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The Betting History of College Football’s National Championship Games

The Betting History of College Football’s National Championship Games article feature image

Bart Boatwright-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Hunter Renfrow

  • There weren't definitive national championship games in college football until 1998, with the advent of the BCS.
  • Underdogs have fared slightly better in the 20 title games, and have won eight outright.

If you think there’s too much arguing around a four-team College Football Playoff, just imagine if the modern internet was around in 1919 when Harvard, Illinois, Notre Dame and Texas A&M all claimed and split the national title.

Modern college football national championships really began in 1998, with the advent of the BCS. For the first time, the two best teams in the country would be pitted in a winner-take-all game (sort of) instead of automatically going to their conference’s tied-in bowl game.

Prior to 1998, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams rarely faced off during bowl season.

Only once in the BCS era was there a real split national champ — 2003, when LSU won the BCS Championship Game but AP Poll voters put USC at No. 1.

Then came the College Football Playoff in 2014, which created the first truly undisputed winner until UCF began claiming titles last year.

In the 20 years of national title games there’s been plenty of drama and upsets. Here’s a full breakdown, via our Bet Labs database and

National Championship Game Betting History

These title games have been pretty competitive, and underdogs have fared slightly better at 11-9 against the spread (ATS).

In typical bowl fashion, the dogs have either won straight up or not covered the spread.

Just three times in the 20 national title games has the favorite won but not covered, meaning eight underdogs have won outright.

Preseason Odds for National Title Winners

There actually have been some longshot national title winners, like Ohio State after it lost Braxton Miller during training camp and Auburn before Cam Newton took the nation by storm.

In the last few years, it’s been chalky, with Clemson and Alabama each among the top three betting choices before the season.

Via SportsOddsHistory:

Clemson-Alabama IV

This is the fourth meeting between Clemson and Alabama in the College Football Playoff. The first two came in the national title games.

The Tigers covered both and won the second outright. Both cleared the over/under by at least 15 points, too.

Interestingly enough, the point spread for this year’s national title game is right in line with the previous two meetings between Clemson and Alabama — the 2015 game closed Tide -6, and they were -6.5 the next year.

The Biggest Spreads

There have been four double-digit favorites, and two of them lost outright, including Florida State’s 13-2 loss to Oklahoma in 2000.

Alabama’s win over Notre Dame after the 2012 season was the only uninteresting result. The other three double-digit favorites went 1-3 ATS.

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