Should You Back Big Line Moves in College Football?

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James Skalski #47 of the Clemson Tigers. Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images/AFP

You consider yourself a fairly typical football bettor. You set aside a certain amount of money to start the season and your ambition is to double that amount at least that’s what the right side of your brain is thinking. The left side of your brain is telling you, “You better not lose it all!”

On Tuesdays, you make time at work to look at all the betting odds in college and pro football and try to find a few spreads you like in each sport when you place your best bets on Friday or the day of the game. One aspect that has always made you wonder, when a point spread moves two or more points or a total change by three or more and an injury is not part of the equation, how should you view this and ultimately, consider betting it?

Understanding Line Moves and How They Work

The first aspect to comprehend, what causes the oddsmakers and top sportsbooks to alter in either direction. The ultimate answer is money, but not all money wagered is viewed as equal. If you look at the odds, lines, and scores’ pages, just to the right of the teams listed, you have – betting percentages for the game.

That is the number of bets placed from their core source that tracks this information. This provides you with an idea of what the betting public is doing. If you click on a specific game, that will take you to a new menu and if you click next on – Line History – you can see in real-time when lines move.

If for example, Team A opened as a four-point home favorite and the day before the game the betting action was on Team B at 75%, but Team A was moved to -6, that would indicate, at least presumably, that was smart or sharp money was wagered.

Another scenario is Team C has 70% public support as a 10-point favorite in a marquee matchup. Several days pass and Team C has 85% backing less than 24 hours before kickoff and the line has not budged. What gives? The public is backing the favorite and the wise guys either are split or are passing.

The oddsmakers are sure their number is correct and are rooting for the underdog, hoping the public takes a bath. From a betting perspective, if you are on the same side as sharp money, you will have a better chance of cashing winning tickets.

Here is the Best Strategy for Betting Line Moves

For years, it was fairly easy to spot lines moves that involved smart money, it would happen after the lines came out in college football. Since around 2014, as betting continued to grow in popularity, two things happened. One, betting syndicates became more sophisticated and would lay early to manipulate a number on particular games, hoping to raise the number for a possibility to get middle.

(Betting both sides and hoping the outcome lands in the middle. Example: Team A -5 vs. Team B +6.5, trying to hit 6) Or, moving a number from a starting point to artificially adjust, to get the real number they want and double or tripling wager later in the week.

Because of the internet, enough gamblers making football picks want to emulate what the wise guys are presumably doing and they follow this line movement so they can say “I only bet sharp action”. This has helped confuse what used to be a rather potent way to beat the books when following the trends.

The smartest strategy today is either to follow line moves early or late and look for contests not involving publicly wagered teams (Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State to name a few). Say a favorite falls from -5.5 to -3.5 the morning of a game, you can check if this happened across the board at most sportsbooks.

If a book or two still has the underdog at +5 or + 5.5, you can follow the “steam move” on what is perceived as sharp money backing the underdog. If the best you can do is get +3.5, know that you have lost line value, however, you are still on the right side of a key number and use your discretion if the wager still makes sense.

It is wise to not get too hung up on following line moves unless you have developed enough skill to properly make them work for you. Always remember, smart money is very selective on what they want to choose and you should do the same.