NCAAF Game of the Week: Northwestern at Michigan
In this weekend’s most-bet college football game, #18 Michigan (4-1) will host #13 Northwestern (5-0). Although the Wildcats are ranked higher in the latest AP Top 25, Michigan opened as a 9.5-point home favorite at the market-setting CRIS sportsbook.
Bettors tend to overvalue rankings, so it’s not surprising to see that 74% of spread bettors are taking Northwestern and the points. In fact, this one-sided public betting had moved Northwestern from +9.5 to +7 across the sports betting marketplace.
The most interesting aspect of this line movement is that we had triggered zero bet signals on this game prior to Friday night, which would seem to indicate that public perception is solely responsible for the 2.5-point line move. After the move to -7, Michigan appeared to be offering excellent contrarian value to bettors, and historically we have seen this value magnified when fading the trendy underdog. When underdogs are receiving at least 70% of spreads, the favorite has hit at 56.4% with +7.77 units won.
Ryan Oakes at William Hill informed us that they had taken similar one-sided action on Northwestern. As of Friday at 1 pm ET, 82% of total tickets and 88% of total dollars wagered were taking the Wildcats. However, on Friday night there was a huge move on Michigan, moving them from -7 to -10 across the betting market. With such a large move in a short amount of time, there’s no doubt that sharp money has started pounding the Wolverines.
It’s also interesting to note that head coach Jim Harbaugh has fared exceptionally well when his team’s have been favored:
In his college career Jim Harbaugh has gone just 12-14 ATS as an underdog, but 19-9 ATS when favored.
— Bet Labs Sports (@Bet_Labs) October 9, 2015
Michigan has been one of the most popular teams for bettors alongside traditional powerhouses like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma. However, Michigan could make history this week as they have never received less than 26% of spread bets as a favorite.
Bettors may also want to know that when two ranked teams face each other during the regular season, the favorite has gone 245-206 ATS (54.3%). When that team is also receiving less than 50% of spread bets, the system improves to 91-71 ATS (56.2%).
Oddsmakers aren’t expecting many points in this matchup, and with good reason. This game features the two best scoring defenses in the nation, with Michigan allowing 7.6 points/game and Northwestern allowing just 7.0 points/game. With two stout defenses, CRIS opened the total at 36 and, despite very even public betting, that number has dipped to 34 which would be the lowest closing total in our database.
In the past we have explained how NFL underdogs have provided better value in low-scoring games, and we have seen the same correlation in college football games. Since 2005, underdogs have gone 249-223 ATS (52.8%) when the total closes at 42 or less. When the underdog is also ranked that record improves to 42-29 ATS (59.2%).
Our public betting trends show that the total is being very evenly bet, with 54% of wagers taking the over. At William Hill, over/under betting is also fairly even although we did notice a discrepancy. They have taken 63% of tickets and 59% of total dollars wagered on the under.
There are also a handful of prominent injuries which could affect the line for this game, starting with Michigan running back De’Veon Smith. The 5’11” 228-pound junior rushed for 331 yards and 4 touchdowns in his first four games, before missing last week’s game against Maryland with an ankle injury. Bettors can track the latest updates by visiting our free NCAAF injuries page.
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, public betting trends, futures and more.
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David Solar is the Content Manager for Sports Insights and can be reached directly at David@sportsinsights.com.