Most penalized teams in college are actually a great bet

There has been a lot of talk this week about Southern California shooting itself in the foot with penalties after watching its national title hopes go up in flames following Saturday’s loss at Arizona. The Trojans were flagged for 13 penalties and a total of 117 yards in the 39-36 loss as 5.5-point favorites.

“I saw a stat… that they’re last in the league in penalties. That’s gonna kill you every single time,” said Chris Spielman this week on ESPN radio’s The Herd.

Actually, it’s not. Not for bettors anyhow.

Southern Cal, which ranks worst in the nation in penalties per game, is a dreadful 2-6 ATS (against the spread) this season – a stat that would make it easy for a college football bettor to assume the worst when it comes to heavily-penalized teams.

But the truth is the top five most penalized teams in college football make for a great bet collectively. They’re actually a better bet as a unit than the least five penalized teams, with a hugely profitable record of 25-13-3 ATS. The five least penalized teams in college football are a combined 21-17-3 ATS this season.

This could be for a whole pile of reasons. One not to overlook is the fact that good teams often take smart penalties. It makes sense in college to take a 15-yard pass interference penalty if it means keeping points off the board or preventing a big-yards play.

Here’s a look at the five most and five least penalized teams and their records against the spread this season.

The five most penalized teams and their ATS records:

120. USC – 84.63 ypg, 2-6 ATS
119. UCLA – 79.88 ypg, 5-3 ATS
118. La. Tech – 77.88 ypg, 5-2-1 ATS
117. Oregon St. – 77.57 ypg, 5-2 ATS
116. Utah St. – 76.33 ypg, 8-0-1 ATS

The five least penalized teams and their ATS records:


1. Navy - 26.63 ypg, 4-4 ATS
2. Air Force - 27.0 ypg, 3-5 ATS
3. Kansas - 28.25 ypg, 3-4-1 ATS 
4. Kansas State - 29.13 ypg, 6-1-1 ATS
5. Arizona State - 29.25 ypg, 5-3 ATS

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