At the onset, college football spreads are easy to understand. Assessing the reason and the value for the college football spreads is the more significant challenge. Those that correctly consider those spreads will go on to great success and profits. Those that don't will be broke in short order. The college football spreads are all about price and value. In most cases, they are not purely about the merits of the two teams. Instead, the college football spreads are based on public and media perception related to the two teams' ability. Today we will look at the basics of the college football spreads and, more importantly, the deeper meaning of those spreads.
The Basics on How to Read the College Football Spreads
In the 2020-21 college football national championship game, the Alabama Crimson Tide was a 9.5-point favorite over the Ohio State Buckeyes. That means a $110 bet on Alabama would win $100 as long as the Crimson Tide won the game by 10 points or more. If Ohio State won the game outright or lost by nine points or less, the Buckeyes would win you $100 for a $110 bet.
This example leads into the question as to why a gambler has to bet $110 to win $100. That extra $10 is the sportsbook commission known as "juice" and or "vig." The $10 of the losing side goes to the sportsbook, with the remaining $100 paid to the bet winners. The "juice" is what the sportsbook gets for handling the wagering action on the game.
As long as the betting action is equal on both sides, the sportsbook is guaranteed to make money because of that 10-percent vig. Thus, the sportsbook must create a betting line that will attract action to both sides. As long as they set an equally attractive line on both sides, the sportsbook is in good shape. However, if betting action is overloaded to one side, that puts the sportsbook in jeopardy of losing money. All of this leads into what goes into the college football spreads you see on the board.
The Line is Based on What YOU Think!
The most ignorant tired line in sports betting is that the college football spread is based on "What Vegas Thinks." Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the oddsmakers set the spreads based on what they think that you think.
Let's look at the 2020 game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs. The game took place at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama was already rampaging as an undefeated team. But also one that failed to cover two of their first three games. Georgia was also undefeated and paid in two of their first three games.
As the oddsmakers considered the game, they knew that Alabama would always get a majority of public support. Casual gamblers flock to the Crimson Tide as a power home favorite. That fits their simple-minded mentality and comfort zone, least in most cases.
Media Influence of College Football Spreads
But for this game, Georgia was ranked in the top five too. The media was hyping an upset alert by the Bulldogs. Many casual gamblers were buying into the hysteria that Georgia could go into Bryant Denny Stadium and pull off the upset. Throughout the week, the Bulldogs were praised for their exceptional recruiting. Highlights of Georgia nearly beating Alabama in 2017 and 2018 were played throughout the week. Alabama was coming off a 63-48 win over the Ole Miss Rebels in which their defense was lit up like a Christmas tree. All of this fed into the anticipation of a Georgia upset.
Because the oddsmakers' job is to know what the public thinks they observed all of this. Alabama usually is a home favorite of three or four touchdowns. But against Georgia, the Crimson Tide was a much more reasonable 6-point favorite. The masses were sucked into the Bulldogs' side after a week of being told the Crimson Tide was vulnerable. A line that should have been eight or nine points was down to six. Alabama prevailed 41-24, and the sportsbooks took their 10-percent, if not a little more, and were satisfied once again.
Like the stock market, college football spreads are based on what the public thinks, even if the crowd is wrong.