In the information age, the arms race for sports betting information has mirrored the arms race of major football programs around facilities. Having the complete history of every college football team with their win-loss and against the spread records isn't a luxury anymore, it's as required as oak lockers with iPad docks & PlayStations are for big-time recruiting.
When I was fresh out of high school, I worked in a fine dining restaurant with a talented head chef that was much more into the game on the TV screen than the entree in the window. His oversized digital pager vibrated on all line changes and injuries during football season, and the quality of his food fell markedly if one of his plays had a starter blow an ACL in practice, but he was also a very sharp sports bettor.
He had an Excel spreadsheet where he charted the entire history of the NFL going back multiple seasons in massive detail. When he first showed it to me, I must have looked at it like Tim Roth did the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. It was a Rosetta Stone of knowledge that gave him an edge on his fellow degenerates because he simply had more data than someone reading the paper every day. The amount of time and care he put into it was a big factor in his being able to win nearly 20 years ago, but now every cell he lovingly entered by hand is available for free.
And that means the guys that set the lines have it too. The information explosion means you have to dig even deeper to be a consistent winner, as well as be fast when new knowledge comes to the table. This week, we'll discuss some of the tools available to do correct research, and how to implement them to become a college football winner.
Know thy teams: As we mentioned last week, we encourage you to focus not on every game, but on a smaller subset of football. Smaller conferences tend to have great value, but you'll need to know as much as you can about each team no matter where you're deep-diving.
The great Bill Connelly of SB Nation's Football Study Hall gives you two resources that are absolutely invaluable: His super in-depth season previews of every FBS team, and his list of every school-issued media guide in major college football. Make sure to double-check all of the non-statistical information in the media guide, as those are created by sports information directors across America that are paid to make the team look as strong as possible. They're still useful, but some independent verification of how many recruiting stars that right guard had coming out of high school via the actual recruiting websites is usually necessary.
Also Ourlads.com has been great this year about keeping depth charts updated as they're issued by schools. These are great for seeing not only who is moving up and down the coaches ladder, but also for figuring out how much an injury could hurt a team.
Let's take Oklahoma State's Vili Leveni as an example, who blew out his Achilles in conditioning about a month ago. He was projected as a starter and solid player for the 'Pokes, and now is replaced at DT by Eric Davis. Davis has 9 games in his college career played over two seasons, and just three total tackles. This could be a major factor in how effective OKSU's defense is this season in the pass-happy Big XII.
Checking out the progress of the defense via OKSU's beat writers might help give you some insight to Davis' progress. Read the daily practice reports from reporters, but don't overvalue them either: coaches and players have been known to say things to the media that aren't actually true. Shocking I know. Independent eyes are always best, and if you trust that the writers watching have a decent knowledge of football, you'll likely want to listen to them more than the quotes in their pieces.
There are of course tons of statistical insights available (we'll have much more on this as the season continues), but one that really stands out are the F+ ratings from Football Outsiders. It's a great tool for helping to factor luck out of a team's fortune as their season is happening. Sometimes teams are just unlucky, but actually pretty good on the field. Also the reverse is true, and teams can be rather terrible and still winning (see Florida, South 2011). Eventually their luck should even out, and betting on or against these trends is of course how you're going to make money.
Knowledge is power. Acquire as much as you can before kickoff.
Know thy lines: There are services available that will give you line changes instantaneously, and if you're a full-time professional handicapper they're probably as de rigueur as a Bloomberg terminal is for those in the financial services industry. Those guys will also often need a Stats, Inc. account, which runs four figures annually.
However instead of a hedge fund manager, this column is geared towards the guy with an ETrade account and a 401k: you're probably not trying to do this for a living, you're just trying to make a few bucks while watching a game you love. So we'll focus on free resources available to everyone.
A site that compares lines as they move between different books is a great way to ensure you're getting the best price on the game for which you're wanting action. ScoresAndOdds.com is good for tracking how a line has moved, and their Casino Grid compares most of the Las Vegas casino odds with a few offshore spots. Sports Insights free tool focuses mostly on offshore, which is where comparison shopping can really get good. You'll often find some arbitrage opportunities just by looking around. For example, as I'm writing this, here's their board:
As of this posting, you can bet equal amounts of money on South Carolina at -3 +111 at Pinnacle, then North Carolina at -3 -105 at Bookmaker, and you literally can't lose: if SC wins, you'll win $6 for every $100 you wagered on them after paying off the losing UNC bet. If UNC covers the spread or the game ends as a USC 3-point win, you push. It's totally free money. WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS AND NOT GAMBLING??
Note: call a friend in Europe you trust to set up a Pinnacle account to take advantage of this. They're a tremendous site, but American dinero es no bueno with them.
Things like this are why keeping a few wagering accounts open isn't a bad idea as lines can vary greatly on just one game. You can also use this knowledge to possibly help move your local Short Term Investment Broker (RIP the great Chris Thomas) more towards a number you might like more. These "independent businessmen" of course have a greater ability to vacillate on the lines, and might be willing to give you half a point here and there as a thank you for your continued business.
Remember to move quickly, and form an opinion:
Jamie and I often go over the lines once they drop for the week, but an even better system is to form an opinion before a line even hits. If you trust the work that you've done, and your knowledge of the teams involved, set a line in your head for a game before it's issued by the bookmakers. If the bookies come out with the same number you did, it's probably a good sign to stay away from that game. If you think they're off by several points, put some money on it, and do so quickly.
The reason is you're not the only sports betting genius around, and there's often many other people that feel the same way you do. The "sharp" money (guys that are winning in the long run) could come in and move a line significantly. Don't believe they can do this? Watch this 60 Minutes piece on sports betting legend Billy Walters, as it shows some of the techniques he uses to slice and dice sports books all over the world.
Jump on a line when it hits, and don't be afraid to jump on the other side and try and catch a middle when the rest of the sharps hit a game as hard as you did: remember, if just one out of ten middles catch, you're swimming in cash. And you'll likely hit a much greater percentage than that because that zone is where a game is projected to end up anyway.
We'll have more about different techniques for betting as this season continues, and offer up some more thoughts on actual lines like we did last week as we move forward. But for now, it's just 13 days until college football games on which you can wager amounts of cash. Time to get head down to the local credit union and get that second mortgage on the house if you really plan on cleaning up this season.