I love to study data, build betting systems and capitalize on the findings. I look for specific line ranges, types of games and the point in the season in which games were played as the foundation for these strategies. The opening week of the college football season presents interesting matchups every year, and the prices set by oddsmakers can give bettors valuable insight as to how the experts are evaluating the games.
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It’s typically believed that the bookmakers are the ones in the know and that they set their lines for specific reasons. In turn, those lines are bet heavily by the professionals, who put an equal amount of work into prepping for the season. You would think that by following the lead of these two groups, all bettors should be able to take advantage. I believe that studying the results of games against the lines does that.
So I set out to find any relatively simple systems or concepts on which bettors can capitalize in the opening weeks of the college football season — Week 0 and Week 1, or the next two weekends on the slate. These systems are in addition to the college football stability system plays I will release for the full Week 1 board in next week’s Point Spread Weekly, though I discuss one game for Week 0 at the end of this report.
After studying games from Weeks 0 and 1 for the last eight seasons, I came up with five betting concepts you might want to consider as you break down the games.
Huge favorites of 37.5 points or more have been automatic in the opening weeks since 2013, going 7-0 SU and ATS.
Analysis: When the opening-week lines approach 40 points, oddsmakers clearly perceive a massive difference in talent between teams. Also, the better teams were always playing at home, eager to get their promising seasons off to good starts against opponents that were essentially powerless to stop them. The result has been easy wins and point-spread covers, with these games producing an average score of 60.4-9.3 on games with average lines of -40.
Teams qualifying for 2021: Pittsburgh (vs. UMass), potentially Auburn (vs. Akron, line -37 at press time).
Favorites have been reliable at home and in neutral-site games in the opening weeks since 2013, going 121-104 ATS (53.7%). But that has not been the case on the road at 28-38 ATS (42.4%).
Analysis: Playing at home in the opening weeks provides a lot of motivation. Typically, this is when teams’ enthusiasm peaks, and full stadiums share the excitement. The ATS results over the last eight seasons show opening-week home teams are generally the better bet, as they own the ATS ledger as favorites and underdogs. If you prefer to back the better team, recognize the 11.3% difference between the recent success rates of home and road favorites beating their point spreads in Weeks 0 and 1.
Teams qualifying for 2021: By my count, 13 lined games the first two weekends feature true road favorites. Highlight these games when starting your handicapping routine and consider that these “better teams” will be facing motivated home dogs.
Power 5 favorites have been more reliable than Group of 5 favorites. In fact, when Group of 5 teams have met in Weeks 0 and 1 since 2013, favorites are just 26-36 ATS (41.9%).
Analysis: Despite expanded previews of the Group of 5 teams published by experts like Phil Steele, Brad Powers, Kenny White and our group here at VSiN, analyzing a team filled with higher-level talent in a Power 5 conference is easier than judging the generally lesser players in the Group of 5. In other words, projecting accurate point spreads for the latter is more speculative. This leaves more margin for error, and as it has turned out recently, underdogs in these Group of 5 matchups seem take a lot of motivation from the slight.
Group of 5 underdogs qualifying for 2021: New Mexico State (vs. UTEP), Connecticut (vs. Fresno State), Boise State (vs. UCF), East Carolina (vs. Appalachian State), Army (vs. Georgia State), Miami (Ohio) (vs. Cincinnati), Navy (vs. Marshall), South Alabama (vs. Southern Miss), New Mexico State (vs. San Diego State).
Favorites in games between conference opponents have fared well, going 12-7 SU and 11-7-1 ATS (61.1%) since 2013 in Weeks 0 and 1.
Analysis: The importance of conference games, even in the opening weeks of the season, can’t be overstated. Conference clashes typically bring out the best in focusing on preparation, and when you add the excitement of opening the season against a rival, it’s easy to understand how the better team can be more successful. If you figure conference favorites have covered at a 61.1% rate, and all other favorites have gone 50.5%, you have more than a 10% advantage in betting a favorite in a conference game in Weeks 0 and 1. Conference games this early are rare, but five Big Ten clashes and an ACC tilt are on tap the next two weekends.
Conference game favorites qualifying for 2021: Nebraska (vs. Illinois), Ohio State (vs. Minnesota), North Carolina (vs. Virginia Tech), Northwestern (vs. Michigan State), Wisconsin (vs. Penn State), Iowa (vs. Indiana).
Oddsmakers are leading you to water on low-totaled games, with Weeks 0 and 1 totals of 48 or less going 26-11 Under (70.2%) since 2013.
Analysis: Remember, oddsmakers study these teams extensively throughout the offseason. When they determine that teams won’t be very explosive offensively, they basically tell you so by setting their opening totals low. Considering that the average college total has been in the 56-57 range for the last eight years, a total of 48 might seem appetizing for an Over play, but it has proven to be a profitable strategy to avoid that temptation. See low, expect low.
Games with totals of 48 or less qualifying for 2021: Michigan State-Northwestern, Indiana-Iowa, Marshall-Navy.
College Football Stability Score Play for Week 0
I have been using my College Football Stability Mismatches strategy for about 10 years, and I steadfastly believe in the principles on which it relies. To me, it is a winning strategy, and the more of this type of logic you use in your own handicapping, the more successful you will be, particularly early in the season. I will have a more in-depth look at the system and what defines a mismatch in next week’s issue, but for now, let’s look at the lone game in Week 0 that qualifies as a stability mismatch.
(299) Nebraska (-6.5) at (300) Illinois: Stability advantage — Nebraska by 10
Nebraska begins its fourth season under Scott Frost, and for as much as the program has come under scrutiny lately for the wrong reasons, some optimism exists about 2021. The schedule looks very favorable for a good start, perhaps as good as 7-1. Adrian Martinez is a dual-threat quarterback and shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder anymore. He leads a group of 17 returning starters. The Cornhuskers will be looking for payback after a 41-23 loss at home to Illinois last season. The Illini will look different in 2021, with Bret Bielema taking over as coach and bringing in a new staff. The Illini also have a lot of starters back, including QB Brandon Peters, but they’ll be working in new systems. That could be a tough task facing an important conference foe in Game 1.