Don’t Buy Into College Football’s Home Underdog Narrative

Aug 28, 2019 10:00 PM EDT
Credit:

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Two sad LSU fans during the Tigers’ 29-0 loss to Alabama in 2018.

  • College football home underdogs get lots of love from bettors, but aren't actually a great bet over a large sample.
  • Visiting dogs have been much more profitable against the spread and on the moneyline.

Sometimes the best thing we can do here at The Action Network is help you decide what not to bet on.

Today, it’s home underdogs in college football.

But the pomp! The circumstance! The raucous home fans and coordinated color schemes in the crowd! I’m sure those things have helped in certain situations, but in general, the betting market has overvalued home-field in college football.

I’d argue that home-field advantage is overvalued in all sports from a betting perspective, and that most teams don’t deserve the traditional 3 points they’re given on the point spread in college football. Our Collin Wilson gives only 23 of 130 FBS teams at least 3 points.

Our data at Bet Labs also indicates that blindly betting every college football road underdog since 2005 has been a much better idea than betting every home dog, though neither has been profitable on its own.

In general, visiting teams are better bets against the spread than home teams.

All data since 2005 unless otherwise noted.

Against-the-Spread Underdog Results

But what about on the moneyline? Surely, these frisky home dogs pull off upsets more often than they do on the road behind those raucous crowds. Maybe it’s a boom-or-bust thing — win outright or lose and don’t cover.

Negative.

Home underdogs on the moneyline have resulted in big losses for bettors.

Moneyline Underdog Results

Okay, but what if the spread is single digits? Surely if the game is expected to be close, the student section will help drown out the visiting quarterback’s orders and cause a false start in a key moment.

Nope.

It’s actually been profitable to blindly bet single-digit underdogs on the road, both against the spread and on the moneyline.

Single-Digit Underdog Results

Okay … but … maybe the data is outdated.

Since we’re going back to 2005, it’s possible the college football landscape has shifted enough that in the last few years, these home underdogs have been better vs. the betting market’s expectations.

No dice. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Visiting underdogs have been even better over the last five seasons compared to the last 15.

Underdog Results, 2014-2018

There are ways to make a home underdog trend or system work — cherry picking conferences or weekday games, for example — but it’s mostly noise.

So tread cautiously, because as we get into conference play, the narrative train will only gain more steam.

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