The most popular way to bet on college football is against the spread, which is the number of points the favorite has to win by, and the number of points the underdog can lose by. Before we explain how college football point spreads work it is important to understand why there are point spreads in the first place.
A point spread is a way to make a game more fair. Everyone has a good idea on who will win a given football game, but the sportsbook number one goal is to have even bets on both sides of the game. If Alabama is playing against Montana State then everyone will immediately bet Alabama to win and the sportsbooks don't stand to gain much. To even the playing field they have added in the point spread. The easiest way to understand college football point spreads is to think about them as imaginary points you either add or subtract to the final score depending on which side of the game you bet.
When you look at a sportsbook you will see a number next to a team's name, one of these numbers will be positive and the other will be the same number but negative. The team that is more likely to win the game has the negative number and is called the favorite. For example if we go back to our Alabama vs Montana State example, Alabama may have a (-42) next to their team name, this means they are the favorite and they have to win the game by more than 42 points for you to win your bet. Montana State would have a (+42) next to their team name which means they are the underdog, and they can lose by 41 points and you would win your bet
The easiest way to figure out if you have won your bet against the point spread is to take the final score of the game and subtract the spread from your team's score if you bet the favorite, or add the spread to your team's final score if you bet the underdog. If your team wins the game with the spread added or subtracted that means your bet won!
If you are still confused read an in depth example of betting college football with the point spread below:
College Football Point Spreads Example: Clemson -7 (Clemson Must Win By More Than 7 Points) vs. Notre Dame +7 (ND Can’t Lose By More Than 7 Points)
When betting on the point spread, the favorite will always be indicated with a minus (-) sign in front of their number. In this scenario from a highly-anticipated game from last season, the Clemson Tigers were -7 on the spread line. This simply means that the Tigers must win by at least 8 points for you to win your bet if you bet on them. If the number lands on 7 exactly, your bet will push, and you will simply be refunded your bet back. The underdog will always be identified with a plus (+) sign in front of their number. If you wanted to bet on Notre Dame here at +7, that means that Notre Dame cannot lose the game by more than 7 points. Luckily for people who bet the underdog, if the games ends up being decided by exactly that number, they still win the bet.
In this game, Notre Dame was the underdog by 7 points against the favored Clemson Tigers. In one of the best matchups of the year last season, Clemson came into Notre Dame as the No. 1 team in the country, but missing their star QB Trevor Lawrence. Notre Dame was the No. 4 team in college football, so this was a heavily bet on and anticipated match. Despite not having Lawrence, Clemson was still favored by quite a bit, which is indicated in their -7 spread line odds. Bettors who laid the points were disappointed and went home empty-handed, as the Fighting Irish prevailed in an OT classic to take down the No. 1 team. Clemson had their chance at the end of the game to come through for their backers and potentially tie the game, but failed on a fourth and long attempt. It was clear how much Clemson missed Lawrence, as the Irish focused on stopping star RB Travis Etienne instead, holding him to just 28 yards total in the game on 20 carries. They couldn’t get anything going on the ground, which forced their freshman QB D.J. Uiagalelei to pass all game.
Those who bet the Irish to win were rewarded with a nice payday, as they took home winnings on whatever they bet. Since they won outright, they clearly covered the +7 points. If a team that is plus the points wins, you automatically win that bet because they obviously didn’t lose by more than the number. Meanwhile, Clemson backers were sent home packing nothing after their bet failed to cover the -7 point spread. Since Clemson didn’t win by 8 points, or even push at 7, they lost the bet.
Lines are very easy to figure out. When someone says “What’s the line?”, they are basically just asking you what the spread is. In the examples from above, you’d just say that the line is seven with Clemson favored, and the odds are -110 both ways.
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