The first full week of the college football season is about three months away, but the sports betting market keeps the conversation about the sport going for 12 months.
The latest talking point took place on Thursday when the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas released “Games of the Year” point spreads for 100 games this college football season.
The people betting these games are typically professional bettors who are looking to take advantage of any line value they see before they think the lines will move. Bettors are allowed to bet $1,000 on each game, which is far less than the limits they are allowed during the fall.
Most people who bet college football won’t have access to betting in Las Vegas during late May, but there are things that can be learned by these point spreads already. During the season, I will usually compare the opening number in May to the current spread, and see if any line movement has been warranted or if there has been an overreaction the in the betting market.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the initial numbers:
Clemson is favored by no less than 17.5 points in the seven games that are lined
Clemson has been in a tier behind Alabama in the betting markets for the last few seasons, but now they are at the same table with the Crimson Tide. The Tigers were part of seven Game of the Year lines, and the shortest spread is 17.5 in a Week 2 home game against Texas A&M. Clemson is favored by 18 on the road the next week at Syracuse. The other notable Clemson lines are 25-point favorites against Florida State and 32-point favorites at Louisville. It wasn’t too long ago that Clemson, Florida State and Louisville were competing for ACC Atlantic titles, but now the gap is enormous.
Alabama is favored by no less than 13 points in the seven games that are lined
We can’t forget about Alabama, who is a huge favorite in every game and play in one of the best divisions in college football. The Crimson Tide are giving 18 to South Carolina, 14 to Texas A&M, 20 to Mississippi State and 13 to Auburn. All four of those games are on the road. Alabama is favored by more than 30 points against Ole Miss and Tennessee, and opened as 16-point chalk hosting LSU.
Stanford has five Games of the Year in the first six weeks
Stanford was featured early and often in the Games of the Year sheet, with point spreads for five games in the first six weeks. This is an indicator that the Cardinal have a challenging early-season schedule. Stanford is a six-point home favorite against Northwestern in Week 1 and a three-point underdog at USC in Week 2. They then travel across the country in Week 3 to play UCF, opening as two-point underdogs. Week 4 is a crucial Pac-12 North tilt: Stanford is a 2.5-point home favorite against Oregon. Two weeks later, they are lined at a pick ’em against Washington in Palo Alto. David Shaw’s team needs to be ready to play early in the season with the opponents and grueling travel schedule.
LSU is a two-point favorite at Texas
I was personally looking forward to seeing where this number would open for the last few months. LSU overachieved last season and could regress, and Texas will likely be overvalued because of their Sugar Bowl win over Georgia. The Tigers open as a short favorite in Austin against one of the best underdog coaches in Tom Herman. Will be interested to see where this line ends up the week of the game.
Oklahoma is still the class of the Big 12
The Games of the Year lines prove that Oklahoma is still the best team in the Big 12 by a wide margin. They are a 6.5-point favorites against Texas on a neutral field and that’s the smallest point spread where the Sooners are involved. Oklahoma is a double-digit favorite in every other game, including being favored by 10 at Oklahoma State in the last week of the regular season.
Florida is only a 3.5-point underdog against Georgia on a neutral field
The annual neutral-site game in Jacksonville between Florida and Georgia should decide the SEC East this season. Georgia is a College Football Playoff contender and many see the Bulldogs as the third-best team in the country. Florida is expected to take a big step in Dan Mullen’s second season, but will still be underdogs to take the division from Georgia. The fact that this spread is only 3.5 shows that the gap between the Gators and Bulldogs isn’t as big as some think. Maybe Florida is close to competing with Georgia, or maybe this point spread is just off.
Michigan is a 3.5-point favorite against Ohio State
Michigan has been owned by Ohio State in football over the last two decades, but that didn’t stop oddsmakers from making the Wolverines over a field goal favorite when these two teams play in Ann Arbor on November 30. Michigan closed as a four-point favorite at Ohio State last November before losing 62-39 and having their College Football Playoff dreams crushed. The Wolverines are listed as a favorite in every game that has a point spread, including contests against Wisconsin, Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan State. The perception of Michigan might be low after how last season ended, but linesmakers have no issue showing Jim Harbaugh’s team respect.
Texas A&M is at least a touchdown underdog in four games
There will be a lot of buzz about the Texas A&M football program after an 8-4 season. Jimbo Fisher is in his second season at the school and he’s recruiting at an elite level. But this season could be tricky for the Aggies because of the opponents they play. They are 17.5-point underdogs at Clemson, 14-point home underdogs against Alabama, 12.5-point underdogs at Georgia and 7.5-point underdogs at LSU. That’s potentially four games against top-10 teams with three of them on the road. The future is bright in College Station, but bettors might want to be patient and buy stock in the Aggies for the 2020 season.
South Carolina is at least an 18-point underdog in three games
South Carolina’s schedule has gotten more difficult each season with the improvement of Georgia and Clemson. Georgia has risen to become an elite program within the SEC East and Clemson is a national powerhouse at the end of South Carolina’s schedule each season. This year is even tougher for Will Muschamp’s team, as they are drawn against Alabama from the SEC West and opened as 18-point home underdogs against the Crimson Tide in Week 3. South Carolina is catching 20 points for their trip to Georgia in October and opened as a 23.5-point underdog hosting Clemson.