Takeaways from a successful season of CFB gambling

With the legalization of sports gambling in about a sixth of US states in 2018, interest naturally picked up even more in college football gambling.

This is my recap and look back at my college football picks column for the 2018 season. I ended up netting 26.55 units ($2655 when using the standard $100 unit).

My picks against the spread went 161-128 | (56%) | +$2,025

Sides: 148-116-5 | (56%) | +$2,070

My goal is to beat the closing line. College football is a hotly contested, efficient market. Getting a number better than the closing line will more often than not lead to winning wagers.

I beat the closing line by a full point on 170 of my 269 wagers. Conversely, I took a number that was a full point worse than the closing line only 23 times. That is greater than a 7/1 ratio.

ATS Sides

Looking at my record in these, they seem to roughly track what I would expect. I won the wagers in which I beat the closing line, and lost those in which I did not.

Interestingly, the sides by which I beat the spread by one to two points were more profitable than those by which I beat them by 2.5 to 4.5. Go figure. Small sample variance, no doubt.

This shows that when you wager matters.

If you are not someone who needs to wait until late in the week when bet limit sizes raise up, so that you can get get down five figures on a game, the lesson here is to wager early and achieve a greater edge. I would have still won playing later in the week, but my edge would have been reduced.

Lines are softer early in the week. Bookmakers let players fire away, and they use the data on how much money is coming in on each team and from whom the money is coming, to refine their lines and make them more sharp come game day.

There is some risk associated with placing early wagers. Most notably, injury information early in the week is less reliable than what comes out closer to game time. Weather forecasts are also less certain five or six days out.

It’s also important to have a feel for where certain lines might move. Most of the time, if I feel a line represents value, I am firing away. There are situations when I will wait, however, believing the reward of securing a better key number because I anticipate market movement outweighs the risk of getting a worse non-key number by waiting.

I am very pleased with my sides.

Totals: 13-12-3 | (52%) | -$45

I did not have a great feel for over/under totals this season. I also did not bet many of them, partially because I have other work responsibilities going on when the best numbers come out on Monday and Tuesday.

I beat the closing line by a full point 57 percent of the time, was within a half point in either direction 29 percent of the time, and was wrong against the close by a full point or more 14 percent of the time.

Keeping in mind that points are less valuable on totals than they are sides, due to the huge range of potential final combined score outcomes, that is not a big edge.

One thing I will look into is perhaps not betting totals so early, as they tend to move a lot based on weather. For instance, the Ole Miss at Arkansas and West Virginia at Iowa State numbers both moved against me by 4.5 points.

I have some ideas here and anticipate playing more totals next year.

Futures: Invested $2.500 | Returned: $3.130 | Net: +$630

I made 21 futures or prop bets, which I published between May and August. My reasoning for making them can be found at the link. All in all, a profitable season of futures wagering, with an ROI of 25 percent.

However, how I got there is sort of wild. I nailed three of the four playoff teams, netting $1,025 on $430 in wagers. That is in no way sustainable. For most of the latter part of the season, I expected to win one of the Oklahoma and Notre Dame wagers, not both.

I would play all four of these wagers again, but certainly would not expect to return as much.

2018 Futures

Yet, other wagers I put down offered considerable value against the eventual closing line, and they still lost. Specifically, losing the Oregon over and the Michigan State over after the lines closed between a half to a full win higher than I took, plus virogish.

I also managed to bet under on Big Ten West champion Northwestern and ACC Coastal champ Pitt. Go figure.

There is an opportunity cost associated with putting down 13 wagers on season win totals, because that is money with which you cannot make other bets over a period of four to six months. While I made $5 on those, I don’t consider it a success due to that opportunity cost.

I also could have done a better job attempting to hedge my three conference win wagers. NC State did go undefeated through six weeks, with its odds dropping to 15/1 or 20/1 at the shops still offering those types of wagers at that point. However, doing so would have likely involved betting Clemson and Miami as well, and I would have been sweating out the conference title game since my two wagers from the Coastal would not have made it. That attempted hedge could have blown up in my face.

I made the NCSU and GT wagers with the idea that they were in fact the true No. 2 teams in their respective divisions, not the No. 3 or 4, as the media had posited. I believe I was correct in this assessment, especially in the Coastal, where Virginia Tech collapsed. But I did not anticipate Pitt having the season it did.

What were your worst beats of the year?

I have a few in mind.

  • Last weekend, I had Memphis +7 (-120) and a 24-7 lead over a UCF team without McKenzie Milton. UCF crushed Memphis 35-3 in the second half, to win by 15. This isn’t the traditional backdoor cover type of bad beat, but a bad one nonetheless.
  • I had Baylor +27.5 at Oklahoma. The line closed 21. Baylor was outgained by only 114 yards. And yet, Oklahoma tacked on 10 extra points in the final five minutes to win by 33.
  • I had Illinois +27.5 hosting at Penn State on a Friday night game. With nine minutes left in the third quarter, game, Illinois had the lead by four. Over the final 23 minutes of action, Penn State scored six touchdowns to win by 39. Brutal.

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