How College Football Betting Differs From The NFL In 2023
As legal sports betting expands in the U.S., so too does the population betting on football. The NFL reigns king as the most bet sport in this country. If you are an NFL bettor looking to get in on college football betting, you must keep in mind some critical differences. Perhaps this is your first year betting any football at all. In that event, let’s review the major differences handicapping NFL odds versus handicapping college football odds.
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Variance, Volatility In College Football Betting
Browse NFL odds boards any week of the slate and you’ll find typical point spreads ranging from -1.5 to -6.5. In the more lopsided matchups, you may see double-digits, perhaps on one or two games a week. Now browse a college football odds board and you may find a -18.5 spread for a top-25 matchup in primetime.
The talent gap between teams in college football – particularly between Power Five and Group of Five schools – is much larger than in the NFL. In true “warm up” games like Week 0’s San Jose State at USC, you’ll see point spreads in excess of four touchdowns. In this case, the Trojans are big favorites. That gap is only widening as conference realignment exacerbates the difference between the haves and the have-nots.
Volatility is also much more prevalent among the college ranks. For example, Marshall upset a top-10 Notre Dame team in South Bend in Week 2 last season, then laid an egg in overtime at Bowling Green the next weekend. After all, these are 18- to 21-year-old players, many of whom have never played on a national stage.
Because of that, spreads often rapidly move throughout the week. For example, Penn State opened as a -16.5 favorite over West Virginia in Week 1. That number climbed to -21 by mid-August, before the bulk of the action even began. In the NFL, usually only major midweek injuries move lines that far. In this example, no major roster changes occurred to either team.
Even with the wide-reaching information landscape that is today’s social media, information in college football can be scant at times. Especially among smaller programs, schools are not required to and almost never release injury information. To find information on injuries, bettors must scour the depths of beat reporters’ Twitter accounts. Even then, they may only find vague nuggets on a player’s status.
But with each year that progresses, that information becomes more readily available. Bettors can now find advanced statistics like EPA, line yards and success rate for free with a little bit of elbow grease. However, the vast majority of college football bettors don’t put in the extra effort, making small-time college football a market ripe for picking.
While limited information is a disadvantage to bettors, savvy punters can turn difficult-to-find information into a serious edge. Markets are often slow to react – or even don’t at all – to that information.
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College Football Prop Betting
Prop betting in professional sports leagues, but particularly the NFL, is incredibly popular. But, the menu offered on college props is limited and may have large holds. Setting major markets (spreads, totals, money lines) for 133 college football teams is difficult enough. Folding in accurate player props for 80 athletes per roster is nearly impossible. Thus, the sportsbooks protect themselves with higher vig.
But, sportsbooks are trying, offering more each year. Building on the limited information nugget, picking off books that attempt to set accurate rushing props on UMass vs. New Mexico State can aid a profitable start to the season.
However, props are not widely offered in college football. In many states, they are completely banned. For a complete rundown on whether college prop betting is legal in your state, scroll to the bottom of our College Football National Championship odds page.
Home Field Advantage
In the NFL, home field advantage has become watered down. Professional rosters are made up of veterans and players who know how to deal with opposing crowds. Only a handful of the upper echelon of stadiums move the needle more than the standard two points or so (Kansas City, Seattle, etc.).
Not the case in college football. Home field advantage remains one of the most critical tools when handicapping collegiate games. But, as with the pros, it’s also a dwindling phenomenon. Attendance is falling with the increase of TV access and stadium pricing. Still, many stadiums still offer daunting environments for opposing teams.
Be sure to use a weighted scale for HFA. Louisiana Tech playing in front of a crowd of 2,500 should not count the same as Texas A&M playing in front of 102,000.
Even factors like elevation can become exaggerated in college. Empower Field at Mile High in Denver is the NFL’s highest stadium at 5,280 feet above sea level. Just up the interstate in Laramie, Wyo., sits War Memorial Stadium at 7,220 feet above sea level – a major obstacle for visiting Mountain West teams like San Jose State.
Heavily consider time zones and environment since college teams travel across them much less frequently than NFL teams. (Note: conference realignment only exacerbates this.)
How Should You Adjust Your College Football Betting Strategy?
Since information is harder to come by in college football, doing a little bit of homework goes a long way. Picking and choosing your spots in college football can be extremely advantageous to bettors. Become an expert in Conference USA or the MAC. Chances are, you’re one of very few bettors approaching that market seriously. And if you’ve done more than 15 minutes of research on these teams, you very well may have a leg up on whoever set the line.
Focus on a hyper-specific aspect of the market. If you noticed that in games with a 65+ total, favorites tended to run away with games in 2021, you would have been happy cashing in on over 65% of your bets.
Finally, don’t dismiss the impact of HFA and roster talent. In college football, it really can be as simple as Alabama being flat out more talented than Missouri.
With volatility comes opportunity.
College Football Week 1 Odds
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