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While the product can look similar when trotted out onto the field, there are more differences than meet the eye when it comes to college football and the NFL; especially when betting. For starters, because of the shortened playoff system and the way the conferences are divided up, every game in college football is of equal importance as one loss can mean the difference between a spot in the College Football Playoff and another one-off bowl. In the NFL, the talent parity amongst teams is often so close, discipline, game plans, and coaching staff can make all the difference in the world between a team’s success and failure. Additionally, because there are just 32 NFL teams compared to 130 in the college (FBS) game, there are much fewer options for oddsmakers to focus their attention each week.
When it comes to a player’s motivation, I think the idea that NFL players can lack it is a bit overblown. At the end of the day, they may be in many cases financially well-off, but just as their salaries have increased so have their bills, and they are still playing for their livelihood. I do however think they have more of a baseline each week, wherein the college game, certain weeks mean more to players than others. In-state rivalries such as Arizona vs. Arizona State or Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State are almost always close games that feature kids who grew up playing against (or with) each other and recruited in the same circles. An angle I am constantly looking for is a starting quarterback or running back who is facing a team he grew up following, but was looked over by in recruiting. This added motivation isn’t always baked into the spread, and if you dig deep enough, it can prove to be that tiny edge you need.
This goes without saying for anyone who follows the sport in general, but the talent gaps that exist in college football are the biggest in sports. While like the pro game, the quarterback is the most important position on the field, the likes of Clemson, Ohio State, and other big-name programs have the athletes on defense that could play both sides of the ball for 80% of the 130 FBS college football teams. An easy way for sports bettors to be aware of the talent discrepancies is to look at the number of recruited four and five-star players that each team has and is trotting out on the field that week. If you look at the blue blood programs depth charts, you’ll see more four and fives than on the offensive and defensive lines than other smaller programs such as Virginia Tech or Hawaii have in their entire program.
Any Given Sunday
The phrase is thought to be cliche but in the NFL it is absolutely the case; any team can win on any given Sunday. Because NFL rosters are so small compared to the average college roster (53 vs. up to 125), the very best of the best are a dime a dozen and the talent amongst them is much closer than people would like to believe. Because of such talent parity, the difference in winning and losing often comes down to the culture instilled from the top and filtered down to the day to day operations in the locker room and coaching offices. Routinely in the NFL, double-digit underdogs win straight up, making the sport, in my opinion, the hardest to handicap of the major sports in America.