There is nothing more debated in college sports than the poll rankings, whether it’s the preseason projections that dictate a lot of the way the numbers develop throughout a season or the end-of-season rankings, which have a major impact on where teams land in the playoffs (or tournament). Of course, there are the 15 or so weeks in between for football and basketball where the analysts have all kinds of fun using these generally subjective figures to tell us which teams are better than others.
As always, sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are wrong. That’s neither here nor there for bettors, however, as the ranking next to a team’s name each week doesn’t really matter when it comes to the point spread. OR DOES IT? That’s what I set out to uncover as I looked back at the last 5 1/2 seasons of college football rankings, hoping to see if there was anything worthwhile in terms of betting systems for using these very public measures of team strength.
You see all kinds of statistics thrown about regarding teams and rankings, and it's particularly glorified when the top-ranked teams get together. We know these rankings can be used as a motivational source for teams, and they can sometimes go into the minds of oddsmakers before big games, but what is the end result? Do any patterns emerge when ranked teams play one another? Is there any correlation between the size of point spreads and ranked teams covering or not? Is there any substance to the unranked team favored over ranked team theory that many betting experts cite? Does the point in the season matter as to how ranked teams fare?
The answer to all those questions is yes, and to prove it, I’m going to share four college football betting systems using poll rankings that have developed over the course of the last 5 1/2 seasons, or since the start of the 2017 season. You’ll see that all four have proven to be at least 58.7% successful, with even greater percentages from digging deeper into the data. For each system, I’ve also pinpointed the games for this weekend that might fit the bill, out of the 22 games featuring at least one ranked team. Use these angles for the final two weeks of the regular season to build your bankrolls for the upcoming conference championships and bowl season.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The data is based only on the AP poll, not the coaches poll or CFP standings.
CFB AP Poll Rankings System 1
In games featuring two ranked teams since 2017, HOME TEAMS are 139-68 SU and 118-83-6 ATS (58.7%).
Digging deeper into that data, you will find that when the home team has been ranked better, those teams have gone 81-14 SU and 58-34-3 ATS (63%).
Adding another point spread wrinkle to the last angle, when better-ranked home teams have been single-digit favorites or underdogs, they have gone 40-11 SU and 36-13-2 ATS (73.5%) since ’17.
Analysis: Obviously this makes some foundational sense, as the best home-field advantage in college football should belong to the best teams, which are of course the ranked teams. When these hosts are the better-ranked teams and not getting a ton of respect from the oddsmakers, that is where they really thrive.
Plays for Week 12: There are only two games this weekend featuring a pair of ranked teams, and they are both out of the Pac-12. UCLA (vs. USC) and Oregon (vs. Utah) fit the base system of playing at home. Unfortunately, both are ranked below their opponents so thus don’t fit either of the drill-down angles.
CFB AP Poll Rankings System 2
This week is officially Week 12 on the college football schedule
In games Week 12 or later in the season, RANKED ROAD TEAMS are 83-20 SU and 62-39-2 ATS (61.4%) vs. non-ranked home teams since 2017.
Digging deeper into this data, you will find that when these RANKED ROAD TEAMS are favored by more than 6 points against non-ranked hosts, they have gone 70-8 SU and 48-28-2 ATS (63.2%) in that same Week 12 and later time span.
Analysis: The advantage of playing some of these stronger road teams is that the oddsmakers lessen the price because of the home-field edge. A lot of time these games are described as “difficult road tests” or similar and coaches of these ranked teams use this as a motivational factor for keeping their teams sharp. Obviously, the bigger the line for a road favorite, the more the discrepancy in the quality of the two teams.
Plays for Week 12: These are the ranked teams playing on the road this week against non-ranked hosts. Those with an asterisk meet the road-favorite line criteria:
* KANSAS STATE (-7.5) at West Virginia
* PENN STATE (-19) at Rutgers
* TENNESSEE (-22) at South Carolina
* OHIO STATE (-27.5) at Maryland
COASTAL CAROLINA (+2) at Virginia
* GEORGIA (-22.5) at Kentucky
* CINCINNATI (-17) at Temple
* OREGON STATE (-7.5) at Arizona State
TCU (-2.5) at Baylor
OLE MISS (-2.5) at Arkansas
OKLAHOMA STATE (+7) at Oklahoma
CFB AP Poll Rankings System 3
In games Week 12 or later in the season, there has been a huge discrepancy in the performance of RANKED HOME TEAMS against non-ranked visitors at the 12-point favorite line mark. As favorites of 12 points or more, they have gone 74-5 SU but just 30-48-1 ATS (38.5%), but at any other line, including underdog, they are 26-2 SU and 20-8 ATS (71.4%) since ’17.
Analysis: If you’re thinking the 12-point benchmark is somewhat arbitrary, I understand. I zeroed in on that number to maximize the results. However, the concept is what is most important. Laying too many points in these ranked vs. non-ranked games just doesn’t make sense. Like No. 1 above, the home-field advantage comes from more competitive games, and perhaps these ranked hosts are fueled by what they feel is a slighting from the oddsmakers. It’s very interesting to see that the outright won-lost marks are within a single percentage point for the varying line scenarios (93.6% to 92.8%).
Plays for Week 12: These are the ranked teams playing at home this week against non-ranked hosts, with of course their key line scenario.
Home ranked teams playing as >=12-point favorites vs. non-ranked foes
* FLORIDA STATE (-23.5) vs. Louisiana
* CLEMSON (-19) vs. Miami
* MICHIGAN (-18) vs. Illinois
* UCF (-16.5) vs. Navy
* NORTH CAROLINA (-20.5) vs. Georgia Tech
* LSU (-15) vs. UAB
* NOTRE DAME (-21) vs. Boston College
* WASHINGTON (-31.5) vs. Colorado
Home ranked teams playing as <12-point favorites vs. non-ranked foes
* TCU (-3) vs. SMU
CFB AP Poll Rankings System 4
This system is the only one I could generate that produced any definitive results on totals, but it has been strong. In college football games featuring TWO RANKED TEAMS with the home team being a double-digit favorite, Under the total boasts an impressive 32-12 (72.7%) record since the beginning of the 2017 season.
When adding a qualifier of totals higher than 56 to that system, the Under record jumps to 19-6 (76%).
Analysis: The fundamental thought here is that in all likelihood, the double-digit favorite is probably a very good defensive team. In the 44 games of the opening part of the system, these hosts have allowed just 17.2 points per game, more than 10 points fewer than the average college football team score. Bumping the posted number up above the average college total only heightens the chances of the games going Under.
Plays for Week 12: Unfortunately, in our two Pac-12 games matching ranked opponents, neither of the home teams was favored by more than a field goal as of press time, so this system will not be in play for this weekend. However, keep this one handy for next week, because as of Tuesday, the Week 13 college football schedule showed three games matching ranked opponents, two of which could meet the double-digit point spread criteria: Michigan at Ohio State and NC State at North Carolina.
Good luck with your Week 12 plays, and be sure to keep these betting systems handy for the rest of the college football season and beyond.