Pick Good or Bad Teams

College Football Betting: Pick Good or Bad Teams?

By Loot, Lootmeister, College Football Handicapper

There is a bit of a conundrum when dealing with what’s more effective in a general sense–betting on good teams or bad teams against the spread? There is a feeling that betting on lower-end teams is where the money is at. The college teams that have nationwide followings and the ones who are constantly on national television, the theory says, are more vulnerable to having point-spreads that are driven by hype, therefore offering poor betting value.

The more big-time teams have bigger followings. More people are liable to bet on those teams. The notion is in some quarters is that the more closely-followed teams have a built-in disadvantage. Bookies can set the line at any level and people will continue to bet on those teams regardless. Theoretically, betting against these teams is where you find the most value.

That all makes sense. The nationally celebrated teams usually have lines that don’t have much value. In addition, games involving teams where there is only regional interest have point-spreads that are more true–in other words not driven by popularity or public interest. So you will hear a lot of college football handicappers telling you to forget about betting on heavily-hyped teams and concentrate on mediocre and even bad teams, in addition to games between more obscure dark-horse teams.

At the same time, saying bad teams cover spreads because they are expected to do badly and enjoy some built-in good value is not usually correct. Look at the 2011 College Football season, for example. Let’s look at the 7 best teams against the spread–Louisiana Tech, Arkansas State, Houston, Stanford, LSU, Michigan State, and Western Kentucky. It says a lot about what to look for when trying to beat the spread.

Of those 7 teams, there are 2 really good teams in LSU and Stanford. One team played for the National Championship and the other was very close and had the Heisman Trophy winner on their squad. Michigan State is a good team. Houston had a big year. And Arkansas State over-performed. Western Kentucky was only 7-5, but a sterling 10-2 against the spread.

That’s a pretty good mix of teams–national contenders, a few top-20 teams, and some teams from more obscure conferences. It’s impossible to ignore that of the top 7 teams against the spread, their combined straight-up won-loss record was 72-20. That seems to suggest that the best teams against the spread are generally winning teams.

If you look at the worst college football teams against the spread in 2011, you can see some interesting things, too. While the best teams against the spread are not all what you would call “good teams,” most of them are teams you associate with success on some level. LSU and Stanford have been good for a few years. Michigan State is usually pretty good. But look at the worst 7 teams against the spread in 2011–Akron, Florida Atlantic, Maryland, Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi, Syracuse, and Troy.

Ole Miss and Syracuse have seen some success over the years, but none of those 7 teams are what you would consider to be typically winning programs. Now this might seem like a ridiculous analysis. What does it prove to show that the best teams against the spread are winning teams while the worst are losing squads? Isn’t that like saying the runners that win races are the faster runners? Perhaps. But the spread is supposed to even things out. If betting on constantly-televised teams with big followings is supposed to be a bad move, why are there no big-time programs ever on the list when it comes to not covering spreads?

It’s just hard to say. You have big-time programs like Notre Dame, who have been awful against the spread over the past. Then teams like Boise State, which is also a team with a large following, has been good against the spread in the past 5 years (this article written in 2012) or so. It seems like the best idea is to not obsess over what teams are typically good or bad, but to isolate which teams you think will be better or worse within a season than what everyone is saying.