The Dreaded Spread
We're not as good at predicting it as we think we are
Good morning and happy Thursday again! Two Penn State quarterbacks are 5-0 when at this point last year it seemed like neither would win a football game again. How about that?
In total, there are 14 5-0 teams right now, among them Wake Forest (what??), SMU, both Big Ten Michigans, and yes, Kentucky. So who will make the deepest run? According to our latest season simulations, aside from Yale (who play one FBS game and have a 62% chance of winning it), Alabama, unsurprisingly, has the greatest chance of going undefeated the rest of the season, with a 57% probability. Here are everyone else’s odds:
It is that time of the week where we get to talk college football, betting, and stats. But first…
I Brought You This Meme
There’s no great segue into this but I really wanted to share this funny Big Ten meme so please see below and enjoy. Wait… do memes even work in an email. Guess we’ll find out.
Back to Business
Okay, so I thought we should look a little closer at Elo to see how it’s doing so far in terms of betting.
Let’s talk moneylines. Now, I can’t talk about exactly how the bets that I’ve personally liked each week have done (you guys probably know better than I do), but what I can do is rerun our Elo predictions versus the actual moneylines and see what the profit or loss would be given certain betting rules.
So one thing I like to do is look at expected value. We’ve talked about it here before, but it’s basically the average you can expect to win or lose if you place the same bet many times. So if you bet $10 on a -200 moneyline (66% implied win probability), and that team actually wins that matchup 66% of the time, then you can expect to win nothing on that bet on average.
But, if you can find a team that has +200 odds (33% implied win probability) that you actually think you know has more like a 45-50% win probability, then you can expect to make a profit on bets like that in the long run. Maybe that first one, or three fails, but over time, assuming your win probability model is tuned right—meaning teams with a 50% win probability actually win 50% of the time, not more, not less—you will profit.
So let’s say you took every bet that Elo has recommended that had positive expected value, even if it was just 10 cents. Well, bad news. You’d be down nearly $70 after almost 200 bets, assuming each bet you placed was $10 (not advisable).
So far this season, right around $6 in expected value has been the breakeven point, meaning you’d be profiting if you bet on all the games where a team had greater than $6 in expected value.
Unfortunately, those opportunities don’t come along too often (only 38 times so far this year), because Vegas is pretty in-tune with what’s going on with these teams, and they also set the lines slightly in their favor no matter what.
Take a look at this week in the new table I made and you’ll see that of all the positive EV bets, only four meet the $6 threshold. And, as is usually the case, they’re rarely the sexy bets. This week, we’re looking at Akron, Buffalo, Georgia Southern, and Louisiana Monroe.
But if you look at the data, it’s those boring teams that pay the best. Louisiana Monroe, Navy, Hawai’i: these are the teams that get the good-paying odds, and when they hit, it makes up for a lot of the misses and then some. These can also be the ones where you take both the moneyline and the spread, and you hedge if they lose but keep it closer than Vegas thought, or boost your profit if they win.
That being said, I’m shocked there’s even a moneyline for Ohio State over Maryland. I mean, come on… the Terps looked awful last Friday night against Iowa. I can’t imagine they figure it out in time for Ohio State this week.
The Dreaded Spread
So you may notice that I don’t talk about the spread often in this newsletter. The reason for that is pretty simple: they’re unpredictable. At least from what data I’ve looked at, spreads can vary so widely from the line, that it’s not really worth trying to predict them. Let me show you what I mean.
This is just for 2021, and as you can see, even Vegas is off by a very wide margin most of the time. So it’s kind of a crapshoot. So my thinking is that if even Vegas, with all their realtime data, can’t get it even close to right, it’s hard to believe that I can either. However, as you can see, it does mean that if we are able to get it right more often than Vegas, even if we’re still wrong most of the time, there’s an opportunity to find some value. We’ll explore that next week and look at how Elo does at predicting the spread of games, but for now, I’ll leave it at that and get to some win probabilities.
The headliner this week has to be (in my unbiased opinion) the Top 5 matchup between Penn State and Iowa. The East still will go through Ohio State and Michigan, so this game matters more to Penn State than Iowa, but it also has CFP implications, as does every game from here on out. Ohio State may get the benefit of the doubt dropping one game a season, but other Big Ten teams have not had that luxury, so a win and one step closer to an undefeated season is vital for both programs.
Let’s take a look at the Power-5 slate this week.
Oklahoma-Texas is the big game here this week. Can Texas possibly redeem their season with a huge upset? Spencer Rattler sure isn’t Kyler Murray or Baker Mayfield, so it’s a possibility.
Stanford the giant slayer did it again last week. I love them for the rest of the season.
Thank you for reading and enjoy your weekend. A big shoutout to my mom who will most likely be celebrating her birthday by watching the Penn State-Iowa game. You’re a trooper, Mom.