2015 College Football: Conference Championship Line Moves That Matter
Every week in this space we highlight the most interesting line moves at the market-setting offshore sportsbooks (typically CRIS, Pinnacle and 5Dimes) to determine the impact that public betting has on the week’s biggest games. In recent weeks we have started to compare these betting trends with ticket count and total dollars wagered at William Hill — one of the most prominent Las Vegas sportsbooks.
Although the only picks we fully endorse are our Best Bets, sharp money indicators like reverse line movement help offer insight into which teams are offering value and whether public perception is creating artificial line value.
This week’s analysis examines the championship games for the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. By using public betting trends from both offshore and Las Vegas sportsbooks, we’re able to determine what factors driving line movement across the sports betting marketplace.
There is fairly lopsided public betting in two of these four games, and we have observed mix results for betting against the public this year. On the season teams receiving less than 50% of spread bets have gone 371-412 ATS, teams receiving less than 40% of spread bets have gone 227-276 ATS, teams receiving less than 30% of spread bets have gone 100-142 ATS and teams receiving less than 20% of spread bets have gone 28-31 ATS.
These results are atrocious, but we have stressed that the effectiveness of betting against the public is directly correlated with the number of bets placed on the game. If books aren’t receiving heavy action, they have no reason to adjust their lines and mitigate risk. For that reason, we encourage bettors to focus on major conference schools — specifically teams from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
When we examine our betting against the public results for these major conference teams, our results improve slightly but they still aren’t profitable. On the season major conference teams receiving less than 50% of spread bets have gone 164-165 ATS, teams receiving less than 40% of spread bets have gone 94-94 ATS, teams receiving less than 30% of spread bets have gone 35-38 ATS and teams receiving less than 20% of spread bets have gone 5-6 ATS.
Despite the struggles of our betting against the public strategy this season, this is an interesting time of the year for contrarian strategies. We have found that betting against the public has been a particularly effective strategy in neutral site games, as you can see from the table below.
|Public Betting||Record (ATS)||Units Won||ROI|
Teams receiving less than 35% of spread bets have been particularly profitable in neutral site games, but we wanted to take our research one step farther. Knowing that bettors tend to overvalue ranked teams, we found that we could nearly double our return on investment (ROI) by focusing on teams facing a ranked opponent.
Florida vs. Alabama (Saturday at 4:00 PM eastern)
In the SEC championship game, Alabama opened as a 12-point favorite at the market-setting Pinnacle sportsbook and they have received 72% of early spread bets at our contributing sportsbooks. With such overwhelming public support, the Crimson Tide have moved from -12 to -17. The screenshot below charts the movement in more detail,
It’s interesting to note that this 5-point line move came almost immediately after opening. Less than three minutes after being posted on Sunday morning, Alabama had moved from -12 to -17. Buy back on Florida caused the line to drop from -17 to -16, however, public money continued to pound the favorite and Alabama slowly climbed back to -17.
Strangely, these public betting trends are significantly different at the William Hill sportsbook where Alabama is receiving just 55% of tickets and 54% of total dollars wagered. This is partially due to that fact that they opened with Alabama listed as a 17.5-point favorite.
Several years ago we explained why bettors should fade ranked teams following a loss, which would point towards value on Alabama. On the flip side, Florida is offering contrarian value at a neutral site. With these contradicting sharp money indicators, we would likely suggest laying off this game entirely.
USC vs. Stanford (Saturday at 7:45 PM eastern)
In the Pac-12 championship game, Stanford opened as a 4-point favorite at Pinnacle and have received 63% of spread bets at the time of publication. The screenshot below, available to our Sportsbook Insider Pro members, illustrates how this game has been bet at our seven contributing sportsbooks:
With a majority of public bettors taking the favorite, Stanford has moved from -4 to -4.5. These betting trends are consistent with the public betting at the William Hill sportsbook where Stanford is receiving 71% of tickets and 77% of total dollars wagered.
North Carolina vs. Clemson (Saturday at 8:00 PM eastern)
In the ACC championship game, top-ranked Clemson opened as a 6.5-point favorite at Pinnacle and have received 51% of spread bets. Despite this very even public betting, the Tigers have dropped from -6.5 to -5. Although “5” is considered a dead number, the move from -6.5 to -6 is fairly significant.
There has been similar public betting at William Hill, with one little twist — North Carolina has received a slight majority of public bets. At the time of publication, UNC was receiving 56% of all tickets but Clemson was receiving 53% of total dollars wagered.
Since 2003, the favorite has gone 260-219 ATS (54.3%) when two ranked teams face each other. We have also found that favorites tend to cover the spread at an increased rate in games with a high total. For that reason, we would likely lean towards Clemson -5 in this season-defining game.
Michigan State vs. Iowa (Saturday at 8:00 PM eastern)
It’s bizarre to see that Ohio State won’t be playing in the Big Ten championship game. Just two weeks into the season, Ohio State was listed at +180 to win the National Championship with an undefeated record while the field was listed at -240. Even stranger? Oddsmakers haven’t written off the Buckeyes yet.
Ohio State still with better odds to win than Iowa despite not playing in Big Ten Championship game. https://t.co/JApMULWMlL
— Sports Insights (@SportsInsights) November 29, 2015
That’s right. At the Westgate Superbook, a very well-respected Las Vegas based sportsbook, Ohio State (+1500) has better odds of winning the National Championship than an undefeated Iowa (+2000). Clearly both oddsmakers and the betting public agree that Iowa is being vastly overrated by the selection committee.
Michigan State opened as a 3-point favorite at Pinnacle and have received 73% of early spread bets. This one-sided public betting has moved the line from Spartans -3 to -3.5. Since there haven’t been any bet signals triggered on Michigan State, we can safely assert that public money is solely responsible for this half-point line move.
Over at the William Hill, Michigan State is receiving 74% of spread bets but just 61% of total dollars wagered. Based on all of these factors, it would seem as though Iowa is offering tremendous value as a 3.5-point underdog.
These numbers are subject to change before kickoff, so bettors should be sure to visit our free College Football odds page for the latest lines, injuries, public betting trends and more.
We would like to stress that the only picks we fully endorse are our Best Bets which are available to Sportsbook Insider Pro subscribers. Bettors can access these picks plus real-time odds, public betting trends, steam moves, reverse line movement alerts and more by signing up for a 4-day Pro trial.
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David Solar is the Content Manager for Sports Insights and can be reached directly at David@sportsinsights.com