Early Season College Football Betting Trends

Aug 30, 2023

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College football has a unique Week 0 where only a select few teams make their debuts, unlike the NFL where every team plays on the opening weekend. Fourteen FBS teams started their seasons last weekend, with the majority (13 of 14) playing again in Week 1 against a team playing in its first game of the year.

That raises a question of which is more crucial: Is it better to have game film of an opponent with a rest and preparation edge or is it better to have played a live game already?

Teams that haven’t played can view their opponent’s performance from the first game if they played in Week 0. That can be a huge benefit. Teams that haven’t played yet may also have an advantage in preparation. Teams who didn’t play in the first week of the season don’t have film. That means their opponent has yet to see them play.

For teams that don’t play in Week 0, the extra rest is beneficial as is not having to travel or deal with injuries suffered in a game. Look at Hawaii, which played Saturday night after a lightning delay in the humid climate of Nashville. Their athletes had multiple cramping issues and then had to travel over 4,000 miles back home.  They will play against Stanford on Friday night, making it an even shorter week for the Warriors. Stanford was off last week and will make the trip to Hawaii with extra rest.

How does it all play out?

Historical Trends

The answer is obvious in terms of historical against-the-spread (ATS) odds. The team making its debut has an advantage. Historically, teams playing their season opener against an opponent who has already played, including FCS teams, have covered at a rate of just under 55%.

The lower limits are a result of the FCS market’s significantly lower efficiency. As a result, if we only consider FBS teams, they have performed slightly better, going 56-33 ATS (62.9%), since 2005.

Only games played in August and September are included here. This eliminates eight season openers for Mountain West and Pac-12 teams in 2020 that started the season late because of pandemic-related issues.

Due to their upcoming games against FCS opponents, Ohio, San Diego State, New Mexico State, FIU, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, UTEP, and Jacksonville State did not make the cut. Navy, which has a bye this week, didn’t either.

2023 Games To Consider

There are five games that fall into this category. Nevada plays at No. 6 USC a week after the Trojans won their first game against San Jose State. Nevada is a 38-point underdog. The Spartans, after suffering a 28-point loss to the Trojans in Week 1, will take on No. 18 Oregon State on Sunday afternoon.

The three other games are as follows:

  • UMass at Auburn (-38) – UMass beat New Mexico State last week.
  • Louisiana Tech @ SMU (-20) – La. Tech beat FIU last week.
  • Stanford (-4) @ Hawaii – Hawaii lost to Vanderbilt last week.
Future Considerations

There are no conference matchups that fit this scenario this year. It’s a small sample size, but there is a big trend to watch when a team makes its season debut against a conference opponent that has played in Week 0.

There have been 17 such games since 2005. The team making its season debut is 14-3 ATS – that’s an 82.3 percent cover rate – and the winners are covered by an average of right around a touchdown per game.

You could argue that teams in that situation have an even greater film advantage and may unleash an even greater frequency of new looks. Just something to remember for future seasons.

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