College Football Betting: Untrustworthy Ranked Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 10/08/2008
When it comes to betting on college football, ranked teams have a mystique surrounding them. The public holds ranked teams in high regard, and will generally back them when they have the chance. In a lot of cases that works out well as the teams are good enough to overwhelm their opponents. Sometimes, though, the ranking is just an invitation for bettors to burn money. The teams might be winning their games, but they aren't doing it convincingly enough to pay their backers off. In other words, their ranking and the public attention that goes with it inflates their lines, and the teams aren't powerful enough to overcome the number. Here's a look at five teams with a bad habit of not covering the spread.
LSU - The Tigers are just 1-2 ATS. The problem with them isn't that they aren't good - they obviously are. It's just that they aren't quite as good as people seem to think they are. Twice now, they have been unable to cover very large spreads - 24 and 42 points - despite winning both games comfortably. Against North Texas they were favored by 42. LSU won overwhelmingly, 41-3, but that wasn't enough. The team is moving into the heart of their SEC schedule, and that will help - as they play more teams that bettors respect they will face more realistic spreads, and they will stand a better chance of rewarding bettors for their faith. Up until now, their backers have been punished for the Tigers setting a particularly puffball early schedule.
Ohio State - Everyone knows well why the Buckeyes didn't cover against USC - they played as badly as a team can play. That was the low point of their season, but it was just one in a series of frustrations for those who have bet on them. Ohio State narrowly covered the spread last weekend against Wisconsin, but that was the first time they had covered in five tries. They face the same problem as LSU - they just aren't quite as good as the public thinks that they are. Three times they have been favored by 20 or more. All three times they won comfortably, but not by enough to make bettors happy. That shouldn't be that surprising - their quarterback has either been old and ineffective or young and raw. It's hard to cover massive spreads when your scoring isn't exactly effortless.
South Florida - In their game against Pitt last week, the Bulls learned that Cinderella doesn't always fit the glass slipper. Even before their perfect season was ruined, though, this team had established a pattern of disappointment. Like Ohio State, they have covered just once in five tries. The problem here, though, is different than with the Buckeyes. South Florida came basically from nowhere last year to capture the hearts and imaginations of the public. The public doesn't have much self-restraint when it comes to such things, and they let their excitement over an underdog story get the best of them. It shouldn't be this way - QB Matt Grothe has advanced from last year, and the team has played reasonably well. The public expects more than reasonably good play from them, though, and that's why they have the record they do.
Auburn - The Tigers started the season off so well, with a 34-0 thumping of Louisiana-Monroe. Expectations were high for this team coming into the season, and that effort, dominating on both sides of the ball, only raised hopes. The next five games, though, have been a disaster. They have lost twice and they haven't managed to cover at all. There is no mystery to the problem here - this team can't score, and you need to score to win and cover spreads. Remember, this is the team that won a game by the hockey-like score of 3-2. People shouldn't be surprised that a classic SEC team keeps ending up in defensive battles, but they are. More than any other team on this list, that is costing those who bet on the team.
Pittsburgh - Dave Wannstedt has given us little reason over the years to think that he's much of a coach, so it's a bit surprising that he has managed to have a ranked team this far into the season. This is really a case where the public gets an idea in their mind and just won't let go of it. In the season opener, Pittsburgh was favored by two touchdowns over Bowling Green. They lost by 13. Despite that, the public just kept giving them spreads they couldn't cover. Unlike some of the other teams on this list, the Panthers only failed to cover spreads by a point or two. That means that the books have a fairly good read on them, and they are taking advantage of the public perception. They finally managed to cover one last week, but that was because they were a significant underdog. That isn't likely to happen again until later in the season, so it seems likely that they will continue to disappoint and frustrate.