How’s Your Handicapping?

Most people hear the word handicap and instantly think of golf, but not us degenerates of the world. We hear handicap and we think spreads, over-unders, and money lines. Betting has as long of a tradition as you’ll find. It’s probably not older than prostitution, but as far as entertainment vices go, wagering has millennia under its belt.

If you want a discourse into the history of sports wagering, have a stop by this site. It’ll give you the skinny with an easy-to-read little comprehensive history of sports gambling. I just want to talk college football today. It’s the only sport for which I truly indulge my gambling urges. I put a little action on the NFL, too, but the asymmetric opportunities are simply not as prevalent as the college version.

So for any US readers that are unaware, sports wagering is currently only occurring in Nevada, Jersey, and Delaware. Technically, it’s legal in Montana and Oregon as they were grandfathered in during the passing of the PASPA aka the Bradley Act back in 92. Sporting events that are exempt from the act are horse racing, dog racing, and jai alai. Everyone else has to lay the casual wager against friends or family or use a bookie. As I stated before, here at Marginrich.com we do not condone nor endorse any illegal or unsanctioned sports wagering. However, human beings are going to be human beings and a bookie isn’t that hard to find.

Just be careful who you deal with. I probably wouldn’t lay any cash with Sal from Queens and his 200% vig. Plus, you don’t wanna a visit from Carmine, Sal’s 6’5 350lb knee-breaker who collects weekly. So if you really want to gamble on sporting outcomes, then be resourceful and be smart.

Now back to college football handicapping. For the sake of an all-encompassing reference, the bookmakers I’ll be referring to are the Vegas casino sports books. Their odds are readily ascertainable on dozens of websites. In just a moment, I’ll get to some useful sites to utilize as resources.

You have to understand that in going up against the books, it’s like traders going up against high-frequency trading shops. The books utilize advanced algorithms to determine their lines. Additionally, the most sophisticated bettors and betting syndicates all utilize sophisticated, algorithmic systems for determining opportunities. Despite that, the books can still be beaten regularly. First and foremost, you have to possess fairly in-depth knowledge of the sport. You can’t be laying money down and winning 55% plus without a solid knowledge base from which to work.

The devil is always in the details. You need to know the make-up of a roster before the season begins. How many starters return? What key positions? Are they Seniors? Is the coach new and what’s his experience? How was the recruiting class? Is this a rebuilding year? Will the formerly pass happy offense be shifted mainly to a ground attack in light of lost personnel? These are just some of the basic questions you have to explore and answer to establish a base from which to move forward from in handicapping against the books.

From that base of information, then you can obtain all the wagering statistics of any team that you need from a multitude of sites. My personal favorite website for college football is VegasInsider.com. Now this site alone has darn near everything you need to successfully wager against the books. Of course they have all the odds, but they also provide free insight into a great many of the games for the week. You can find Against-the-Spread (“ATS”) records and ATS trends for various factors such as: road or away, coach’s time in position, or performance at a stadium. This really is my number one resource for college football handicapping help.

Another must-reference site is Covers.com. It provides an easy to read PDF sheet listing all the week’s match-ups along with average scoring when home or away as well as the ATS record. Even the casinos offer this sheet up free of charge to patrons who manually pick up the sports book’s betting sheets. Rivals.com at Yahoo is very handy for getting quality information at a site dedicated to a specific college team. There you can find more specific updates on a team’s activities leading up to the game. Finally, I check the SportsConnection site, courtesy of Station, for quick injury updates on any key players. You don’t want to be laying money blind on a team that is sitting a star player or just lost someone for the year during a practice. There are dozens and dozens of sites for you to enhance your handicapping ability. These just happen to be my 4 go-to sites. Additionally, The Wiz of Odds is a very handy resource as sort of a catch-all site that offers up a little bit of everything for the bettor.

Now armed with a load of information, you’re ready to take on the books. Even if you don’t have the last 60 years’ worth of data or complex databases crunching everything for you, the brain will suffice to process enough relevant info to win more than you lose. Remember, the sports book is not trying to get everybody to lose so they can keep all the money and pay nothing. Sure it’s nice when bettors lose, but the books are trying to maximize the total amount of bettors laying action every week. That way they maximize their commission which is built into the payout structure. They have to toe the line on odds closely enough to draw the bettors in but can’t make it so hard to win that bettors take their funds elsewhere or stop wagering altogether. That toeing of the line is what makes it possible to win at a greater frequency than lose.

ATS this year, I’m winning at a 64% clip. Week 1 – 58%. Week 2 – 68%. Week 3 – 64%. Now you say, so what? But you really only have to average about 55% to generate solid positive cash. You start winning against the book at over a 60% rate, and depending on amounts or methods utilized, you can make some serious cash. Obviously, if you can successfully parlay some bets versus just playing straight-up ATS wins then you’re going to significantly impact your bankroll.

For the uninitiated, parlaying is simply combining wagers into one overall bet. For example, you take OU on the points, Alabama in the Under, and East Carolina on the points. If you were to bet each of those individually at a sports book at $20 a bet, you’d have the chance of winning around $55 in profit. Parlaying those three together takes your payout up to $120 for one single $20 bet, but obviously you exponentially increase the risk of loss of capital. That’s why the books are so ready to parlay. Additionally, the money-line is a play that every once in a while will present a great opportunity to garner a juicier payout. The money-line dog play is almost always a loser, but when you catch one, you can often get 1.5, 2, or 3 to one on your bet.

It’s easy to go online and make a claim. But I’m willing to toss my picks out there to see if, at least for this week, I can walk the walk. I have found that the books consistently underrate and overrate scenarios regarding offenses, defenses, upper-classmen, returning players, coaching, the “saltiness” of a team, and many other factors. These misratings of risk are what create the asymmetric opportunities for generating profit. Have a look at the Auburn/Kansas St. game. I played the under as both defenses are stout with heavy run-based attacks. They scored a total of 34. Winner, Winner…except I failed with the Auburn pick on the points.

All that being said, allow me to list out my picks for not only the NCAA but the NFL too, just for kicks.

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Now to be an even bigger douche-bag, I’ve been picking one “lock of the week.” Historically, my “lock picks of the week” perform terribly. I’m much better collectively than I am at singling out what I think is the best pick. For some reason in 2014 though, I’m 3 – 0 in the NCAA this year and 2 – 0 in the NFL. So consider yourself warned regarding my history of “locks of the week” but the locks for this week are Missouri against Indiana, and the 49ers against the Cardinals. Although I feel good about those choices, I’m going to refrain from saying “take those to the bank.”

I use Excel to keep track of everything. If you’re just casually betting, no need to track anything. But if you take a more serious approach and you can’t afford to lose your funds, then you need to be tracking every move you make. It will allow you to establish trends and better manage your risks.

Speaking of trends, before each season I like to evaluate essentially all the FBS teams and attempt to ascertain which have the potential to consistently beat the spread during the season. I did not do well at all in choosing teams for that to start 2014. The teams were: Navy, Washington St., Iowa St., Mississippi St., University of Texas-San Antonio, Utah St., Cal, Iowa, Northwestern, and Indiana. Their collective record was 11 – 16 against the spread through the first 3 weeks of the college football season. It must be noted though that Cal covered both their games and Navy, Iowa St, and UTSA covered 2 out of the 3 games, so those 4 are worth keeping an eye on. Incidentally, Texas-San Antonio is returning 21 out of 22 starters. Thirty-seven of their players are seniors and they’re coached by Larry Coker. Yeah you read that right, LARRY COKER, as in the guy who assembled the most talented college football team in history, the 2001 Champion Miami Hurricanes. Seventeen players from that Miami squad went in the first round of the NFL draft. At least six of them were Pro Bowlers. That squad was silly good and I don’t know what Coker is doing in San Antonio, but I like his chances to cover in a bunch of games this season.

So after week 2, I revised my list of teams I’ll be either observing or laying money on as I think they’ll have greater odds to consistently cover, and that list of squads has performed admirably. Their collective record against the spread in the first 3 weeks of the season is 20 – 4, going 7 – 1 in week 1 and a perfect 8 – 0 last week. The data is out there for anyone to collect and disseminate should one so choose.

Even if you don’t like to bet, college football is such a great sport to spectate. Really I have a love for most of the college sports because the game is played with a genuine passion and pride before the money and fame jades the young athlete. Hope you liked my quick spin on sports wagering and the break from the stock market, even if it was just to talk about another market. For a nice little discourse on successfully handicapping, feel free to read this article at About.com. It’s short, fairly thorough, and touches on a little more overall detail. Good luck out there this weekend and enjoy the match-ups.

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