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College Football Home Field Advantage

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Updated September 03, 2012

College Football Home Field Advantage

When it comes to any sort of statistical-based handicapping method for football, the majority of handicappers will simply give three points to the home team. I'm just as guilty as anybody when it comes to that and like the vast majority of other handicappers, use that method for both pro and college football. But is it really accurate?

The easy answer would be yes, as the oddsmakers also tend to use a field goal for home field advantage when setting the lines. The best answer, however, would be sometimes it is, while other times it's not.

When handicapping college football, a bettor should take a few seconds and look at the team's likely emotional state. Is the team coming off a big game or do they have one scheduled next? Is it a revenge game? Are they coming off a big win or an extremely disappointing loss?

There's nothing wrong with looking at the same factors when handicapping the NFL, but emotional factors usually don't have the same impact on the pros as they do on college players, who are usually 20 to 22 years old and do many of the same things a typical 20 year old does, much to the chagrin of their coaches.

NCAA vs. NFL Home Field

Looking at the 2010 and 2011 seasons, we'd see that college teams won 62.8% of their home games, while NFL teams were 300-228, or 56.8%, over that same time span. College favorites were 79.5% straight-up at home, while NFL teams were 66.4%.

Since there is a bigger talent gap in the college ranks than in the NFL, I looked at those close games, where the line was 5.5 or less, as well. When favored, college teams won 57.1% of their home games and NFL teams won 53.9% of its home games straight up when favored by 5.5 or less, giving a small edge to the college teams.

(While a bit off the subject, it was interesting to note that both NCAA and NFL teams did much better straight up as favorites of 2.5 or less than they did of favorites between 3 and 5.5 points.)

College Football Factors

One instance where the home field advantage is likely greater than the traditional three points is when a team is coming off a big emotional win. When the team is at home, playing in front of its fans, there is less of a tendency to have a letdown than if the team were to take to the road.

Many years ago, I remember reading a college football system that said to go against favorites of seven or more points if they were coming off a win as a seven-point or more underdog. The reasoning being that the team was due for an emotional letdown. After checking recent results, that doesn't appear to be the case, at least when the team is at home.

Teams playing at home in that situation were 138-115-3 (54.5%) ATS, which won't make you rich, but it is above the 52.38% required to break-even. Teams playing on the road, however, were 31-40 (43.7%) against the point spread, so there is a definite tendency for these teams to suffer a bit of a letdown.

You can also use the schedule to help determine when a team might be due for a letdown. Factors such as revenge games, key conference games and rivalries should be given some consideration. When teams are coming off one of these and then playing on the road, you might want to the home team a couple of extra points in your home field calculations.

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