Why never to bet money line favorites on the road in college football

A stocky, young gentleman walked into my bar the other evening, which as you know is always my favorite way to begin a blogpost. (Hey, cut me some slack.  I tend bar for a living.)

Hat backwards, shirt untucked, he had a bitter look on his face and the kind of demeanor that said he was one pint away from starting a bar brawl.  I kept a close eye on him.

Within minutes, it became evident why this kid was in such a bad mood.  ESPN began showing highlights of the Virginia Tech-Old Dominion game that had finished only hours before.  You see, the college football season had just commenced, and with it bringing prospective gamblers out of the woodwork, all looking to make a quick buck on the limited information they’re given.

On a Friday night in Norfolk, the Virginia Tech Hokies were six-and-a-half-point favorites headed on the road to play Old Dominion, a school that few of us knew still had a football team.  A traditional ACC powerhouse, Virginia Tech has hardly been relevant lately, boasting neither a bowl win nor a ten-win season since 2016.  To say the Hokies have been down on their luck would be an understatement.  To wager on them would be even un-wiser.

That is, however, exactly what this poor sap did, and he did so in the worst way ever.

Convinced Virginia Tech would handle their business, he bet them money line, which means they didn’t need to cover the point spread.  All they needed to do was, in the words of the late Al Davis, just win, baby.  The only problem is… they didn’t, and this kid had dumped a healthy sum on the outcome.

“I lost $1500 on that game,” he told me as he reached for his pint.  No wonder he was in a mood.

Now, I have no idea whether he was lying about how much money he wagered.  A lot of people like to exaggerate how much they drop on a particular wager, however, this kid’s demeanor indicated he might have been telling the truth.

That’s when I asked him the line on the game, to which he replied that he bet them money line.

Considering this guy was one whiskey shot away from a killing spree, I was hardly about to explain to him that you never, EVER take a money line favorite when gambling on college football, especially not a night game and especially not on the road.  I say this not because I mainly bet underdogs but in college football, on any given night, there is no such thing as a sure thing.  That’s what a money line bet implies.  It means you are so certain a team is going to win that you abandon the point spread and hope for the best for less of a payout.

On an odd night like a Thursday or Friday, when it’s the only game in town and both the campus and the home underdog are fired up to play, the visiting favorites have too much to lose.  You’re better off betting considerably smaller stakes and taking the dog time after time.

At six-and-a-half-points, that means the Hokies were around -250 favorites, which means a $1500 wager was probably only coming back $600, whereas at +220, had he been daring enough to bet ODU to win, he only needed to bet about $650 to win his $1500.

He would never have done this considering he liked the Hokies, but he might as well have taken Virginia Tech and laid the points.  The wager was a loser anyway and he was not even laying a touchdown.

Only Vegas insiders know the outcome of betting money line favorites over time in those situations, but I can’t imagine it turns much of a profit.  A quick look at week one reveals that among the ranked teams playing this weekend, only three road teams won.  NC State squeaked out a win against East Carolina in a game they should have lost.  They didn’t cover.  Houston won a double over time game in San Antonio and didn’t cover either.  The only road favorite to cover was BYU against the lowly USF Bulls… and who doesn’t cover against the Bulls?

Even if the road team is a substantial favorite, it still doesn’t make sense to bet them money line as the minus number won’t make your return worthwhile.

So, my advice to you is a) to track these things, b) always bet within your bankroll so it doesn’t ruin your day when you lose a wager and c) never, EVER bet a money line favorites in college football on an off night.  You’re far better off taking a chance on the dog for less risk and a substantially higher return.

Unless, of course, starting bar fights is your thing.  

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2 Replies to “Why never to bet money line favorites on the road in college football”

  1. Fun column, Chris, and I agree with you.
    There can be money line value in college football home dogs, especially early in the season.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, Bill.

    I’m sure somewhere along the line, I’ve probably bet a college favorite money line on the road… but I certainly didn’t bet it straight up. I probably put it with something else to increase my return.

    I’m cut from the Groucutt cloth. Give me a home dog money line on and off night and I’ll just hope for the best.

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