How to Read College Football Lines
By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
College football is a wildly popular form of sports betting that is relatively easy to understand. No human, regardless of how little they know about math, sports wagering, or college football is more than a few minutes from knowing how to read the odds in college football.
The Point-Spread: A good place to start is understanding the point-spread. It’s what makes the world of standard college football betting rotate. In college football betting, it’s not about picking a winner, necessarily. It’s about “covering the spread.” That means we are dealing with point-spreads, which is a handicap of sorts. Anyone who watches college football knows that almost all games involve teams where one team is either a little or very much superior. The point-spread makes the accommodation. Let’s look at an example:
UTEP Miners +42 vs. Alabama Crimson Tide -42
You see the above example, where the point spread is 42. UTEP is plus 42, while Alabama is minus 42. In other words, UTEP at +42 is getting 42 points, while Alabama is giving 42 points. A point-spread is a number given to both teams in a game. The number is the same, with one team being favored with the minus-sign (Alabama), while the underdog is always shown with a plus sign, with UTEP +42.
Alabama at -42 means they need to win the game by a number exceeding 42 for a bet on them to be considered a winner. UTEP at +42 means you can win the bet if UTEP does anything besides lose the game by 42 or more points. If Alabama wins by exactly 42 points, the bet is a push and all bettors receive back their bet amount. Let’s look at a less-extreme example:
Utah State Aggies -4.5 vs. San Jose State Spartans +4.5
In the above example, the point-spread is 4.5. Utah State is -4.5, which means they are 4.5-point favorites and a bet on them can only win if they prevail by a margin that surpasses 4.5 points. San Jose State is a +4.5 underdog. A winning bet on them will result if San Jose State either wins the game outright or loses by less than 4.5 points. If Utah State wins by a score of 19-14, they cover the spread. If Utah State wins 21-17, San Jose State covers the spread.
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The point-spread is a handicap, of sorts. Both sides of a college football wager made when using a point-spread pay the same, whether you bet the underdog or favorite. The point-spread makes it so both sides of the bet have a theoretically-even chance of winning. When the better team has to win by a certain number of points and the inferior team can lose by a certain number of points, the bet is a heads-or-tails type proposition. There are things you can do to get an edge, but that comes later.
Money Line: Also seen in college football betting is the money line. It’s used in many different ways. One of the major ways is on money line wagering, where you pick the winner of a college football game without a point-spread. The money line is simply a way to express odds. Without a point-spread, odds are used instead. And they are expressed on the money line. Let’s look at an example:
UCLA Bruins -170 vs. USC Trojans +150
Above you see a money line bet. UCLA is favored at -170, with USC a +150 underdog. UCLA at -170 means you must wager $170 for every $100 you hope to win. USC at +150 means you win $150 for every $100 you bet. Whether dealing with point-spreads or money lines in college football betting, always remember that the minus-sign indicates a favorite, with a plus-sign indicating an underdog.
With money lines, a good way to remember how they work is that minus-any-number is how much you must BET to win $100, with plus-any-number being how much you WIN if you bet $100. And the $100 figure is just a reference point to make it easy to fathom the odds. Naturally, you don’t have to bet $100.
You don’t have to make money line bets to experience the money line, as they appear in virtually all forms of betting. Even when making a point-spread bet, we are betting on a money line. We usually have to bet $110 for every $100 we hope to win, which is a -110 betting line. At some books, like 5 Dimes, we can find a -105 betting line, where we only have to bet $105 for every $100 we hope to win. The difference may seem small, but it adds up to huge amounts over the course of an entire season of wagering.
Totals: When you look at a game on a betting sheet, you will see a number next to the listed game. That’s a total--the bookie’s forecast of what the total combined score of both teams will be in a game. Here’s an example:
LSU Tigers vs. Ole Miss Rebels, Total: 58.5
In the above example, the bookie has posted a total of 58.5. Now you simply decide if the combined total score of both teams will go “over” or “under” that number. And like when you make bets against-the-spread, you will usually have to bet this on a -110 line, where you bet $110 for every $100 you hope to win.
It may be a little confusing at first, but it’s really easy to read odds in college football. Like anything that is foreign, it just takes a little time and exposure to learn it.