The Art of Handicapping College Football

Division One NCAA football involves a lot of different teams competing in a variety of markets, large and small. With 125 teams playing 1,500 games during a five-month regular season, smart bettors have the opportunity to find weak lines all season long.

Think of the college football handicapping tips and tricks below as a jumping-off point for starting your own handicapping program. If you can consistently find weak lines and other opportunities, you can consistently win at a rate that guarantees a profit.

More about Finding Weak Lines

Sportsbooks spend the majority of their time working on setting the most profitable lines on the games that receive the most wagers. During football season NFL games receive the most time and effort followed by the big conferences in college football.

The reason weak lines exist is some games are high-profile, attracting millions of dollars of business, while others may go basically unnoticed by the crowd. Generally, high-profile games involve powerhouse teams from major conference. Down-ticket contests between bad teams from lesser-known conferences are likely to get little attention at all from the oddsmakers.

The less important the game on a national level the weaker the lines tend to be. The weaker the sports book line the better your chances to find profitable opportunities.

When the books spend most of their time and energy on these games it opens some great opportunities for sports bettors like you and me to find profitable betting lines on those games that aren't heavily covered.

Professional sports bettors are always chasing value, and lines that aren't set where they should be offer value. If you find lines that offer value and bet them on a regular basis you start winning on a consistent basis. The sportsbooks are good at what they do, so you have to use every tactic at your disposal to find value and exploit it.

Focus on Small Conference Games

The big conferences get all of the media coverage so most sports bets are made on teams in the largest conferences. If you are willing to focus on the mid-level and small conferences you can find profitable betting situations on a weekly basis.

Specialize Your Research

Since 125 NCAA football teams compete at the Division One level, the opportunity for specialization exists. If you learn more than most bookmakers know about a handful of overlooked teams or conferences, you can gain an edge in games involving those teams. Increased specialization means you'll have a larger edge.

A Note on Inside Information

The NFL is covered by the media in such depth that finding truly insider information is almost impossible. But college football is different - NCAA D-1 football is played in lots of small cities around the country, in small markets where local reporters, coaches, trainers, and players are relatively easy to access.

If you live close to a small college town you can read the local newspapers and start making contacts close to the team. Even if you don't live close, you should open an online subscription to the newspapers that cover these small market teams.

Someone on the training staff of a football team can be worth a great deal to you. Any injuries you can learn about that aren't public knowledge can make a large difference in the outcome of an upcoming game.

Another area you can start looking into is the habits of the main players. College players can make poor decisions like partying before games or staying out all night and not sleeping. If you know the star running back or quarterback is playing with a hangover it can help you place a winning bet.

Note: I'm not suggesting doing anything unethical or illegal, but the more you can learn that the sportsbooks don't know the better your chances to win.

Player Youth

Though it's easy to forget because of their size and physical prowess, college football players are still basically kids. The players range from 18 years old into maybe their early 20's.

Think back over the last few years of all of the stupid things NFL players have done and been involved with. College football players are even more susceptible to poor decision making than NFL players by virtue of their youth.

Don't forget about the player's youth and lack of experience when you wager on NCAA football. Players can be suspended out of nowhere, even on game day. They can quit, hurt themselves off the field, get emotionally messed up by relationships off the field, fail classes and lose their eligibility, or just about anything else that can cost you money while betting on them.

It's impossible to predict all of the things that can go wrong when you're betting on kids. The only thing you can do is understand things are going to happen and in the long run they will work for you just as often as they work against you.

Handicapping Running Backs

Running backs are the first position I look at when evaluating college football teams for betting purposes.

A great running back accumulates yards, scores touchdowns, shortens the game by running down the clock, and can win games with only limited help from the rest of the team.

The main problem with placing wagers based solely on a running back is the increased possibility of injury at the position. I always like to evaluate the second string running back as well, as a kind of insurance.

Though it is discussed in more detail below, a strong offensive line helps all the running backs, not just the starter.

So how should you evaluate running backs? Look at their recent performance, including their total workload. If a running back had more carries than usual the week before, that will impact his game. Some players will under-perform in that situation. Again, it helps to know a bit about the player's psychology. Most college backs can handle big workloads running the ball, but you need to consider every possibility before making your betting decisions.

Handicapping Defenses

In the NFL it's rare for a defense to singlehandedly win a game. In college football, it's common for a defense to dominate and decide a game.

I always evaluate defenses when betting on NFL games, sure, but in college football, that evaluation gets a lot more weight. Sure, the plays on offense get most of the attention, showing up on Sportscenter and in other highlight reels, but overall, a college team's defense can overcome a solid offense on any given weekend.

Handicapping Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks are always important when you're betting on football, but they're less important in the college game than in the pros.

Many college teams have poor quarterbacks that are still able to win most of their games. Of course the best quarterbacks are still a big part of your decisions when deciding who to bet on, but realize in many games the quarterback isn't as important as the running back, offensive line, and defense.

Handicapping Offensive Lines

An offensive line can win or lose a game at the college level – learn how to handicap them if you want college football betting success.

A good O-line can turn an average QB or running back into a phenom – hence why lots of top college prospect backs end up flaming out at the pro level when they step up behind a stronger defensive line.

It's hard to judge offensive lines because there aren't many stats that are directly assigned to them. The things I look for are sacks allowed, yards per carry, how long they've worked together, how long they've been in school, and pass yards per attempt.

I also like to watch them play if possible. There's nothing as good as live action to get an idea of how good an offensive line is.

Handicapping Receivers

Receivers are one of the least important positions when evaluating college football lines. A receiving corps is only as good as the back throwing to them – they're also easily affected by any secondary unit that's better than average. You can find a handful of receivers that make a difference on a week in and week out basis, but most receiving groups don't separate themselves from the average enough to show value.


Smart sports bettors know that college football can offer great opportunities for weak lines and winning bets. Start using the tips listed above to find opportunities to place profitable bets.