WinPicks Reference Manual

Appendix A.6. College Football Handicapping

College football handicapping with WinPicks is similar in many respects to pro football handicapping. As with pro football, you need to decide how many weeks of stats to use, and which prediction formula to use. However, since college football is a different game than pro football, the size of the database you use may be different, and the contents of prediction formulas are very different.

When choosing a database, remember that the turnover rate among college players is high. Most teams lose about half of their starters from the previous season to graduation. For this reason, many college handicappers prefer a season-to-date database that uses games from the current season only. This type of database might not work well early in the season, but generally improves as the season goes on. Other handicappers prefer a rolling average of 4 to 8 games, to accurately reflect how a team is playing now.

Before choosing a prediction formula, try creating your own. We supply several formulas that have worked well in past seasons, but your own formulas might do better. The ANALYZE option lets you instantly test any formula to see how well it works. Unlike pro football formulas which are based on actual game statistics, college football formulas are based on home field advantage, margin of victory, and the relative strength of the conferences.

Having a good understanding of the relative strength of the conferences is the key to successful college football handicapping. Although people talk about parity in college football, it doesn't really exist. There is actually a large disparity between the strengths of the various conferences and teams. The large number of teams makes this disparity statistically unavoidable. With about four times as many NCAA Division-1 teams as NFL or NBA teams, there is a huge top-to-bottom difference in the quality of teams that doesn't exist in pro sports. In pro football, a 40 point victory over any team probably means a team is prety good. In college football, a 40 point victory over a Big 10 team is meaningful, but a 40 point victory over a Sunbelt Conference team may not mean anything at all to a team from a major conference. In fact, many a Division-1 team has scored a 30 or 40 point victory in non-conference play, and went on to win only 2 or 3 games all season.

When creating college football formulas, it is often wise to use the first week or two of the season to get a good feel for how the conferences are stacking up so you can assign an accurate value to each conference. You'll probably find that the SEC, Big 10, Big 12, and PAC-12 are going to be much stronger than the Sunbelt, Conference USA, and MAC. It's also wise to use the Formula Tuner to optimize your formulas so that they produce the best possible results.

You should also be aware that college lines can be much larger than pro lines. Pro football lines of larger than 17 points are extremely rare. On the other hand, Nebraska was favored by more than 30 points 54 times from 1985-1999. On four occasions, they were favored by more than 50 points! For many handicappers, the big lines represent a real opportunity. When the oddsmakers have to set lines ranging from 0 to 50 points, instead of 0 to 17 points, they are more likely to make a mistake. This is one reason why many gamblers believe that college football is easier to "beat" than pro football.

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