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How to Bet on College Football

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While betting on the NFL is something that fans take part in from all parts of the globe, college football is largely a regional/provincial sport in the United States. Generally, fans of college football teams either attended said school, have kids or family who do, or live close to campus. Sure, there are fans of the biggest and marquee programs like Alabama or Michigan or Notre Dame or Ohio State or Southern Cal, etc., all over the world, but those types of schools are the exception rather than the rule. 

As a quick aside: Notre Dame is easily the most polarizing college football team to wager on. People either love or hate the Fighting Irish, much like the New York Yankees in baseball or Duke Blue Devils in college basketball, and bet on them accordingly. Notre Dame games often take some of the largest handles at sportsbooks in a given season. Their games also draw huge television ratings (Irish have their own national TV contract with NBC for home games – no other school has any deal like that). It’s always good business for sportsbooks, the TV networks and the NCAA in general when Notre Dame is having a winning college football season.

Types of Bets

The NFL became the most popular league in the USA because of gambling, and college football is right behind for the same reason. Betting on football is very easy do to and understand, and all the rules that apply to the NFL apply to college football.

Most wagers are placed on a college football game either on the point spread, the moneyline or the over/under total. Let’s say Notre Dame is hosting Alabama. The Irish might be 3.5-point favorites. That means from a betting perspective, the Irish start the game leading 3.5-0. Someone who bets Notre Dame on the spread thus would need the Irish to win by at least four points to win money. Someone wagering on the Crimson Tide would simply need Alabama to lose by less than four points – a win is pure gravy on the spread.

Using the example above, the Irish as 3.5-point favorites on the spread would be priced at -175 on the moneyline. A moneyline wager disregards the final score – you simply are betting on said team to win. At -175, it would take $175 to win $100 on Notre Dame. The larger a team is favored on the spread, the same on the moneyline and the more it would take to wager to simply earn $100. Alabama would be +155 in this scenario, meaning a $100 wager returns $155.

College football totals have a wider variance than the NFL, where you won’t see a total above the mid-60s. College football totals can be anywhere from low 30s to mid-80s. When betting a total, it’s simply whether the combined points in the game goes over or under the posted number. Both would be given a moneyline price, often the same (-110). Totals, like spread, also often are given a half-point by the sportsbooks to avoid a push, where the money is returned to a bettor. 

College Football Odds

Props/Futures Bets

Like in the NFL, there are various prop and futures bets available for the major conference college football games. Who wins the national championship? Who wins a conference championship? Over/under season win total per team.

One of the most popular futures bets is the annual Heisman Trophy winner, given to the best player in the nation. It generally goes nowadays to the starting quarterback on one of the best teams in the country. A defensive player has won the award just once – Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997. 

The award also is going to go to a player from a Power 5 Conference, which is the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. That wasn’t always the case, but the schools from those conferences run college football and could eventually split off from the rest of them. Only Power 5 schools have reached the College Football Playoff since that began in the 2014 season. 

Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson currently stand apart from the rest of the country in terms of annually being favored to win a national title. One of those schools has won every College Football Playoff. 

There are in-game prop betting options in college football, but only on the major games. There are just too many games overall each week for sportsbooks to offer options on all of them. 

Notable Numbers

Spreads in college football can be massive – the NFL record for a point spread is 27 points. Spreads of 40 or higher are common in college football. A school like Alabama lands handfuls of high school five-star All-Americans each season in recruiting. A smaller school like Western Michigan is lucky to land one three-star recruit. Those mega-schools like the Tide often schedule at least one “cupcake” per season that is a glorified home scrimmage. The smaller schools are happy to take the $1 million payout or whatever the number as it helps fund their entire athletic department. The NCAA record for a spread is believed to be 67.5 points. Some spreads are so large that no moneyline is available.

Rather amazingly, Alabama has been a betting underdog in a game just once this decade. That was in the 2015 season at Georgia, and the Tide won that in a blowout.

In addition, totals can go north of 80 in college simply because of that talent discrepancy listed above. Offenses dominate college football right now. Coaches know that high school kids want to come to a high-scoring, fun offense. They say “defense wins championships” in the NFL. That’s no longer the case in college football. In the most recent national championship game, two of the country’s best defenses faced off in Clemson vs. Alabama. The final score was 44-16 Tigers. Like in the NFL, the rules in college are tailored to help offenses and hurt defenses.

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Betting Strategies

Just like in the NFL, no player is more important to a college football team than the quarterback. If a team’s starter is out injured that would affect the spread, moneyline and total. The better the quarterback, the more those numbers would change. Other key players being injured also can move the numbers but nowhere near as much as a quarterback.

Betting on college football is much more challenging than the NFL. There are just 32 NFL teams to follow and information on each is readily available. There are more than 120 Division I college football teams and it can be difficult to get information (especially regarding key injuries) out of the lower-tier schools who might have just one local newspaper covering the team. Bettors can take advantage of this because the sportsbooks are at the same disadvantage. They will do much more homework on a Notre Dame-Alabama marquee matchup that will draw some of the most action of that week compared to some late-night game between Fresno State and Hawaii. It’s why most books put a wager limit on lower-tier games to limit their liability.

Home-field advantage is generally worth around 2.5-3 points on a spread in the NFL and can be worth more in college football because the crowds are so raucous. It can be intimidating for some freshman to go play at Alabama in front of 80,000 screaming fans. 

It’s very important to be aware of a team’s experience in college. A club full of seniors should dominate one full of freshmen or sophomores because seniors are bigger, stronger and have more experience for the most part. In the NFL, the younger teams often have an advantage simply because of athleticism. 

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