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2022 College Football Math-Based Preview: Bad Betting Advice

Over the last month, we used a lot of #math to make predictions about the upcoming season. Now, it’s time to see if we can use this information to make a wager or two.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Pitt v Michigan State Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Throughout the month of August, we have looked in detail at the 2022 college football season using a few mathematical tools to help us to understand the various scenarios that could play out and how likely they are relative to each other. We have looked in detail at Michigan State’s schedule, the Big Ten, the rest of the Power Five, the Group of Five, and we even made some postseason predictions.

Today is the final stop on that journey before the real fun begins. At the end of the previous installment of this series, we began to compare the odds that I have generated to the odds that are available online at DraftKings SportsBook for various teams to make the playoffs and win the National Title.

In this final installment of our season preview, we will provide some additional dubious betting advice for the Big Ten in general, notable division and conference races, and regular season win totals. Let’s kick things off with another look at the Big Ten odds.

Big Ten Betting Advice

As a review, here are the season odds that I have calculated for the Big Ten based on a series of Monte Carlo simulations using a consensus of the preseason rankings as the primary input.

Table 1: Recap of the season odds for the Big Ten as generated by a 240,000 cycle Monte Carlo simulation of the 2022 college football season.

For comparison, Table 2 shows the latest season odds for the Big Ten conference according to DraftKings SportsBook. For ease of comparison, I have converted the money line odds to effective probabilities.

Table 2: The money line odds for each Big Ten team to win their division, win the conference, make the playoffs and win the National Title according the DraftKings SportsBook. The regular season win totals and odds are also shown.

It is difficult to compare these two sets of data easily. However, if we make the bold assumption that my generated odds are the “true odds” for each event (such as a team winning the Big Ten East or winning more than 7.5 games) it is simple to calculate a return on investment (ROI) for each potential bet using the betting lines. The results of these calculations are shown below in Table 3.

Table 3: Season odds return on investment calculations for the Big Ten.

As we can see, the majority of potential bets have a negative ROI. This does not mean that those events will not happen. It only means that the potential payout may not be as high as it should be based on the likelihood that those events will occur.

The bets that have a positive ROI in Table 3 are shaded green, and the bets highlighted in dark green have an especially good ROI. As a general rule of thumb, I like to see an ROI over $100 (on a $100 bet) for the riskier (i.e. lower probability) season bets such as a wager on a team to win their division. In this light there are only a few bets above that catch my eye.

As mentioned in the previous installment, bets on Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin to win the National Title all show a healthy ROI of over $100. That said, betting on a team not named Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, or Clemson to win the National Title seems foolish. Then again, these types of “truisms” are only true until they are not. A safer (but lower ROI) pair of bets are wagering on either Michigan or Wisconsin to make the playoffs.

The division and Big Ten conference races show an interesting pattern. In the Big Ten West, betting on the favorite (Wisconsin) looks to be a good bet. For those who are more adventurous, both Minnesota and Purdue have slightly positive ROIs to win the Big Ten. That said, those bets are both longshots with odds of only about four percent.

In contrast, several Big Ten East teams have a positive ROI to both win the division and the conference. Betting on Michigan, Penn State, and especially Michigan State all look very reasonable. The explanation is fairly simple. The DraftKings’ odds for Ohio State to win both the East and the Big Ten are very high. My math would suggest that they are too high. That means that it is smart to bet on any of the other viable contenders. That all said, my numbers still suggest that Ohio State is the most likely team to win the Big Ten.

The other type of bet to consider in Table 3 are the “over / under” bets on total regular season wins. Of the 28 total bets on the board, only eight show a positive ROI. My rule of thumb here is to look for returns of $20 or higher. Betting the under on both Ohio State and Nebraska fall into the category and betting the over on Michigan State and Michigan is very close.

Overall, the clear outlier in Table 3 is Michigan State. For whatever reason, the odds that Vegas give to the Spartans all seem a bit low relative to the odds that I calculate. Every bet on Michigan State overachieving in 2022 has a strong ROI. For those that are inclined to place some wagers on the Spartans, my math suggests that this might be the year to do it.

Other Division and Conference Races

For Big Ten fans, placing a wager on Big Ten teams is likely going to be the most fun. But, for those brave souls who would like some advice on some of the other conference races, Table 4 below shows all of the potential bets for FBS division and conference races with a return on investment over $100.

Table 4: Other notable conference and division winner bets where my math suggests a return on investment greater than $100 for a $100 bet.

Table 4 gives a total of 18 recommendations, but a full 14 of them are related to the SEC. The top of the table suggests that a bet on Auburn to win either the SEC West or the entire SEC might be a good one. In addition, bets on either Kentucky or Tennessee in the SEC East also show a strongly positive ROI.

The situation here appears to be similar to what is happening in the Big Ten. In this case, the odds for Alabama and Georgia to win their respective divisions are very high. As such, what Table 4 is essentially saying is that betting the field in both SEC division races and the conference race might be a smart move.

As for the other four bets in Table 4, three of them involve Big Ten bets that were covered in the previous section. That leaves just one other intriguing bet: a wager on Southern Miss to win the Sun Belt. That one is just random enough to be interesting.

I should emphasize here that all of the bets in Table 4 are longshots. The sum of the probabilities in the fourth column suggests that only one or two of these bets will likely be winners. Many of the bets actively contradict one another. When I performed this analysis last year, only one bet on the table actually came to pass, although that was a big one. I had Northern Illinois down to win the MAC at +25,000. Alas, I did not actually put money down on the Huskies last year.

Regular Season Win Totals (Over / Under)

Betting on a team like Southern Miss to win the Sun Belt might be fun, but it is a longshot. Fortunately, our friends in Las Vegas provide another series of lower-stakes and higher probabilities season wagers that should allow the discerning bettor to have a bit more success. The set of wagers that I am referring to are the regular season win totals bets.

The win totals provided by sources such as DraftKings SportsBook can be directly compared to the expected win totals that I generate through my full season Monte Carlo simulation. The correlation between those two sets of data is remarkably good. Figure 1 shows this data for the 2022 season.

Figure 1: Correlation between the expected number of wins for each FBS as derived from 240,000 Monte Carlo simulations and the adjusted win totals from DraftKings SportsBook.

Note that I adjusted the Vegas win totals based on the money lines in order to estimate win totals as values other than simply whole or half numbers.

The correlation is obviously very strong. From a betting advice point of view, the most interesting data points are the ones that deviate from the best fit line the most. In this plot, if the data point is above the line, this implies that DraftKings betting line is more optimistic about a team’s prospects than my simulation would imply. In other words, it makes sense to bet the “under.” Conversely, data points that fall below the line suggest a bet on the “over.”

These data are also best represented using the return of investment calculation. Table 5 below presents the potential wagers for the FBS that show an ROI over $20.

Table 5: Recommended regular season win total bets for the 2022 season.

As mentioned above, my standard rule of thumb is to recommend any season total bet where the ROI is over $20. My analysis of the 2022 data yields 21 such bets. Taking the “over” on Michigan State to win more than 7.5 games was just below this threshold, but I added it to Table 5 anyway.

In this case, adding up the probabilities in the fourth column suggests that 14 or 15 of these 22 total events should actually happen. Historically, my simulation tends to be fairly accurate in this regard when averaged over a sample size this large. In other words, I feel pretty good about this advice, and Table 5 is filled with some interesting and potentially unexpected wagers.

Note that the top of the table does contain three potential outliers. My simulation suggests that more likely than not, Alabama, Ohio State, and Georgia will fail to win 11 games or more. I am less confident in these predictions.

That said, I should point out that last year my method advised to take the under on Alabama (at 11.5 wins), Clemson (11.5), Georgia (10.5), Ohio State (11), and Oklahoma (11). My numbers were correct on all of those bets with the exception of Georgia. Only time will tell if we will see a similar trend in 2022.

With that, it is time to bring this series to its conclusion. We have reached the bottom of this particular preseason data rabbit hole. I have no more advice to give. But, that will all change in just a few short days. Once the season starts, the data will once again begin to accumulate and the Big Ten and national college football landscape will shift in what I am sure will be new and unexpected ways. As always, I will be here to crunch the numbers, make predictions, and break it all down using #math.

The wait is almost over. Until next time, enjoy, and Go Green.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.