College Football Betting
In some parts of the country, and in certain social circles, college football is America’s national pastime. Nowhere else in the world will you find such a highly-organized series of amateur sporting events. NCAA football is the land of corporate sponsorships, illegal recruitment money, and student athletes tempted by down multi-million dollar pro signing bonuses. It’s a spectacle, a display of passion and athleticism, and a perfect sport for bettors.
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I wanted to write a basic guide to betting on college football because I find myself answering questions from friends all the time about my betting. I’m not much of a gambler outside of college football season, but between September and New Year’s I regularly place $100+ wager on three or four games per weekend. I’m not shy about it; I talk to my football fan buddies about it, and there seems to be a ton of interest.
Let’s start this guide to the basics of college football with a look at the two common displays of odds used by sportsbooks for NCAAF contests. Understanding the way that odds are represented by books is a must – the good news is, it’s not complicated at all.
The Point Spread
The point spread is one of the most-used methods of presenting a college football game’s outcome. “The spread,” as it is known, is a number used to separate a likely winner from a likely loser. Because each spread indicates a favorite and an underdog, it is used to place a bet on either team and gives each side a more or less equal payout.
Put simply, a wager on the team favored by the point spread will cost more to win (a smaller amount) than a wager placed on a winning underdog. The philosophy behind a point spread is simple – it is intended to attract business from both sides of a contest. This equality among wagers presented by a bookmaker ensures their profits.
California -3.5, -110
Washington +3.5, -110
By looking at this little collection of letters and numbers, I can tell you a bunch of details. Let’s start with some basic facts: Cal is headed to Seattle to face the underdog home-team Trojans. How do we know that the Huskies are both the home team and the underdog? In point spreads, underdogs are assigned a plus symbol (+) and favorites are given a minus symbol (-). We know the game is in Washington because the team’s name appears at the bottom of the matchup.
I can also tell you what it will take for a bet on either side to pay off. If California wins by 4 points or more, bets on the Golden Bears will pay out. If you back UW, the Huskies must either win outright or lose by 3 points or fewer.
What about the “-110” next to each team’s name? That indicates you have to pay a ten percent commission to the book – in layman’s terms you have to bet $11 to win $10. The book takes that ten percent as commission or “juice.”
Some books offer reduced juice, so you might see a line that looks like this: “California -3.5, -107.” In this example, you’d pay a 7% commission rather than a 10% commission.
The only other common way to place a bet on college football is a moneyline wager. These aren’t as popular as point spread bets, but they’re still a big part of the NCAAF betting scene.
A moneyline looks like a lot like a point spread, in that it uses a combination of words and numbers to represent odds and other information about a bet. But moneylines differ from points spreads in a few important ways. Here’s an example of a college football moneyline:
Texas Tech +120
Kansas State -130
Since you’re already familiar with point spreads, you probably know a few things already just by looking at the example. Yes – Texas Tech is the underdog, and they’re heading to Manhattan, Kansas to face the Wildcats on their home turf. All those details are the same whether you’re looking at a point spread or a moneyline bet.
Look at the number next to each team’s name. This is a cool number, because it tells you two things at once – the number with a + symbol next to it tells bettors how much they’ll win for a successful $100 wager, while the number with a – symbol next to it tells you how much it’ll cost to win $100. In our example above, Kansas State is favored (slightly) over the Red Raiders. A bet on Tech (and an outright Texas Tech upset) will earn you $120 if you wager $100. Bettors who want to win $100 betting on the favored Wildcats will have to bet $130.
Though it’s less popular among college football bettors, I think the moneyline is elegant and easy-to-understand, a great tool for introducing people to the hobby. I like the moneyline number because it combines the whole “favorite and underdog” dynamic with financial details about the bet itself in a single symbol. Because it’s represented with a base-ten number, it’s easy to scale up and down based on your bankroll.
College Football Betting Strategy: The Basics
I haven’t gotten rich (yet) by betting on fifty or sixty NCAA football games per year, but I’ve occasionally won a nice little payout and bought my wife something shiny. The trick to being a good college football bettor isn’t learning how to crunch numbers or analyze every down of thousands of games per years. I’ve found that all you need to know to get started are two simple tips:
Tip #1: Manage your money.
Let’s say I want to place 60 bets during the coming season and I have a total bankroll of $5,000. A quick tap-tap-tap on the calculator is all it takes to figure out a unit bet – no more than $80 per game. More than that and I run the risk of squandering my bankroll. Doing this reduces the impact of my eventual losing streak (every season brings at least one) and it protects my overall bankroll from my greedy gambler’s heart, which always wants to double up in the worst possible situations.
Tip #2: Focus your bets.
When I’m staring at a weeks’ worth of NCAAF games at my sportsbook, as many as sixty different matchups from all over the country, I still get anxious. Learning how to focus on just a few games per week was a crucial step to my college football betting success. I place no more than four wagers during any given week of the season, allowing me to research a lot more than guys who bet 10 or 12 games at a time.
It’s an exciting time for college football – the new playoff system seems to be working well and has been accepted by fans and players alike. More parity exists between teams and leagues than at any time in the past few decades.
Interest in the sport is increasing, even as a lively debate on whether or not student-athletes should be paid has kicked off from coast to coast. If you’re a long-time fan of college football or even just a little familiar with the game, you should now consider yourself fully prepared to place bets at online or land-based sportsbooks.