Tips on How to Bet College Football Regular Season Win Totals
Regular season wins offer an opportunity to invest in teams before the season, and those investments sometimes have tremendous ROIs. College football regular season win totals are a completely different animal than the NFL. For one, the amount of roster and coaching turnover year-to-year is much greater. Plus there are far more teams, which can be daunting but also advantageous with more opportunity to find soft numbers. The key factors I am looking for with college football win totals is returning starters, recruiting, coaching, program history, and schedule.
Returning starters, particularly at the quarterback position, plays a big role in how both oddsmakers and bettors view each team. If a team won eight regular season games the prior season and returns 15 starters, including an all-conference quarterback, assuming the schedule is comparable, that team will likely be lined 8.5 or 9 the following year. But too many times, factors like offensive line, secondary, or front seven aren’t given enough weight. Take 2019’s Miami Hurricanes who were lined at 8.5 wins. Entering the season, the returning offensive line had only 30 career starts, which ranked 122nd nationally. The unit ended up allowing a staggering 51 sacks and the run game averaged only 3.8 YPC. You don’t see many 9-win teams produce those types of numbers. With so many “system” teams that are able to plug-and-play at the skill positions, it’s the non-skill position talent and depth that can oftentimes make or break a season.
Recruiting is also vital tool. Nowadays, every incoming player from Alabama to Old Dominion has a rating. And while some of the science behind assigning “stars” to players is fairly subjective, the market for recruiting rankings is vast, meaning with a little research, bettors are able to have a pretty good understanding of the quality of each player coming in, specifically those who are projected to be on the two-deep as an underclassman. Relying on multiple underclassmen at key positions is no doubt a reg flag but in more isolated instances, it can provide an upgrade.
It goes without saying, coaches can have a big impact on a team’s results. If I’m betting a team OVER its win total, it’s imperative that the head coach has a strong track record of winning close games, or at least not routinely giving them away. The other thing to consider is coordinators. There are many head coaches who have been carried and buried by their assistants. Ed Orgeron is a fine leader of men, and Joe Burrow was a talented quarterback, but does LSU win the National Championship without Joe Brady running the offense? Be leery of betting teams with first-year head coaches bringing in completely new systems OVER the total. Particularly those who want to play at a faster tempo, but don’t have the defense to lean on when the offense sputters. Recent editions of Nebraska and UCLA are good examples.
Program history is another thing I’ll consider. We know the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world are going to get the best recruits and, thus, finish with double-digit wins almost every season. We also know that programs like New Mexico State, even when the stars align, have a very low ceiling. But regardless of your pedigree, what I’m looking for is outlier-type seasons and a regression towards the mean. There’s no better example than the Iowa Hawkeyes who, under Kirk Ferentz, have been a model of consistency. After two years of rebuilding, Iowa has spent nearly two decades producing 7- to 9-win seasons. There were, however, a few outliers. In 2012, Iowa went 2-5 in one-score games and finished 4-8. The next year, they bounced back to go 8-5. In 2009 and 2012, Iowa sprung for double-digits wins and went a combined 9-3 in one score games. The following seasons, they regressed back to, you guessed it, 8-5. Iowa may be the easiest team in the country to line from a win total perspective; simply see who they draw from the Big Ten East and hang 7 or 7.5. In the end, check the track record of programs who’ve had the same coach and system for a least an entire recruiting cycle and find those who overachieved and underachieved record-wise. It could be good or bad luck, cluster injuries, incredible health, an abnormal turnover margin…all of those factors can aid in a team straying from its normal output.
Schedule obviously plays the biggest part on where a team’s win total is lined. Even a novice college football bettor can scan through a schedule and see how oddsmakers came up with their number. You’ll see probable wins, likely losses, and games that are projected to be competitively lined that could, in theory, go either way. In order to beat win totals, bettors must be willing to go the extra mile. Advanced bettors who use power ratings will literally line every game for the season. And with that, they are able to formulate the probability of various records. For those that don’t use power ratings, the next best tool is “Game of the Year” point spreads. Sportsbooks will line upwards of 100 games throughout the season prior to its actual start. These will often be correlated to that of a team’s win total and provide a good barometer as to where they reside in the eyes of oddsmakers. And all it takes is one or two “off” numbers to create opportunity. If you see a team lined at -7 for two of its Games of the Year but feel both should be priced closer to pick ’em, you’re on the right path.
Now that you’re ready to bet on win totals, it’s time to shop around. The general rule of thumb is a half win for a .500 college football team is worth 58 cents and 2-3 cents more for every half win in either direction. To compare, half wins in the NFL are worth roughly 49 cents. The reason is simple; there are no guaranteed wins in the NFL. Even if you project an NFL team as a -14 favorite, that’s a far cry from the -49.5 Alabama will be laying against New Mexico State. And while college football does produce plenty of upsets, there are teams where the outcome can be confidently projected in as many as half of their games. But even with a half win meaning a lot in certain circumstances, you have to be careful not to get suckered into laying too much juice. Sportsbooks don’t like pushes so a majority of teams are lined with a “hook.” Say oddsmakers post 8.5 -110 and take a ton of sharp bets on the under. Rather than move to 8, they’ll lower the juice to as much as -200. That’s their way of deterring more sharp money while also reaping the benefits of the uninformed bettor who doesn’t mind paying the overpriced tax. In the case of that bet on the UNDER 8.5, long term you’re probably better off betting 8 at plus money if the juice on the 8.5 climbs above -170. At worst, you lose a unit rather than two and the 8 also offers the potential for a push.