It’s fair to say that NFL Football is a national obsession, but those without pro teams in their area — or simply die-hard football fans — know that NCAA Football isn’t far behind. In fact, college football fans are probably more attached to their teams than professional football fans. The college sport’s popularity on the national level is absolutely massive.
In 2014, the NCAA finally scrapped the Bowl Championship Series and moved to the College Football Playoff (CFP). While there will still be a ‘Bowl Season’ and plenty of other games, fans are finally getting the chance to watch the NFL-style win-or-go-home playoffs for the college game.
Wagering on college football won’t touch the NFL — particularly when you consider the amount wagered on the Super Bowl — but it’s still an important player in international betting markets. College football is a huge ratings-grabber, and interest in the game could easily be at an all-time high.
Season and Playoffs
The NCAA Football season kicks off in early September. The season is 13 weeks long, but each team also has a bye week. The season ends at the beginning of December, as colleges break for the winter holidays. In the latter part of December, the Bowl Season begins.
The Bowl games culminate with the start of the College Football Playoff. In 2015-16, the four teams competing for a title will play on New Year’s Eve. The winners will go on to compete in the CFP National Championship, which will be held January 11th, 2016.
College football offers bettors a much larger slate than a typical NFL week. More than 50 games are played every week — and that’s just Division I-A schools. Lower divisions, such as the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), will also be typically available for betting. Division II and Division III games almost always won’t be accessible for wagering, save for their championships games.
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Those familiar with NFL betting will find themselves right at home with college football. Nearly all the betting markets available for the pro game will be available to college football bettors. However, there are a few key differences.
Point-spread wagering works the same way as it does in the NFL, although bettors will see much larger point spreads in college. Double-digit point spreads happen in the NFL, but they are rare. In college football, large double-digit spreads happen every week.
The reason for this is the vast talent disparity. The early part of the college schedule is filled with “cupcake” games for the top-ranked teams. Essentially, this is preseason for the big conference powerhouses. There will be plenty of close matchups on the schedule as well, but large point spreads are extremely common, week in and week out.
Totals will also be considerably larger. Talent disparity also plays a part in this, but there are two crucial rule changes that contribute to more points being scored. The game clock in college stops whenever a team gets a first down, which means more overall plays on offense. Second, players only need to get one foot in bounds when catching the football, compared to both feet in the pros.
NFL totals can be as low as 35 points, but are usually in the mid-40s. The biggest totals in the NFL usually top out at around 55 points. College totals go much higher. There are regularly games in the 70s.
As far as other betting markets, there is no difference in how they work compared to the NFL. Parlays, teasers, pleasers and other bets have the same odds. Player and team props will be less readily available compared to NFL markets, but are provided for most games. The more popular the game, the more markets available. The same goes for live betting.
NCAA Betting Strategy
Knowledge Is Power
There’s an excellent reason why betting limits for college football are lower than the pros. It’s because oddsmakers have a tougher time handicapping these games compared to the NFL. One of the main reasons is because it’s extremely hard to follow hundreds of teams and dozens of conferences.
The sportsbooks will have a much better bead on games where two highly ranked teams face off, but their knowledge of smaller conferences and schools will be lacking. Soaking up all you can in regards to college football will help you tremendously, provided you understand basic line shopping and can spot inefficient markets.
There’s a lot more value in understanding weak teams, compared to high-profile or highly ranked schools (of course this has value as well). Understanding teams’ weaknesses and strengths on both sides of the ball can be extremely helpful and a way to look at the game beyond the box score in comparison to the betting line.
Beware of Road Favorites
College football stadiums are terrible environments for opposing teams. They’re usually much larger than professional football stadiums and have more passionate fans. The massive student sections are full of college kids who have been drinking for hours before kickoff. There are few more intimidating environments in all of sports.
Home-field advantage is very real, particularly when it comes to college sports. You’re not “getting one over” on the oddsmakers when you take road favorites. This is even truer when rivals face off or in critical conference games. If anything, bettors should be looking to bet underdogs.
Statistics Aren’t As They Seem
One of the major pitfalls for the betting public when wagering on college football is taking college statistics and weighing them like those of professional football. The statistics are the same, but they carry a lot more weight in the NFL.
For instance, win and loss records can be extremely deceiving. A team that is playing poorly could easily roll through their non-conference schedule with no issues, and with a 4-0 record. However, a team from a lesser conference might go 1-3, but play well in comparison to their competition.
It’s vital that bettors consider the strength of the opponents that a team plays, and not just their overall record when evaluating future matchups. The same can be said for rushing and passing yards, overall ranking, and offensive and defensive rankings.
College football analysts will often point out that a team has the “10th best offense in the nation” or the “50th ranked defense.” These statistics are meaningless without context. A top-ranked team that averages just 5.0 yards per rush against a weak non-conference team has performed poorly. A team with a top-ranked offense doesn’t have much meaning if the caliber of its opponents aren’t any good.
Unlike the NFL, which offers the fewest betting opportunities of any major sport, the college football slate is jam-packed with action. There are at least 30 games on Saturdays and many more throughout the week.
For those who take the time to handicap the slate, there are plenty of opportunities to be found. It’s fine to bet a dozen or more games if there is value in the lines, but wagering on every number under the sun will get bettors killed. Use your knowledge of the teams and movement of betting markets on finding the most profitable selections.
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