For college football handicappers, the season doesn’t start on the Thursday night before Labor Day weekend. It doesn’t even begin at the start of fall camp. For the well-prepared, serious handicapper, the official start to the season is in June when the college football Games of the Year lines are released.
When these lines are released, I usually find bettors excited about playing certain games that they feel one team will easily defeat the other. Cries of “USC is gonna CRUSH Notre Dame!!!” and others are echoed throughout the forums.
And while it’s great to be excited for certain matchups, that’s really not the best use of the college football Games of the Year lines. Let me use an example on why it’s not the optimal approach to utilize this tool, and then a few examples on how best to use it.
How NOT to use college football Games of the Year lines
Depending on your book, USC is anywhere from -11 to -14 in their regular season finale against Notre Dame this year. It’s obvious that the books are expecting the Trojans to be a powerhouse this season, and possibly 11-0 or 10-1 at the time of the game. So if all goes as planned, the line for that game will probably be around -14, possibly a little higher. The prowess of USC is ALREADY factored into the line.
So what are the risks in taking this line in June or July rather than the day of the game? Well for starters, there’s eleven chances that Matt Barkley gets injured.
Now there’s always a risk for injury when making a future play, but in the case of a BCS Championship futures play, at least you’re a getting odds to make it worth while (+350/+500), and in the case of a season wins total, you’re not banking on a singular event, and might even be able to withstand possible injuries. And while injuries could occur to the Irish as well, the line will affect the Trojans, who are the favorite and have the “more important” players, more than it will Notre Dame.
Then there’s the risk of things not going as planned. What if the USC team that barely got by Minnesota, Utah, and Arizona and lost to ASU by 3 TDs last season rears its ugly head?
Or Lane Kiffin doesn’t become the next Bear Bryant and wilts under the pressure of expectations, and after a few upsets, the Trojans come into that game 8-3 and a -7.5 favorite.
Or the Irish find the next Tony Rice in Andrew Hendrix or Everett Golson and several years of top-level recruiting and playing in Brian Kelly’s system sets up a matchup of a 10-1 USC team vs. a 9-2 Notre Dame team?
Remember, Notre Dame was a 10 point favorite in last year’s game. Now this is all a hypothetical situation, but when tying up your money for four months, it’s better to be risk-averse, then take on added risk in hopes of maybe beating a line by 3 points.
How to use college football Games of the Year lines
Here are the ways that I recommend you use the college football Games of the Year lines:
1) If you’re high on a team or there’s a team that you want to fade before the “secret” is out on them, you can either use season win totals or college football Game of the Year lines.
For instance, if you feel Arkansas will take a major step back this season, you can either play them u8.5 wins or you can simply fade them in each of their listed GOY lines. If your analysis is correct, you will either have great line value come game day as Arkansas struggles each week, or you can set yourself up for plenty of “middle” opportunities to have a risk-free wager.
2) Play the first month college football Games of the Year lines, as there’s less chance for a key injury to affect your team and it’s easier to project the first few games of the season.
As an example, I was able to find a book that offered South Carolina-4.5 vs.Missouri. Besides the fact that I feel the line is soft, let’s look at the risks and rewards of this wager.
First of all, there’s only 3 games for Marcus Lattimore or Connor Shaw to get injured. With an opening schedule of Vanderbilt, ECU, and UAB, it’s not difficult to assume that the Gamecocks will be 3-0 come game day. At worst, they’re 2-1 barring any bizarre circumstances.
Missouri, on the other hand, faces UGA in week 2, and a blowout to the Dawgs, or even a tight game vs ASU the following week, could have the Tigers limping into Colombia, SC a double-digit dog, maybe even two TDs.
Even with a stunning upset of UGA, I still cant envision Cocky being less than a FG favorite at home. So you’re risking 1.5 points to possibly make 6 points or more! I feel that’s well worth the risk.
Using this template, could UF be a little over-valued as a 3 point favorite in Knoxville week 3 after failing to cover as a 29 point favorite week one and a road favorite at Texas A&M in week 2?
3) Use the college football Games of the Year lines as a “base-line” for value throughout the season. Unless there’s a fundamental change in a team (injuries, unknown players/freshmen develop into stars, etc…) these lines should be solid come game day.
So in the first example we used, if USC is 10-1 and Notre Dame is 8-3 at game-time (their respective projected season win totals), then the line should be pretty close to the GOY line. The only reason the line could be different would be public perception, which is what value players crave.
So if it crosses a key number or two (say it’s 17.5 or 21), then you would have definite value with the Irish. Of course, if it’s 10 and the public is all over USC and the line won’t budge, and Pinnacle is -9.5 +101 and Sports Interaction is -11, then the books might be telling you something as well! But that’s a conversation for another day….