Defining college football home-field advantage

By Adam Burke  ( 

August 4, 2023 02:24 PM


Defining college football home-field advantage

Home-field advantage isn’t what it used to be in college football. By the time the players enroll in college, a lot of them are used to playing games in different places. It also doesn’t take too many road trips for the players to get accustomed to being road warriors. With big budgets and big booster bucks, the conveniences of modern travel are afforded to most, if not all, teams around the country.

Heck, by this point, many players have moved from one college or university to the next because of the transfer portal, so it isn’t like shuffling around towns is a foreign concept. But fans are still in the stands, and some environments will always be more daunting than others.

I wrote in the 2022 VSiN College Football Betting Guide that determining home-field advantage was an inexact science. This may shock you, but it isn’t any different a season later. I do think that we can all agree that slapping a standard-issue three points on the home team side is outdated, so I’m using a baseline of two points again this season. Who knows, that may even go down for future seasons, but there is still something to sleeping in a hotel and having thousands of screaming fans rooting for your failure.

In my quest to find something that wasn’t random or arbitrary, I decided a couple of seasons ago to look at a team’s combined straight-up (SU) and against-the-spread (ATS) record at home over a five-year sample size and use that win percentage to place teams into “buckets” to determine whether or not their home performance warrants a home-field advantage above or below two points.

Based on that calculation (using the SU + ATS home records from Phil Steele’s magazine since they were conveniently displayed), I found 51 teams with an HFA value higher than two points and 13 with an HFA value lower than two points. There are 133 FBS teams this season, with Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State added to the mix, so just shy of 50% of the Division I FBS teams fit the criteria to be higher or lower.

Here are those teams for the 2023 season:

3.5 Points (SU + ATS Win % of 70% or higher)

  • Alabama
  • Cincinnati
  • Clemson
  • Georgia
  • James Madison
  • Louisiana
  • Memphis
  • Michigan
  • Notre Dame
  • Ohio State
  • Oklahoma
  • Oklahoma State
  • Oregon
  • UAB
  • UCF
  • Utah

3 Points (65-69.99%)

  • Air Force
  • Appalachian State
  • Army
  • Baylor
  • Boise State
  • Buffalo
  • Georgia Southern
  • Kentucky
  • Liberty
  • LSU
  • Miami (OH)
  • NC State
  • SMU
  • Texas A&M
  • Tulane
  • Virginia

2.5 Points (60-64.99%)

  • Auburn
  • BYU
  • Florida Atlantic
  • Fresno State
  • Iowa
  • Iowa State
  • Kansas State
  • Kent State
  • Louisiana Tech
  • Middle Tennessee
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Oregon State
  • Penn State
  • Utah State
  • Wake Forest
  • Washington State
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

1.5 Points (35.01-39.99%)

  • Bowling Green
  • Kansas
  • Northern Illinois
  • Northwestern
  • Old Dominion
  • Rutgers
  • South Florida
  • Stanford

1 Point (35% or Lower)

  • Akron
  • Georgia Tech
  • New Mexico
  • UMass
  • Vanderbilt

Note: Any team between 40-59.99% has a standard HFA of 2 points.

Is this a perfect system? Absolutely not. Is it better than just doing guesswork or something baseless? I’d like to think so.

There will be exceptions to any HFA opinion, like a Penn State White-Out or Death Valley (either one—LSU or Clemson) at night. A night game in a football-crazed venue carries a lot more weight than a sleepy 11 a.m. or noon local kickoff where tailgating couldn’t be done the way it should. I consider those things part of my handicap rather than having random situations that may shift HFA a half-point or a point because of the scheduling.

Is five years too many? Well, the COVID-shortened 2020 season and the wide distribution in terms of number of games played is still a factor. Perhaps next season, I can switch to a three-year sample size, which may be more accurate given the transfer portal and the coaching carousel, but a three-year sample size right now would still include teams like Old Dominion that didn’t even play the 2020 season or a team that couldn’t play at home because of local COVID restrictions.

I do think it probably is too long, as that means a full-fledged roster turnover by recruiting class and a whole lot of coaching movement. Your view may vary on how to calculate home-field advantage, and if you have a system that you trust and believe in, I’d love to hear about it. But this is at least a starting point and based on something tangible. That’s good enough for me, but I’ll always think about ways to perfect it and consider different ways of looking at it.



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