Unlike most professional sports across Europe, there isn’t much disparity between professional and their amateur equivalents in the United States. NCAA football crowds and TV audiences aren’t far behind those of the NFL, while the betting figures are fairly even. The NFL often draws the majority of attention from September to January, but college football markets will actually rival its professional equivalent in terms of betting volume.
People often hold the assumption that NCAA football is the same as NFL and while the format of the game is the same, there are some important differences to consider when making NCAA football predictions.
NCAA vs. NFL: The key betting numbers
NFL betting markets are dominated by key numbers. Point spreads of 3, 7, 10 and 14 have long been choke points on a game by game basis with 6 and 4 becoming more common after recent rule changes. College football scoring follows the same fixed structure, but key numbers are far less powerful than seen in NFL markets.
Below is a table that shows the percentage of games that have fallen on the key betting numbers in the NFL and NCAA football over the last decade.
The explanation for this is straight forward. In college football, there are significantly more games played and the talent level in the country is much wider resulting in a larger range of outcomes.
Despite this clear difference and a reduced emphasis on key numbers, bettors will continue to pay extra and buy points on or off of 3, 7, 10 and 14 in college football – something that should be avoided at all costs.
Comparing NCAA and NFL game averages
The larger gap in team talent means that game averages are significantly higher in college football than the professional level. An average college game over the past ten years had 52 points scored, in comparison to just 43 in the NFL.
The average Over/Under set by bookmakers was slightly above 49 in college football, more than one touchdown higher than the average of 42.5 in the NFL. Point spreads vary too, in college, the average Handicap is 5.5 points while NFL is just under 2.5 points at 2.40.
The most notable average to consider when betting college football instead of the NFL is the home field advantage. The average home margin of victory in college football is 5.75 points, which is significantly different from 2.50 points in the NFL. While the overall number is slightly inflated due to early season non-conference games, the adjustment made to the point spread in college football for home field will often be much higher than the standard three points NFL.
Is there a difference in market movement?
Betting markets move significantly more in college football than NFL. Since 2008, 16.5% of all college football games had the point spread close three points different than at open. In the NFL the same occurred in just 7.5% of games.
Over/Under markets are more erratic in college football with nearly 1 in 4 games (23.68%) moving at least three points between open and close. Of the 2,103 such games, 1,105 (52%) moved three or more points in direction of the under.
There is significantly less movement in NFL markets with 7.1% of games moving three points or more. Bias to the under is much stronger with 165 of the 211 occurrences (65%) moving towards the under.
NCAA football predictions: Do teasers offer more value?
A benefit of betting college football at Pinnacle is the best teaser payout rate in the industry. A six-point two team teaser at Pinnacle will pay out 1 to 1 instead of the industry standard of 10 to 11. This reduces the required break-even rate of six-point teaser legs from 72.38% to 70.72%.
Basic strategy teasers have become extremely popular in the NFL due to their long-term success rate. The premise is to tease favourites of 7.5, 8 and 8.5 points down and underdogs of 1.5, 2 and 2.5 points up to teased point spreads which move across both 3 and 7.
Due to the variance in college football and lower rate of key number outcomes, many bettors have avoided applying the same basic strategy to college football markets.
Playing with a break-even percentage of 70.72% at Pinnacle instead of 72.38% elsewhere in the market does change things – specifically with away underdogs. Looking at away underdogs of 1.5, 2 and 2.5 points, the collective win rate on such teaser legs is 72.25%. All other variants of basic strategy teasers have proven to be break even or worse in college football over the last decade.