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In our first email we discussed the different college football betting seasons and how important it was to make adjustments to your handicapping strategies once teams entered conference play.

The biggest difference between playing a non-conference opponent as opposed to playing a conference opponent is the familiarity factor.  Non-conference opponents rarely, if ever, have played each other in the recent past and are more than likely unfamiliar with each others player personnel and coaching tendencies. This creates more unknowns that can lead to more variance concerning the game’s outcome.

Teams that play in the same conference play each other every year (or in some conferences nearly every year). Games between conference opponents most likely will produce fewer surprises. The players and coaches will have a far better idea of what to expect, which makes preparing for a conference opponent easier than for a non-conference opponent.

Rivalries and Intensity

There are only a handful of non-conference rivalries that are played on an annual basis (USC/Notre Dame, Georgia/Georgia Tech, Kentucky/Louisville, South Carolina/Clemson and Army/Navy come to mind). However within conferences, rivalries exist between multiple teams, players and coaches. This means that the intensity level gets cranked up when playing and preparing for certain teams within your own conference.

Conference games matter more for most teams than non-conference games for several reasons:

  • Most teams do not have national title aspirations. This means that winning non-conference games are not nearly as important as winning conference games.
  • Conference games matter more for bowl placement. All conferences now have bowl tie-ins and the better a team’s conference record, the more likely that team goes to a more desirable bowl destination.
  • Conference games matter more for recruiting.  Again, unless you are one of the dozen or so teams with national title ambitions and thus have national prestige, most conference schools will be recruiting from the same geographic areas. Therefore performing well within your own conference is paramount to future recruiting and success.

Conference play can also be a double edged sword. The player and coaching familiarity, ramped up intensity and inner-conference rivalries certainly lead to many close, hard fought games. However this week in, week out grind of high intensity football can also be a grind and lead to some pretty bad blowouts. No team can play at a high level every single week, no matter how much talent or experience you have.


The classic example I like to use when trying to explain the importance of conference familiarity is USC during the Pete Carroll era. No out of conference team could beat USC from 2003-2009, let alone get within double-digits of them. The Trojans were 34-1 in non-conference games during that span, losing only to Texas in the 2005 National Championship game. Yet during that period PAC 10 foes regularly played them tough and on occasion even beat them.

Non-conference opponents were simply unprepared for the collection of talent and speed that USC brought onto the field. Conference opponents on the other hand knew exactly what to expect and how best to prepare for it. That didn’t necessarily mean they could do much to stop it, but it did improve their chances of playing more competitively and on rare occasions even springing the upset.

In conclusion, when handicapping college football games I believe you need to approach conference games a little differently than non-conference games. Non-conference teams play each other infrequently, and since the majority of these games are played in September, they usually only have a few games of film to review (or film from the previous season). Conference play is an open book and for this reason you just seem to get a lot of very close competitive games and/or total blowouts.



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