How Vegas ranks the Top 25 teams in college football
Oddsmakers at Las Vegas sports books post betting lines in an effort to maximize profits.
Sometimes sports books want equal money on both sides of the line and sometimes they’re OK essentially betting themselves by taking more money on one side.
Lines are not designed to predict the future, but due to the real-money stakes, sports books often do a good job monitoring the real-time value of things like college football teams.
Dissected the right way, college football betting lines are much like a stock market for those programs.
Thanks to FootballPerspective.com, we can utilize early betting lines released by Golden Nugget casino to examine a “Simple Rating System,” or SRS, for every power-conference team.
Essentially, the website used a formula to convert betting lines into rankings. So according to Vegas, here’s the college football Top 25 entering the season (USA Today Coaches Poll ranking in parenthesis):
- Ohio State (No. 1)
- TCU (No. 2)
- Baylor (No. 4)
- Alabama (No. 3)
- Oregon (No. 5)
- Arkansas (No. 20)
- Georgia (No. 9)
- LSU (No. 13)
- Michigan State (No. 6)
- Auburn (No. 7)
- Florida State (No. 8)
- Ole Miss (No. 15)
- Oklahoma (No. 19)
- Tennessee (No. 25)
- USC (No. 10)
- Stanford (No. 21)
- UCLA (No. 14)
- Missouri (No. 23)
- Georgia Tech (No. 17)
- Clemson (No. 12)
- Texas A&M (NR)
- Notre Dame (No. 11)
- Wisconsin (No. 18)
- Boise State (No. 24)
- Mississippi State (NR)
Other SEC teams: 40. Florida, 41. South Carolina, 51. Kentucky, 54. Vanderbilt.
One important distinction to note before we look at a few interesting insights. SEC teams generally are considered “public” teams.
The Dallas Cowboys are a classic example of a public team. Vegas expects that no matter what the betting line is, the majority of non-professional gamblers are going to back the Cowboys with their money, because Dallas is a popular franchise. Therefore, Vegas sometimes will skew the betting line in favor of the Cowboys’ opponents.
Alabama is a classic public team in college football, and most SEC teams should be slightly overvalued according to Vegas. That’s part of the reason 10 SEC teams rank in the Top 25 of this simulated Vegas poll.
Now on to some observations:
- Arkansas is the biggest surprise, at least on the surface. The Razorbacks are getting a ton of love from professional gamblers as well as from early lines in sports books, ranking at No. 6 in the simulated Vegas poll. This isn’t as big of a surprise if you’re familiar with analytics and nerdy stats. Arkansas has finished 0-7 in one-possession games under coach Bret Bielema, something I’ve chronicled endlessly this offseason. In the eyes of professional gamblers, this is a sign that the team has been better than its record indicates and could be undervalued. The gambling market already reflects this.
- Auburn has become somewhat of a media darling this offseason. (I’m no exception — I picked the Tigers to win the SEC West on my media ballot.) Ranked No. 7 in the Coaches Poll, the Tigers fall back three spots to No. 10 in the simulated Vegas poll. Due to the “public team” discussion above, that’s significant. Vegas doesn’t like Auburn as much as the media.
- Vegas likes LSU as a true College Football Playoff contender. The SEC West claims five of the top 12 spots in the simulated Vegas poll. Again, that’s because the division gets so much respect that bookmakers realize most public money will side with a team in the SEC West against anyone else in the country. (Texas A&M, for example, isn’t ranked in the Coaches Poll but make the bottom of the Vegas poll.)
- Vegas also thinks Tennessee is a potential Top 10 team rather than a fringe Top 25 program. Coincidentally, the Vols (No. 14) rank one spot behind Oklahoma (No. 13) in the Vegas “poll.” So the margin in that early-season matchup should be razor-sharp.
- A few non-conference observations: Vegas hates Clemson and Notre Dame and loves Stanford and Oklahoma.