Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our Sports Betting Strategy and Advice page is for you. You can get started with our 101 section — including Common Sports Betting Terms — or head to more advanced strategy — like 10 Tips to Become a Sharper Sports Bettor — to learn more.
Of all the sports betting that goes on, no sport is more popular for players than football, the American kind. Between the NFL and NCAA, you can bet on games all day, every day during the weekend for five solid months. It can be confusing, though, especially college football. There are tons of games to choose from on Saturday afternoons, but the more games you’re playing, the worse your odds are of actually ending the day in the positive. When you’re just getting started, it’s important to know what you’re looking at and which options are the simplest and most beneficial.
There are hundreds of different bets you can place on each game. Combine that with the 50 or so games being played on any Saturday during the season and it’s easy to get lost or intimidated. I’m going to narrow things down for you with five basic bets that are fun and simple in the world of college football. A smart pre-cursor to the five basic bets below is to narrow your focus. Instead of surfing through 50 games, maybe pick your favorite conference (Big 10, ACC, etc.) and choose between those games exclusively.
Below, I’ll use an actual game from the 2019 season for every example to make it clean and easy to understand. The game featured is the RedBox Bowl between California and Illinois from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA on December 30th, 2019.
Bettors new to the hobby can be confused by spreads, but game totals are simple. Every football game has a total posted for the combined final score between the two teams. Bettors have the option to choose the OVER or UNDER, generally at -110 odds (risk: $110; win: $100). So if the total is 42 and you take the OVER, you need 43 points to win the bet. If you put a bet down on the over to win $100 and it goes over, you get back the money you initially risked, plus $100. If it stayed under, you would have lost your $110 and that’s it. If by chance the game ended with 42 total points, it’s called a push; when a game pushes, you get the money you risked back but nothing more.
ie: California vs. Illinois, Over 42 or Under 42
tip: Over bets can be a really fun social event with your buddies. Have everyone throw in a few bucks, then take the over together. Instead of getting pumped when one side scores, everyone is pumped for ANY score, all game.
The moneyline is the easiest way to test your college football knowledge: who will win the game? That’s it. The moneyline doesn’t use favorites or underdogs, it’s totally straight up. That said, the risk-reward can be challenging because they’re weighted. Instead of every game being around -110, like game totals and spreads, moneylines vary depending on the matchup.
For our example, California was favored by seven points over Illinois, meaning oddsmakers think the Golden Bears are a touchdown better than the Fighting Illini. If you took Cal on the moneyline, points don’t matter, they just need to win the game. But because it’s safer to take them straight-up without points, you’ll have to risk more when you make the bet — remember, they’re seven points better than Illinois in the eyes of the oddsmakers. In this case, Cal is -280 on the moneyline, so if you want to win $100, you have to risk $280. On the flip side, moneyline bets can be valuable when taking the underdog because it’s a riskier bet — they’re seven points worse than their opponent. In this case, Illinois is the underdog — +220 on the moneyline. You’d win $220 on a $100 bet if you picked Illinois on the moneyline and they pulled off the upset.
ie: California (ML -280) vs. Illinois (ML +220)
tip: Check their history against one another. Keep an eye on the injury report and the weather.
Player props are some of the most exhilarating bets you can place during a college football game, but they’re also easy to understand. For major conferences, you’ll have a wide array of options to choose from. Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, and sometimes tight ends will have props to choose from. It’s simple, fun and easy to follow, and odds on player props don’t vary as much as moneylines. Generally, prop bets are in the -110 range like generic spread and total bets.
ie: How many passing yards will Brandon Peters have against California? Over 250 or Under 250
tip: Check how players have performed in the situation they’re going to be in. Use split stats on any reliable site to see their numbers at home, on a neutral-site, in December, etc.
This is the easiest bet out there, and also the oldest bet in the book. People have been putting money down on heads or tails forever, yet it’s so much better when an official is flipping the coin on national television and someone else is calling it. Some of the lower-level games (ie: Marshall vs. Rice, etc.) may not have the option for a coin toss bet but national TV games always do. It’s quick and instantly gratifying (or disappointing). Coin toss odds are usually either -105 (risk $105 to win $100).
ie: What will be the coin toss result in California vs. Illinois? Heads or Tails
tip: Tails never fails.
The parlay is a little bit more advanced, but it’s not too difficult to understand. Above all, it gives a beginning bettor the chance to net a big chunk of money without risking much. All bets listed above are straight bets, the result coming from one outcome. Parlays differ because you group more than one bet together, winning if they’re all correct. The intrigue is that it’s riskier, like an underdog on the moneyline, so it pays out more than you’re risking. Grouping two bets at -110 odds will net you 2.6 times what you risked (see example below). Grouping three bets at -110 odds will net you six times what you risked, and so on. The more bets you group together in a parlay, the more you’ll win if they all hit. If you don’t want to bet a lot but want to have action on multiple games, a parlay is a perfect option.
ie: California (-7) & Over 42
tip: Taking the spread and total in the same game can be smart if you’re really confident in how the game will go. For example, if you know California is going to torch Illinois’ defense, you may have a winning bet on your hands if you take the Golden Bears to win and to go OVER. Or, if you think the game is going to be low-scoring no matter who wins, taking the underdog and the UNDER could be a rock-solid play.