College Football Betting: Handicapping Advice for Neutral-Site Games
The first couple weeks of the college football season are glorious, above all else, because they exist after a long time without the greatest of sports. Beyond that, though, what makes them somewhat unique is that they are littered with neutral-site games - a phenomenon much more rare later in the season. Most of the neutral-site games are cash grabs and gimmicks, but they exist, and they are usually pretty good matchups that we need and want to pay attention to as bettors.
To be at our most successful, then, it only makes sense to look at what these games mean, how they are different, and how we need to adjust to maximize our chances of success when betting on them.
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There are four things about these games, above all else, that you have to keep an eye on:
How neutral is neutral?: There are neutral games and then there are those that are de facto home games. Sometimes a game will be played dramatically closer to one team than the other, or the fans of one team will be much more likely to travel than the other. As a result the game will feel a bit more like a home game for that team than the location would suggest it is. Home-field advantage has a big impact both in how games turn out in college football and how the lines are set, so you need to put some real thought into what the location means.
At the most extreme this year, Arkansas and Florida A&M technically play a neutral-site game, but don't be fooled. The game is at War memorial Stadium in Little Rock, which is just three hours from the Arkansas campus and is a de facto second home for the Razorbacks. This is a home game in every way and needs to be viewed as such despite the theoretical neutral status. On the other hand, when Stanford and Rice open their season in Sydney, Australia, that would pretty much be the definition of a neutral-site game. Stanford fans might travel a little better but not enough to have a massive impact on how this game looks and feels. As a less-extreme example, Michigan and Florida are both more than 1,000 miles from Arlington, Texas, where they meet, and both fanbases are national and travel very well, so this is going to be a true neutral game.
Will the players be awestruck?: Alabama opens in a barnburner against Florida State in the shiny new stadium in Atlanta. It will be far from a big deal for the players. Besides being coached by a robot who doesn't allow for the existence of emotions, they play a high-profile, neutral-site game to open every season and then play two or three neutral-site games to close out every postseason. Playing high-profile games in neutral stadiums is just what they do. They'll be ready. Rice, on the other hand, rarely plays high-caliber programs like Stanford and never gets the chance to play big neutral-site games - never mind ones that require a flight around the world to play. You can assume that their players will be less than optimally focused and also that they will be less focused than Stanford because the Cardinal play far more high-profile games and more neutral-site contests.
Is the location a distraction to us?: Remember when LSU and Wisconsin played at Lambeau Field last year? The media, and by extension the public, was so focused on who was going to do the Lambeau Leap that they didn't pay enough attention to the game itself. The location became a bigger story than the matchup, and that can be costly if bettors fall into the same trap.
The same was true last year when Tennessee and Virginia Tech met on a NASCAR field in front of about a million people (give or take). The same thing could have been a concern this year because the first big game played in Atlanta will be a college game, but there is little risk of that happening because of the stature of the opponents.
You need to think about what the location means and whether the public is likely to overreact.
Who cares?: When Florida State and Alabama play it will be a very big deal, and that is regardless of where it is played. Michigan and Florida will also be a big one regardless of location. Louisville and Purdue in Indianapolis, though, just isn't going to get pulses racing. The stands may not be full, the national spotlight won't be shining in that direction, and the public is likely to barely notice that the game is on.
Obviously, the more the public cares about a game, the more you need to be concerned about that and what it means to how lines are set and how they move - and vice versa.
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