Stressing the Matchup Component

College Football Betting: Stressing the Match-Up Component

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper,

Some college football bettors, especially at the beginning level, but beyond too, overly-neglect the match-up component of betting. In other words, they judge whether a side is worth betting on the basis of how good they perceive it to be. Instead of gauging how the two sides will combine to create one dynamic, they evaluate potential bets as if that entity exists in a vacuum.

It’s usually not about how good or bad something is. We might rate a team very highly, for example, but we need to account for how that team will fare against the opponent. It’s all about the match-up. You can’t just assume a team that rates higher on your imaginary internal scale of greatness is going to get it done for us at the betting window.

This applies to all sports, but especially in college football. Where some of us run into trouble is when we evaluate things as separate entities. Take football, for example. We see two teams playing. One has a good record, while their opponent is a struggling squad. So we base our wagers on that, even though that hardly tells the story. What worked against one team doesn’t always translate as well against a different opponent. Meanwhile, what failed to work against certain teams might work against a different adversary.

Rather than evaluating football teams as separate entities, we need to account for the match-up component–how these teams will play off each other, how various strengths and weaknesses stack up, and what will work better or worse than it did against different opponents. We don’t get anywhere in the world of betting by making elementary observations like, “Oh, the 10-1 team should stomp its 5-6 opponent.” That’s not going to get us anywhere.

In sports like boxing and MMA, you see this a lot. Bettors fail to make accommodations for the match-up component in droves in these 2 sports. They judge fighters almost solely on past history, how they fared in fights against different opponents. But they’re not fighting those guys now. While we want to take past history into account, we also want to make sure we are making the proper allowances for the fight we are actually handicapping. Sound simple enough. It’s strange to see how many people do this in college pigskin, as well.

The tendency is to give teams an informal internal ranking. The highest score wins. Team A is a killer. They’re beating everybody. They even beat a team who their opponent lost to. So you give Team A a score of 94 and their opponent a score of 82, then bet on the team who you rank higher. And that does little to suggest what will happen in this particular game.

There are always going to be teams or people in various sports who are great. But even within greatness, there are things that can upturn the apple cart. A good football team may in fact be awesome, but maybe a speedy and scrappy team gives them a lot of problems. A running back might be deadly, but struggles against teams with great defenses who don’t cooperate style-wise. A football team that isn’t very good might actually thrive against an opposing team who generally succeeds against everyone else. A football team that is far more successful than its opponent might struggle with the pass-rush/pass defense of a team that isn’t even at .500.


Our job is not to wait until it’s too late. When we look at a match-up, we should always be asking ourselves if there are specific talents or skills that the underdog possesses that will make the game take on a different light than what the oddsmakers are forecasting. Does this mean we should avoid favorites? Of course not. At the same time, we need to maintain a discerning eye for whether or not there is something within the match-up that will produce a different kind of result.

It’s not just favorites we’re looking for who are over-valued in light of certain match-up considerations. An underdog can easily be getting too much credit, as well. Our job as college football bettors is to look within the match-ups to see if there are quirks that will buck the forecasted results. We need to be very specific with how we gauge games. It’s called handicapping. That means digging deep into specifics on both sides and seeing how they stack up with each other. What we don’t want to do is conduct a sort of independent analysis of both sides of a wager. We need to determine how the two sides will connect.