On This Page

Betting College Football Totals

We can all agree that high scoring games are more exciting to watch than a game with little action. Knowing this to be true, it’s surprising that the NFL attracts so much more attention than college football. College football features significantly more points than the NFL. In fact, the NFL only features around 23 points per game, while college football averages nearly 30 points per game, with that number on the up rise in recent years.

This doesn’t just affect things from an entertainment perspective. It also impacts the way we bet, as college football totals lines are much higher on average than NFL totals lines. How do bettors react to this? Logically, you’d expect this to encourage more people to bet the under. In fact, the opposite is true. A high totals line tends to persuade recreational bettors to put their money on the over.

This often leads to vastly inflated totals, as the bookmakers push their lines even higher as a result. Although this CAN be good news for us, that’s not always the case. It does create a few spots where there’s obvious value in backing the under, but there are times when the high totals are fully justified. Don’t just assume that backing the under will lead to regular and consistent profits. We do tend to favor the under when betting college football totals, but we don’t simply default to that position. Our goal is to be smart than the bookmakers, so we need to put in a little more effort than that.

Now, we LOVE wagering on the totals lines for NFL games. This is one of the easier ways to make money from our football betting. Or perhaps we should say one of the least difficult, because it’s still not exactly easy. It’s just not as challenging as some of the other types of wagering we do. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same when it comes to wagering on the totals lines for college football games. The opportunity to make a profit still exists, but it’s not going to be easy.

In this article we try to give you the best possible of chance of making money from college football totals. We start with some basic advice for totals betting in general, then offer a few tips that apply specifically to totals betting on college football.

Basic Advice for Betting Football Totals

Totals are among the most popular of all football wagers. This is partly because they’re so straightforward. It all comes down to making one simple decision; will the total number of points scored be more or less than the posted line?

Making the RIGHT decision isn’t quite so simple of course. If you have the basics down, it’s possible to win your totals wagers on a semi-regular basis. To consistently make money in the long run, though, you’ll need to go beyond the basics.

Follow the tips we’ve offered below and you’ll be on the right path to betting totals successfully.

  • Don’t bet on every game
  • Remember the public’s tendency
  • Know the key numbers
  • Estimate a possible range
  • Consider offense AND defense
  • Always shop around

Betting on every game is NEVER a good idea. The straightforward nature of totals often tempts people to do exactly that though. At the very least, it causes them to bet on a wide range of different games. It’s hard to do this well when betting on the NFL, but it’s practically impossible with college football.

There are just too many teams competing at the college level to follow them all closely. There’s no point in betting on games between teams you hardly know, as you won’t be able to make informed decisions. You’ll just be guessing, which is not the way to make money. That’s why it’s important to be selective, and focus on games where you can use your knowledge and judgement to make good decisions.

We touched on the public’s tendency in the introduction to this article, when we explained that the majority of recreational bettors have a habit of betting on the over. Keep this in mind as you look at the college football totals lines, and consider whether they’re artificially inflated or not.

Don’t forget to be on the lookout for key numbers too. Although we don’t believe these numbers are as valuable as the key numbers we use for betting point spreads, they’re still useful to know. They can definitely help when making marginal decisions, and when trying to make initial estimates of likely totals.

Here are the ten most common points totals in NCAA football games, along with the percentage of games that have featured those totals.

Points Total Percentage of Games
45 2.97%
41 2.95%
52 2.88%
44 2.82%
51 2.80%
48 2.77%
55 2.75%
37 2.66%
59 2.53%
38 2.42%

Estimating a possible range is the best place to start when placing a totals wager. Most people look at the line first and then work from there, but we don’t like this approach. Once you’re aware of the relevant line, it’s always going to affect your thinking to some extent. We believe it’s much better to make an initial estimate based solely on your own assessment of a game, and THEN compare that estimate to the line. This is the best way to avoid being influenced by the bookmakers’ views.

Considering both the offense and the defense might seem like an extremely obvious tip, but one of the most common mistakes totals bettors make is focusing entirely on the offense. We don’t want you to make this mistake, hence the inclusion of this particular tip. Don’t simply assume that a good quality offense is always going to score plenty of points, or that a poor quality offense is always going to score very few points. The quality of the defenses they’ll be facing must always be taken into account too.

Our final tip here is to always shop for the best odds and lines. This is another tip that applies regardless of what you’re betting on or what type of wager you’re placing, but it’s especially important when betting college football totals. These are especially unpredictable, and different bookmakers will often have different views on how many points are likely to be scored in a college game. That’s why it’s not uncommon for college football total lines to vary from one bookmaker to the next.

By being willing to shop around and find the best option for your chosen wager, you’ll increase the overall value. As a general rule, we recommend going for most favorable total rather than the best odds. Our opinion is that it’s better to slightly increase your chances of winning than it is to slightly increase the size of the potential payout.

Let’s now move on to some tips that are more specifically related to college football totals.

Don’t Overvalue Stats

We believe there’s merit in using stats when betting on football. They can be very useful for evaluating past performances, which in turn helps us to assess what’s likely to happen in the future. However, we have to be extremely careful when using stats to bet on college football totals. The relevant stats can be very misleading unless we interpret them correctly.

The most obvious stats to use when betting totals are average points per game (PPG). These tell us how many points a team scores on average, and how many points they allow on average. As totals wagers are all about trying to predict the total number of points scored in a game, these stats are clearly very relevant.

We typically give a significant amount of weight to the PPG stats when betting NFL totals. We give them less weight when betting college football totals though. Why? Simply because they’re less reliable.

In fact, ALL stats are less reliable when it comes to college football.

There’s an article in our football betting guide that lists the key differences between NFL handicapping and college football handicapping. One of the discussion points in this article is how the difference in overall quality affects us from a betting perspective. We explain that teams are typically much less consistent at college level, as the players are still learning the game and are far more prone to mistakes. We also explain that there’s a bigger gap in quality between the strongest college teams and the weakest college teams. Teams just simply aren’t as evenly matched in college football as they are in the NFL.

The lack of consistency and the sizable talent gap means that the stats at college level don’t always paint a very accurate picture. Let’s take a look at why that is.

When football teams aren’t very consistent, their past performances don’t necessarily tell us much about how they’re likely to perform in the future. A look at a team’s stats might tell us that they’ve been performing very well or very badly, but we can’t automatically assume that they’re going to maintain the same level moving forward. A run of good performances can easily be followed by a run of bad performances, and vice versa. Obviously this can happen in the NFL too, just not to the same extent.

A team’s statistics can be misleading, because they don’t indicate the quality of their opposition. If a team has been performing well over the past few games simply because they are facing weaker opposition, their stats won’t really be able to tell us anything. They certainly won’t be a good indicator of how they will perform against more competitive teams.

The same principle applies if a team has been facing mostly much stronger opposition. Their stats might suggest that they’re a bad team, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true. They might be perfectly capable of playing very well in games against more evenly matched opposition.

To demonstrate exactly how college football stats can mislead us, we’ll use a real example. We’ll focus on the PPG stats, as they’re what bettors use the most when trying to predict likely totals. In 2016, the Ohio State Buckeyes started the season with the following results.

  • Beat Bowling Green 77-10
  • Beat Tulsa 48-3
  • Beat Oklahoma 45-24
  • Beat Rutgers 58-0

Across these four games the Buckeyes averaged an impressive 57 points per game scored. They conceded an average of just nine points per game. If we were looking at these stats in isolation of all other factors, we could easily assume that this is a team we can rely on to score plenty of points and allow very few. However, here’s what happened in their next four games.

  • Beat Indiana 38-17
  • Beat Wisconsin 30-32
  • Lost to Penn State 21-24
  • Beat Northwestern 20-24

Their average points per game scored across these four games was 27. Not exactly terrible, but less than half their average in the previous four games. Their average points per game allowed was a lot higher too, at just over 24. So the PPG stats now paint a very different picture. Across eight games rather than four, they don’t really give the same impression at all. The Buckeyes no longer looked like a team that could be expected to score a lot of points while keeping it tight defensively. Just wait until the results from the next two games come in though.

  • Beat Nebraska 62-3
  • Beat Maryland 62-3

Two identical results, with an excellent haul of points and an excellent defensive record. The Buckeyes had gone back to their form from earlier in the season. Their next two games went as follows.

  • Beat Michigan State 17-16
  • Beat Michigan 30-27

Although they won both these games, they scored a lot less points than in their previous two games. They also allowed a lot more. In their big rivalry game against Michigan they were actually tied 17-17 at the end of regular time. They needed double overtime to secure the three point victory.

Now, the Buckeyes were a very good team in the 2016 season. Although they didn’t win the Big Ten East Division, or play in the conference championship, they finished the season as the third seed in the NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision. This earned them a place in the College Football Playoff. Despite being one of the more consistent teams, we’ve just showed how their PPG stats were a little misleading at various times during the season.

Please note that none of this means that you should ignore the relevant stats completely when betting college football totals. That’s not what we’re saying at all. We just want you to be aware of their limitations. More importantly, it’s vital that you remember to put them in the proper context when using them to make your assessments. Consider the standard of opposition that teams have been facing, and think about whether their performances are truly good indicators of their overall ability.

It’s also a good idea to look at stats over both the long term and the short term. The long term stats typically provide a more accurate picture of a team’s true quality, while the short term stats provide a more accurate picture of current form.

Beware of Mismatches

We’ve already referred to the fact that there’s a big gap in quality between teams at a college level. The very best teams are on a whole different level than the weaker teams, which means that there are lots of complete mismatches during a season. Games where the favorite is almost guaranteed to win are extremely common.

Predicting the total in these games can be VERY challenging.

The natural assumption in mismatches is that the significantly stronger team will absolutely crush their opponents and score loads of points. It doesn’t always work out that way though. And, in any case, the bookmakers factor the possibility of a blowout into their lines. When it’s especially likely, they’ll set a high total accordingly.

Rule number one for these games is to NOT automatically look to back the over. We’ve seen some so-called experts suggest that betting the over in mismatches is a good strategy to follow, but we strongly disagree. That approach is just too simple. There will be countless situations where it’s right to back the over, but there will also be times when it’s better to back the under. We have to be willing to look at each game individually and make our decisions based on the available information.

That brings us to our second rule; be prepared to walk away from a betting opportunity. We regularly choose not to bet on mismatches, for the simple reason that we find it too difficult to make an accurate assessment about what’s likely to happen. There’s no shame in admitting that a game is too tough to call, and this approach almost certainly saves us a lot of money in the long run.

When we ARE betting on the total in a mismatch, there are a few factors that we pay close attention to. These are as follows.

  • Underdog’s offense vs favorite’s defense
  • Current form
  • Playing styles
  • Coaching tendencies

Underdog’s offense vs favorite’s defense

It’s important to remember that BOTH team’s points count towards the total. In addition to considering how many points the favorite is likely to score, we must also consider how many points the underdog is likely to score. Comparing the underdog’s offense with the favorite’s defense obviously helps with this.

The very best college teams aren’t always strong in every single area. For example, some of them rely heavily on their offensive capabilities while having a number of defensive weaknesses. When they come up against an opponent that plays to a much lower overall standard, but has a reasonably competent offense, those weaknesses are liable to be exposed. Although they’re still going to be big favorites to win, there’s a chance that they’ll allow several points even if they score significantly more. Betting the over might be an attractive proposition in such a scenario.

On the other hand, betting the under is typically the more attractive proposition when a big favorite is strong defensively but has some offensive weaknesses. Just because they are drastically better than their opponents on an overall scale doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to score a lot of points. Their opponents are unlikely to score many points at all against a really strong defense.

Current form

Current form is a great indication of how likely a blowout is. If the stronger team hasn’t been playing very well, then there’s little reason to expect that they’re suddenly going to improve and destroy their next opponents. A high points total is therefore not especially likely. If they’re in really good form, however, then the opposite becomes true.

Of course, we must also consider the form of the weaker team too. If they’ve been playing well, then they might be in good shape to keep the margin of victory down to a respectable level. But if they’ve been playing badly, and are low on confidence, they might just get demolished.

Playing styles

How teams choose to play will affect their points totals. The same rule applies to any football game, but it becomes even more relevant in mismatches. Some styles of play make it easier than others for a very good team to rack up a big score against much weaker opponents. Equally, some styles of play make it easier than others for a weak team to prevent much stronger opponents from annihilating them.

For example, if a strong team plays a fast and pass-heavy game, then they can be expected to really take apart a much weaker defense and get lots of points on the board. The same cannot be said for a strong team that takes a slow and methodical approach that involves running the ball more often. Sure, this style will allow them to control games and win them with relative comfort. It’s just a little less likely to lead to big points totals, even against poor defenses.

If a weaker team plays an offensively based style, they’ll be liable to allow a lot of points against stronger teams. If a weaker team plays a defensively based style, they’ll be more likely to contain strong opponents and keep the score down.

Coaching tendencies

Some coaches will encourage their teams to keep pushing their opponents as hard as possible, even when the game is won. Others typically instruct their teams to ease off once they’ve established a comfortable lead. A coach’s tendency in this regard can obviously affect our thinking when it comes to assessing likely point totals, so it’s worth studying the coaches and trying to understand their preferences.

By considering all the factors we’ve listed here, it does become a little easier to bet totals on college football mismatches. Remember what we said earlier though. You don’t HAVE to bet on these games. There will be times when you really can’t make a call even after looking closely at all the factors that are likely to have an impact.

Focus on Lower Profile Games

Every single game in the NFL attracts a lot of attention. There’s no such thing as a low profile football game at the professional level. At college level, however, there are lots of teams that don’t really register on the public’s radar. Unless they happen to be playing one of the more popular teams, their games attract very little attention from fans.

These lower profile games attract less attention from the bookmakers too.

This can really help us when it comes to betting college football totals. The bookmakers tend to make a lot of broad assumptions when they set their totals lines for lower profile games, and this can lead to much softer lines. By getting to know more about the smaller college teams, we can take advantage of these softer lines and uncover some great opportunities to make profitable wagers.

There are some disadvantages to betting on low profile games too. Although they can be excellent for betting totals, they’re not necessarily the best games for all types of wager. We discuss this in more detail in the following article.