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Football Capping: it's a Dog's Life

   by Scott Spreitzer - 09/10/2010

The average sports bettor loves favorites. Remember that betting lines on teams that have nationwide popularity – the Giants, Packers and Cowboys – can be inflated by one or two points on average by oddsmakers. This is because bookmakers know the average fan will put money on their favorite teams, and they don't want to be overloaded with too much money on one side. The purpose of bookmaking is not to try and predict the final score of a game, but to get equal amounts of money on both sides. This negates the risk and the books pocket their ten percent.

But don't be shy about dogs. Dogs can provide just as many wins as favorites, and in some cases provide great value for your betting dollar, which is the purpose of sports handicapping. In the opening week of this college football season, we saw a great example with Oregon State getting double digits against TCU.

I don't doubt TCU should have been favored, a very talented team that is often undervalued by oddsmakers, a rather remarkable 40-21 against the number the last four years. However, Oregon State has a very talented team, and a dynamite one-two skill position punch on offense with the Rodgers brothers. You don't find the Beavers that big an underdog often.

In fact, looking back the last few years, Oregon State is now 9-1 ATS their last ten times as a dog. That's another thing to examine: How has this team performed in the role of puppy in the recent past? A year ago the Beavers were a +21 dog at USC and covered in a 42-36 shootout, nearly winning. Last season they won three times as a dog. Let me run through some of the things I look for when assessing whether to play a live dog.

1) Can the dog win the game? If the team I'm looking at to win the game comes as an underdog, naturally I'm going to lean toward playing the dog. Getting points is an added bonus, as it gives me insurance if it's a close game or it goes into overtime.

2) Defense: If a team has a weak offense but a great defense, they can be worth a look as an underdog if the situation is right. In the NFL the Jets, Ravens and Steelers would fall into that category. A great defense can keep a team in a game, and hence, around the point spread. This is particularly attractive if they're a dog.

The Ravens had one stretch where the offense failed to score a TD in five straight games, yet on the way to winning the 2001 Super Bowl Baltimore they were 14-5-1 against the spread.

3) Running game: Does the underdog have a clear advantage running the football for this game? If a team can run the football on an opponent, like Oregon State, they can control the ball and the clock. This usually means the opponent has fewer chances to score, which means you have to look at the superior running team that's getting the points

4) Home field: Home dogs in both college and pro football can be worth close examination. Almost all teams in all sports play better at home than on the road. It's not uncommon to see a weak home dog can rise up and play its best game of the season in front of the cheering home crowd.

5) Bye week: Dogs that are off a bye week, in both the colleges and the pros, are also interesting. Competent football coaching staffs that have two weeks to prepare can have a big edge on opponents that have only one week to prepare. You can often find dogs that have had two weeks to prepare for a game.

6) TV Game: A home dog in a marquee national TV game has extra incentive to show up and play hard. Knowing your program is going to be on ESPN or a national TV broadcast fires up the coaches, the players, the fans and the whole university. We witnessed that in Week 1 of the college football season, when Hawaii was a home dog to big-name USC, yet hung right with the Trojans in a wild 49-36 game.

It's one thing to be an underdog when no one is watching and lose or get blown out. It's another story entirely if the WHOLE COUNTRY is watching, then players are far more likely to dig down for some pride so that they do not embarrass themselves or their school. National TV lights on game day can add another handicapping dimension. So get ready, football season is here, the best time of the year for sports bettors!

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