The Fundamentals of College Football Betting (Everything You Need to Know)
If you want to bet on college football, know that you’re not alone. Some $70 billion is wagered on college football every year, according to CNBC, and the commentators on College Gameday talk about spreads and lines.
However, trying to decode how to read odds and how different types of bets work can all be a little intimidating. We’ve put together this guide on the most common and popular ways to bet on college football so you can join the action.
Single Game College Football Bets
Single-game bets are the basic unit of sports betting. You bet on the outcome of a single college football game, and if that bet succeeds, you win; if it doesn’t, neither do you.
A single game bet is the best place to start for beginners, so we’ll begin by looking at the different types of single-game bets, before getting into more complicated wagers later on.
Moneyline betting isn’t the most common in college football, or football generally, but it’s a good starting point because it’s the least complicated.
In moneyline betting, you’re asked to predict the winner of a game, plain and simple. To accommodate talent or other disparities between the teams, the competitors will have different odds. You get a bigger payout if you bet on a team that’s perceived to be less likely to win, and a smaller payout if the team is predicted to dominate.
Unlike with betting against the spread (which will come to in a moment), the margin of victory doesn’t matter; and unlike betting on the game total (a.k.a. the over/under), the number of points scored doesn’t matter. It’s all about which teams gets the “W.”
Let’s say Favorite University is playing Underdog State this weekend. Favorite University is having a hell of a year, and Underdog State fired their head coach for calling escorts in Tampa, so on Monday your sportsbook releases a “line” that looks like this:
These odds are listed in the American odds system, the most popular system for football betting. The system is based around $100 sums. Positive numbers indicate how much you will earn in profit on a $100 bet. Negative numbers indicate how large a bet you’d have to place to earn $100 in profit. In our example, the +185 next to Underdog State means that a bet of $100 on that team will yield a $285 payout (i.e. your $100 wager plus a $185 profit).
The -225 next to Favorite University means that you’d have to wager $225 to return a $100 profit. If you bet $100, your payout would only be $144.44 (i.e. your $100 wager plus a $44.44 profit).
At first, it’s difficult to intuit what these odds mean, so use an odds calculator to figure out what your profit and payout will be, as well as the implied probability lurking under those odds. A line of -225 carries an implied probability of 69%, which means that it’s a good bet if you think Favorite University has at least a 70% chance of winning. If you think their chances of winning are lower than 69%, it’s a bad bet to make.
You might have noticed that when you add up the implied probabilities of -225 and +185 you get a number that exceeds 100%, in this case, ~105%. That shouldn’t be the case when you’re doling out two percentages on a binary outcome.
There is exactly a 100% chance that one of these teams will win, obviously. That extra 5% is called the “vig,” and it’s how the sportsbooks make their money. It’s essentially the price every bettor pays to play.
Betting Against the Spread
The bulk of college football betting is done “against the spread,” where sportsbooks give one team a handicap and bettors choose teams at roughly even odds. (Again, the odds in a perfectly even matchup won’t be exactly one-to-one because the sportsbook effectively charges a fee to make the bet.)
Again, Favorite University is playing Underdog State. This time, however, the odds look like this:
Here’s what those numbers mean: 6.5 points is the “spread,” or the number of points Favorite U has to win by, or the maximum Underdog State can lose by, for bettors to be paid out. You’ll recognize “-110” from moneyline betting; here it just means that bettors on either side have to wager $110 in order to win $100. As mentioned, that’s called the “vig” and it’s effectively how sportsbooks secure their profit.
What does this mean for you? If you bet $100 on Favorite U, you need them to win by at least touchdown, in which case you get paid out $190.91.
If you back Underdog State, you don’t need them to (a) win or (b) lose by no more than 6.5 points. Betting on the underdog is called “taking the points,” because (for your money) you’re getting the probability that your team wins, plus the cushion those points provide. Conversely, betting Favorite U is called “laying” the points, because you’re effectively giving Underdog State 6.5 points before the game even starts.
Betting against the spread is a lot more popular than betting the moneyline, and the lines on offer are a lot more interesting. With moneyline betting, you’re asked to accurately determine how much more likely to win one team is than another, which some find difficult or boring, but with ATS betting you’re asked to determine how the favorite is most likely to win. In our example, is Favorite U going to beat Underdog State by a touchdown? You get to be the judge.
Totals betting is a little like betting against the spread, because you’re not strictly betting on the win/loss outcome of the game. Instead, you’re betting on the total number of points scored in the game, and you’re given a weird looking card that looks like this:
The number 62.5 is the over/under, or the number of points the two teams combined will have to exceed for the “over” to win. Any total less than 62.5 is a win for the under. The -110 is, again, even odds less a 10% vig.
Notice that you’re not betting on one team or another, but the style of the game. Will it be a blowout, a shootout, a basketball game on grass? If so, consider betting the over. Will it be a tightly contested defensive struggle, a suffocating phonebook fight, or a symphony of offensive incompetence? Take a hard look at the under.
Multiple Game College Football Bets
With 128 teams in the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, a.k.a. Division I), you might be tempted to bet on more than one game. To do this, you can place a few single game bets independently of each other, or you might find more value with multiple game bets, which tie a few games together with one wager.
You’ve seen Silver Linings Playbook. A parlay is combining bets on two or more games, either against the spread or on the moneyline. By betting on multiple games at once, you get much higher odds, and thus a larger payout, but only if all your picks in the parlay win.
Let’s say you want to bet on Favorite U, but the odds are very “short” and the potential profit isn’t exciting enough. If you parlay that bet with bets on other games, even similarly lopsided games, the whole bet gets much more interesting. A three-team parlay of narrow favorites can pay out at +300 or +400, and a similar bet on three strong favorites can net close to +100.
Teasers: Getting an Extra Edge on Your Parlay Bets
Teasers are another multiple-game bet, and like parlays, all of your picks have to win for you to get paid out. In teasers, however, you get to adjust the lines on the relevant games. So the following games are on the docket this Saturday:
With a teaser, you have the option of adjusting the spread by 6.0, 6.5, or 7.0 points in either direction. So if you bet on Favorite U and Underdog A&M on a 6.0-point teaser, the spreads become Favorite U -0.5 and Underdog A&M +8.5. Now, you only need Favorite U to win by a single point and Underdog A&M to lose by no more than eight. If both of those bets succeed, your teaser is a winner!
You can bet on more than two games in a teaser, and there are no rules about picking all favorites or all underdogs. You can mix and match to your heart’s content.
The standard odds for various teasers are as follows:
|# OF TEAMS||NUMBER OF POINTS||PAYOUT|
Futures are bets on the far-flung future of college football. The two most common bets you can make are on the National Champion and the Heisman Trophy winner. It’s supremely easy to find bad futures bets and exceedingly hard to find value, unless a really good team or player is heavily undervalued, which is rare.
Preseason odds had Alabama at +300, which is an awful lot of certainty to expect from an amateur football squad. There’s a lot that can go wrong in a college football season, and +300 doesn’t give you a lot of leeway there. Alabama needs to have a greater than 25% chance of winning it all for that bet to have value.
The Heisman Trophy is a little more predictable; you can go through the card and eliminate anyone who isn’t a quarterback or a running back, and more or less anyone who plays on the West Coast and isn’t likely to make the Playoff. Defensive players usually aren’t worth your money at all. Linemen? Forget it.
An important note: because futures bets often have a lot of possible outcomes, unscrupulous sportsbooks can produce some lines that, upon careful review, are far from fair. If you add up the implied probabilities of the lines on offer and get a number greater than, say, 120%, it’s likely that you’re not getting good value regardless of who you bet on.
Expand Your Horizons and Grow Your Bankroll!
Want to learn more about betting on college football, or perhaps just betting on sports in general? We’ve got you covered with our comprehensive series on how to bet on sports.