College football Saturdays are a bettor’s paradise. With nearly endless games to bet on, the opportunity to win big is around every corner.
Although you have an abundance of options, choosing which games to bet on can be nearly as difficult as determining which way to bet. For the sake of this article, I’m going to stick to the things to look for when betting on power-five conference games.
Plenty of information exists that would say it’s best to stick to betting on smaller conferences in order to find opportunity where there might be less action, but let’s be honest – you’re going to bet on the big, primetime games too.
Because there is going to be so much action on the games, the sportsbooks are careful in creating their odds. The good news? When the public gets involved, you can use the bias to your advantage.
The key to a good strategy when betting on college football is knowing what to look for as criteria for betting on one side or the other. In this article, I’ll lay out a “checklist” that provides you with some aspects of a game to consider before making your bets.
1 – Home Team
No, I’m not going to tell you that it’s important to recognize home-field advantage. In fact, I’ve found the opposite to be true.
Without going too far off on another topic, I want to state a reminder that it’s crucial to remember that sportsbooks take bettors’ biases into the picture when setting the odds. They know that the average person is going to (most likely) overestimate the value of home-field advantage.
Now, this all isn’t to say the home-field advantage is useless and doesn’t have an impact on a game. Obviously, playing at home is going to benefit the home team.
Bettors have a tendency to overvalue the importance of the home team. One way to avoid falling into this trap is by asking yourself, “Who would I take on a neutral field?” This question allows you to form an opinion without the vision of 80,000 screaming fans cheering against the team you bet on.
Home field can mean a lot in some circumstances, so make sure you don’t go too far in reducing the importance of the home/away dynamic. Some examples of when home-field is a crucial factor in the game are: when one team is traveling across the country (this is more likely to happen in out-of-conference games), or when one team has a notably bad record away from home.
2 – Schedule and Ranking
One distinct difference between the NFL and college football for casual bettors is that in college, you have a ranking next to the top teams. Rankings aren’t always the barometer for a team’s quality, and if you’re making picks with the rankings in mind you can find yourself in hot water.
Each year, the rankings start out as nothing more than an educated guess. From there, teams usually aren’t going to fall in the rankings if they win…regardless of the teams they’re playing. This means that rankings can actually be a misleading number.
It takes a little leg work, but digging into each team’s schedule can provide a great deal of insight into how good they actually are when you take the ranking out of it. You might be surprised to find that, even late into the season, some of the top-ranked teams in the country haven’t been tested against many quality opponents.
Because the roster turnover is so high among college teams, you’ll need to take the next step and look at strength of a team’s previous opponents and not just the schools on the schedule. Plenty of metrics are readily available that should give you a good idea of whether a team’s record is actually reflected accurately in the rankings.
A quick glance back through the wins and losses will help you moving forward and give you the full picture into a team’s likelihood of winning against higher-quality opponents.
3 – Coaching
In no sport is coaching more important than in college football. As previously mentioned, roster turnover is high, and the top team’s best players are lost in the draft each year. Coaching is the key to keeping a program at the top year-after-year.
If you’re betting on a game where two elite coaches are up against each other, this one may not apply. But, if you find yourself with a situation where an inexperienced head coach (maybe one who recently stepped up from a lower-tier program) is playing against a seasoned coach, the advantage can be significant.
Take a look at his record in the type of game you’re betting on. For example, look at the wins against top opponents, home and away, and overall performance in conference games.
Coaching might not be the most important aspect of your checklist, but it still has a place when you need help in making a decision.
4 – Questionable Spreads
As a bettor, there’s a high probability that you’ve encountered, frequently, a spread that just doesn’t seem right. For example, an unranked team might be favored against a top-10 or top-15 team. The general public will likely look at the game as a ranked vs. unranked proposition and go with ranked underdog without questioning it. Don’t make this mistake.
The ranked underdog vs. the unranked favorite is actually one of the best situations if you’re able to resist the temptation to make the “easy” pick. It’s still important to run through your checklist before making these plays, but these should be games that are circled on the day’s schedule as chances to add to your bankroll.
5 – Weather
It should go without saying that the weather can have a tremendous impact on a game. Not only should you look at weather in terms of how it might impact the spread, but also as an opportunity to bet the total.
Even in the NFL, unfavorable conditions can lessen the effectiveness of a good offense, and this is even more the case when it comes to inexperienced college players.
Although it doesn’t necessarily apply to all of the top programs, just about every highly-ranked team is driven by a dynamic, spread out passing offense. Significantly adverse weather conditions can cause teams who normally put up point totals in the 40s and above to come back down to earth.
If you’re thinking that the sportsbooks are going to be aware of the weather conditions and set the odds accordingly, you’re right. However, setting the over/under too low can subject the books to high risk, so the odds might not truly reflect the impact the weather will likely have.
It’s probably not realistic to attempt to get the weather report on every single game, but if you find a game where rain is predicted throughout and high winds are expected, think about taking the under.
As it pertains the spread, it’s important to consider the style of play each team utilizes. Most power-five teams have pass-heavy offenses, but the disparity in running effectiveness can be significant. In cold weather, rain, or high winds, the team who has the better running offense is likely to cover.
No matter which strategies you employ to make your picks, there’s no set list of criteria that’s going to win every time. The most important thing is to stick to a system and let things work themselves out over time.
Before making your plays in games involving two power-five conference teams, run through this checklist and see if it can help you form your own winning strategy.