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Death. Taxes. Alabama in the College Football Playoffs.
These three things are certain in life. But do you bet on Alabama every game?
Frankly, that really depends on head coach Nick Saban's demeanor. My Golden Rule: If Saban is sneering more than usual on the sidelines or in media pressers, then bet the farm on Alabama to cover.
The Crimson Tide covered nine of its 15 games last season. If you had bet the same amount of money on Alabama in every game, you made some bones.
That does not mean the same results will happen this year. But Clemson did embarrass Alabama 44-16 in the National Championship. Saban got out-coached by a man who was a real estate developer in 2003.
Darth Saban is ostensibly seething. You might want to keep that optic in your back pocket.
Betting on college football outside of Las Vegas is now legal. The enticement for recreational gamblers is palpable. But buyer beware.
If you bet college football like the NFL in your office pool, you will be dusting your wallet for cobwebs.
Here are some guidelines to keep you flush. Hopefully.
Do not overlook a Power Five team that is favored by 30-plus points against a lower-tiered FBS team. These non-conference games are usually played in September when many coaches are rotating players to find the best fit. New faces in the huddle want to impress the coaches with touchdowns—they are highly-motivated to score points. That is a good thing if you laid the big points.
But there are exceptions.
Do not bet on the 30-plus point favorite if it has a new offensive/defensive scheme or is breaking in high-profile skill players. Muffed snaps, bad reads, offsides, delays of game and miscommunication are common under those circumstances and can kill an offense's tempo. Be wary if a quarterback or left tackle/center was named a starter only one or two weeks before game one. My theory is simple: if a quarterback did not impress enough to be named the starter by early-August, there are some kinks that he still needs to work out.
Most veteran gamblers can spot a line that will likely move—they act quickly when that happens. Remember, Vegas wants you to decide whether or not that line is worth putting money on. If too many wagers are placed on one team, that team's line will move quickly (called "steam") to encourage more wagers on the other team. The casinos want to minimize their exposure due to lopsided betting. You need to stay ahead of the oddsmakers by placing your wagers early—thus earning you the moniker "Wise Guy"—before the line moves.
Do not ignore the little guys. Fresno State covered all but four games against the spread last season. If the Bulldogs return a lot of starters, you might want to bet them hard. If they look inexperienced, you might want to keep an eye on them before placing a bet. Check those depth charts.
Trap games are easy to spot. They usually precede a big game. For example, Michigan plays at Indiana the week before it hosts Ohio State. (Last year Michigan was favored by 28 points but only beat Indiana 31-20.) You might want to give the Hoosiers a little love. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is 0-4 against Ohio State and is probably champing at the bit. Think the team may be looking ahead in Bloomington, Indiana, on November 23? Maybe.
Blowouts can also have predictable consequences. Teams that blow out other teams can suffer a major hangover the following week. Last season, BYU beat Hawai'i 49-23 and promptly lost to Northern Illinois the following week, 7-6. After blowing out WKU 34-3 and New Mexico 45-14, No. 6 Wisconsin lost to BYU 24-21.
Conversely, if highly-respected Team A loses to lower-tiered Team B, expect Team A to come out the following week like its hair is on fire. This is not a sure-fire thing but some teams respond well to an unexpected loss better than others. Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington bounce back well due to outstanding coaching. Other teams fold like a cheap lawn chair. Following "bounce back" trends will increase your odds of winning more money.
Keep your eyes out for hooks. That .5 ("hook") in a -7.5 point spread can kill your bet. The hook means "more than" the points in front of it. So a -7.5 spread means that team must win by more than seven points to cover.
Know the coaches. Some coaches do not take the pedal off the metal when the game is no longer in doubt. See Coach Harbaugh for further explanation. Others are perfectly content to rest the starters and give the reserves playing time. Coach Helton sat on a lot of leads last year and the results were devastating. Back door covers are not welcome in Los Angeles.
Know a match-up's advantages and disadvantages. Washington State, who had the top-ranked passing offense last season, beat Arizona 69-28. The Wildcats' pass defense was ranked No. 121. The spread for that game was only 10 points.
Try to find a Cinderella ("Cindy") early in the season. Cindy can either be an overachiever (like Fresno State) or an underachiever (like WKU) in terms of covering the spread. Cindy is your lifeline. Go seek her.
For what it's worth, my Cindy is TCU this season.
Remember, when betting against the spread, winning the game is irrelevant. Just cover that spread.
These guidelines should help your status in the world of gambling from "square" to "sharp."