What to Look for When Betting the College Football Playoff

College Football Playoff

The fans asked for it, and those in charge of the sport answered the call. For the time being, I’ll pretend that the outcry for a college football playoff has solved all the controversy and that everyone is simply happy to have something resembling a tournament.

In reality, diehard college football plans still have their complaints. As for the majority of sports fans, who don’t have a dog in the fight, the real question is, “how do you bet these matchups?”

In this article, I’ll get into the things to look for when betting on the college football playoff.

Look at the Data (Even Advanced Metrics)

If there’s one area college football is not lacking, it’s data. Although the computers no longer directly determine who the final two teams will be, they still have a major influence on the sport in general.

It’s likely that you’ve seen the CFP (College Football Playoff) breakdowns when the committee compares resumes based on a number of different factors. Typically, metrics like strength of record, win quality, and many others are all put together through a process nobody really understands.

College Football Stats

Although the formulas might remain a mystery, you can still use the data to your advantage. No single number is going to indicate which team is going to win, but if you recognize that one team is significantly better in every (or close to every) stat, that might tip you off that the matchup won’t be as close as will probably be predicted.

It won’t necessarily be an enjoyable process diving into all the numbers, but if you’re willing to do the research that others aren’t, you’re going to set yourself up to have a major advantage over the public. Even the most casual of college football fans typically have some opinion of the teams in the final four, which means bias runs rampant – put yourself above “feelings” by looking at the numbers.

At the end of the day, all information is good information. When you have as much data available as college football provides, it’s foolish not to use it when making your picks.

Evaluate Based on Recent Performances

One of the interesting things (and there are many) about the college football playoff selection process is that it seems to include a heavy dose of recency bias. Meaning, teams that perform strong at the end of the season often get more favor from the committee than those whose best games are at the beginning of the season.

This also applies in terms of evaluating losses – if a team suffers a bad loss during the second week of the season, they can overcome it and still make the playoffs. If a team loses unexpectedly toward the end of the season, it can be problematic for their championship hopes.

Justin Fields

The point isn’t that the committee flat-out ignores the first part of the season, but they recognize who a team was in September is not who a team will be in late December or early January. If this philosophy works for them, it can work for you as a bettor, too.

When you look at the matchups in the playoffs, it’s a good idea to look at a team’s performance throughout the entire season. With that being said, you should place more emphasis on the final few games of the season to gain a more accurate picture of how a team will play in the final four matchup.

Whether it’s due to injuries, coaching changes, personnel changes, or a range of other factors, it’s a safe bet (no pun intended) that the teams competing for a championship aren’t the same teams you observed in the early games – regardless of opponent.

The bottom line is that if the idea of putting extra weight on the final few games of the season to determine which version of a team is playing in January is the best way the committee can evaluate, it should be your mindset when looking at your betting choices as well.

Consider the Total Instead of the Spread

When looking at a matchup, there are times when it’s easier to predict how the game is going to play out in terms of pace and scoring than it is to know which team will end up winning. If you’re not able to feel confident in picking a team, perhaps the best option is to play the total instead.

When looking at the different factors that go into choosing the over/under, it’s important to not just look at the scoring numbers of each team, but the type of game they play against an equal opponent. Often times, teams that score 50+ points against lesser opponents take a different gameplan approach when they can’t simply out-class the other team due to personnel advantages.

Instead of looking at scoring as a whole, highlight the biggest matchups of a team’s season.

These are the only real indication of whether or not a team is capable of putting up a high number of points against a quality opponent. Going about the evaluation process in this way might give you an edge over the public who puts too much weight on high-scoring games against bad teams.

In addition to looking at a team’s offensive performance throughout the season, make sure that all the key players of that offense are still healthy going into the final game. A star running back or wide receiver can go down, and this can go unnoticed by those who don’t follow the team on a regular basis.

Finally, remember that the general public tends to have a bias towards more scoring. This means the “over” number will often be inflated due to the changes in betting markets. I don’t want to suggest that you should blindly choose the under in the final four matchups, but history would suggest it’s the right call.

Look at Past Matchups, But Only if Applicable

It seems the main complaint of the college football playoff (yes, I know there are many complaints altogether) is that it often features the same handful of teams each year. This leads some to believe that there is information to be gained by looking back at past matchups.

The reality is that even if two teams have matched up in recent years, the current versions of the teams are going to much different than in the prior matchup(s). While I would still recommend revisiting those games to see if there are any consistencies with teams in question leading up to the game, be careful not to place too much stock in what might as well be considered ancient history.

In fact, if there has been a recent game between the two teams, it might be a good idea to go the other way of that result. For example, if Ohio State lost to Clemson by 10 points two years ago, that might mean an extra “inflated” point gets added to the spread as a result of public bias changing the betting markets.

Never Forget

Oddsmakers might set the initial line, but the movement which happens after that can almost always be attributed to public bias one way or the other. Your goal should be to evaluate things as objectively as possible. That means taking all factors, including the tendencies of the generally-uninformed public, into account.

The reason sports betting is both an art and a science is because you have to ask “why” the odds are what they are, and then use that information in a way that helps you profit off of the game as you see it, and the public’s bias.


Instead of wasting time arguing about why one team made it in the playoff over another, focus your energy into making these games a benefit to your bankroll. The NFL playoffs will be waiting just around the corner, and every bettor knows how challenging that can be.

At the end of the day, the three college playoff games are as good as it gets for both fans of the sport and those who make money betting on it.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …

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