Much like the NFL and soccer, college football is considered a sportsbetting staple. The sheer volume of programs involved plus the relatively high-scoring DNA of its operation and uniquely structured Bowl Game system makes for an exhilarating experience that anyone who’s anyone wants to partake in. But before you belly flop into the college football scene, it’s important to tackle the sport from every possible angle. And that’s what we’re here to do.
Single-Game College Football Bets
Together with moneyline and over/under wagers, spread bets make up the most popular single-game wager in college football.
Though this can consist of you predicting the final outcome, you are not necessarily focused on it. Instead, you’re most concerned with the point differential and determining whether a team will win or lose by a predetermined amount.
For instance, let’s say Georgia Tech is a seven-point favorite (-7) over Arizona (+7) in an upcoming game. By betting on Georgia Tech’s spread, you are saying the that they will win this game by eight or more points. If you invest in Arizona’s spread, you are then banking on them losing by no more than six points or actually winning.
Bettors value the spread particularly when it comes to underdogs—in this hypothetical case it’s Arizona—because they are not tethered to a win-or-lose proposition. Arizona can fall to Georgia, as oddsmakers predict, and gamblers can still submit a successful wager. They just need Arizona to keep the game close enough to cover the spread.
Sportsbooks typically try to deliver spreads with decimals to avoid a “push.” These occur when oddsmakers are dead-on with their forecast. For our example, if Arizona ends up losing to Georgia Tech by seven, neither team has covered the spread and it would be called a push. And when this happens, you neither win nor lose. You simply get your money backing.
Manipulating this spread to Georgia Tech (-6.5) vs. Arizona (+6.5) prevents pushes from happening, since teams cannot win by half of a point. However, sportsbooks don’t always force the issue. There will be times when you come across whole-number spreads and could be subject to a push. While this should come as little concern since pushes usually result in refunds, make sure you confirm that with your sportsbook of choice—particularly as the United States expands its online operations. Some sportsbooks may decide to award pushes to the house, which would result in a loss on your part.
The returns on these wagers usually fall anywhere between -110 and +110—roughly even money. That’s another reason why gamblers value their spread bets: They’re subject to fewer swings than moneylines.
College football bettors appreciate moneyline wagers because of their simplicity. You’re just picking a winner. That’s it.
Reading these odds isn’t hard at all. Sticking with our hypothetical, here’s what the aforementioned game could look like: Georgia Tech (-450) vs. Arizona (+300).
Betting on Georgia Tech, the favorite, demands you wager $450 to make a profit of $100. Investing in Arizona, the underdog, means that for every $100 you risk, you have the potential win $300.
Underdogs are clearly the more lucrative options in these situations, so you have the potential to make some serious cash if you spot a discrepancy in how oddsmakers are treating a certain team. But you need to be sure that you’re confident in an underdog before funneling money their way. There’s a reason they aren’t favored after all, and unlike spread bets, you don’t have wiggle room after submitting your decision. The team you pick has to win the game, otherwise you will be leaving empty-handed.
Over/under bets are popular for the same reason spread wagers receive so much love—they don’t moar you to one specific outcome, as moneylines do.
For these gambles, you are focusing on the combined score between two teams rather than the winner or loser. If the over/under for a Georgia Tech and Arizona game is 58.5, you have to decide whether they will eclipse that benchmark or fall short of it. Betting the under means you think they’ll total 58 points or fewer. Conversely, picking the over is akin to saying they’ll combine for 59 points or more.
Similar to spread bets, oddsmakers like to avoid whole numbers here. You will very rarely see an over/under of 60, 62, 58, 56, etc. because they want to sidestep possible pushes. And like spread bets once again, over/under gambling isn’t subject to appreciable fluctuations. You’re dealing with returns mostly in even money range, between -110 and +110.
Prop betting has earned something of a stigma in recent years within the casual sportsbetting population. People see the phrase, and they automatically think they are wagering on developments not directly related to the game—such as coin tosses.
These bets do exist. But the most off-beat ones (halftime show lengths, coin tosses, over/under on challenge flags thrown et. al) are reserved for the NFL. College football is far more straightforward with its prop wagers.
What you’re doing for them is essentially wagering on a separate game within a game. Bets related to specific players, play types and final stats rather than official scores and outcomes.
Here are some potential examples you may come across during college football’s regular season:
- What’s the over/under on the number of touchdowns Alabama’s quarterback will throw?
- Which receiver from Oregon will catch the first pass of the game?
- What’s the over/under for the final score of the first half in a game between Clemson State and Florida State?
- Which team will total more yards from scrimmage by game’s end, Rutgers or Montclair State?
- Will Ohio State’s defense score a touchdown in their matchup against Penn State?
Anything along these ultra-specific lines qualifies as a prop bet. And as you can see, they are directly related to actual football, so there is a level of skill and insight involved. It is not all luck, as commonly assumed.
Something to consider: College football props are not as accessible as they are for the NFL or most other professional sports. Amateur programs are too large in volume. Sportsbooks won’t carry nuanced wager types like this for every game. Marquee regular-season matchups are an exception. Otherwise, for the most part, the most expansive list of props is earmarked for Bowl Season and the BCS National Championship game.
Live betting on college football gives you the opportunity to capitalize on a game that you’re already watching. Sportsbooks will deliver lines in real time, which you then bet on in-between commercial breaks, changes of possessions and sometimes even single plays.
When placing a live wager, you are predominantly making a decision on a particular quarter, half or entire game. Using our Georgia Tech and Arizona example from before, here are some live-bet options you might come across during the middle of contest:
- First quarter spread: Georgia Tech (-7.5) vs. Arizona (+7.5)
- Second quarter over/under: 21.5
- Second half spread: Georgia (-3.5) vs. Arizona (+3.5)
- Final outcome moneyline, placed in the third quarter: Georgia (-950) vs. Arizona (+375)
Live bets are best broken out when you’re trying to correct an already placed wager or looking to profit off a game that you have no initial feel for.
Like, let’s say you originally picked Georgia Tech to cover a full-game 7.5-point spread, but then you see they’re losing after the first half. You have the option of placing another wager in favor of Arizona to try making up for what you already lost, or you can double-down on Georgia Tech by investing in what could, by that time, be an underdog moneyline.
On the flip side, if you’re unable to pick between two spreads before the game, live betting allows you to watch the two teams for a quarter or for the first half and then make your pick. That extra preparation time goes a long way for some gambles.
Sadly, like prop betting, college football’s live betting isn’t as available as the NFL’s. Marquee regular-season matchups should be featured on most sportsbooks as they unfold. Mostly, though, live wagering reaches its apex during Bowl season.
Live Prop Betting
This is a combined form of prop and live betting that allows you to invest in player- and team-driven accomplishments as the game unfolds. Some potential examples of live bets you may stumble across include:
- Over/under on the number of yards Alabama’s quarterback throws for by the end of the second quarter
- Which Michigan State receiver will make the first catch of the second half?
- Which Boise State player will have the most rushing attempts in the fourth quarter?
- Will the Oklahoma defense have an interception in the second half? Who will force that interception?
- Will either Arkansas or Appalachian State complete a pass for 40 or more yards in the second half?
Many bettors steer clear of live props. They don’t think it’s worth their time. But if you find a sportsbook offering them—which can be somewhat rare in college football unless you’re betting on Bowl Games or marquee matchups—they’re a good supplement to regular wagers. Most importantly, a majority of them are even-money(ish) bets or better unless you wind up investing in the overly obvious.
Generally speaking, parlay betting is an underused sector of the sports gambling scene. Many are scared off at the thought of looping together multiple wagers that are dependent on one another.
You shouldn’t be. Parlay betting offers a unique avenue of profit. By mashing wagers together, you’re increasing your potential return—often by a noticeable amount. Let’s keep on with our Georgia Tech and Arizona example:
- Spread: Georgia Tech (-7.5) vs. Arizona (+7.5)
- Moneyline: Georgia Tech (-450) vs. Arizona (+350)
- Over/Under: 58.5
Obviously, you’re free to work any of these bets at an individual level. But if you believe that Georgia Tech will win while covering this spread and that this game will clear the over, you can combine all three bets together. Your potential winnings will explode.
Granted, you must remember you’re then on the hook for three hits. If Georgia Tech beats Arizona while covering the 7.5-point spread, but the two teams miss the over, then you’ve invested in an unsuccessful ticket. That’s the risk you take.
For the record, parlays are not limited to the same game. You can combine wagers for multiple competitions. In fact, that’s what most people like to do. They will bet on the Georgia Tech-Arizona spread, Clemson State-Florida State moneyline and Oregon-Alabama over/under. Or there could be a different combination. You’re allowed to focus on whatever you want.
Some sportsbooks even allow for cross-league parlays. You can attach a college football bet to an NFL and NBA wager if you like. A parlay is anything that consists of two or more outcomes relying on one another. And there usually isn’t a limit to the extent of that combination. A few sportsbooks might cap you at 10 bets strung together, but if you really want, you could try picking the spread for every college football game of the week in one massive parlay.
To be clear: This isn’t officially recommended. Parlays are difficult to convert with three to five teams. Expanding that list to include double, triple or quadruple that amount is almost always a bad idea. If you’re looking to assemble larger parlays, though, we endorse looping together moneyline odds for formality favorites.
Take the following week-at-a-glance example: Go ahead and assume Alabama enters the week as a -800 favorite. In a separate game, Clemson is laying a -600. In a third game, Georgia Tech is a -550. And in a fourth game, Boise State is a -400. Not one of those lines is particularly enticing on its own. No one should regularly want to bet anywhere between $400 and $800 just to make a $100 profit.
Combining all four games together brings your return closer to or even above even money. And because you’ve invested in four heavy favorites, you have a better chance that you’re multi-team wager will be successful. This wouldn’t be the case if you tried parlaying four spreads or over/under marks.
Betting On College Football Futures
National Championship Odds
Prior to the start of every regular season, oddsmakers will release odds for schools to win the BCS National Championship. You have the option of trying to identify a team that you believe will go all the way in exchange for a higher return.
These bets are usually super easy to read, but college football's structure renders them a little more complicated. The inclusion of Bowl Games confounds fans. They sometimes assume these count as futures victories. But they don't. When you're investing in national championship odds, you're betting on the winner of the entire college football playoff—one team, for one specific high-stakes matchup. If Alabama is laying a +350 to start the season and you pick them, but they only win the Orange Bowl before losing in the National Championship, then you've submitted a failed wager.
Assume every future bet works this way unless otherwise prompted. Sportsbooks don't generally offer future odds on Bowl Games, since they don't know how the playoff bracket is going to unfold. Different teams will have different paths to the National Championship bout. Alabama could end up playing in the Orange Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl to get there. We don't know.
The odds for championship winners are always best before the start of the season. That said, if you would like to take a more measured approach, you have the capacity to invest in these futures as the regular season unfolds. For college football, though, we encourage you to try making your final decision before the conclusion of Week 5. The championship field becomes a lot narrower after that. Clear favorites have already been established, so the odds for realistic winners aren't nearly as rewarding as they are before the start of the season or at the very beginning of it.
Win total betting is a far easier concept for college football—and one we highly recommend indulging if you're looking to whet your big-picture appetite.
This wager is essentially a glorified over/under gamble and is most popular before the start of the season. Oddsmakers will release benchmark minimums for every team, and your job is to pick whether or not they reach them.
For our purposes, let's say Baylor has a win total of 8.5 at a certain sportsbook. Betting the under means you're expecting them to win eight games or fewer, while picking the over will result in a victory if they collect nine or more wins for the season.
Midseason investments in win totals are allowed, but not necessarily encouraged. It is easier to pluck out market inconsistencies before the season starts. If you're making an investment midstream, sportsbooks have already adjusted and accounted for the latest developments.
Try spotting schools that you believe are being clearly overvalued or undervalued prior to the first week of the season. Chances are your instincts will be more accurate then compared to later in the year.
Props can be even more exciting to bet on when they're viewed from a season-long perspective. In college football, sportsbooks that offer these wagers tend to focus on player accolades.
Some examples include:
- Picking the potential winner of college football's Heisman Trophy
- What's the over/under on the number of passing yards Miami's quarterback will rack up for the season?
- Which receiver will lead the country in touchdown receptions?
- Which running back will amass the most yards from scrimmage for the season?
- Which defense will lead college football in forced turnovers?
Broken-record style, college-football's available future props pale in comparison to those from professional sports. Still, many online sportsbooks will offer them—especially when it comes to picking the Heisman Trophy winner.
Shop around enough just before the start of the college football season, and you'll find something. These bets will also be more available just before the start of the playoffs, when the field of participating teams gets winnowed down.
Lessons Learned About College Football Betting
- Single-game spread, moneyline and over/under bets are the most common wagers in college football
- Live betting will let you make sense of the outcome of a game after it has already started—you just need to make decisions in real time
- Parlay wagers let you combine multiple predictions from numerous college football games to trigger a larger possible payout
- Prop betting involves more skill and knowledge than most people realize, but college football's best slate of available options typically isn't delivered prior to Bowl season
- Betting on future win totals and championship odds can be quite lucrative when done during the offseason, but you have the option of making these picks against less gaudy lines after the year is already underway
When most people bet on college football, they gravitate toward the run-of-the-mill wagers: straight spread picks, moneylines and over/under investments. Maybe they'll even throw in an occasional prop. Parlay bets fall by the wayside more than other [...]