How Has Sharp Money Affected the Line in the National Championship Game?
The end of another college football season is upon us. After several weeks of entertaining bowl games (including two fairly boring College Football Playoff semifinal games), we have a rematch for the national title. It all comes down to this — one game for all the marbles. After Alabama’s thrilling 45–40 victory in last season’s national championship, Clemson will finally have a shot at redemption on Monday night in Tampa Bay.
For oddsmakers, it’s hardly surprising to see these two teams squaring off once again. Alabama (+600) entered the season with the best odds of winning the national championship at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, while Clemson (+700) began the season tied with Florida State for the second best odds.
Nick Saban’s Tide rolled through every opponent on their schedule this season, going 14-0 straight up (SU) and 10-4 against the spread (ATS). Clemson, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as profitable for bettors. Dabo Swinney’s squad went 13–1 SU, but only 6-7 ATS. That said, it’s the Tigers that enter the championship rematch with momentum on their side, having defeated Ohio State 31–0 in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Interestingly, Clemson won both games this season in which they were underdogs (they closed as 1-point ‘dogs against both Ohio State and Louisville).
In Monday night’s National Championship game, Alabama opened as 6-point favorites at the market-setting Pinnacle sportsbook but they have received just 38% of spread tickets and 47% of spread dollars. The screenshot below, available to our Sportsbook Insider members, illustrates how this game has been bet at our contributing sportsbooks.
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Considering the magnitude of this game and the fact that the majority of bettors are taking the Clemson, it could be expected that oddsmakers would adjust the line to encourage more action on Alabama. Instead, the Tigers have actually moved from +6 to +6.5 at Pinnacle. This reverse line movement indicates that sharp bettors have been hammering the Crimson Tide.
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As you can see, Alabama moved from -6 to -6.5 on Sunday morning even though the majority of bettors were taking Clemson. The line bounced around several times, before finally settling at a juiced up Alabama -7. Although most sportsbooks were hanging Alabama -6.5, the line at Pinnacle remained Alabama -7 until this Monday morning at 10:18 AM eastern.
Late last week, the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook stated that although the ticket count was 2-1 in favor of Clemson, the money wagered was even. That indicated that several large wagers (likely placed by sharper bettors) had taken Alabama. Over the past few days, there has been significantly more money on Clemson at several prominent Las Vegas sportsbooks.
Three-four times as much money has been bet on Clemson as has been bet on Alabama at multiple Las Vegas books: https://t.co/nRvh8Puz3G
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) January 9, 2017
ESPN’s David Payne Purdum reported, “The William Hill Nevada sportsbook took a $100,000 bet on Clemson as a 6.5-point underdog Saturday and had taken 3 1/2 times as much on the Tigers as it had taken on Alabama as of Sunday afternoon.” Despite that one-sided public betting, most sportsbooks are holding strong at Alabama -6.5.
There’s a common misconception that large wagers are an indicator of sharp money and although that’s frequently true, it’s not a universal truth — especially for marquee games like the Super Bowl or National Championship. A prime example would be boxer Floyd Mayweather, who routinely posts five-to-six figure wagers. Although he places large bets on big games, oddsmakers don’t necessarily respect his action.
It’s also worth pointing out that many bettors believe that Clemson will win this game straight up. The Tigers, who are listed at +205 on the moneyline at Pinnacle, are receiving 69% of moneyline tickets and 83% of moneyline dollars. This is fairly common since casual bettors love getting plus money in a championship game.
Based on these trends, it would appear that casual bettors are overreacting to Clemson’s impressive victory against Ohio State. Prior to last week’s semifinal games, the lookahead lines had Alabama listed as 11-point favorites against Clemson. Despite the 5-point discrepancy between that lookahead line and the actual opener, bettors have been hammering the Tigers all week.
We have previously discussed why the increased number of bets creates additional value for most betting against the public strategies, and that has certainly been true during the current bowl season. Teams receiving less than 50% of spread tickets have gone 23-15 ATS (60.5%), teams receiving less than 40% of spread tickets have gone 8-4 ATS and teams receiving less than 35% of spread tickets have gone 5-2 ATS. Since 2005, teams receiving less than 35% of spread tickets have gone 77-47 ATS (62.1%).
This level of one-sided public betting on the underdog is more common during bowl season than it is during the regular season, but it’s still highly uncommon. Over the past twelve years, the ‘dog has received more than 50% of spread tickets in 89 of 416 bowl games (21.4%). Interestingly, the underdog has gone just 41-48 ATS when receiving the majority of tickets and 177-150 ATS in all other bowl games.
For those that are wondering, Alabama has received less than 50% of spread tickets on 31 occasions since Nick Saban took over as head coach. In those games, Alabama has gone 19-12 ATS including a 3-0 ATS record in bowl games. It’s also interesting to note that when these teams faced off last season, the majority of tickets were taking Alabama and the sharp money was taking Clemson. Although the Crimson Tide won, the Tigers were still able to cover the spread.
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