Using 'Science' in College Football Betting

No system, especially one designed to earn a profit at college football betting, is foolproof but some gamblers have reported success matching the dispassionate "scientific" approach of mathematician Jeff Sagarin against the Las Vegas wagering line.

Sagarin is the Seattle based scientist who provides team ratings for USA TODAY. The Sagarin Ratings are void of factors such as team motivation or a comparison of how one team matches up against another, elements oddsmakers dutifully consider before issuing their pointspread numbers.

That said, let’s look for some "scientific" overlays in the opening week numbers:

Saturday, Sept. 05

Connecticut (-3 1/2) over Ohio: The Huskies have a Sagarin Rating of 74.91 while the Bobcats check in with a Sagarin Rating of 60.33. Give three points to Ohio for being at home and the UConn advantage shrinks from 13.58 points to 10.58 points, meaning Connecticut—at least according to Sagarin—should be that big a favorite, a difference of about a touchdown when measured against the official line.

Georgia (+6) over Oklahoma State: Even with three points for the home field, the Cowboys, who begin the season with a Top 10 ranking in the AP Poll, receive a Sagarin Rating of 83.08, about a field goal less than the Bulldogs (86.59) so taking a touchdown with Georgia, which should be the favorite, is the obvious play.

BYU (+21 1/2) over Oklahoma: Granted, it’s a bit scary taking "only" 21 1/2 points against an Oklahoma offense that averaged over 50 points per game last season but that’s what the Sagarin Ratings say to do. Even with its home field advantage, Oklahoma (92.19) should be about a 14 1/2-point favorite over BYU (80.81), not 21 1/2. If you believe in the system, grit your teeth and bet the Cougars.

Missouri (+6 1/2) over Illinois: You can give the Illini (71.55) three more points for being at home and Illinois still is about 8 1/2 Sagarin Rating points inferior to Missouri (83.07). That’s a swing of about 15 points making the Tigers a clear choice to cover the number.

Wake Forest (-1 1/2) over Baylor: The numbers here are really out of whack. Sagarin has Baylor at 67.10 with Wake Forest at 78.92. Give the Demon Deacons three more points for the home field and the line should be 14 1/2, a 13-point difference. But you only have to lay 1 1/2. If there is such a thing as an opening week best bet, this should be it.

Auburn (-12) over Louisiana Tech: With the three-point home field advantage, Auburn (80.60) is 18 1/2 points better than Louisiana Tech (61.90) so giving 12 should be a bargain. The War Eagles figure to struggle in the murderously difficult SEC but should be able to run up the score against the WAC’s fourth or fifth best team.

New Mexico (+14) over Texas A&M: Even giving away three points for their road venture, the Lobos (69.82) are less than a touchdown inferior to the Aggies (72.59) yet New Mexico backers are getting 14. The play seems obvious.

Virginia Tech (+6 1/2) over Alabama: Even after you factor in the Crimson Tide’s home field advantage, Alabama (83.93) is less than a point (0.95) superior to Virginia Tech (85.98) so the play would be to take the Gobblers plus the points in this evenly matched Week 1 slugfest.

Maryland (-21 1/2) over California: Most everyone expects the Golden Bears to beat the Terrapins but even with three points for the home field, California (83.86) is no where near a more than three touchdown favorite over Maryland (76.19). According to Sagarin’s figures, the line should be cut in half.

Sunday, Sept. 06

Memphis (+17) over Mississippi: The Rebels have a top 10 ranking but their Sagarin Rating of 76.55 puts them just 10 1/2 points better than the Tigers (62.96), who get three points for playing at home. In essence, if the Sagarin Ratings can be trusted, betting on Memphis is like stealing a touchdown.