Gamblers, bettors, and oddsmakers seem to universally take issue with college football’s Top 25, whether it’s the Associated Press or the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. These lists can have a lot of impact on the betting market, as casual bettors back public favorites because of their ranking and the perception attached to said ranking. The media will tout something as an “upset” because a ranked team goes down to an unranked team, but that unranked team was the favorite anyway.
Bettors shouldn’t completely ignore these lists because there can be valuable information mined from them, but they should in no way determine what side to bet. The value comes in gauging the market and anticipating line movement because volume tends to come in on ranked teams, especially if the line looks short to somebody who doesn’t completely understand how the betting market works.
Our preseason college football coverage has been some of the best in the industry, as we’ve looked at teams like Oregon, UCLA, and Texas A&M, and posted win total analyses for each of the teams in the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12. With the season rapidly approaching, we will be ramping up our coverage in the coming weeks, beginning with a look at the Top 25 through the eyes of a bettor.
Without question, there are going to be some teams that are overvalued and some that are dramatically undervalued on this list. The key, as it always is, will be to make the proper adjustments throughout the season. Preseason preparation is important because there are a lot of unknowns in college football. Roster turnover in college football can be difficult to track and coaches and coordinators are constantly shifting around. Schemes change and it is far more difficult to get a 20-year-old who was recruited exclusively to play defensive end in a 4-3 to learn a 3-4 as a linebacker than a professional at the NFL level. Junior college (JUCO) transfers can be impact players, busts, or face the same problems that forced them to junior college in the first place and wind up suspended or dismissed from the program altogether. There’s obviously no way to see all of the teams firsthand, but information from all types of sources and an understanding of the college football landscape can be extremely helpful. Everything can change once the teams get between the lines, but that’s still no excuse for being ill-prepared entering the season.
You may have heard the term “power ratings” thrown around pertaining to college football and the NFL. This series will represent the author’s preseason power ratings for the teams he determines to be in the Top 25. One of the best things about something like this is that it can generate discussion and all bettors should be united against the house. Perhaps you look at this list and vehemently disagree with the placement of a team. Perhaps you see a team in the Top 25 that you didn’t expect or, on the flip side, see a glaring omission. Maybe the team that you didn’t expect to be there will be a team that you take a second look at. Maybe the team that’s missing is missing for a reason and it causes you to dive deeper. Ultimately, the goal at BangTheBook is to inform and educate. That’s a two-way street for us, so don’t hesitate to reach us via social media or email to tell us how stupid we are or agree with the placement of a team. Every piece of information, good or bad, can have value.
The process for creating the power ratings has several layers. The author chose to use a 100-point scale by looking at eight different groups. Quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lines, and coaching are all graded on a scale of 4 to 15, with running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs graded on a scale of 4 to 10. That gives each team 100 possible points. All groups are rated in half-point increments.
A lot of variables are considered for the creation of the group’s rating. How much production was lost to graduation, the NFL, or transfers? Did the coach or coordinator leave for a new job? Did the group overachieve last season based on the talent level? Has that group improved over the last few seasons? If so, how much better can they get? If not, will they improve the next season? Did injuries play a factor in overall performance? What kind of talent is coming into the program for this season? How does this team’s talent stack up against the rest of the conference? Keep in mind that there’s an inherent bias in some of these numbers because of conference play. Even though we all want to see Florida State play Alabama or Oregon, it won’t happen during the season, so these may not be an entirely accurate representation of a line if those two teams played each other in Week 1. Readers should also understand that these numbers only apply to Week 1 and adjustments should be made from Week 2 through the end of the season.
All of these questions have to be considered, as well as a number of other factors. Without going too deep into all of the secrets of power ratings, the end goal is to use the power ratings to create game spreads. To use a made-up example, if Alabama is rated 95 and Auburn is rated 87, the neutral-site spread would be Alabama -8. Separate work is done to determine how much home-field advantage is worth and how much playing on the road affects the opposition. Naturally, power ratings can and should be adjusted on a week-to-week basis. If a team that passes the ball extremely well is taking on a tougher secondary this week, maybe their rating should be lowered even though they won 42-6 last week. That’s where the value comes in. Bettors, and possibly oddsmakers, are going to shade that line based on the previous performance. But, if you know that the team is facing a much stiffer challenge because your power ratings show the strengths and weaknesses of a team, you can find inflated lines and attack them. One of the hardest things for a novice bettor to do is put a team’s performance into perspective. If you do power ratings and you’ve never lowered a team after a win, you’re probably doing it wrong.
The spreads are then applied to games to find line value. If somebody’s power ratings put a spread at -14 and the oddsmakers come out with -9.5, that’s a game that a bettor will want to fire on. If your power ratings are accurate, your spreads, more often than not, will lead to a lot of games to pass on. While that can be discouraging at times, it means that you are on the right track with how you have rated a team.
Over the course of the next month or so, each of the Top 25 teams will be profiled with ratings included. These are meant to be a guide for your own research and not just something to blindly follow, especially considering that only 25 of the 128 FBS teams will be covered.
Plenty of exciting things are happening at BangTheBook.com in anticipation of both the college football and the NFL seasons. This series and the return of the weekly podcasts, The College Football Podcast and the Gridiron Gambling Report, as well as the integration of a new partner to the site will make BangTheBook one of the industry’s top sites for information, insight, free picks, analysis, and so much more.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.