How NCAA Football Betting Odds Work

by | Jun 21, 2013 | cfb

How NCAA Football Betting Odds Work - Understanding the Betting Lines

If you want to bet on college football, the odds may be slightly confusing or off-putting. But understanding how college football betting odds work is a real walk in the park. It’s one of those things where after you learn it, you’ll be thinking, Was that all there was to it? It’s really that easy.

Once you understand what the point spread and the money line are all about, you will be ready to be turned loose to bet on college football. To become a winner will take a lot more knowledge and dedication, but simply understanding how college football betting odds work is a breeze. It’s really as simple as learning two basic concepts - the point spread and money line. Note: If you came here looking to find out where you can bet college football games online, check out our best sportsbooks page.

The Point Spread

Standard college football betting revolves around a point spread. All games have a point spread. It’s a number that is applied to both teams in a game. One team is favored by that amount, while the opponent is an underdog by that same number. Let’s look at an example.

Alabama -4.5 vs. LSU +4.5

The above example is an example of a point spread. The point spread is 4.5. Alabama is at -4.5, which means they are 4.5-point favorites. LSU is at +4.5, meaning they are 4.5-point underdogs. For a bet on Alabama to win, they must win the game plus do so by a number that exceeds 4.5 points. At -4.5, they need to win by five or more points. LSU is +4.5, so for a bet on them to win, they can either win the game outright or lose by less than 4.5 points. So if they lose by four or fewer points, they win.

A point spread evens things out in college football betting. When betting against the spread, both sides of the bet generally pay the same. But obviously, teams are not of the same quality. The point spread accommodates for that disparity in team quality. When the better team needs to not only win but do so by a certain number of points, that gives the worse team some betting appeal. The team that is considered worse doesn’t need to win the game for you to win. They can lose by a certain number of points, and a bet on them can still be a success.

When betting against the spread in college football, you have to bet a little more than you stand to win. Consider it a bookie tax. Every form of gambling makes it so the amount you win is at least slightly less than what the true odds would indicate, and sports betting is no different. The juice or vig is not close to being as steep as it is on other forms of gaming.

When betting college football against the spread, there are only two choices, and they almost always pay the same. The bookie is not doing this for free, so usually, you’ll be betting $110 for every $100 you hope to win. Some books offer -105 betting lines, meaning you only have to bet $105 to win $100, which is a huge advantage since it cuts the bookie tax in half.

Just to recap, the following pair of point spread principles will have you up to speed:

  1. A minus sign always indicates a favorite, and they must win by an amount that surpasses the number you see next to the minus sign.
  2. A plus sign always indicates an underdog, and they can either win the game or not lose by an amount surpassing the number you see next to the plus sign.

The Money Line

Now that we got the point spread out of the way, let’s look at the money line. A good way to look at the money line is simply as a way to express odds. While betting against the spread is considered the standard form of college football wagering, there are a lot of other bets you can make, and most of those use the money line.

Lets look at an example:

North Carolina State +160 vs. Central Florida -180

In addition to betting against the spread, you can bet games on the money line, where you simply pick which team will win the game outright. In the above example, you see a game with a money line listed next to each team. Those are simply the odds of those teams winning the game. Let’s explain how those odds work.

North Carolina State is +160. Whenever you see a plus sign in betting, that means it is an underdog. Central Florida is -180. The minus sign always indicates a favorite. A money line bet on North Carolina would pay more than you bet because they’re the underdog. At +160, that means you would win $160 for every $100 you bet. Central Florida at -180 means you would need to risk $180 to win $100.

Remembering these two money line mantras will mean you have achieved full comprehension:

  1. Favorites are always listed with a minus sign; the number you see next to the minus sign is how much you bet to win $100.
  2. Underdogs are always listed with a plus sign; the number you see next to the plus sign is how much you win if you bet $100.

Totals

You can simply bet on whether the combined total score of both teams will be over or under a certain number. The bookie will post a number on a game. You have two choices - whether the total score will be higher or lower than that number. Here is an example:

Boise State vs. USC, Total: 61
Over 61 -110
Under 61 -110

In the above example, the total is 61. If you feel the combined total score will be over 61, you would bet Over. If you think it will be below 61, you bet Under. As you see, both choices are listed at -110. Just like when betting on teams against the spread, you have to bet more than you stand to win. With totals, that amount will usually be $110 for every $100 you hope to win. This is the vigorish.

NCAA Football Futures

As their name imply, you’re betting on an a result that happens not today, but in the future. An example of a college football futures bet would be wagering on a team to win their conference or to win the Championship. These bets are for bettors looking for a big return on their investment. It also provides you with an opportunity to have something to root for all season for a very small investment. An example of a futures wager using 2022 as an example would be betting the Clemson Tigers to win the Championship. At time of print, the odds for them to win it all are +1200 (12-1). If you bet Clemson and they win, you would receive $12 for every $1 you wagered. While the payouts are big, keep in mind that this type of bet is risky. It also requires your money to be tied up for approximately four plus months.

Prop Bets

College football proposition wagers allow bettors to wager on an individual player. An example of a prop bet would be if a quarterback will throw over or under 250 yards. The juice (vigorish) is often times very expensive for these type of bets. You lay -110 on a standard point spread bet. You’ll often see prop bets at -120 or -130, which may not sound like much, but the increased vigorish makes you have to win a higher percentage of these bets in order to break even. Conversely, these bets are easier to beat for astute college football handicappers. College football props often have lower limits for this reason. Tip: While it may seem unlikely that a bad team would have a high amount of passing yards, just the opposite is true in most cases. The reason for this is because the bad team gets down and is forced to throw to play catch-up.

Key Points About College Football Betting Odds

Money lines are expressed around the $100 reference point only to make it easy to understand. You can bet more or less, and the odds would simply break down proportionally.

If a game is determined to be evenly matched, it will be called a pick em. That means there is no point spread, and you simply pick who will win the game.

Whenever a game is listed, the road team is listed first, with the home team listed second.

A lot of point spreads are on a half-point, meaning there cannot be a tie. If the spread lands on a full number, ties are possible. When the result lands exactly on the point spread, the bet is considered a push, and you receive your money back.

Related: College Football Handicapping