The 2018 college football season is technically underway, with “Week Zero” providing entertainment for die-hard fans and degenerates from coast to coast. However, the full-fledged start to the campaign arrives this weekend, with a nice appetizer of games on Thursday and Friday, followed by a bevy of fantastic match-ups on the season’s first Saturday.
As such, many would-be handicappers have been loading up their accounts, both off-shore, with “their guys,” and in the legal bastions of betting that are Las Vegas, New Jersey, and Mississippi (for now), as folks are prepared to spray the board with wagers early and often. Given the fact that the national sports betting ban is no more, the old references to “entertainment purposes only” are generally out the window, but, in the same breath, not everyone can walk down the street (or drive for a half-hour) to find legal sports wagering at a brick-and-mortar venue.
Regardless, bettors are undoubtedly encountering more outlets willing to fire picks in their direction and sports betting is more mainstream than at any point in American history. That sets the stage for our goal in this space, to provide a handy guide for what you should be looking for, both in the first weekend of the college football season and in general for all sports handicapping.
There are places (including this one) where you can find “winners” for Week 1 (coming later this week) and beyond but here are a few things to keep in mind as you navigate the sports betting waters, perhaps for the first time.
You don’t have to bet every game, even in the national TV windows
I get it. It is more fun to watch a game (especially one that does not involve your favorite team) if you bet on it.
That does not mean, however, that it’s a good idea to bet real, hard-earned money on a game that has no value. If you don’t have reason to believe that one side is better than the other, pass on the game. If you really have to bet on one side, do so with a (very) small amount that is virtually inconsequential.
Not everyone wants to be a high-level, professional-style handicapper but everyone would tell you that betting every game is a bad recipe.
The best value is often found in off-the-radar games
This goes hand in hand with our first principle, as the games involving high-profile teams are often completely void of value. For obvious reasons, the point spreads and totals on big games are hammered into place by sharp money and quality oddsmakers, leaving very little for the casual bettor to actually take advantage of when the lines are freely available.
For games with lesser appeal in a casual sense, the lack of attention can often provide avenues for success. Many professional handicappers choose conferences, or even sports (like the WNBA or the Sun Belt), to focus on in an attempt to outwit the oddsmakers. In short, no oddsmaker has enough time to be an all-world expert at everything, so you just might beat them in an off-the-radar spot.
Find the best line and the best number
Any serious, or even semi-serious, handicapper has multiple outlets in which to fire on wagers. For many, this isn’t a feasible thing, as casual handicappers simply have “their guy” on the corner and/or only enough money to keep one off-shore account stocked during the season.
If you have the means and opportunity, though, it is crucial to have multiple places to bet. If one sportsbook has a game at 7.5 and the other has the game at 7 (or even 6.5), you’ll want the option to make your play in the most favorable of circumstances. This is doubly true for the futures market, where you can often find real value on a team at 50-1 to win a championship at one book, with the same team getting only 30-1 in another place, removing the incentive to wager.
Beware of the overreaction
This isn’t usually a big deal when it comes to season openers, but it’s a good principle to keep in mind as the season moves forward. This time around, teams like Colorado State and New Mexico State looked dreadful in Week Zero, leaving potential handicappers scurrying to bet the other side (NMSU, for example, went from 18.5 point underdogs to Minnesota in Week 1 to 21 point underdogs, based off their dismal showing against a good Wyoming squad). In short, there isn’t enough data to swiftly move power numbers this early in the season, and the same could be said for off-field issues and injuries.
In the midst of the season, a blowout loss or a lopsided win can mean many things. Sometimes, though, it means that the team that looks bad might be the one to play the following week and the team that looks great might be the one to fade. Being level-headed is key.
Fade The Public
This is a favorite of mine and many professional handicappers. When everyone you know is looking one way, it is probably smart to look the other way (this can work hand-in-hand with spotting overreactions). With the emergence of various handicapping websites, it is often possible to see how many bets are flowing in one direction and, if the volume of actual dollars doesn’t match that, it usually means the “sharp” (or smart) bettors are on the side opposite the general public.
There is a reason they make casinos (very) tall and shiny and it is because the public isn’t very good at this.
When in doubt, take the points
It needs to be noted that the run-of-the-mill sports bettor is a lot smarter than they used to be. As a result, the edges aren’t as significant for those trying to profit off their general stupidity but some things don’t change.
Most people like to bet on favorites. The better team usually wins and, if they’re favored by 3.5 points, casual fans just want to take the better team.
Remember that “fade the public” principle? Take the points. Take underdogs. Just trust me.
… and take the under
If taking underdogs seems counterintuitive, most bettors will hate this. Take the under.
No one on Earth likes to root against points in any sport and it can be agonizing to sweat an under bet. For that reason, the vast majority of people default to betting the over and line-makers know it. The under isn’t always the right side but, more often than not, you should default to it. If you start at the default of “under and underdog” and work your way from there, you’ll find yourself with stronger convictions on favorites and can walk away when things just don’t feel right, which leads us to the final point.
Sports betting is fun and there is a reason why it is a fast-growing industry. With that said, there are potential pitfalls and being responsible is generally a good idea.
The simplest rule is to never bet any money that you can’t afford to lose. It might seem obvious but, well, don’t bet any money that you can’t afford to lose.
Beyond that, bankroll management is key if you want to have even a chance to become a successful sports handicapper. Set aside money that is only for sports betting. That is your budget and you have to stick to it. Even the best in the world in this particular field suffer downswings on a regular basis and, if you’re betting one-quarter of your sports betting bankroll every time you play a game, you’ll be broke in a hurry.
Not everyone is taking this too seriously but staying even-keeled is the only way to have a chance at long-term success.
Did I mention that you shouldn’t bet any money that you can’t afford to lose?
Happy handicapping. Let’s enjoy this season, and every season after that, together and let the winners flow.