College Football Key Numbers

College Football Betting: Key Numbers

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper,

Key numbers in college football refer to games being decided by certain margins of victory. In college football, there is a numbers game that lies between the lines. With the methods of scoring being touchdowns (7 points) and field goals (3 points), it gives way to a certain numerical format that governs the sport–and naturally, the betting of these games.

With touchdowns and field goals coming in droves, any margin of victory is really possible, from one point up to any double-digit number. It’s just that some margins occur with more regularity due to the numerical dynamic of touchdowns and field goals. But college doesn’t work exactly like the NFL. In the pros, the key numbers are (in order) 3, 7, 6, 10, and 4. But that’s within the framework of pro football. College is a different kettle of fish. The key numbers are (in order) 24, 3, 7, 10, 17, 1, and 28.

Parity is a key consideration. Take a look at the point-spreads for the NFL and then look at the college spreads and you’ll see it’s two different worlds. In an NFL game, a team being favored by even two touchdowns is rare. In college, you see teams left and right favored by 30, 40, and sometimes even 50 points!

Therefore, the key numbers in college are more wide-ranging. Throughout the season, you see teams playing opponents who aren’t even close to being on the same level. In the NFL, even an unpredictable score will fall within certain parameters. In college, the numbers can get really big, making a variety of different margins possible.


In the NFL, a lot of the key numbers revolve around the dependability of place kickers. Field goals are big and a touchdown is considered an automatic 7 points. In college, the kicking is not as much of a lock. You could be watching college football all day long and not see one kicker who will end up in the NFL. Extra points aren’t as automatic. Offenses stay on the field on 4th and long, when it would be an automatic field goal attempt in the pros. A 35-yard kick is a toss-up in some games. That all throws a wrench into the issue of college football key numbers.

Relate a key number to the spread. If a spread is low in an evenly-matched game, you’re going to want to keep an eye out for key numbers like 3, 1, and 7 and try not to be stuck on the wrong side of a hook with those numbers. When dealing with a game where a team is a robust favorite, you want to watch out for numbers like 24, 28, and 31.

It depends on the dynamic of the game, but there are some margins you see very seldom when compared to other numbers. For example, 29 is not a very common margin of victory. The margin of 28 occurs almost 8 times more that 29 in college football. The margin of 17 occurs 4 times more than an 18-point margin of victory. The margin of 10 is 3 times more prevalent than 9 or 11 points.

There is a delicate dance as it applies to key numbers for bettors–a constant challenge. On one hand, it may be discomforting to be on the wrong side of a key number, like being +2.5, -28.5, or -10.5. With a lot of games falling on 24, you’d rather be +24 or +24.5 than +23.5. Makes sense, right? Then again, bookies use key numbers against us, making us think we have the cushy side of a number when that’s the side he wanted us to take all along. You might feel great sitting there with a team that is -2.5, but just remember that bookies didn’t get to be where they are by giving away gifts. You might have just fallen for a trick.

Key numbers need to be considered and all the top pros do it. In college, however, it’s a little more problematic and not as much of a guiding light. It’s a consideration in straight bets, as well as playing teasers and the occasional point-buying. It’s just that in the NFL, for example, the key numbers are hit an awful lot. In college football, even the top key numbers are hit with far less regularity.