Summer is finally here! Schools are shuttered, the sights and sounds of children enjoying their freedom overwhelm the senses, and the smell of backyard BBQs permeate the air. These summer signals that drive most of us outdoors have a reverse effect on professional sports bettors. Summer means football is rapidly approaching, and most pros will hastily retreat to their dimly lit basements to prepare for the upcoming season. Perhaps you are wondering just what in the world are they doing down there? Well, I’m one such cellar-dweller, and I’m here to tell you how I will be spending my time preparing for college football betting.
Every football advantage player (AP) is different, and each has his own methods of attacking football lines. I will focus on my methods of preparing for the season, recognizing that other APs may be exploring totally different angles with little to no overlap to what I am doing. Looking at how one sports gambler may prepare will inspire others to develop their own strategies to prep for the upcoming season. This week we’ll look at the upcoming NCAA season. Next week, the NFL.
How To Win Money at College Football Betting
There are a ton of ways to win money betting college football, which explains why bettors do so much prep work getting ready for the season. I will focus on three different areas:
- Sides and Totals.
Sides and Totals
The sharpest of the sharps will build models chock full of statistical data. They’ll use both current and historical data and will generate spreads and totals that these model-builders will use to find +EV plays. Building a successful model is a Herculean task. A model’s output must be more accurate than those that set the lines and/or the consensus of the betting public. For example, if Michigan favored by 7, yet your model says 8.5. What is your model picking up that linemakers and the betting public are missing? Is your model that good? Probably not.
Quite honestly, I don’t know anyone so talented that they can consistently beat college football season after season betting spreads and totals. This is either a reflection of my embarrassingly small social circle or it’s an incredibly tough thing to accomplish. Probably a combination of both. The few that can beat college football in this fashion are likely picking off lines earlier in the week before they are whipped into shape. They are not scanning the board looking for value on Saturday mornings.
If you recognize yourself as one of those Saturday morning scanners, I regret to tell you that you will not win over the course of the season. You may have a few good weeks. You may even have a good month or so, but over time you won’t be able to overcome the house edge. You’ll most certainly lose season after season. I’m sorry, but somebody had to tell you.
Pick Your Spots
I make occasional forays into betting sides and totals (see my Dickenson fade in Part One). I try to carefully pick my spots armed with solid information that I feel gives me an advantage. But this will amount to only a handful of games a season. Perhaps I hear of an injury that is not yet reflected into the line. Maybe a late change in the weather that will affect the game total. But edges are so rare, and it simply won’t be profitable if you are betting a high volume of games on Saturdays.
However, if you don’t mind spending time in front of an odds screen, there is money to be made on sides and totals. It goes by various names: Chasing Steam, Top Down Method. You use sharp books as your guide to finding +EV wagers at not-so-sharp books. To become proficient in these areas, you will need to utilize the resources available on the Unabated, such as the Game Odds screen, the Alternate Lines Betting Calculator, and the Closing Line Value Calculator. Captain Jack has articles and livestreams available to demonstrate everything you need to know (and more!) about how to beat these markets.
Derivatives : A Great Option In College Football Betting
Derivative lines are additional wagers beyond the primary side and total based on those side and total lines. For example, if Alabama is a 7-point favorite in a game, the odds of Bama covering a -14.5 spread on that same game is a derivative line. The good news about betting derivatives is it takes very little effort to come up with accurate lines and finding value.
Whether it be 1982 or 2022, a 7-point favorite will cover that -14.5 point line at pretty much the same percentage. When things change little over time, there’s not a whole lot of updates or maintenance required. I used to put notes in my databases reminding myself to update the prices roughly every five years. It would be a waste of time to do it year after year. Low maintenance makes derivative betting a very attractive option. It is particularly attractive for those who are unable to invest the time required to win using other methods.
There’s even more good news when it comes to betting derivatives. The kind souls at Unabated have built betting tools to find the value on the derivative markets for you! Therefore, what little work was required to find value in these markets is now even easier. If you look at the example above, Bama covering as the -14.5 favorite is +185 on Alternate Line Betting Tool. So, if your book offers a line of +220, this represents significant value, and discovered quite easily by taking the 10 seconds to plug the numbers into the Unabated Alt Line Betting Tool.
The Unabated suite of tools were live last season, and to be honest, I was surprised that value would often hang for hours on several sites. For example, I might hit the Bama line for my betting limit at +220 above, and then the line would adjust to +210 after my wager was placed. Still significant value, and yet I would often check back hours later only to see the +210 still hanging. This was at a well-known book known with the sharpest lines around. I can only imagine what kind of opportunities are available at books popping up across the country with lines not as sharp.
A dream scenario and a potentially huge cash cow would be to find a book that does not adjust the derivative lines based on changing spreads or totals. For example, let’s take a look at an Alabama game with a total of 53. If there was an alt line for this game of 60 ½, the true price for this line would be +194. If the alt line in the game was +185, this would be a ”no play”. Yet, what if there was late line movement and the total changed from 53 to 55? Suddenly the true line on the alt total of 60.5 moves all the way to +157. There’s now significant value on the alt line +185. So, if you can find a book that is slow to adjust their derivatives, “Let the good times roll”! Apologies to the late Ric Ocasek and the Cars!
Let The Math Do The Work
One thing to keep in mind when evaluating derivative markets is to keep your opinions out of the equations! For example, in the scenario above, just because you think Bama will put up a lot of points and the true total should be 58, it doesn’t mean the alt total of 60.5 is an absolute steal. Just don’t go there. Your opinion that a total should be 58 when it’s 53 should not be a factor whatsoever. The market is way, way better than you in predicting how games will play out.
As mentioned above, beating derivative markets requires very little preparation. If the season started tomorrow, you could start plugging in numbers and find value immediately. One thing a derivative bettor can do to prepare over the summer is to become maximally proficient using the Unabated Calculators. Quickness can be an asset, particularly when lines are moving close to kickoff. And lastly, there may be some derivatives that are not covered by the tools at Unabated. Provided you have sufficient data, it is not terribly difficult in building a model you can rely upon to price derivatives accurately.
Proposition Markets Are Plentiful In College Football Betting
Something that will take a lot of prep time but can yield excellent results is NCAA prop markets. I was rather astounded last season when one well-known online book had over 100 props listed for pretty much every game. Many of these props I had never seen before. So, I was totally unprepared. And these were not props I could figure out quickly, but props that would require extensive research.
I purchase data every year that I use to price many of the better-known props. However, I didn’t know where to look for data on props such as will Boise State score a field goal in the 3rd quarter. I was literally scrambling the rest of the season to catch up, as there were just so many new props to evaluate.
Moving forward, to ensure I am ready for this season, I need to know the likelihood of Boise St. kicking that FG in the 3rd quarter. Last year, they kicked a lot of field goals, 26 in fact, which is a shipload in college. Was the kicker that good or did he just have a ton of chances? Does Boise still have the same kicker this season?
And how about the head coach? Some head coaches love field goals. While other coaches don’t seem interested at all, such as Liberty, which scored 61 TDs last season and only five field goals. Is Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze more TD-hungry and FG averse than his counterparts, or did their kicker just stink? Look at the data and you’ll conclude it’s more of the former than the latter. Although, in all honesty, the Liberty kicker is no Garo Yepremian, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, you’re probably under 40.
Teams like Arizona are on the opposite end of the spectrum, and they scored more FGs than TDs last year: 21 to 20. Was their offense so pathetic that they had to settle for FG’s all year? Well, yeah. And I don’t mean to throw you for a loop here, but their kicker, Tyler Loop, was 24 out of 24 on his kicks last year (half were extra points). So, perhaps Loop’s FG accuracy factored into the decision to kick so many of them.
Bottom line, the odds should be dramatically different for Liberty and Arizona kicking that 3rd quarter FG, or in any quarter for that matter. Linemakers will often post generic lines based on point spreads and totals without analyzing team tendencies. You can find value on these FG props if you put in the time and effort.
Plenty of Prep Work To Be Had
Multiply figuring out these team FG riddles by 150 teams and you’ll be doing a massive amount of work. This is why I’m down in the freakin’ basement all summer long! What keeps me motivated is the harder it is to figure these things out, the greater the payoffs will be. There will also be less competition from the betting public. Not to mention linemakers who could be out of their element when setting the lines initially.
If you are not willing or able to spend the summer in your basement, there is still hope! Rather than trying to figure out every proposition, select a few that you feel you could tackle. Then work out a game plan for them. You can expand your repertoire of props as the season progresses. Much better to master a select few props rather than flailing away at all of them.
Unless you have the skills and resources necessary to gather NCAA football data on your own, you’ll need to purchase it to figure out most of these props. Some of the props you may choose to master include the probability of a team scoring 4 straight times in a game. Will there be a TD in every quarter? Will there be a lead change in the 2nd half? As mentioned above, there are hundreds to choose from in each and every game (yes, even Bowling Green at Akron!). Linemakers will not price them all correctly, or public action could possibly create value out of thin air.
Very little of my time is spent on sides, totals, and derivatives. Instead, the proposition markets are my most labor-intensive. I know what the precise odds are in each game for a score in the first 6:00. The odds a FG will be the last score of the first half. The probability of a lead change occurring in the 2nd half. This data is available. My prices are determined by what has happened in the past. If your database of games is large enough, you’ll determine prices on these props you can trust and be able to invest confidently on them.
Winning with Other Methods
As mentioned at the outset, there are many methods of making money in college football, and several we didn’t touch on. In-game betting continues to gain in popularity, with both professional and recreational bettors. Live betting basically comes down to man vs machine. Lines are created by sophisticated programs that calculate true odds on every game situation. Are you slick enough to beat the machines? Well, if you pick your spots, you could be. Do the machines know when a quarterback hobbles off the field after a vicious hit? And what about ominous storm clouds on the horizon that threaten to bring down buckets of rain? These are just a couple of scenarios where the machines are vulnerable.
Beyond that, there’s always a tool at Unabated waiting to assist you. In this case, the upcoming CFB In-game Betting Tool will help you get the edge at in-game pricing of derivative lines.
Next week, we will look at ways to prepare for the NFL season.
- Side and total betting is the most challenging way to win at football.
- If you want to try and beat sides and totals, don’t wait until Saturday morning.
- Unabated’s Betting Tools are very helpful in finding value in derivative markets.
- Hundreds of props now available for every NCAA game.
- Evaluating prop markets labor-intensive, but can be very profitable.
- Don’t forget about in-game betting options as well.
Logan Fields is the author of 20/20 Sports Betting: Think Like a Pro