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Covers, Backdoors and Underdogs: How CFB Coaches Affect Vegas

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An interesting take on which coaches consistently cover the spread, and how they make money for the ever-increasing sports betting economy.

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A lot of sports fanatics dabble in sports betting nowadays. With access to websites such as Bovada and Sportsbook, it makes it easy to bet on your favorite games every week.

It was said that in 2014, there were nearly $1 billion dollars wagered on football. And that was just in Vegas. College football is said to have nearly 60% of those bets. And that is just on the legal surface.

According to multiple reports from the Washington Post and Inc.com, illegal betting is even more prevalent, and no one knows the exact amount wagered through bookies and underground outlets. Reports come in between $250 and $400 billion for ALL SPORTS, which equates to an average of $1700 per adult, and roughly 2% of the American economy.

Now you wonder why more states are trying to legalize sports gambling?

With college football season right around the corner, I put together every Power-5 school record against the spread. I wanted to compare the trends to coaches, and since the average tenure of a Power-5 college football coach is five years, I totaled stats going back five seasons.

I wanted to see if there was a positive correlation to coaches and their ability to cover spreads in Vegas on a weekly basis. Also to see what trends the winners and losers consistently showed us.

All numbers were provided from the website teamrankings.com. And since you get your money back on a push, I counted that as a win against the spread.

At the top we see academically proficient Stanford. They had one of the top coaches in Jim Harbaugh for a time, and now have David Shaw prowling the sidelines. Rounding out the top seven are Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oregon, Missouri, Baylor and Michigan State.

Why do I focus on those seven, you ask? Because they are all either wide open spread-attack offenses, or stellar defensive teams.

Stanford has been at the top of the defensive precipice for years, while Missouri and Michigan State also pride themselves on keeping their opponents from tallying points on the scoreboard. Kansas State has the wizardry of Bill Snyder, who after 22 years on the sidelines in Manhattan, Kansas STILL is amazingly underrated in Vegas sports books.

Oklahoma State, Oregon and Baylor are all consistently ranked at the top in offensive categories, year in and year out. They keep their foot on the gas at all times, and over that same time period, their average margin of victory is an astounding 17.5 points.

Now, looking at the bottom 10, we see the coaching graveyard that is Kansas, along with California, Arizona and Colorado.

A common theme amongst all these schools are that they have very little tradition, are basketball schools (Kansas and Kentucky), and little to no coaching consistency.

A couple big surprises are Tennessee at 10th and Virginia Tech at 6th. Beamer Ball has fallen harder than Miley Cyrus, and Tennessee never recovered from the used car salesman by the name of Lane Kiffin.

I broke out every coach's tenure, and looked at their records against the spread while coaching at their respective schools. Stats on the website only went back to 2003, so those that have been around longer, I was only able to gather statistics going back 11 seasons.

Oregon’s Mark Helfrich and his high-flying offense and quarterback system in two seasons leads all coaches at 64.29%. Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze in his three years has brought Mississippi back to the SEC promised land, and is second at 64.1%. Rounding out the top three is Stanford’s David Shaw.

Fourth is Art I-Love-America Briles at 61.36%. I guess always going for it on fourth down gets you somewhere in life. For that, we thank you, Art Briles. And fifth, surprisingly, is Duke’s David Cutcliffe. He has surpassed all expectations at a private AND basketball school, and covers his games at a 60% clip.

Other notables, are Ohio State’s Urban Meyer at 58.54%, Georgia Tech’s Wing-T Power Option offense with Paul Johnson at 57.14%, and in 10 seasons, Utah’s Kyle Wittingham at 56.64%

Looking at conference against-the-spread covers, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the Big 14, I mean Eleven, well ok, I guess we’ll go with Ten Conference.

They cover an embarrassingly 50.32% of the time, or just barely breakeven in Vegas. Just another reason why the Big Ten sucks at life. At the top, is none other than the Big 12, at 52.82%. Not to beat on a horse when it’s down, but the Big Ten gets a big fat F-.

What I found surprising, was that the average tenure of a Big 12 coach was 9.22 years. Lowest was the Pac 12 at 3.09, while the other three conferences range from 5.18 to 5.93 seasons, respectively.

So, like your middle school English teacher says – What is the moral to the story? Vegas and their odds makers are very precise at what they do, otherwise they wouldn’t be taking in over $600 million in college football bets annually. Their numbers are remarkably spot on, and they have increasingly grabbed an alarmingly large demographic of Generation-X, who enjoys spending money on sports gambling.

It seems as though programs that specialize in using the entire field and absolutely none of the play clock have been successful at beating the spread, ala Oregon and Baylor. Also, teams that focus on defense, like Michigan State and Stanford, are consistently bringing home Vegas paydays.

What gets lost in the shuffle are the teams that get bet on the most. Florida State and its dominance over the last few years only covered in 3 of their 14 games last year. Alabama was not much better, at 5-9. The public tends to bet more on national programs, and in turn, can swing the spread tremendously.

For the record, in Paul Rhoads’ six seasons at the helm, he is the equivalent to a coin toss. His record is exactly 50%. His margin of victory in that span, is that of minus-6.7, and covered his spread by minus-0.2 points per game. Since 2003, Kirk Ferentz and his base 4-3 defense and high school offense has covered 53.1% of the time, with an average margin of victory of 6.7, and beat the spread by 1.0 point per game.

For the record, take these statistics for what they are. Because, that’s what they are – just statistics. I’m not a shark, nor am I proficient at gambling, though I do enjoy making sports bets from time to time.