Collegiate Motivation (8/30/10)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, August 30 at 2:28 PM ET
No, this blog entry is not about co-eds or choosing between participating in the Beer Olympics or studying for the next final. It's about pitfalls that are unique to betting college football games.

Personally, I prefer to wager on college games over the NFL. With such useful tools as we have access to, I feel as though I have a significant advantage over the public and the book because I can choose the few games from 40 or so a week where the lines are off. Not that many people know much about Florida Atlantic or UAB football, but the Predictalator doesn't care. It just tells me who will win and who will cover and if it is worth my action. Betting college football is not necessarily easy though, because the differences in levels of talent make motivation a tricky subject to maneuver.

A pretty safe assumption is made when analyzing the relative differences of two different football teams - both teams want and try to play their best. Usually, every player is putting forth 100% to prove himself and shine on what is now a national stage for every NFL and college (FBS) game. 100% may be different for each player. Some are hurt. Others are less talented. But it seems silly to think that not everyone on the field is trying. They motivated to win and perform well, to receive accolades and achieve the highest level of success.

Aside from preseason games and those in the last two regular season weeks, that's still a safe assumption in the NFL.

In college football, however, that assumption may not always be valid, which could cause some significant problems in betting. Motivation is an issue.

As of right now, Ohio State, our third-ranked team is favored by 28.5 against Marshall at home. The numbers say that Ohio State should win by 28.2, 39.3 to 11.1. The line seems appropriate according to our numbers and would probably yield a "no pick," but we would never recommend wagering on the game - unless, for some reason we had Marshall keeping the score close.

If Ohio State is up 35 - 10 after three quarters, which is a realistic possibility, it is virtually impossible to predict either team's motivation. In the Predictalator's logic, there is intelligence to ease up on teams and focus more on running when a team gets a big lead. But with third and goal from Marshall's 12 yard-line, late in the fourth quarter, would the real Buckeyes try for the touchdown? Would Ohio State's starters still be in the game? Who is playing for Marshall? What if the play concludes on the one-inch line and OSU has that to gain for a TD? Normally, these are easily answered question, but motivation just isn't clear in this scenario.

For this reason, unless the Predictalator output assumes the underdog will win or cover by a touchdown or more, we will never recommend placing action on any college football game where one team is favored by 22 points or more. It's just not worth trying to predict motivation, when the model is so good a predicting everything else and there are so many other games to choose. In other words, we don't recommend ever playing a favorite in a line that high and would only recommend the underdog if we have it covering 60% of the time or more. We will note this in the picks as well.

There is one caveat to the rule on heavy favorites in college football and that is with the potential for a "middle." The middle occurs when a line opens at one value and moves several points. There is a possibility to use the middle as a hedging mechanism where action can be placed on either side of it and both could possibly win. The value of the middle is directly proportional to the amount of points it covers and if it covers a number divisible by seven (i.e. on either side of a common total margin from touchdowns). Losses are minimized to just the book's juice.

To effectively succeed exploiting the middle, you must be reasonably sure that there will be a middle. Since the public typically likes to wager on favorites that they have heard of and they typically ramp up their plays throughout the day, teams in late games that open as favored by numbers 12.5, 19.5 or 26.5 are great candidates for this approach. If the predictalator has these teams covering, there is a good chance that the public will love them. So get in on the games early and late by playing the favorites as soon as possible and jumping on the underdogs if and when the line moves past a logical football scoring margin (i.e. 14, 21, 28, etc.).

And lastly, as the Play Value Calculator explains, be cognizant of the total of number of plays to make in one day and how that impacts your bankroll. There is no hard a fast rule, but we obviously recommend following the Play Value Calculator and limiting action to the top plays of the day. I personally play our picks using the Play Value Calculator's bankroll recommendations and the top plays I discuss in Paul's Picks.

With so many games going at once and the great advantages of's technology, wagering on college football can be very profitable and fun. Just be wary of potential motivation pitfalls, opportunity for the middle and how volume of plays affects bankroll management.