College Football Futures Betting 101
by Robert Ferringo - 08/26/2008
Try to think back to what you were like in college. Try to recall the confusion, the uncertainty, the hormones, the narcotics, and the litany of questionable decisions in dicey situations. I'm certain at that period you had a hard enough time trying to predict what you were going to do from minute to minute. So the prospect of trying your hand at college football futures betting has to seem like a harrowing exercise since it basically requires you to try to predict the actions of several hundred college kids over the course of the next four months.
And we're not talking about any college kids here. We're talking about several dozen individual groups of 80-plus large, angry men, hyped up on adrenaline, fury, and contempt for weak-willed strangers. How on earth can someone possibly (predict) what these sociopaths are capable of? And what's worse, why would anyone wager money on it?
Well, I just happen to believe that betting on college football futures can be one of the most profitable ventures in football gambling. On any given weekend a bad bounce or a fluke performance can sink even the savviest bettor. But futures betting rewards those with foresight, daring, and an overall understanding of The Sport. Futures betting is seeing the forest and the trees, and it's having a keen eye for the Big Picture that will get you paid.
College football futures are long-term investments. And that's precisely what scares most people away from them. This is a fast food nation that we live in and people want instant gratification. They would rather get bled out each weekend - death by 1,000 paper cuts and interceptions - than lock their money up in sound long-term wagers. I get it. It's understandable. It's more fun to take a few hundred dollars and lay it around one weekend and have the results, both positive and negative, laid out in front of you.
However, what if you could consistently earn a 30-percent profit each year for the next 10 years? Imagine having a $5,000 bankroll. And instead of playing that each weekend at about $50-$100 per unit you simply laid out three futures plays for $1,600 apiece. You would simply need to hit two of three futures plays in order to secure a profit of $1,485. That's a 29.7-percent return on your investment and there isn't a broker in the world that wouldn't take those types of profit.
By comparison, you would need to hit around 57 percent of all of your wagers over an entire season - with a flat bet of $150 per game - in order to secure a similar return. And a lot of pros don't manage 57 percent.
Also, you aren't fully losing the enjoyment and rush of gambling each week. Far from it. If you have $2,000 bet on Texas Tech to win more than 7.5 games this year I bet each Saturday you're going to have a hell of a time rooting on the ol' Red Raiders. But instead of having to sweat out some garbage backdoor cover one way or the other you are simply looking for a straight-out win.
I am certain that hitting two of three futures seems about as likely as hitting 60-plus over the course of the season. But that's not true. There are a lot of weak lines on season wins totals, for example, in college football. The oddsmakers are looking to exploit gambler bias towards certain high-profile teams; similar to the way they do each weekend with the spreads. However, the books have much less wiggle room with season win totals than they do with 11 or 12 individual spreads for a certain team. There are also several key indicators that one can handicap early in the season that will help predict how a team's season will turn out.
Here are a few tips will help you make accurate and profitable college football futures predictions:
1. Consider the schedule.
This one is academic and it's the most important consideration when making a futures wager. A lot of times a team's talent isn't reflected in their record because of who they had to play, where they had to play them, and when they had to play them. Analyzing a team's schedule should be the first thing that you do before even attempting to make a futures play.
Here are some of the important things to look for: 1) how many home games does a team play, 2) how "winnable" are the road games, determined by if you believe a team will be favored or not, 3) when and how many bye weeks does a team have, and 4) where on the schedule are their Rivalry Games and Revenge Games, how does that compare with their opponent's schedule, and where are the potential Look Ahead and Let Down Spots.
The schedule is a lifeless, cold instrument. But with the right eyes you can almost see a team's season playing out on paper. You can see where they might build some momentum, you can see where potential pitfalls lie, and you can get a sense of which weekends are really going to determine how their season ends up.
2. Consider the probabilities, not the possibilities.
When you are breaking down a team's schedule you have to consider what is probably going to happen and not what you think could happen. It's a fine line, but an important one.
For example, West Virginia's last six games are vs. Auburn, at Connecticut, vs. Cincinnati, at Louisville, at Pittsburgh, and vs. South Florida. Someone who buys into the WVU hype might say, "Well, they are a national championship contender so I think they could win all six of those. Or maybe just lose one." Yes, that is possible. But the probability is that they lose at least two of those games. I'm not positive which two they will lose - it could be any variety - but I am certain they will lose at least twice in that stretch. It may not seem like a big difference - the possibility of a 5-1 run against the probability of a 4-2 set - but that one game makes all of the difference.
3. Know what BEATS you.
This is straightforward. Air Force's season win total is set at seven games. That means that in order to lose this bet the Falcons would have to win eight games. If they win seven games you 'push'. And since you think that they are not as strong of a team, and that they have a more difficult schedule, the odds say they will only win five or six games. This is a safer wager because as you break down their schedule you determine it would take a minor miracle for this team to go 8-3. Know what number you are betting and know what total beats you and what total you can 'push' with.
4. Is this team BETTER than last year?
This is a fundamental aspect of both futures and weekend wagering. Some key indicators are: returning starters, percentage of upperclassmen graduated and retained, turnover differential from last year, strength of schedule last year vs. this year, injuries last year vs. this year, close wins and close losses last year, coaching changes, and quarterback play. Those are the basics. But you have to look at a team and determine if it's going to be better in Week 1 this season than it was last season, and work through the schedule from there.
5. The Magic is gone.
Teams like Kansas, Kentucky, and Connecticut got on a roll last year and were able to parlay momentum into big seasons. However, that magic and momentum is gone this year. They are back to Square 1. The oddsmakers have set this year's win totals based on last year's results and preseason expectations. If you know that last year might have just been a magical ride for these clubs you can bet against a repeat performance.
6. Buy low and sell high.
This is no different than trading stocks and bonds. You want to know which teams may have peaked last year - Kansas, Kentucky, Central Florida - and which teams have some solid growth potential - Pittsburgh, North Carolina. Try to fade the teams that may have maxed out and try to get in on the ground floor of teams that you - YOU, not College Gameday, not some stupid magazine, and not some silly website - think will be potential sleepers or will be programs that might surprise this season.
7. Look for potential middles.
This is a maneuver for more veteran futures bettors, but it offers tremendous value. If you have a futures bet on a season win totals you can put yourself in a position to middle, hedge, or guarantee a profit as the season progresses.
For example, let's say we have a $1,000 futures bet on Oklahoma to win the Big 12 Championship at 3-to-1. Let's say that they are playing Missouri in the championship game and are a six-point favorite. You could bet $1,500 on Missouri on the money line and get +210 on your money. If Oklahoma wins you get your $3,000 profit (minus $1,500 for the Mizzou bet). If Missouri wins you get your $2,000 profit (minus $1,000 for your Oklahoma future). It's guaranteed profit. Or, you could wager on Missouri at +6 and if the Sooners win, but don't cover, you could win both bets.
This is tricky to pull off. But it is very possible if you have a great read on a league.