When asked, a lot of sports bettors would identify themselves simply as football bettors. They may prefer college football to the NFL or vice versa, but they are probably just as likely to have some action on Saturday as on Sunday or Monday. For most people, especially casual bettors, that makes sense – more action is better after all. Really, betting on both college football and the NFL makes sense for anyone as long as they keep in mind the differences between the two. The rules are the same, and virtually all of the players in the NFL have played college football, but in some key and fundamental ways the two options are very different. Some of those differences are obvious, and others are less so, but it’s important that you keep them all in mind when you approach betting on the two. Here are eight ways that betting on college football is different than betting on the NFL. There are many more as well – feel free to leave any you think of in the comments:
Much wider gaps in talent between college teams is possible – In the NFL the difference between the best team and the worst can be large, but it’s really not that big. The Colts are very likely going to beat the Rams if they play, but it’s possible for the Rams to keep it close, and it’s rare that the Colts would totally run away with the game. When a powerhouse college football team like Florida plays a mid-major loser, though, a blowout is all but assured – especially if the coach for the elite team has the right mentality. It’s not at all uncommon to see teams like Florida, Oklahoma, or Texas win a game by 40 points or more. They don’t even really have to have a particularly good day to do so because the talent gap is so huge. It’s much easier in college to assume an outcome than it is in the pros, then. It’s infinitely more likely that the Rams will beat the Colts than it is that Western Kentucky will beat Alabama.
Mistakes are more likely in college football – I prefer college to the NFL, and this is a big part of the reason why. Mistakes can be made more often, and that means that the more talented players get a chance to really shine and make some magic. In the NFL you can handicap based on which team is more likely to make a costly error. In college you just have to assume that both teams will make them during a game.
Veteran presence more significant in NFL – In college you can only play for four years, and if you are really good you probably won’t play for that long. In the NFL a guy is often only coming into his own after four years. The presence of veterans, and the ability for teams to keep players together for the long term, creates far different dynamics in the NFL than in college. Sports bettors need to keep that in mind.
NFL lines are much more heavily bet, so more likely to be tight – The betting volume on even the least popular NFL game of the week is higher than all but the most marquee of college games. That means that oddsmakers are going to put more effort into setting NFL lines than they might for some college games, and that any mistakes in the lines are very quickly going to be corrected by the market in the NFL. Sports bettors may be able to find success in college football by trying to spot lines that pack a lot of value, but they can’t in the NFL.
More public action on NFL – On the flip side to the last point, the heavier NFL betting action means that there is more public action. There are teams out there that the public loves, and others that they just don’t. The Patriots and Colts will almost always draw more action than their opponents, for example. In some cases public action can force oddsmakers to adjust the line in order to try to keep action balanced and their exposure limited. That can provide opportunities for astute bettors, and those opportunities can be more common in the NFL.
Hard to find an obscure game in the NFL – In college you can often find a good opportunity by focusing on games that most people aren’t focusing on. Obscure football college games don’t draw much betting action, so they don’t get as much attention from the oddsmakers. That means that you can often find a very soft line. As we said before there is no such thing as an obscure NFL game, so this opportunity doesn’t exist in the same way.
Information more widely available for NFL – The public is getting more and more informed in the NFL because more and more information is available to them. They can get the same injury reports and lineup news that the most dialed in expert can get. Fantasy football has helped the public understand football better as well, and get a better sense of what makes teams succeed. It’s not impossible to find information in the NFL that isn’t widely known or acted on, but it’s pretty close. In college football, and especially in the mid-major conferences, information can be much harder to come by, so more people are making bets with incomplete information. The more information you have, then, the bigger edge in college. That’s not nearly as true for the NFL.
More teams in college – This one seems painfully obvious, but it’s still very important. There are 32 teams in the NFL. It’s not hard for someone to have a good grasp on each of them and what they are capable of. With 120 teams in college football it is much, much harder to have a good understanding of what teams are capable of and how they are performing. Whereas football handicappers can bet on the NFL as a whole, then, it’s much harder to succeed betting on college football without specializing to an extent and only focusing on certain teams.