By the time we get to the halfway point or so of the college football season the number of unbeaten teams has typically dwindled down to a handful or two. Most of those teams – unless they play in lesser NCAA conferences and have played very weak schedules – have realistic BCS ambitions that intensify with every win. Sometimes two of those unbeaten teams will play each other. That’s when we get fireworks. One football team is going to get a defining win for their season, while the hopes and dreams of the other team will take a major hit. These college games are obviously compelling to the betting public, and they often garner a whole lot more attention than the game otherwise might from the media. A lot of bettors are going to be drawn to these games as well. There is no reason not to bet these games, but if you choose to do so you need to be aware of what is really going on because these lines are going to face higher betting volumes than most, so as a college football handicapper you’ll have to be very careful in your pursuit of value. Here are six questions to ask when you are considering which of the two unbeaten teams is worthy of your financial support at the betting window:
Who have they played in the past? – Records by themselves in college football mean almost nothing. It’s possible for a team to play an impossibly easy schedule that makes all of their wins far short of remarkable. It’s also possible for a team to play a schedule so tough that they are lucky to get any win at all. If you assume that a team is playing very well just because they haven’t lost then you are making a dangerous assumption. You need to be confident of the context of their record, so that you know what they have really accomplished, and how impressed you really should be. That means looking at the teams that they have beaten, as well as how they have beaten those teams. A NCAA football team that has somehow managed to barely escape with a win each time they face a good opponent is less impressive than one that has crushed each good opponent they have faced, for example.
What do the stats really say? – Beyond looking at the opponents sports bettors want to look at the story that the stats tell, and whether the picture they paint is an accurate one. One good example is defensive performance. It is quite possible for a team that actually has a lot of issues defensively to pile up some impressive defensive numbers early on – total yards allowed, scoring defense, and so on – if they have played football teams that aren’t particularly good offensively. The public won’t look deep into what the numbers actually mean. They’ll just hear the media and the commentators talking about how the defense is highly ranked in the country and think that that is important. If the offense they are playing is dramatically better than any they have faced before, though, then those stats may not really mean much at all.
What will the crowd be like? – Chances are pretty good that the crowd for these games is going to be intense. That will be magnified if the two schools are rivals or if the host school is a football crazy place no matter what. Before you assign home field advantage in your mind you want to think about who will be there cheering the teams on. Will the football stadium be sold out? How many tickets are opposing fans able to get a hold of? Do the opponents’ fans generally travel well? Is the home crowd typically a boisterous one?
How experienced are the teams with the pressure? – When two unbeaten teams play each other with a shot at glory – potentially a national championship berth, for example – on the line the pressure is going to be ratcheted up to a whole new level of intensity. If a team is familiar with playing on a big stage – the coach has had major success, the starters are experienced and have played in huge games before – then they will know what to expect from the pressure and it is more likely that they will be able to handle it. If the football team is young, doesn’t often play in the national spotlight, and has a coaching staff that is as new to the spectacle they are immersed in as the players then the team could be in for a real shock, and that could have a direct impact on their play.
Does the public have a bias? – In most cases the sports betting public is going to have a bias towards one of the two unbeaten teams. Occasionally the betting action will be split between the two squads, but more often one of the teams will be more popular. That will usually be because they have played bigger opponents, have a more successful coach and bigger name star players, and win games more impressively. As a sports bettor you have two jobs. First, you need to identify if there is a bias and which team it favors. Once you have done that you need to determine whether that bias is justified. Is the team that the public clearly favors worthy of all of their attention and praise, or is the admiration out of line with what they have actually done on the field? In other words, is their reputation inflated beyond what it should be? If the public is giving one team too much credit then there could be nice value for the smart sports bettor on the less popular team.
How much hype surrounds the game? – When two unbeaten NCAA teams meet on the football field there is always going to be some level of hype and excitement around the game. Sometimes, though, that excitement has a chance to go nuclear. If both teams are high profile teams with legitimate national title hopes, both have high profile coaches, and both are loaded with star players, then the game could take on a feel of a major bowl game even if it is only being played in November. The more attention and excitement surrounding a game, the more betting volume there will be. More significantly, the more excitement, the bigger the portion of the sports bets made that will come from unsophisticated public bettors. The more attention a game gets, then, the more closely college football handicappers need to pay attention to how the lines have moved, where people are betting, and what that all means for value.