Sportsbooks have been attending the “School of Hard Knocks” for the first three weeks of the college football season, taking losses in each weekend since the start of the schedule.
“We’re 0 for 3 right now,” Jay Rood, Vice President of Race and Sports at MGM in Las Vegas, tells Covers. “The lines on some of these big favorites are running all over the place. We just can’t make them high enough.”
While Top 25 teams are among the most popular bets with football fans, those ranked programs are just 33-30 ATS (52-11 SU) heading into Week 4. It’s a select number of top teams – like the Oregon Ducks and UCLA Bruins – that have attracted the bulk of the handle and have handed books their biggest losses.
“Saturday’s are coming down to six, seven, eight games,” says Rood. “We’re going 1-5 in those games and it’s not enough to offset the chump change we’re bringing in on the other games.”
Rood points to UCLA’s recent win over Nebraska as a big loss for his books in Week 3. The Bruins were bet down from +4.5 to +1.5, causing a lopsided handle on UCLA, which came back from a 21-10 halftime hole to beat the Huskers 41-21.
Oregon has also done its share of damage despite some massive point spreads. The Ducks are a perfect 3-0 SU and ATS after covering spreads of 59, 26.5, and 28 points through the first three weeks of the schedule, including a dominating 59-14 victory over Tennessee last Saturday.
"Over the last 10 years, the betting public has been infinitely better at spotting these teams than we, the old timers, have them in our power rankings," veteran oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro tells Covers. "There has to be some validity to it, because they've picked up and won on these types of teams, like Oregon, in recent years."
Vaccaro says oddsmakers need to be much quicker with their adjustments. He says if someone played a 20-point spread in 1978, you'd move it to 20.5. Now, he's more likely to take the spread from 20 to 22 points and see how the betting public wagers on that number.
"I've always been more interested in what (bettors) do with the second number," he says. "It's a learning curve. It's a give-and-take racket."
Rood expects these one-sided wins to slow down once conference play gets into full swing. The familiarity of the programs and comparable opponents helps books fine tune the spreads and cut down on how far bettors can run the lines up.
“We’re waiting for places like the SEC to start up conference play,” Rood says. “At least there is some level of competitiveness in those games.”
Week 4 still has some hefty chalk hanging on the board, with as few as 12 games featuring spreads of 20 points or more. One of the highest spreads on the board belongs to UCLA, which is a 42-point home favorite hosting New Mexico State Saturday night.
Oregon, for the books' sake, is thankfully on a bye week.