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College Football Against The Spread Trends

College Football Against The Spread Trends

Several years ago I started looking at how each individual team performed against the spread in one year, and compared that to how they did the following season. I tend to gravitate towards teams who start to get on a nice little run against the spread, or teams in general who seem to be good against the spread just about every season like Boise State and TCU, and in recent years Alabama.

What I decided to do was to set an against the spread number or goal that a team would need to reach for me to consider them a success. I decided that 8 wins against the spread in a season would be a good target number to use as my “success point.”

After this I got out some of my old Power Sweeps that I used to collect at the end of each season so I could have the against the spread records for each team neatly compacted on a couple of pages.

I also wanted to use just one service, Northcoast Sports for the final lines on the games, since some services differ from others.  What may be an 8 win against the spread season for a team with one service may be a 7 win against the spread season for that same team with another service.

A look at each season since 2006

I basically started my against the spread record keeping back in 2006. Out of the 120 FBS teams, here are the number of teams who reached the 8 wins against the spread number that year:

                        Teams that had 8 or more wins against the spread

2006: 18 teams

2007:   9 teams

2008: 20 teams

2009: 18 teams

2010: 17 teams

2011: 22 teams

As you can see 2007 was a very unusual year in which we saw a lot of parity in college football.  It made it very difficult on us cappers since we really didn’t have many teams we could ride each week, since few teams could manage any kind of lengthy against the spread win streak.

Several reasons have been given for this strange season. But the reason I tend to believe the most was that 2007 was the first season that college football started to implement the highly successful QB blitz packages that the NFL had put in place just a couple of years earlier.

It meant a big change in college defenses, and it took a year for the offenses to adjust to the new schemes. We also had some very brutal weather across the country that season, which could have partially accounted for lower scoring and closer games.

It is difficult to repeat a “successful” against the spread season

Against the spread - Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State

The biggest reason I started keeping track of these teams was to see what they did the next season after posting a  successful against the spread season. I found that on average only 2 teams each year are able to repeat their “successful” against the spread numbers they had the previous year.

For example in 2010, 17 teams had “successful” against the spread seasons. But only one team (Oklahoma State) was able to repeat that number the following year. I’ve found in many cases that when a team has such a successful season, the public has a tendency to continue riding that team into the next season, no matter what kind of player turnover they may have had. And of course many end up disappointed.

Against the spread exceptions

There are always exceptions to the rule. Like teams who are trending upward, and happen to get 8 wins against the spread the year before having a really breakout season. Oklahoma State was a good example of this. They had been trending upwards for the last few years until they reached their pinnacle season in 2011 with a Big 12 title, BCS bowl win, and of course 8 against the spread wins to go with the 8 they collected the year before.

There have also been a few under the radar teams who get to 8 wins against the spread, but the public is still not buying into them as a legit winner. Utah State was one of those teams back in 2008-09. They weren’t quite good enough team to make it to a bowl, but they were good enough to give almost all of their opponents a good tussle and keep it within the number.

You seldom see the same team chemistry two years in a row

Last year the public was high on Hawaii, UCF, and Arizona State. All three teams were coming off double digit against the spread win seasons in 2010, and all three fell flat on their face in 2011 with a combined 12 wins against the spread between the three of them.

Non-BCS conference teams (non-AQ) who have great against the spread seasons like Hawaii and UCF had in 2010, are particularly hard pressed to repeat their against the spread success the following season. None of the non-AQ teams since 2006 (since I’ve been keeping records) have won more than 7 games against the spread the next season after coming off a double digit against the spread season the year before. And 7 is the high end, and it’s only happened once.

The average number of against the spread wins a team has the next season is just 5! How confident are you going to be betting on these teams each week knowing they probably won’t even reach a .500 against the spread season? I know I wouldn’t feel very confident. That’s why I didn’t bet on UCF or Hawaii during the entire 2011 season. I didn’t like my odds.

Now I don’t follow this rule blindly since there might be special circumstances or good spots where these teams could be a good wager. But they are few and far between. And it usually comes “after” the public finally gets off these teams and they once again have gotten back some of their line value.

Who were the teams who reached 8 or more wins against the spread in 2011?

Alabama (8)                     Arkansas State (10)                    BYU (8)

Georgia (8)                       Houston (10)                                Kansas State (9)

UL-Lafayette (8)              Louisiana Tech (10)                    Louisville (8)

LSU (10)                            Michigan St. (8)                           Oklahoma State (8)

Rutgers (8)                       San Jose St. (8)                           Southern Miss (8)

Stanford (10)                   Temple (8)                                    USC (8)

Vanderbilt (9)                   WKU (10)                                      Western Michigan (8)

Wisconsin (9)

In 2011 we had an extra high number of teams win 8 games or more against the spread. What struck me as very unusual about last season is the amount of non-AQ conference teams who reached double digit wins against the spread. I usually don’t see more than one or two reach that number each year.

What is even more unusual is two of those teams came out of the Sunbelt Conference. This is a conference that because of their tough non-conference schedules against mostly BCS teams, very seldom has an 8 wins against the spread team, much less two 10 games against the spread winners!

2012 non-AQ teams to fade

This season there are four non-AQ teams that I’m going to show caution in betting or just fade altogether. These teams are Arkansas State, WKU, Houston and Louisiana Tech.

The deeper BCS conference teams such as LSU or Bama don’t tend to fade quite as much unless their schedule gets a lot harder and they have larger than usual player turnover. But nevertheless I’m going to show caution when betting LSU and Stanford, both coming off double digit against the spread wins. LSU especially will probably have inflated lines this season.

Against the spread

Kansas State

Out of nowhere teams – CAUTION

Two other teams I’m going to approach with caution  are Kansas State (9 against the spread wins in 2011) and Vanderbilt (9 against the spread wins in 2011). What always makes me more cautious of these type of teams is the fact that they were “out of nowhere” against the spread teams. Much like Arizona State was in 2010.

I guarantee you they’ll have plenty of fans either blindly waging on these teams, but hear me now and believe me later, you better approach with caution. They won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year. Unlike last season, they’ll have to earn every inflated line they get.

2012 against the spread winners

For the last six years this has been something I’ve played around with in the preseason. Some may find it helpful, some may not. Just keep in mind that college football is about public perception and the warm fuzzies that winning teams give you when you beat the books.

But when it comes to the successful against the spread teams, the past is the easy part. It’s digging for the future success stories that is the hard part.

In Part 2 of my against the spread trends, I’ll be giving you my predictions of who I think will have a good chance of getting to that successful 8 wins against the spread number.

Let me know what you think! GS


11 Responses to “College Football Against The Spread Trends”

  1. SoonerBS says:

    Good article here, GS, and a lot of truth in it. The successful gambler doesn’t get attached to one or two teams in B2B seasons. Vegas catches on to these trends as well.

    I agree with you on Kansas State and LSU. I think Vegas will likely inflate the lines on these teams a bit. Although, I think Kansas State is still going to be one of those teams that brings down almost every football game to the final drive. That is just Snyder’s style of play. Unlike last year though, I think K-State’s luck runs out this year and they lose several more of those close games. It is going to be hard for me to bet on ANY K-State games where they are laying points and I will probably stay away from their lines even if they are getting points Under a TD. However, the opposite effect should hold profitable — fading K-State whenever they are giving a good number of points should be a good bet this year.

    I think Oklahoma State could be another team that gets inflated lines. They are on a rare B2B run of 9 ATS wins seasons. Unlike some of the dumb Pokes around here, I think this is going to be a rebuilding year this season. Playing a true freshman at college football’s most important position is going to reap some mistakes. I think since Gundy has his contract well secured now, he is more willing to use a season to build for the future. I already see Vegas over-inflating that Arizona game line at -9.5. We can talk more about this game later, but I think if all things remain the same, Arizona has a chance to win this game SU and having +9.5 for cushion is a gift.

    By the way, you just had to mention 2007, didn’t you? (Aarrghhh)

  2. GoSooners GoSooners says:

    BS…I agree about K-State, with the style of football they play, they’ll probably be in about every game this year. But the difference this season is they won’t be a dog in most of those games this time. The only two games they were favored in Big 12 play last season was against Kansas and Iowa State. And they were just 1-1 ATS in those games. This is where the problem lies with this team. They are a team built to play tight games and cover spreads as dogs. But with their disciplined style of offense where they’ll use up all 4 downs at times to keep drives alive, they won’t be a good team at extending leads and covering the bigger spreads as favorites.

    A good example of the difference between last year and this year will be their second game against Miami. Last year they were +13 dogs at Miami. This year they’ll probably be double digit favorites, or close to it. What I’m hoping will happen is KSU covers their game against Miami. This will give us some nice inflated lines down the road. And that could very well happen. When I watched the KSU/Miami game last year, KSU could have beat them by 3 TD’s if it hadn’t been for some uncharacteristic mistakes. So they could very well cover that number this year at home as long as the line doesn’t get too inflated.

    About OSU, their biggest problem will be in the passing game. I think they’ll be a terrific rushing team. But there are two problems I have with the Pokes this year. They’ve basically been a program that Gundy built for the last 3 years to reach their goal of winning the Big 12 title and make it to a BCS bowl. Where do you go from there? I think what will happen is they’ll relax a little and rest on their accomplishments this season while trying to get back some of their swagger which they are sure to lose this year. So yes, I would say this is at least a semi-rebuilding year in more ways than one. One other important fact that I don’t think I mentioned in Part 1 of my Spread Trends is NO team has won 8 games ATS or more 3 years in a row since I’ve been doing this! Something to keep in mind with the Pokes this year. With a freshman QB and inexperienced receivers, they are more than likely going to have an under .500 ATS season. Which will make me very hesitant to bet on them.

  3. Trentmoney says:

    Good research GS…similar to NFL win totals that get stretched each year based on the teams performance the prior season…if you faded the move on rams, bucs, and bengals the last few years you would have been quite profitable (i’m on rams over 5.5 this year)

  4. The Commish says:

    Great read, can’t wait for part 2. USC looks to be loaded again and I would expect them to do well as other Pac-12 teams drift off. Stanford on the other hand looks to be a big loser here with losing leaders on that squad.

  5. Shoebox says:

    I like the potential of the site, but I’m at a loss why a serious handicapper of the game would spend any time with this type of thing.

  6. GoSooners GoSooners says:

    Shoebox…If your a game to game or week to week handicapper, this kind of info will probably mean nothing to you. To me, playing the spreads in college football and the NFL is no different than going to Las Vegas and gambling. I prefer to find the games that give me the best odds at winning. I look at college football the same way. I try to find the teams that will give me the best odds of beating the spread.

    All I was trying to give you was a little bit of a pattern that I’ve noticed over the years when it comes to teams covering spreads. And tie that to how on average they’ve done the next season. Will it keep you from making a play on a side you really like? Probably not. But what I’m trying to do is give you the big picture on how a particualr team will do during the season based somewhat on how it did last year. There are patterns to how teams play after having big seasons ATS. And there are other teams like for example Notre Dame, who has always been a public team, but a poor side for betting. I like to have this kind of info at my side before diving blind into a new season.

  7. Shoebox says:

    Ok, that makes a little more sense to me. Early in the year is more difficult as a whole with no or little data for the current team. I have just found over the years that trends, in my opinion, are more misleading than helpful. That would also hold true for data carried forward to the next year.

    Pez…Each matchup has it’s own set of characteristics. For starters I would spend time on statistics, situations, regression, and other vital things that would be important to a good model. As you probably know, it would take a book to explain everything.

    • Pezgordo Pezgordo says:

      Shoebox, thanks for the expanded explanation. I am big into stats but only recently (a few years ago) started getting into regression analysis and models. I would love add some information on those subjects onto the site but don’t feel qualified to write about it. Send me an email if you have any interest and/or anywhere/anyone you can direct me towards? Thx.

  8. FadeMeToWin says:

    This is great info for the upcoming season. I will keep this list handy. I have to agree with you on the Vandy team that surprised many last year.

    Thanks for putting this together and sharing it.

  9. GoSooners GoSooners says:

    FadeMeToWin…It was my pleasure. I hope this info helps. It certainly has helped me over the years. I should have my list of teams that I think have a good chance to beat the spread this year up by sometime early next week. 2012 should be an interesting year. This looks like the most wide open season of football that I’ve seen since 2007. At least it appears that way to me…Good luck


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