Even though we started taking bets on this weekend’s college football openers back in July, there hasn’t yet been a lot of betting interest compared to other options on the recent board.
I expect that to pick up Saturday when everyone realizes national TV games are about to kick off. Let’s run through what’s been happening in the market so far, and what I expect to happen between now and your first taste of the 2021 college football season.
Saturday, Aug. 28
Nebraska (-7, 55) at Illinois
FOX, 1 p.m. ET
I opened Nebraska -8.5 back in July. Sharps bet that all the way down below the key number of -7 to -6.5. Then, money started coming in on Nebraska, driving the number back to -7. I see some stray 6.5’s floating around elsewhere in the market. We know the wiseguys really like Illinois at + 7.5 or better. I don’t expect the public to come in hard on Nebraska -7. Yes, recreational bettors generally prefer favorites, but Nebraska hasn’t been playing well enough under head coach Scott Frost to trust laying a touchdown.
I’ve been watching the money line closely in this one. About midway through every season, we look back at the first week and ask “can you believe so-and-so was an underdog in that game?” Illinois is the cheapest dog this week. And new head coach Bret Bielema has a proven track record in the Big Ten. I currently have Nebraska -260 to win the game (risk $260 to win $100, or anything in that ratio), Illinois + 220 to spring the upset (risk $100 to win $220). There have been some sharp nibbles at + 220, but not enough to move the line. Let’s see what happens between now and kickoff.
The Nebraska/Illinois total opened 55. It didn’t move until Thursday afternoon when it dropped to 54.5 after some Under bets. Not much to report on most of these Over/Unders yet.
Hawaii at UCLA (-17.5, 68)
ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
I opened UCLA -17.5. Bettors took the points, but then laid back some when I dropped the line to -17. I see a few 18’s out there as I write this. So, I think the number will start heading up. Sharps that like the favorite are in at -17. I haven’t seen any appetite yet for the underdog. We’ll see how far the public lifts Chip Kelly’s side. Dog lovers may buy back just before kickoff. I don’t have a sense yet if that would be at + 18.5, + 19, or more. There aren’t any key numbers between 17.5 and 19.5.
UTEP (-10, 59) at New Mexico State
9:30 p.m. ET
This one surprised me. I opened the game UTEP -7. Sharps bet the game all the way up to -10. They’re even laying -10. I’ve seen a 10.5 pop up in the market, but I haven’t moved there yet. I understand that New Mexico State is bad, and didn’t play any games last year … but this is UTEP! How can “UTEP on the road” be a hill to die on?
Sharps made their stand, and I’ll likely be rooting for the ugly home dog. It’s not like the public is going to bet New Mexico State in a game that’s not on TV. There’s just no way for me to balance the books here without creating a huge middle.
Quite a bit of play on the total. I opened 54.5. It’s all the way up to 59 based on sharp action. The public doesn’t bet Over/Unders this far in advance. That sharp combination of UTEP and Over (at the earlier numbers) is telling you respected money expects a big offensive performance from the Miners.
Connecticut at Fresno State (-27.5, 62.5)
CBS Sports, 2 p.m. ET
Note the time change. This is near the bottom of the schedule but starts early (11 a.m. here in Las Vegas). My opener of Fresno State -27 was bet up to -27.5. I wouldn’t call that sharp money. If sharps liked Fresno State with any enthusiasm, they would have bet the game up to -28 (or beyond).
A quick side note: Connecticut is another of the teams that didn’t play at all last season. We already talked about New Mexico State. A third team, Old Dominion, opens next Friday at Wake Forest. How should handicappers and oddsmakers deal with that extremely rare quirk?
Honestly, it didn’t affect my thinking at all, as UConn and New Mexico State are already bad teams -- there’s not much room to get worse than they already are. I actually lifted ODU a couple of points in my power ratings after reading some good things about them.
I don’t think you should let that missed season influence your analysis. How good are the players? How good are the coaches? That’s what matters.
Southern Utah at San Jose State
CBS Sports, 10 p.m. ET
This matchup isn’t part of the “official” Nevada rotation. Sportsbooks will offer it to customers because it’s a nationally televised game involving a board conference (San Jose State is defending champion of the Mountain West). I personally don’t follow Southern Utah. I trust Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings in USA Today to put me in the ballpark. I’ll also watch what other sportsbooks are doing before posting an opener at the South Point.
As of Thursday afternoon, I was already seeing stores put San Jose up at -24 or so. I’ll let the dust settle before game day, then put up something Saturday morning (at the latest) for our customers.
It’s great to have college football back on the betting board. If you missed yesterday’s article on the final week of NFL Preseason, be sure you read that before making your final decisions. College coverage will continue next week with market analysis for blockbusters like Georgia-Clemson, Alabama-Miami, Penn State-Wisconsin, and Notre Dame/Florida State. After a week off, the NFL regular season begins Thursday night, Sept. 9 with Dallas at Tampa Bay.
Are you ready for some regular-season football? I sure am!
Chris Andrews is the Sportsbook Director at the South Point in Las Vegas, and has been a Nevada bookmaker for 30 years.