- Fifteen teams finished with three or fewer wins against the spread (ATS) in 2017.
- The public will be tempted to fade these squads, but history tells us bad ATS teams bounce back for bettors the following season.
- We look at last year's worst ATS teams to determine which are poised to reward bettors in 2018.
The 2017 college football season was rough for Hawaii. After winning their first two games, the Warriors went 1-9 to finish the season. They covered their first game against Massachusetts as 3-point underdogs, but failed to cash another ticket all season resulting in a 1-10-1 against-the-spread (ATS) record.
Hawaii wasn’t the only team to let down gamblers. Fifteen programs finished with three or fewer ATS wins in 2017. The poor results stick with bettors, affecting their perceptions of the teams this fall. The public’s first instinct will be to fade these underperforming squads, and while that is tempting, history suggests bad ATS teams will bounce back.
Using Bet Labs, there were 137 teams that won three or fewer games ATS from 2005 to 2016. Here is how they performed the next season:
- 124 of the 137 teams (91%) improved ATS.
- 81 of the 137 teams (59%) went .500 or better ATS.
On average, these teams won 3.1 more games ATS the following season. This is good, but unfortunately you can’t blindly bet them as you would be down 40.5 units.
The most-heavily bet college football games are those featuring power-conference teams. If casual bettors fade poorly performing ATS teams from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC due to recency bias, this artificially inflates lines, leading to value backing them.
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Since 2005, 67 teams from the big boy conferences have finished with three or fewer ATS wins. The next season nearly every team improved at the ticket window:
- 65 of 67 teams (97%) improved ATS.
- 45 of 67 teams (67%) went .500 or better ATS.
On average, these teams from power conferences won 3.4 more games ATS the next season. If you just bet bad ATS teams from the Power 5, you would be up +17.6 units over the last 12 years.
The SEC is the most popular conference in all of college football. On any given Saturday, the most-bet game on the board will feature a team from the conference that has won nine of the past 12 national championships.
The SEC is the sweet spot for betting on poor ATS teams from the previous season. The sample is small, but since 2005, 16 SEC teams have won three or fewer games ATS.
All 16 improved their ATS records the next season, and 75% finished .500 or better. If you solely bet on bad ATS teams from the SEC, you would have covered the spread 55% of the time the following season, for a profit of +14.2 units.
In 2017, 15 teams covered three or fewer spreads. History suggests most of these teams will perform better for bettors this season. There is no guarantee, but USC, Florida State, Colorado, Indiana and Oregon State — all from power conferences — are teams likely to be undervalued by recreational gamblers.
If history is correct, the most likely teams to bounce back are Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky from the SEC.