CFB Win Totals: Relying on bowl goals
Close your eyes and picture your favorite fictional football coach. Maybe it's Denzel Washington trying to get us to remember a Titans team that I've already forgotten. Or perhaps it's Coach Eric Taylor who - even after a loss that took the Dillon Panthers out of the drivers' seat for State - still has us believing in those "Friday Night Lights."
Whether it's either of those two examples or someone else, a good coach will always convince you that there's something to play for. In college football, the goals are often uniform for the 100+ programs that have no shot at making the College Football Playoff:
1) Beat your rival
2) Make a bowl game
3) Win the Conference
The first goal is not something we can take advantage of as bettors. A rivalry game is, by definition, between two teams that both desperately want to beat each other, and the last goal requires sustained season-long success.
The second goal, however, doesn't require much college football knowledge at all. You simply need to understand what it takes to qualify for a bowl game: Six wins.
Once we know that six is the magic number for players, we can then hypothesize which college football teams likely won't reach the 9-10 win threshold needed to have a shot at a conference championship.
A quick warning: If you're pouring over mid-tier college teams' schedules thinking you will find a significant edge on what the professional oddsmakers have come up with, here's a secret - you can't. They're really good at this.
The good news is we can use the oddsmakers' ability to assign win totals to every program to do the work for us. When they set a win total at 8 or more or 4 or lower, they're telling us what they think of those teams. When they set the win total around 5-6, they're telling us these sides are thoroughly mediocre.
Generally speaking, when there are a few games left as the calendar turns to November, the 5.5-win teams are putting in work to get to six victories, while the 6.5-win teams are content with their total and clinching a bowl appearance, knowing a conference title is far out of reach.
The following chart shows the 'Power 5' programs with win totals lined around six and the price on their corresponding result of the side that wins if they finish on six victories. Blindly betting over on the 5.5-win teams and under on the 6.5-win teams will typically have you come out ahead.
|Team||Win Total||Bet/Odds||Last Game (Rival*)|
|Baylor||5.5||O -110||Texas Tech|
|>Boston College||6.5||U +165||Wake Forest|
|>Florida State||5.5||O -120||Florida*|
|Kansas State||5.5||O -120||Texas|
|Mississippi State||6.5||U +100||Mississippi*|
|>NC State||6.5||U -125||North Carolina*|
|Virginia||6.5||U -150||Virginia Tech*|
|Wake Forest||6.5||U +120||Boston College|
|Washington State||6.5||U -165||Washington*|
|West Virginia||6.5||U -110||Kansas|
However, there are a few exceptions, as an '>' next to the school's name notes. UCLA and NC State are two teams I like to do damage this campaign, and I would either steer clear of them or bet the over. And since I like the Bruins, I wouldn't need Cal to beat them in the final week to cash the over at 5.5.
Boston College and Florida State play each other in their penultimate regular-season game, which should likely decide their totals, so we might as well wait for that matchup if we want to back the Seminoles.
Taking Pitt to go under despite knowing they can accidentally beat woeful Syracuse in their regular-season finale isn't ideal. Meanwhile, Purdue's bowl hopes likely come down to a rivalry game with Indiana, meaning we can address that later as potential home underdogs.
Lastly, I have a rule never to fade Pat Fitzgerald and the Purple Cats, so let's take Northwestern off the list. That leaves 13 games for this system, and we'd be content with an 8-5 record to make it worth our while.
Matt Russell is betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on twitter @mrussauthentic.