March 18, 2019

Figure The Odds: The One Number You Need to Know

Guys like me, and some much smarter, like to come up with complicated formulas and equations to determine which team is likely to win a football game often assigning weights to various pieces of the game. 

There are multiple reasons for the complicatedness of these algorithms. Many truly believe that the only way to provide a prediction that is as reliable as possible is to include every factor that can be tracked.

It seems to me the problem with this is the algorithm creators are generally the ones that determine which weight to apply to which metric. One may weight turnovers twice as important as another, for example. There’s no standard.

Some guys want to put their degrees to work and show us how smart they are (and they are often correct). It’s a niche. Not everyone can do it, right?

Yes, everyone can do it and as I mentioned to Brandon Rink of you can make it as complicated or as simple as you want.

You can come up with a complicated, labor and research intensive (take my word for it) project and come up with a model that predicts wins with 80% accuracy.

Or, you can spend 5 minutes and use one number that is available to the general public every day: The point spread.

When Vegas makes a team a favorite there’s a reason for it and there’s more to it than a simple mathematical equation of how much money is bet on a team, though that is part of it and may cause the line to fluctuate between numbers.

While the line may fluctuate between, 2 and 2.5 points let’s say, rarely does the winner or loser change as the point spread ebbs and flows.

Over the last 3 years I’ve tracked 2,116 college football games where both teams were Bowl Subdivision teams.  A remarkable 75.8% of the time the favored team wins. 

As you would guess, the higher the spread the more likely a team is to win.  So, it means something when your team is favored.  It means they are likely to win.  Therefore, it also matters when your team is an underdog.  They’re likely to lose. Period.

Of course, the odds for an individual game are 50/50: Your team will either win or lose.  But over the long haul, underdogs lose over 75% of the time.

I plan to break down these numbers by the amount of the spread later in the summer (because that means something, too), but for now let’s take a look at the games on Clemson’s schedule where an early line has been placed by the Golden Nugget.

2014 Spread Odds

Using the research noted above from the previous 3 seasons and the point spreads means we can determine the odds of Clemson winning each game as we sit here in late June.

Clemson will be heavily favored in the three games currently without a spread so we can add 3 wins to the 6 listed. 

By deduction Vegas currently sees Clemson as a 9-3 (7-1 in ACC) team in 2014.

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