Does Returning Experience Impact ATS Results in College Football?
No matter if you are recreational, professional or somewhere in between, preparing for the college football season means the purchase of a preseason annual. There are a bunch out there — some good, some not — and in many cases, you’ll grab two or three. Phil Steele’s Preseason Annual has always been regarded as gambler-friendly due to various charts of past ATS results. But when I think Phil Steele, I don’t think ATS records. I think about the purple cover, how my eyes hurt trying to read it, and his famous “experience ratings.” Each year Steele puts together an easy-to-read chart using his own formula to rank returning experience. Teams that welcome back a bunch of starters and lettermen often receive more respect by oddsmakers and bettors than teams that were gutted by graduation. The concept makes perfect sense; college athletes, particularly those who stay within a program, tend to improve each season. In researching for this article, I came across a lot of studies involving straight up results. But I wanted to know the results from a betting perspective. And thanks to all of those Phil Steele magazines collecting dust on my bookshelf, I had a starting point for this study.
Using Steele’s experience rankings, I went back 10 years and picked the five most and five least experienced college football teams. I then looked up their ATS record for the first three games and the entire season. Early on in a season, a team’s experience or lack thereof tends to have more influence on their status in the betting markets. By the time mid-October rolls around, a team’s body of work will generally outweigh whatever power rating they held in Weeks 1-3. Nevertheless, I tracked both. Note that there were instances, especially the first few years of the study, where teams played FCS schools and the game were not lined. In those cases, I used the first three games vs. FBS schools.
Using our “first three game” swatch, the top five most experienced teams from 2008-17 went 71-78-1 ATS. From a seasonal perspective, they went 347-303-9 ATS. Taking it a step further, our experience-friendly teams went 276-225 ATS after the first three games of the season which comes out to 55% over a 500-game sample. This was the opposite of what I expected. I had originally thought that the experienced teams would be profitable early on only to regress once the market made a correction. Instead, it looks as if they were overvalued to start the season and but gained value once the market “cooled.”
MOST EXPERIENCED TEAMS ATS 2008-17
Overall: 347-303-9, 53.4%
First 3 Games: 71-78-1, 47.7%
Remaining Games: 276-225-8 55.1%
Our least experienced teams didn’t fare as well. In fact, all three subsets were a losing proposition. You could cherry pick a lot of stuff but one year deserves mention with Florida, Texas and Boise State among the five least experienced heading in 2008. Those three squads combined to go 7-2 ATS out of the gate and 28-9-1 ATS overall. They also finished the season ranked 1, 4, and 11 respectively in the AP poll. Take them out of the group and the results of all three of the subsets drops below 45% ATS.
LEAST EXPERIENCED TEAMS ATS 2008-17
Overall: 285-325-10, 46.7%
First 3 Games: 69-79-2, 46.6%
Remaining Games: 216-246-8, 46.8%
You’re probably saying to yourself that there’s so much more a bettor needs to consider beyond just returning experience when evaluating teams during the preseason. Of course! But what a team brings back still plays a big part in where said team is priced to start the year. At a later date, I’d like to go in and see the results of these same teams while adding in the returning quarterback factor. The markets will at times remain leery of teams returning lots of experience but sans a high-profile signal caller. The opposite holds true for teams with the cupboard bare outside of their Heisman hopeful gunslinger.
Below are this year’s qualifiers. We get a really good example of the market reacting to experience with Wisconsin played up from -32.5 to -34 vs. Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are featured on the list of least experienced. And despite the scary proposition of betting a Herm Edwards-coached team, early bettors have shown their support for the Sun Devils as they take on a rebuilding UTSA squad.
2018’s Most Experienced
Kansas (N/A vs. FCS)
Georgia Southern (N/A vs. FCS)
Wisconsin (-32.5 to -34 vs. Western Kentucky)
Florida (N/A vs. FCS)
Mississippi State (N/A vs. FCS)
2018’s Least Experienced
Colorado State (-13.5 to -14 vs. Hawaii)
LSU (+3 to +2.5/+3 vs. Miami)
UTSA (+16.5 to +18 at Arizona State)
Hawaii (+13.5 to +14 at Colorado State)
Western Kentucky (+32.5 to +34 at Wisconsin)
In the end, our study provided some interesting and sound data. I don’t recommend blindly betting into any of these profiles but it’s nice to confirm that ultra-experienced teams don’t hold much early season value and lesser experienced teams struggle to consistently cover point spreads.