How Does College Football Betting Differ From The NFL?

Written By Brett Gibbons on August 13, 2022
College football betting

In many respects, college football betting and NFL betting are very similar. After all, they are the same sport. But there’s many factors that affect college football odds more heavily than NFL odds. What are the major differences in options, handicapping considerations, and mechanics between college football and NFL betting?

Variance and Volatility In College Football Betting

The most notable difference between college football and NFL betting is inflated numbers. Point spreads of 21 or more are common among the college ranks. Wide gaps in talent between the haves and the have-nots cause regular blowouts. Sometimes, in games like Week 1’s Minnesota vs. New Mexico State, the gap is so steep that moneyline isn’t offered for either team.

This applies to point totals too, with the average college point spread being over 10 points higher than the NFL. Point totals of 65+ regularly grace the board and average totals settle in the 50s.

Spreads are also subject to rapid movement as information surrounding college football is scant compared to the NFL. Take for example Utah’s Week 1 game at Florida: the Utes opened as a pick ’em (PK)/even, against the Gators. Not long after, that number ballooned to Utah -2.5. Aside from sudden injuries or inactives in the NFL, point spreads don’t normally budge much more than 1-1.5 points.

The variance between team performances is also a bit more exaggerated in college. Last season, the Michigan State Spartans upset the Michigan Wolverines in Week 9, 37-33. Just three weeks later, Michigan State was blown out by Ohio State, 56-7.

While NFL teams are subject to good and bad games, the variance in outcome among college teams is wider than in the pros.

Editor’s Note: Get ready for football season with even more NFL Betting Tips and best practices from TheLines lead writer Eli Hershkovich

Action and Limited Information

Information in college football can be hard to come by. In particular, college teams aren’t required to release injury reports (and usually don’t). The amount of information surrounding a low-level game like Fresno State vs. San Diego State is virtually zero, and this can create opportunity for bettors who do a little bit of homework.

For NFL game and high-profile college games, oddsmakers have access to much more information and pay far more attention to their lines. Similarly, sharp bettors have a glut of numbers and a strong grasp on NFL teams. Come Sunday morning, value in NFL lines is pretty much gone as sharps hammered the line into place.

Conversely, there may be little to no action on that Fresno State-SDSU stint. Perhaps you learned Fresno State’s star WR Jalen Cropper won’t be playing in the game with an injury and that, in games without Cropper, QB Jake Haener struggles. That nugget of info may not have made it back to the oddsmaker and Fresno State is still a 3.5-point favorite. That’s opportunity for the bettor.

College Football Prop Betting

Prop betting in the NFL is extremely popular. Player totals, first quarter spreads, and in-game prop betting offers a wide menu of options for bettors.

Props are not widely offered in college football and, in many states, are banned. The odds of finding a first half passing total for Mississippi State’s Will Rogers against Memphis in Week 1 are slim.

Player futures are also not as plentiful as in the NFL. Oftentimes, only Heisman Trophy odds are offered at books with no options for other season awards or player totals.

With sports betting expanding and more leniency being given to betting on college sports, props may become more widely available in the future.

More College Football Betting: How to pinpoint preseason Heisman Trophy longshots

Home Field Advantage

Factors like home field advantage (HFA) are taken into account in both college and the NFL. However, environments and disruptors weigh a little more heavily into college football. Pro stadiums like Arrowhead and Lumen Field are certainly intimidating atmospheres, but many NFL players have had exposure to raucous crowds before. However, a 19-year-old freshman walking into Penn State’s Beaver Stadium likely hasn’t played in front of 100,000 people before.

While the generally-accepted boost is 2.5 points for HFA, be sure to find a weighted scale for college. Louisiana Tech playing in front of a crowd of 2,500 should not be weighed the same as Texas A&M playing in front of 102,000.

Even factors like elevation are 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, Wyoming, is War Memorial Stadium, which sits at 7,220 feet above sea level– a major obstacle for visiting Mountain West teams like San Jose State, who come from 82 feet above sea level.

Time zones and environment should be heavily considered since college teams travel across them much less often than NFL teams.

Roster Talent

The impact of an a superstar player is exaggerated in the college game. Keep in mind that only 1.2% of college players will be drafted in the NFL and the talent gap is massive. Conversely, the NFL features a razor-thin talent gap between the average player.

Consider the difference in talent between Ohio State (rated 985.89 roster talent by 247Sports) and Big Ten foe Illinois (635.69)– a 55% advantage to the Buckeyes. Extreme differences in roster talent like this drive up point spreads regularly into the 20s and above. According to ESPN’s FPI for 2022, Ohio State would be about a 30-point favorite on a neutral field.

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 in that market 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+ point 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

To bet on any line, simply click on the odds in the table below.

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Written by
Brett Gibbons

Brett is an avid sports traveler and former Division-I football recruiter for Bowling Green and Texas State. He’s a graduate of BGSU and works as an auditor for Google content curation products. He’s also contributed to Sports Illustrated and Fansided during his young writing career.

View all posts by Brett Gibbons