Thursday's big games reinforce college football betting lessons

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

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Thursday’s highlight games were exciting and gave us a well-rounded view of what we can expect during the college football season. Ohio State vs. Minnesota and Boise State vs. UCF encapsulated a lot of what matters, why it matters and even gave us the chance to resurrect a polarizing expression.

“Vegas Knows”

We’ve all heard that expression. When a game lands close to the spread or total (and especially both), people will head to social media or text with friends that the crystal ball is alive and well in Sin City once again.

Case in point, the two highlight games from Thursday night. Ohio State was a 14-point favorite against Minnesota and the Buckeyes came away with a 45-31 win. UCF was favored by 6 against Boise State and the game landed 36-31 as a result of a failed two-point conversion attempt by the Knights on their final touchdown.

This is always a talking point when a marquee game plays out to the betting expectation. It is important to remember that oddsmakers post a line, but the bettors and the betting action shape the line. Week 1 is a bit muddled, as these lines have been up for a while, but keep in mind that UCF was -4 earlier in the week before going up to -5 and then as high as -6.5.

Oddsmakers are extremely good at what they do, but the whole “Vegas Knows” concept is a major oversimplification of everything surrounding the life of a point spread or total.

Get The Best of the Number That You Can

Even though these are just two data points to what will be a long season, the results embodied one of the most important goals for every bettor during college football season -- getting a good number. Those that had Ohio State -13.5 won, and those that had Minnesota + 14.5 won. Both numbers were available leading up to the game. Those that had 14 pushed.

Similarly, those that had UCF at -4 or -4.5 got a winner and those that got Boise State at + 5.5 or better were victorious. A lot of bettors wound up with a push on 5.

In a lot of instances, getting the best of the number is impossible. The best number may be up for seconds or minutes with the opening line or right before kickoff. The goal for the vast majority of bettors should be to get the best number that he or she can get.

A realistic piece of advice is “Don’t take the worst number.” Ohio State was available at -13.5 or -14 throughout the week. When the line goes up to -14.5, there is simply no reason to bet them. By the same logic, don’t take Minnesota + 13.5 when + 14 and maybe even + 14.5 are very likely.

Professionals and experts will tell you to get the best of the number, but that isn’t feasible in most cases. Just do your best to get the best number that you can. Read the market and understand the context of the game.

Study the Box Scores

Box score study is something that I wrote about this week. Getting the full picture of a game is really important. The final score may not always tell the story and these two games provided us with a couple of good examples.

Ohio State 45, Minnesota 31

The Buckeyes struggled in the first half with new QB CJ Stroud, who threw his first FBS pass attempt in the first quarter. Ohio State trailed 14-10 at the intermission, but ended up scoring 35 second-half points en route to the victory.

Ohio State had 10.3 yards per play, as the Buckeyes only ran 48 offensive plays. Minnesota did crack 400 yards of offense, but did so on 75 offensive plays with an average of 5.4 YPP. 

The Buckeyes had a scoop-and-score TD from Haskell Garrett that really changed the game, but big plays were the theme of the game for Ohio State. They also had touchdowns of 71, 56, 70 and 61 yards.

The Gophers also lost a huge player in running back Mo Ibrahim to what appeared to be a season-ending injury. It can be hard to see from the box score, but a recap, especially from a team blog, is a good way to get all the player news and information.

UCF 36, Boise State 31

This was just a strange game. The start was delayed by lightning in Orlando, but provided a lot of excitement from the opening kickoff until the end. This was a double “Vegas knows” game, as the side fell right on the number that most people bet and the total landed 67 with a consensus closing line of 68.

Money started coming in on UCF on Wednesday and continued through game day to push the line up to 6 at most books and 6.5 at others. UCF was the right side. The Knights had a 573-312 edge in yardage. UCF had 6.7 YPP to 5.0 for Boise State.

UCF marched down the field on its first possession and looked dominant in the trenches before Dillon Gabriel threw one of the worst pick-sixes you will ever see, a 100-yard return that opened the scoring. Gabriel’s other pick led to a short touchdown drive for Boise State.

Turnovers kept that game closer than it should have been.

Keep these things in mind as you bet the rest of Week 1 and wager on college football throughout the season.

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