betting against the spread.  Each game has a set value for how many points either team is expected to win or lose by.  An ATS line would look something like this; Michigan Wolverines +3 (-110) vs Ohio State Buckeyes -3 (-110).  This line gives us the following information, the Wolverines are 3 point road underdogs to the Buckeyes.  This means a bet on UM would be to either win OR lose by 3 points or less.  OSU, however, must win and do so by more than 3 points.  Here is where we must also learn about half points.  Say for example the spread is 3.5 for this game and not 3.  That means that a push is not possible, and each team must actually win or lose by 4 and very common to see in ATS odds.  One thing that makes college football spreads unique and sometimes intimidating to people is the size of some spreads.  In the NFL, for example, it is uncommon that a game has a double-digit spread, which happens a few times a year usually.  In college, however, things are very different.  Due to the fact that there is a large discrepancy between skill levels for many matchups, spreads will regularly reach into the ’20s and sometimes much higher than that.  It creates a lot of underdog plus money options as laying so many points on a favorite can be risky for obvious reasons. In fact, betting against, or ‘fading’, favorites of 30 points or more has a 65% winning percentage over the last decade of College Football.

Game Totals/Over Under (O/U)

As touched upon earlier, totals betting is a wager on the number of points expected to be scored by each team over the course of a game, or both teams combined. While the payouts on these tend to be a bit too even for many sharp betters, they make great additions to any parlay betting cards. Heading back to Ohio Stadium for our big rivalry game our totals would look like this; Michigan Wolverines 19 (u+110 / o+105) vs Ohio State Buckeyes 21 (o-110 / u+105).  What we get from this is that the Wolverines are expected to score 19 points while the Buckeyes number sits at 21.  When you go to make the bet, say on UM, you would have to pick either over or under the number.  This is denoted with either ‘o’ or ‘u’ preceding the integer, i.e. o19 or u19.

Now that we know how to read and understand odds, let’s get into a little strategy on how to exploit them. 

Basic Betting Strategy

College sports, in general, are very unpredictable which makes betting on them a massively exciting venture. The pressure is high, a single loss can crush a program, and teams that we are looking at a Top 25 right now, probably won’t be there by season’s end. The difficulty in capping college football is attractive to the right type of person, specifically people who love to find small exploits and like making money off of them. A few things to consider…

Home Field Advantage

This is a familiar and easy idea to understand, teams play better at home. This is an even stronger phenomenon in college sports due to the stadiums being packed to the gills in most situations.  Speaking as somebody who has spent time in some of the biggest stadiums in the world to watch a rivalry college football game, it makes a huge difference. I have seen enough on-field meltdowns from players and coaches alike who just can’t handle certain home crowds.  Take for example the Big House in Michigan during homecoming week, I feel for any team that would have to march into that stadium in a situation like that.  So do your research, find some gaps in the odds and make your move.

Weather & Wind

As with many of these tips, this can be used for many different sports, but any gambler worth his salt checks the weather report before betting on any game taking place outdoors. Snow, rain and particularly wind have huge effects on the level of play which can be expected in any given game.  Some serious gamblers even have guys on the ground in each major city for real-time weather updates just in case you’re not sold on the importance of climate in sports.  A real-world example of this would be if an unseen weather event occurs in the leadup to kickoff.  The Michigan v Ohio State game might have a combined scoring total of 50, but say you happen to be in town for the game and the skies just open up 10 minutes before game-time.  Using this information you can hit the under hard while books are still waiting for their updated weather report.  A top tip is that many large stadiums have live webcams at or around their location, use them.  And get in deep, does this team’s star receiver have butterfingers in the rain?  Maybe the cold is something that gets to a starting QB who is used to playing in the sunshine, think Hawaii away game at Minnesota in November.

Do’s & Don’ts of College Football Betting

The first thing you need to learn to do in any form of gambling is to properly manage your bankroll.  I really can’t stress this enough, after all, you can’t bet what you don’t have. The general rule of thumb is to keep wages to 2% of your total bankroll.  So if you have $100 dollars in your account, keep bets to 2$ to start with, pretty simple but a real game changer.  The world of sports betting is full of ebbs and flows and proper money management is imperative to ensure you have the funds to sustain yourself during a rough patch. And those rough spots will happen, so best be prepared.

Another thing to understand is that sports betting across the board is a marathon, not a sprint.  There is no reason to overreact to a bad start, and no reason to overbet off a hot streak.  Just stick to whatever system you have set up for yourself based on bankroll and also how many games you can cap in any given week.

This leads to another tip, just because there are odds for a game does not mean you have to bet on it.  Sounds simple but it’s very easy to get carried away and bet way too many games in a given week. This ends up having the same effect of betting too much on a single game and usually ends with a zero balance.  A good way to manage this is to focus on a single sector of the college football betting market.

Maybe just bet Big 10 & Big 12 games for a whole season.  This makes it easier to keep track of teams and matchups while also putting a natural cap on how many wagers you will be making each week.  Focusing time early on assessing the value of just 20 or so teams allows you to put more into exploiting weekly matchups down the road.

Betting on college football requires time and commitment to make sure have enough of both before setting out.  But if you do your homework and make smart bets you can find the edges and exploits which will keep you in the black.