5 Advanced NCAA Football Handicapping Strategies

College Football Player Next to Money and Sportsbook Board

Every NCAA football bettor knows the best teams in the country, but they don’t always know why the best teams are consistently at the top of the rankings. Winning sports bettors know why the top teams are at the top, and they use this information to find profitable betting opportunities.

Here are five advanced betting strategies for NCAA football games that I use.

1 – Recruiting Ranking

Pick whatever college football recruit ranking service you prefer and look at the top 10 teams for recruiting rank in the last 10 years. Then look at the top 20 teams in your favorite pole at the end of each of the last 10 seasons.

What you’re going to find is an extremely high correlation between the teams that sign the best recruiting classes and the teams that finish in the top 20. This isn’t strictly a year to year correlation, because the third year of a recruiting class is when the class has the biggest impact.

In other words, every recruiting class has its biggest impact when the players are juniors or red short sophomores. This doesn’t mean that a recruiting class can’t have an impact in other years, but the third year is the most important.

The main reason why this is important is when a team has a great recruiting class one year and doesn’t have a great class other years. Most of the top teams recruit well on a regular basis, so they always have a strong class in their third year.

The teams that are consistently at the top of the recruit rankings include Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State. Alabama and Clemson have dominated NCAA football over the last decade and Ohio State has been in the playoff discussion every year.

When you’re handicapping college football games, take a close look at the construction of each roster. Look at how many five star players are playing meaningful minutes for each team and how many four star players are playing meaningful minutes for each team.

Don’t be lazy when looking at recruiting rankings. It’s easy to count the four and five star guys on the roster, but this doesn’t give an accurate picture. If a five star freshman isn’t playing meaningful minutes there’s no reason to consider him when you’re evaluating games.

The bottom line is that the team with the most talent usually wins. You can find coaches that do a good job of coaching up the talent they have by developing two and three star players into good players, but very few are able to consistently recruit poorly and produce teams that beat teams with better recruits.

Ranking the talent on the rosters of the top teams in the country is helpful, but it can be especially profitable when you’re handicapping games between teams who aren’t in the top 50 programs in the country. This is one of my favorite handicapping strategies when I’m evaluating games in middle and small conferences. A four star recruit might not even be starting on one of the teams at the top of the rankings, but he might be able to dominate the entire conference at a smaller school.

2 – Defensive Speed

In some ways college football is similar to the NFL. But in other ways it’s completely different. In the NFL, every team has speed. The game is faster, and even the weakest teams have a great deal of speed. In the NCAA, some teams have speed on both sides of the ball in almost every position, and other teams lack speed.

I didn’t completely understand the importance of speed on defense until about 10 years back. I was watching a bowl game between a Big 10 team and an SEC team. On paper the two teams appeared to be evenly matched, but the play on the field told a different story. The SEC team was playing at a completely different speed, and they ended up dominating the game.

College Football Player Running the Ball With Defenders Chasing

Many teams in the Big 10 figured out the advantage of speed and have improved their team speed so they can compete on the big stage. The time when a team could overpower opponents and rely on three yards and a cloud of dust are long gone.

In NCAA football, many teams have quarterbacks that can run. In the NFL there are a few running quarterbacks, but it’s not as important as in college. Defenses have to have quite a bit of speed to control a running quarterback.

The problem for handicappers is that you can’t find a statistical relevant speed listing. You can get an idea from some statistics, but to truly rank the team speed you have to use your eyes. On paper two teams can look closely matched, but on the field when they play against each other you can clearly see how the speed matches up.

You may have noticed that the title of this section is defensive speed. Offensive seed is important also, but the difference is that offenses can game plan around speed issues. Defenses have to react to what the offense is doing, and sometimes the only way for the defense to have a chance to compete is to have a great deal of speed.

3 – Kickers

College kickers are mostly ignored by sports bettors. But a good or bad kicker is often the difference between winning a spread bet and losing one. Very few college football teams have a good kicker. Too many college teams have a terrible kicker.

It always drives me nuts when a football team in a big conference has a terrible kicker. Most of these schools have tens of thousands of students, and they can’t seem to find a single one who can kick a 40 yard field goal. Most of these schools have soccer teams, so why can’t the football coach find a soccer player who can kick field goals?

College Football Player Kicking a Field Goal

My pet peeves aside, you need to know which kickers are good and which ones are bad. A team with a kicker who can consistently score from 40 yards and in is going to walk away with points in the red zone much more often than a team with a poor kicker. In games with a tight spread, the team with a better kicker is more likely to cover, and a team with a bad kicker is more likely to cost you money.

4 – Tracking Coordinators

Offensive and defensive coordinators change frequently at the college level. Good coordinators get head coaching jobs and assistants get a chance to be coordinators. This can make handicapping college games challenging on a year to year basis.

One of the things that I see that’s different in the NFL and NCAA is in college football there are some offensive minds that seem to be able to adjust every week and every season to whatever the defense is doing. In the NFL there are adjustments, but the defenses adjust at the same time, so a great offensive mind isn’t as effective on a week to week basis as in college.

While it isn’t a 100% correlation, many of the best offensive adapters in the NCAA are guys that were NFL assistant coaches in the past.

Start tracking the best offensive and defensive minds in the college game and it can give you an advantage in handicapping games.

One thing to be aware of; a great offensive or defensive coordinator doesn’t always make a great head coach. The college game has become more about the head coach being a great recruiter, motivator, and manager than about being a great in-game decision maker. Coordinators are taking bigger and bigger roles running both sides of the ball while head coaches aren’t as involved.

You also need to be careful of betting early season games with teams that have new offensive coordinators with unproven track records. Sometimes it takes a few weeks for a new coordinator to start working his system consistently.

5 – Regional Betting and Line Trends

If you bet with a national or global sportsbook you aren’t going to see what I’m covering here, but if you bet with a local sportsbook or a bookie, you need to keep a close eye on regional betting trends and lines.

The most popular local teams get heavy betting action. This can lead to one of two things possibly happening. The first thing is the local books adjust the lines when they open to take advantage of sports fans, and the other is the lines open as normal and then get moved as heavy action comes in on the local team.

You need to avoid betting on the local team with a local book or bookie, or look at the other team in the matchup to see if the line offers value.


If your goal is to become a winning NCAA football bettor you need to use every betting strategy available to make money. Go beyond the strategies that everyone uses and add these five advanced handicapping strategies to your mix.