Betting Bullets: College football teams bettors are targeting, fading

Bettors are already gravitating toward Alabama before the season has even started. David John Griffin

When veteran Las Vegas bookmaker Chris Andrews sat down this spring to make some of the first college football odds to hit the betting market, he faced new challenges stemming from last year's unusual, COVID-hampered season.

Teams appeared to have more starters returning than normal, Andrews said, even though some of them didn't play last season. Power ratings from the sources he had relied on the past varied much more than in previous years. In addition, there were many familiar names on new teams via the transfer portal, and Andrews was not convinced of the validity of the recruiting rankings for the incoming freshmen class, since many high school football seasons had be cancelled.

"That was all stuff I really tried to keep up on, and it was difficult," Andrews, the sportsbook director at the South Point casino, told ESPN. "I don't know how good or bad I did. I guess the season will tell."

Despite the challenges, Andrews set the opening lines on dozens of big games and conference win totals for every team. Bettors have been taking aim at his numbers for weeks, causing some lines and win totals to move significantly:

Alabama steam: Andrews opened Alabama as a 13-point favorite over Miami in its opening game Sept. 4 in Atlanta. Action came in on the Crimson Tide and line moved all the way to Alabama -17. The number is up to -18 at some sportsbooks.

The line moved toward Alabama in each six of the games Andrews opened involving the Crimson Tide.

"I always say, at this point in time, it's hard to get rich betting on Alabama," Andrews said. "I think Miami is going to be really good. They have more offensive line starts among their returning players than any other team in the country."

War Eagle worries: The line moved against Auburn in each of its six games that Andrews posted. The Tigers opened as 4-point home underdogs to Georgia on Oct. 9. That line grew to Auburn +7. The Tigers opened as 12-point underdogs at Alabama on Nov. 27. That line grew to Auburn +15.

Central Florida doubt: Bettors repeatedly faded the Knights under new coach Gus Malzahn in Andrews' opening numbers. For example, UCF opened as a 4.5-point underdog to Cincinnati. The line grew to Cincinnati -8.5. The Knights went from 6-point favorites to 3-point favorites against Louisville on Sept. 17.

Louisiana Tech win total: Andrews opened the Bulldogs to win 6.5 Conference USA games with -140 juice to bet the over. Enough bets came in on the under that Andrews was forced to move the line to 5 with -135 juice on the under.

"I really got steamed on them," Andrews said, "but let them play the season, and we'll see what happens. I did 120 teams. If I got only one wrong, that's pretty good."


Betting bullets

• Most bets to win the Heisman trophy at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill:

1. Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler (+550)
2. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud (+3,500)
3. Texas RB Bijan Robinson (+2,500)
4. Georgia QB JT Daniels (+1,200)
5. UNC QB Sam Howell (+1,500)

• Notable conference championship bets placed so far with Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill:

$3,000 on Utah (+1,400) to win the Pac-12
$1,000 on Nebraska (+2,500) to win the Big Ten
$100 on Kentucky (+6,000) to win the SEC

Series Scoring: Every postseason series takes on a narrative and that often changes between games. Matchups also dictate playing time and oddsmakers are certainly paying attention. And that often comes in the form of a game total or player proposition bets, while incorporating the public's tendency to react to what it last saw.

The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers just turned back the clocks to the 1990's with 29 combined points in the fourth quarter of Saturday's Game 4. The Clips have played 17 games in the last 36 days and the fatigue was palpable, especially while recently losing Kawhi Leonard to injury. So how does one respond with a Game 5 total?

"If you know the betting public will play one side, then you need to keep adjusting. It's just not a natural power rating of two teams; you really have to incorporate the public perception," head Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook head NBA oddsmaker Jeff Sherman told ESPN. "Look at the Bucks and Nets series, the total opened 240 (in Game 1) because of the regular season meetings and Game 7 was 215."

Propable Cause: The NBA often presents a headache for both oddsmakers and bettors because of load management and other uncertainties but injuries are a giant variable in all sports. The betting world must react, as the show must go on. Case in point is Atlanta Hawks star point guard Trae Young, who suffered an ankle injury in the second half of Sunday's Game 3. He will undergo an MRI on Monday.

The Milwaukee Bucks covered as 4.5-point favorites in Game 3 are currently 6.5-point road favorites in Game 4 at some sportsbooks but others have not posted a line yet. And while Young's health is a large factor to the outcome, the proposition bets are solely based on the player's performance and thus oddsmakers must demonstrate even more caution.

"We post these the day of the game and hopefully there's more information. I'll read some stuff Tuesday morning and then I'll evaluate what percentage he is and maybe shade it," Sherman said of Young's prop, which was 29.5 points and hit the over even before suffering the injury.

However, Sherman did raise concern about a similar scenario to Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis, who only lasted a few minutes with a groin injury after starting Game 6. "There's a chance I might not use him at all, if the injury sounds that bad. He could give it a try and then leave the game. So if that's the case, we'll only do the props for the other team. A guy like Trae Young affects the entire lineup."

Money Talks: Las Vegas sportsbooks famously face huge liability when the Vegas Golden Knights succeed and advance in the postseason. However, the underdog Montreal Canadiens did fetch decent handle during their playoff series with VGK.

"Taking away the Vegas bias, Montreal has generated some future money. A lot of times the sharp money stepped in and played Montreal against the hometown team," Stations Casino sportsbook director Chuck Esposito told ESPN. "We did see quite a bit of action come in on Montreal because they were down 3-1 to Toronto and obviously the price was skewed against Vegas. We are in better shape with Tampa Bay."

The Lightning are about -280 favorites to win the Stanley Cup and -210 home favorites in Game 1 on Monday night.


Betting industry notes

• 888 Holdings, an international gaming operator which operates a sportsbook in the U.S., partnered with Sports Illustrated last week. The partnership will lead to the creation of a Sports Illustrated-branded online sportsbook, which is expected to launch in Colorado in the second half of 2021.

• The North American legal sports betting market continues to grow. Last week, Canada passed legislation that will allow provinces to authorize and regulate sports betting. In the U.S., Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill that will bring sports betting to the state. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia now have authorized sports betting.