While the NFL draws more money and more bets, college football takes second fiddle as the next most popular sport to bet upon in American. The American Gaming Association estimates that bettors wagered over $4.7 billion dollars on football last year and over 12 million bets were placed on college football.
With games taking place throughout the week (mostly on Saturday), CFB offers more opportunities to win money than the NFL. There are significant differences between CFB and the NFL in terms of the playing field, number of teams, and playing style that factor into sports betting.
This page can serve as your guide for betting on college football in the US. It will break down the basics of CFB betting and delineate the strategies that work best in the college game when compared to the NFL. It’s never easy to consistently beat oddsmakers and win in sports betting, but this guide should help you get closer to cashing 50 percent of the time. Remember that even a 52 percent cash rate is a success in sports betting, and sports betting experts usually only cash 60 percent of the time at the most.
We’ll also help you find the best sportsbooks and apps to bet on during the 2019 college football season.
Is college football betting legal?
When the Supreme Court overturned the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May of 2018, it opened the door for individual states to legalize sports gambling. Beginning with New Jersey (the original plaintiff in the PASPA case), several states quickly moved to legalize and regulate the industry within state lines. Betting on college football and professional sports is still not federally legal, but residents of the following states can place bets at live sportsbooks:
- New Jersey
- West Virginia
- Rhode Island
- New Mexico
- New York
The following states have passed bills to legalize sports gambling and are preparing to launch the industry. Some states are hoping to go live before the 2019-2020 CFB season:
Most other states in the U.S. have introduced some sort of bill that would legalize sports gambling. Of course, some states are far closer than others to legalizing the industry. Visit our individual sports betting pages at TheLines.com to get a look at the status in each state.
Best college football betting apps
There are a number of apps available for sports betting in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with more states planning to go online by the end of the year. Here is a list of some of the top apps:
How to bet on college football
There are several ways to bet on most sporting events and college football is no exception. Here are some of the options for CFB betting, including some tips on when you might want to go with that specific type of wage:
- Moneyline: Taking the Moneyline means you’re betting on the winning team regardless of the margin of victory. Underdogs will get plus-odds on the Moneyline and the favorites will have negative odds. For example, if a team is heavily favored they will be listed as Alabama (-2300), meaning that a successful $230 bet on the Crimson Tide would only pay out $10.
- Point Spread: The Point Spread is different in that it accounts for the expected margin of victory. In the NFL, the biggest favorites are usually giving 13-16 points, meaning a bet (likely at something close to -110 odds) is only successful if the favorite wins by 16-plus. These spreads can be much, much bigger in college. When playing the lowly Illinois Fighting Illini, Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State can often be favored by 40 points or more. This changes the game in terms of taking the favorite in the hopes of a truly one-sided affair.
- Point Total: Since these point spreads are often set at such a lofty number, gamblers may lean towards betting the overall total of a game. The total is often presented with an equal odds proposition of taking the Over or Under. Some sites offer the opportunity to bet on the expected point total of one team (23.5 points for example).
- Proposition Bets: There are often an extensive number of Prop (or proposition) Bets where gamblers can wager on the individual performance of a player, the type of score to open a game, and the specific margin of victory. These options are often more expansive in prime time and bowl games. Gamblers can choose to combine multiple propositions on a game, or multiple bets on different games, into a Parlay. This wager is an all-or-nothing proposition which only pays out if all (anywhere between 2 and a dozen) bets are successful. The more bets added to a Parlay, the greater the potential payout.
- Teaser: A form of Parlay that involves a combination of two to ten wagers in which you can adjust the point spread or total to your specifications. These bets are therefore more likely to succeed, but the payouts are smaller than in a Parlay.
NCAA markets and futures betting
The options listed above are for betting on individual games, but gamblers can also wager on NCAA futures. Rather than betting on an individual game, futures offer gamblers the opportunity to bet on the eventual National Champion, conference champions, or the number of wins that a team will accrue during the regular season.
There are also futures bets available on postseason awards, such as the Heisman Trophy. Here is a rundown of the favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook to win the 2019-2020 Heisman Trophy before the season:
- Trevor Lawrence +250
- Tua Tagovailoa +250
- Jalen Hurts +1100
- Justin Field +1100
- D’Andre Swift +1400
- Jonathan Taylor +1400
- Jake Fromm +1600
Odds on futures bets will change throughout the season if a key player gets hurt, or a contender upsets another contender. Since only four teams have a shot at the National Title in the CFB Playoff format, teams that start to fall out of the playoff picture will suddenly have very long odds.
The odds for the futures bets on the National Champion came out shortly after the 2018-2019 CFB season ended. Here is a quick rundown of the odds in August according to FanDuel Sportsbook:
- Clemson +200
- Alabama +225
- Georgia +850
- Ohio State +1200
- Oklahoma +1600
- Michigan +2200
- Texas +3000
- Florida +3500
- Notre Dame +4000
There is also a futures section on most books where you bet the conference champion. The FBS conferences on books are the AAC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, C-USA, MAC, MWC, Pac 12, and SEC. While most of these conferences have several contenders with relatively even odds, top-heavy conferences such as the Mountain West will have perennial powerhouse Boise State as more likely than not to win the conference. Alabama is also expected to win the SEC for the fifth time in six years.
Strategies differ when betting on individual games versus futures. Timing is of paramount importance when betting futures, since you can effectively “buy low” on a player or team that’s struggling early in the season and get much better odds. Taking a futures bet towards the end of the season when the Heisman candidates are pretty much solidified will not be very profitable. Game lines are much more simple in terms of betting before the opening kickoff, or taking advantage of “live betting” in states where online gambling is legal and available.
College football betting tips
As mentioned above, CFB has more teams and far less parity than the NFL. That leads to some lopsided scores and lofty spreads. It can be difficult to find the right side of the line, but here are some analytics to consider:
- Home Field Advantage — How historically strong is a particular team at home? Are you considering a school with a particularly dedicated fan base such as Auburn? Or betting a mid-major matchup between two schools in the MAC that will likely be played with light fanfare?
- Rivalries — There are only a few games during the CFB season, but some count for more than others. The top teams in each conference often schedule a huge H2H rivalry game towards the end of the season, such as “The Game” between Ohio State and Michigan. It doesn’t always have to be the top teams, though, as Alabama has a more fierce rivalry with Auburn than SEC competitor Georgia. The intensity of those rivalry games can often lead to closer finishes and that should be accounted for when betting point spreads.
- Weather & Conditions — The weather can play a huge factor in the outcome of games and number of points scored. Obviously, poor weather makes it tougher to pass, catch, and kick, which often leads to fewer points. Some run-heavy teams thrive in inclement weather and teams from the south or west coast could struggle if playing on the road in a harsher climate.
- Pace (the average number of plays a team runs per game) — this can primarily help you identify fast-paced games that are likely to go over the total, or slow-paced games that will go Under.
- PPP — Another key factor in CFB that can help you determine both the point total and potential winner against the spread is the number of explosive plays a team averages. This can be measured in points per play (PPP) and teams that average more PPP than their opponents tend to win over 80 percent of matchups. If both teams average a lot of explosive plays and both defenses struggle to contain big plays, the Over becomes a much better proposition.
- Offensive efficiency — The ability of a team to finish drives (offensive efficiency) can serve as a great indicator for which teams are capable of covering the spread and which games are likely to go Over (or Under) an expected point total. Pass yards per attempt is another indicator of which teams are successful on offense in terms of controlling possession and creating points.
- Defensive efficiency — When betting on the point total, consider which teams have teams have greater defensive efficiency. Teams with a consistent ability to create turnovers are far more likely to stay close in games when they’re an underdog, or pull away and cover the spread.
- Win Probability — This is an advanced tool that can help tremendously with live betting. Algorithms can provide the likelihood of a team holding on for the win and that makes for a very safe bet.
- Injuries and Player Factors — Finally, you have to consider the health of key players and any potential storylines about a rift between a player and the coaching staff. Coaches have all the power in CFB and sometimes players will underperform if they feel slighted or otherwise mistreated.
Each game brings its own criteria in terms of analytics and there is almost always ample time to crunch the numbers and find an edge.
CFB betting vs. NFL betting
With so many more games on a CFB slate, it’s difficult for oddsmakers to dedicate as much time into researching each matchup. Sometimes oddsmakers will nail the line for high-profile games in the “Power Five” conferences, but will lose track of the mid-major games. That opens the door for savvy bettors to hammer a line that they think is off the mark.
There are significant differences in the format of each game. CFB teams can carry up to 70 players and certain programs will use nearly everyone on the team to maintain a fast-paced style (popularized by Chip Kelly at Oregon).
There is slightly less betting activity in college compared to the NFL, and far less coverage in terms of injury updates. Changes might be coming, but right now the NCAA doesn’t require CFB teams to release injury reports. The ACC used to require a pre-game injury report from teams, but has since nixed that requirement.
While information on injuries isn’t nearly as transparent in CFB, savvy bettors can find out information via twitter and websites to indicate if a key player is going to be at all limited or potentially inactive. This is a potential area to gain an edge since there is plenty of local media coverage and fan investment even if the coaches aren’t required to tip their hand.
CFB Betting Predictions
In recent years, Clemson has challenged Alabama as the as the undisputed kings of CFB. Now Futures on the CFP are a bit more open and the odds are likely to change throughout the season. Keep up to date on developing stories with our betting analysis on PlayPicks.com. We’ll also break down the matchups of individual games to get you primed for bets each Saturday.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many college football bowl games are there?
There were 40 bowl games at the end of the 2018-19 CFB season. Since 2014, the top three bowl games have been incorporated into a four-team College Football Playoff to crown the National Champion.
When are college bowl games announced?
The schedule for the 2019-2020 CFB season is available online for every team in the FBS. The college bowl game schedule is announced after he conference championship games in December.
How do spreads work in college football?
Favorites are handicapped by a point spread and bettors that take the favorite on a point spread will need the team to win by more than that number (-14 for example). Conversely, underdogs will pay out bets on the spread if they lose by 14 points or fewer in that example.
What is the over / under in college football?
Point totals in CFB are generally much higher than the NFL because of the increased pace of play and lack of talent and coordination on the defensive side of the ball.
How many Division 1 football teams are there?
There are currently 129 FBS football teams in Division 1 and 125 teams in the FCS, or the Football Championship Subdivision. The FCS is comprised of 14 conferences and the FBS is comprised of 11 conferences.
How many players can be on a college football team?
Programs in the FBS are able to give 85 players financial aid, but only 63 can receive full scholarships. There is no specific limit on how many players can dress for a game per NCAA rules, but conferences such as the Big Ten limit the number to 70 players. The NCAA does require that a maximum of 105 players take part in preseason camp.
Where is the national championship game in 2020?
The 2020 College Football Playoff will take place in three different stadiums. The semifinals will be held on Dec. 28 in Glendale, Arizona (Fiesta Bowl) at State Farm Stadium and in Atlanta, Georgia (Peach Bowl) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The National Championship will be held on Jan. 13 at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
What is the purpose of college bowl games?
Bowl games have become a holiday tradition and an exciting goal for players, coaches, and fans to cap their seasons. While the CFP has seemingly overshadowed the other bowl games, players remain invested in ending their season or careers on a high note.