Homework assignment: NCAA football win totals

Jul 9, 2013 3:10 AM

We’ve had NFL Week 1 and “Game of the Year” lines since May, both here in Vegas and offshore. The NFL season win market wasn’t far behind, with most of the leading indicator sports books standing knee deep in season win wagers by the second week of July.

But with 125 FBS teams on the betting board, the sports books take more time doing their homework and research before posting a bevy of NCAA football lines for the upcoming season. The Golden Nugget was the first to market with their Games of the Year lines last month.

Check Out The Current Odds and Futures

The first college football season win numbers were posted offshore less than two weeks ago, with the 5Dimes sports book emerging as the global market leaders for 2013. Here in Vegas, we’re not far away from heavyweights Cantor Gaming, the LVH Superbook and William Hill posting their first NCAA win totals.

College win totals are a very different animal compared to the NFL. You don’t see many NFL point spreads higher than -14, and even that is a rare case. Of the 16 games set for Week 1 of the regular season, only one (Baltimore at Denver on the Thursday Night national TV opener) is lined at higher than -7.

The old adage about any NFL team being able to beat any other team on ‘any given Sunday’ has more than a little bit of truth to it. Arizona finished 5-11 last year, but they won straight up at New England. The Eagles finished 4-12, but one of those wins came against the Super Bowl champion Ravens. I could list a dozen more major upsets from last year alone.

In college, the best teams are routinely four, five or six TD favorites against the weaker foes on their schedule. Even in conference play, it’s not unusual to see a top notch squad like Alabama to be favored in those point spread ranges.

The Crimson Tide were 30+ point favorites against an Ole Miss team that won a bowl game by three TD’s over Pitt last December. They were road favorites of 20 points or higher against the likes of Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas.

Alabama probably isn’t the best example to use to illustrate my points, because it’s not just ultra-elite teams like Nick Saban’s squad that are routinely favored in those type of point spread ranges. Florida State was a two TD favorite or higher in 13 of their 14 games last year. Oregon laid -20 or higher nine times. Boise State has been 20+ point favorites in 29 of their last 43 regular season games.

What does all of this point spread info tell us about season win totals? Simple – there’s a lot less wiggle room for college football season win totals than there is compared to the NFL. When we look at the teams near the top or the bottom of the college football world, more than half of their games are near guaranteed wins or losses from a straight up perspective.

Oregon is not going to lose SU at home to Cal, Washington State or Utah. Nicholls State isn’t going to beat them once in 100 hypothetical matchups, and road games at Virginia or Colorado aren’t really tests.

Before the season starts – before fall camp starts – you can assume a minimum of six wins for the Ducks, even in a near worst case scenario. It’s a similar story with Alabama, or Florida State or Boise, to stick with the team examples listed above.

As a result, the standard NFL conversion formula (a half win worth approximately 50 cents of juice) doesn’t apply to the college football world. In NCAA win total action, a half win difference between sports books can be routinely priced as being worth a full dollar or more in extra vig.

Professional bettors have no hesitancy laying a full dollar’s worth of extra juice to bet a top team OVER 10 wins instead of 10½, for example. Getting that push protection is worth the cost!

As the college football season win marketplace starts to mature over the next few weeks, we’ll see the lack of wiggle room for the books on full display, with bettors taking advantage of any arbitrage opportunities available as soon as they show up. From a return-on-investment perspective, getting the best of those half win differentials between books makes an enormous difference in the professional bettor’s bottom line.

I’ve been doing my college football homework in recent weeks, prepping for marketplace maturity. Here are two OVERS and two UNDERS that caught my eye early. The offshore juice is current as of early Monday morning.

Arkansas OVER 5½ wins (-140): The switch from head coach Bobby Petrino to John L Smith was a disaster for the Razorbacks last year, resulting in a seven win drop-off from their 11 win 2011 season. Brett Bielema should be an immediate upgrade and the Petrino/Smith duo most assuredly did not leave the cupboard bare of talent upon their departures.

Arkansas has a solid chance to start 4-0 in non-conference play – its toughest early season opponent is Rutgers – meaning a 2-6 SEC record will cash an OVER bet. With home games against Mississippi State and Auburn, they’ll have the opportunity to deliver those two wins in the ‘home favorites’ role without pulling an upset.

Indiana OVER 5½ (-210): The Hoosiers have only reached a bowl once since 1993; a longtime Big 10 football bottom feeder. Two years ago, head coach Kevin Wilson relied heavily on his own freshman recruits in his first season on the job, benching numerous veterans and creating ample dissention in the ranks for a 1-11 football team.

That reliance on youth is primed to pay dividends this year, as the Hoosiers return 19 starters from a team that averaged 31 points per game last year. In what looks like a down year for the Big 10, all eight home games for Indiana fall into the ‘winnable’ category.

UNLV Under 4½ (-175): The Rebels haven’t won more than two games in any of Bobby Hauck’s first three seasons on the job, and the UNLV head coach is clearly on the hot seat heading into 2013. The Rebels haven’t won a road game since 2009, and three of their four Mountain West home contests are against the elite teams of the conference.

Throw in a 1-5 SU track record over the past two years as a favorite (including two SU losses as double digit chalk over 1-AA teams) and asking the Rebels to win 5 this year is simply not something I’m willing to do. There’s a reason that Cantor hung a 2½ on UNLV this year (Cantor posted totals on both Nevada FBS teams months ago); giving bettors an extremely rare two game differential between sports books.

W. Virginia UNDER 5½ (+175): With a first round NFL draft choice at quarterback, a first and third rounder at wide receiver and a loaded, experienced offensive line, West Virginia finished the regular season 6-6 last year. Five of those wins came in games that the Mountaineers were favored by double digits.

This year, they’ve got only two real patsies on the slate and it’s a clear rebuilding season for a weak defensive team in a tough conference. Dana Holgorsen’s honeymoon period in Morgantown didn’t last long. West Virginia’s streak of seven consecutive 9+ win seasons ended last year and isn’t likely to start up again anytime soon.

Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]

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