Enough is enough. I just can’t do it anymore. I am done betting college football unders. You just need too much to go right, especially at the end of games. If I want an under, I am now solely riding with the first half … but this is far from an impulsive and emotional decision spearheaded by a bad beat last weekend. I’ve been workshopping this mindset for the past couple years.
First, it’s a sport that stops the clock on first downs, which are occurring with more frequency due to increased tempo and pass-happy offenses. I realize oddsmakers are well aware of this and bake that into the odds. However, I firmly believe the elongated game accentuates the wide variance of outcomes for a 60-minute contest. I prefer a more predictable first-half environment:
• Teams typically play conservatively in the first half, much like we see boxers in the early rounds.
* Offensive coordinators can assess the defensive game plan and then adjust play-calling accordingly as the game evolves.
• Early-game emotion and energy levels favor the defense, as fatigue typically arrives in the second half and inhibits tackling, and that early defensive energy offsets any offensive advantage by a team scripting plays to open the game.
• Coaches trailing by double-digits are more likely to take chances in the second half, creating more points or short fields for the opponent.
Now for the betting nuance that provides money-making opportunities; a game’s point spread and over/under are computed using data points from the two teams’ full-game statistics. After that, the first-half spread and total are commensurate. So, to reiterate, first-half betting lines are not calculated separately in a vacuum and only using first-half statistics from throughout the season. So, if first halves are played differently than second halves, then we should theoretically have an opportunity to uncover betting value in the first half.
And I am not alone. One pro bettor complained to me just days ago about NIL money influencing the end of games. He’s convinced that players and coaches are now more likely to chase stats for the backups. Another pro bettor told me this week that he too has noticed slower starts with more frequency but also sees value — in the form of in-game wagering. The algorithms that determine live betting lines do not account for certain variables and thus present an opportunity to bet a live total that has lowered too much. “It just looks like when these in-game totals get really low and it looks like there’s nothing happening, the scoring starts to blow up.”
Again, it’s a working theory. But I do prefer the intensity and slight predictability of a first half rather than the looseness of late-game antics in both tight games and blowouts. I encourage you to at least track this philosophy.
No. 20 Kentucky Wildcats at No. 12 Florida Gators (first half under 25.5)
This ranked SEC matchup fits the formula for a first-half under. ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy explained this week on Daily Wager (shameless plug) how the Gators run the ball differently under first-year coach Billy Napier, attacking the Utah defensive front last week with a direct approach, as opposed to a misdirection style under previous coach Dan Mullen. Napier’s attack has more of a grinding effect with a potential for second-half dividends and not as much big-play ability early on. Granted, Gators dynamic quarterback Anthony Richardson is always a play away from the end zone, but I still anticipate a tightly-played half before the game opens up.
No. 24 Tennessee Volunteers (-6.5) at No. 17 Pittsburgh Panthers
All bettors have kryptonite teams, and Pitt has been one for me in recent years. However, I think it is time to exorcise those demons and back a UT program that is on the rise and ready to explode on a big stage. In recent years, the Vols have failed to walk the walk against the likes of Alabama, but that is understandable. However, they’re knocking on the door and this is their time to shine. The Panthers are way too sloppy and mistake-oriented to hang with the Vols. Josh Heupel has been loading up on talent for a couple years and I expect this offense to score at will. Give me UT.
No. 10 USC Trojans (-8) at Stanford Cardinal
This line has fluctuated between single- and double-digits all week, as the oddsmakers continue to respond to respected money. “The public is in love with Lincoln Riley’s Trojans and the Week 1 demolition of Rice,” BetMGM vice president of trading Jason Scott told ESPN. “The other side of our business, the sharps, are non-USC believers and have bet it down from double-figures.”
At Caesars, this is one of just two games this weekend where it has seen higher tickets on one school but more money backing the other. That’s an indication of the public and professionals backing opposite sides of the game, which is affectionately labeled “Pros vs. Joes”. (The other game has the respected bettors backing Georgia State +7 at North Carolina.)
On one hand, I do not blame the sharps. Old habits die hard. Recently, Stanford has been an auto-bet in this matchup because Clay Helton always found ways to botch a more talented roster. But Riley is a much different story. I do love Cardinal QB Tanner McKee, who left high school ranked just behind Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, but ultimately USC has too much firepower and enough toughness in the trenches, and Stanford can no longer rely on Helton’s buffoonery.
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No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (-20) at Texas Longhorns
It sure feels like a big number for a road favorite against a blue blood, but Alabama under Nick Saban has forced us to ditch certain betting instincts. Only two of his former assistants have ever defeated him. So how can Steve Sarkisian, with freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers, keep this close? Well, the public doubts it can; 85% of the tickets and 83.8% of the total money wagered on this game at Caesars Sportsbook are backing the Tide. Hard to fault the betting public when Bama typically covers large numbers (18-10 ATS since the start of 2020). I lean to Bama, if I had to pick a side.
No. 23 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (-13) at Vanderbilt Commodores
News of Sam Hartman‘s return stunned both oddsmakers and bettors on Monday morning. The Wake QB was supposed to miss at least the first four games, so the significant line move is understandable. Vandy was hovering around a seven-point home underdog and then the spread reached as high as 14. One pro bettor actually said he’d rather have the ‘Dores at +13 with Hartman playing after missing so much time than catching seven points at home with a backup who’s been getting all the reps. This is an interesting mindset, but I am backing the SEC home underdog in this spot. Give me Vandy.
New Mexico State Aggies at UTEP Miners (-17.5)
Unlike the Wake Forest line, this spread has gradually trickled up all week. It opened with the Miners at -12 and increased about one point each day. That means books have seen a steady flow of sharp play without any buyback, which is the last thing they want. In hindsight, they could have moved from 12 to 17 and avoided all the sharp action they took in between those numbers. But that’s easy to say now, and given the high volume of games and with these lesser-known teams, especially this early in the season, that’s bound to happen. In a perfect world, an oddsmaker wants to adjust to one respected bet and take no more action, theoretically landing on the right price right away. We saw that with the Kansas City Chiefs jumping from -4 to -6 on Monday morning. The oddsmakers didn’t bother with the numbers in between because those margins of victory are so uncommon.
No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (-33.5 first half) vs. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors
The Rainbow Warriors might be one of the nation’s worst teams and are likely the worst Hawai’i team I have ever seen. Norm Chow had a 4-20 record a decade ago, but at least his teams were competitive. Hawai’i has lost its first two games by a combined 85 points at home and seemingly has trouble with basics like tackling and not throwing the ball to the other team. The 33.5 is obviously a huge number for the first half, but Jim Harbaugh excels in the bully role. This has all the makings of a rout from the onset, and I am worried Harbaugh will bleed clock late to preserve Hawaii’s low score rather than continue to rack up points on offense.
Ohio Bobcats at Penn State Nittany Lions (over 54)
The Nittany Lions escaped West Lafayette with a surprise conference win, but this is a much different situation. They’re heavily favored and playing at home against a weak MAC team. That’s a recipe for a 40-point-plus performance from Sean Clifford and the offense. I will also play over the team total, but this Ohio team is unafraid. Kurtis Rourke, the younger brother of Nathan (another former Ohio QB), accounted for five touchdowns in their opening win, and the Bobcats will test the Penn State defense or die trying.
Florida International Panthers at Texas State Bobcats (over 62.5)
I am embarrassed to admit I bet on each of their openers. But keep in mind the only reason I am embarrassed is because I lost both wagers. Hopefully, the third time’s the charm. Honestly, both defenses are wretched. Texas State surrendered 34 points to a limited Nevada offense in a blowout loss, and it could have been much worse. Meanwhile, the Panthers just snapped an 11-game losing streak, dating back to last year. However, they still have significant issues on defense, having just allowed 470 yards of total offense to Bryant.