Betting on the upcoming football season during the summer months is a long, drawn out process. The NFL lines begin the process beginning with odds posted just days after the Super Bowl for the next team to win it all.
Then come Week 1 NFL pointspreads and totals, NFL season Over/Under wins, NFL lines for Games of the Year and from the brave bookmakers at Cantor Gaming, every single game on the board for the entire season. Last to market come the NFL season long proposition wagers and Week 1 preseason lines.
The process in college football takes a bit longer; no surprise in that regard with 124 teams on the regular betting board compared to only 32 NFL teams. The process begins, like in the NFL, with the future book – odds to win it all – that come out soon after the BCS Championship Game has been played.
College football Game of the Year pointspreads and Over/Under win totals come next. Last, but not least, we see those Week 1 lines come out – the lines that signify that yes, summer is almost over!
Over the course of the past week, just about every major sportsbook both here in Las Vegas and offshore has posted their Week 1 college football pointspreads. And, of course, to no one’s surprise, the early bettors had some very different opinions about the relative worth of those 124 board teams, resulting in a handful of significant line moves in the first few hours and days after they were posted.
This column is titled the ‘Wiseguy Report’ for a reason – most of my readers are looking for insight about the sharpest bettors in the world. Who do the sharps like in college football and why do they like them? Read on to find out, but before I do, a word of caution!
Sharp bettors are not a single entity; they are a multitude of individuals and groups, each with their own opinions. Most of the groups have not gotten involved yet, so the early money that I will describe is largely the result of individual betting opinions.
First, let me make this perfectly clear. Of all the different inflection point’ that come to pass as the football market slowly starts to mature, there’s only one group of wagers that attracts significant public money – the odds to win it all. Sharp bettors don’t ignore those bets, but they tend to focus on live longshots that have a puncher’s chance to win a title at 20:1, 30:1, even 50:1 or greater. For example, we’ve seen sharp money push down the odds on the Chicago Bears to win the NFC and to win the Super Bowl over the past few months. And there’s been some sharp money coming in on both Florida State and Texas to win the BCS Championship in college football. But those are the exceptions, not the rule!
123 FBS teams are not going to win the BCS title game next January, and 31 NFL teams are not going to win the Super Bowl next February. All futures on those teams to win it all will be losing bets.
When we add into the mix the relatively high hold percentage (house takeout) on those future book wagers, you can understand why the sportsbooks around Vegas keep them prominently displayed year round. I’m not going to call them sucker bets, but, quite frankly, they tend to attract more attention from tourists and amateurs, as opposed to wiseguys.
However, the rest of the betting options that develop over the summer months are nearly exclusively aimed at sharps. Tourists don’t want to lay $130 to win $100 asking the Bears to win more than 9.5 games in 2012. Rather, they want the big score, the fat payout that a Bears Super Bowl victory would offer at 25:1. Sharp bettors are looking for big scores as well, but their bread and butter consists primarily of wagers in the 11:10 vicinity.
College football Week 1 pointspreads are most assuredly in the 11:10 vicinity. And while the vast majority of amateur bettors haven’t done a whole lot of research on college football just yet, there were a handful of wiseguys who were chomping at the bit to take their crack at the virgin numbers; ready to pounce at the first opportunity.
That being said, lines weren’t flying all over the place – the vast majority of games took little or no action at the opener in most sportsbooks. But there were a solid handful of games that drew sharp money both here in Las Vegas and across the global betting marketplace. I’ll discuss four such moves below.
The single biggest mover was probably Ohio U taking money in their opener at Penn State. The Nittany Lions are seeing key players transfer out of town on a daily basis following the announcement of major NCAA sanctions. Sharp bettors like to bet against teams with fewer returning starters and the Nittany Lions had the fewest returning starters in the Big Ten BEFORE players like running back Silas Redd, wide receiver Justin Brown, quarterback Rob Boldin, tight end Kevin Haplea and linebacker Khairi Fortt decided to leave town.
The corollary principle is also true – sharp bettors like to bet on teams with a high number of returning starters early in the season. They also don’t get intimidated by conference affiliation, willing to support quality teams from lesser conferences like Ohio U.
Frank Solich’s Bobcats are loaded defensively, returning eight starters on that side of the football, as well as their quarterback and 98 starts on the offensive line. The line move in favor of the road underdog Bobcats – down to as low as +6.5 in some spots – cannot be considered a surprise.
Nor should savvy market readers be surprised at the money that came on Michigan State, against Boise. The Broncos suffered even more graduation losses than Penn State, returning only seven starters – just two on the defensive side of the football. The last time Boise had less than ten returning starters was all the way back in 1996; a team that finished the season 2-10.
While Michigan State lost their quarterback to graduation as well, Mark Dantonio’s defense is positively loaded this year; a unit that finished ranked in the top 10 nationally in both points and yardage allowed last year. Early bettors expect there to be a world of difference between these two defenses right from the get-go with Michigan State bet up to -7.
We saw a trickle of early money come in on a pair of blowout teams. Oregon is most assuredly one squad that has made chalk bettors plenty of money in recent seasons; 26-12-2 ATS in their last 40 tries as home favorites in Eugene.
The Ducks offense has been one of the most explosive attacks in college football, averaging well over 40 points per game over the last five years! And the Ducks have been ready to explode right out of the gate, hanging 48 on Houston, 44 on Washington, 38 on Purdue, 72 on New Mexico and 69 on Nevada in their last five home openers.
The Ducks week 1 opponent, Arkansas State, was the class of the Sun Belt last year, but both their offensive and defensive lines were decimated by graduation losses. In a paycheck game for Gus Malzahn’s first foray as an FBS level head coach, the early money came on Oregon, driving this line as high as -35.5.
The other big chalk home favorite that took money right from the get-go was Nebraska in its Week 1 matchup against Southern Miss. Sure, the Huskers program has been on the decline, suffering at least four losses in each of the last eight years. And Bo Pelini certainly can’t match Oregon’s Chip Kelly’s ATS success as a home favorite, without a single winning season in that role during his first four years on the job.
But early bettors were looking to fade a Southern Miss squad that lost their head coach, both coordinators, a four-year starter at quarterback and most of their front seven on defense this past offseason. As a result, this pointspread was driven up to -17.5 in most locations.
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