College Football Rankings: Top 10 Great Bet Early
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 09/16/2008
How accurate can college football pollsters be in ranking teams in the preseason? Many argue that the polls should not come out until four or five weeks in the season because preseason pollsters rely largely on what happened the previous year to make their assumptions. Many teams that are overrated fall quickly in the polls; but through bettors' eyes, the college football polls are never more accurate than they are in the first three weeks of the season.
Overall, the teams ranked in the Top 10 are covering at a sub .500 clip the last three seasons. However, looking at the first three weeks of the college football season tells a different story. In the last three opening weeks of the season the Top 10 has gone a combined 15-6 against the spread. In Week 2s the Top 10 teams have won money also at a rate of 13-10-1. They also enjoyed a winning mark in Week 3s, going 14-10-1 ATS. That totals 42-26-2 ATS, and that is a very nice return for any college football handicapper.
At this point, either the oddsmakers start adjusting numbers too greatly to compensate for the Top 10's ATS success or the public is driving the number too high. Either case, out of the remaining 14 weeks (during the last two years), the Top 10 has only won money two more weeks, on average . This season the trend has stayed true as the Top 10 teams in the country have won money overall in the first three weeks.
After cashing in on the highly ranked teams the first three weeks, bettors saw them go an atrocious 17-36 ATS the last two seasons combined. As we enter the fourth week of the college football season, the value now switches to the unranked teams playing against some of the country's best.
The rest of the top 25 does have significant value throughout the season. Teams ranked No. 11-No. 25 by the Associated Press have had 10 winning weeks out of possible 14 looking at the last three years. This is a trend that stays true throughout the season. Teams ranked out of the Top 10 often do not deal with the pressure and the scrutiny as those teams ranked in the single digits. Playing on the road becomes a lot more of a hostile situation when a team comes into the game with a No. 3 or No. 7 preceding them.
The level of parity in college football becomes more apparent for a number of reasons. Television exposure by ESPN on weekday night games has allowed conferences like the MAC and Conference USA to get publicity, which, in turn, helps with recruiting. A limit on scholarships per university has also helped level the playing field somewhat. In the era of Boise State and Utah winning Fiesta Bowls and Hawaii reaching the Sugar Bowl, smaller programs, usually ranked outside of the Top 10, have continued to improve. Bettors would also be wise to stay away from betting on teams in the Top 10 even if they have helped build an early bankroll from the first three weeks.
In a classic economics example, now is the time to sell high and avoid the top teams in the country and buy low and find solid value amongst the rest of the top 25. Teams to be wary of this week in the Top 10 facing, unranked opponents include No. 3 Georgia (-6.5) at Arizona State, No. 4 Florida (-7.5) at Tennessee and Buffalo at No. 5 Missouri (-33.5).