Determining Home Field Advantage Against the Spread in College Football for 2019

Date | AuthorAdam Burke

Last Updated: 2019-06-18

One of my projects last summer was to come up with a better way to quantify home field advantage. In the world of sports betting, the margins seem to get thinner with each passing season and you can’t take anything for granted. My largely arbitrary home field advantage calculations weren’t going to get it done.

In the past, I would start with a base of three points and only go higher from there. Each team, deserving or not, got at least three points for HFA. My assumption was that the travel and the unique college environments were automatically worth at least a field goal. It seemed a little bit dangerous to slap a full score on there, but that was the way that I had done it for a while and I never really made an effort to change it.

Let me preface my own personal system, for lack of a better term, with this. Home field advantage is subjective. There is no way to calculate an exact value across the board or for a single game. Everybody is likely to have something different at that’s fine. You want to have something and something reasonable. There are no distinct criteria for setting an HFA value in college football or in any other sport. Everybody will have a different plan of attack, a different value, and a different thought process.

For mine, I decided to look at records Straight Up (SU) and Against the Spread (ATS) at home over a three-year period. Why three years? As I wrote last year, “it encapsulates the time period in which a lot of current players have been in the program”. Now, the obvious downside is that the coaching carousel is always spinning. After all, we have 27 new Division I head coaches this season, 10 in the Power Five and 17 in the Group of Five.

So, three years may not be the right call, but what is? Five years? Freshmen four years ago are now seniors and seniors three years ago are two years removed from playing football at that university or college. Seven years? Ten years? What makes sense? That’s a matter of personal preference. For me, I opted for three years.

Why straight up record? Well, I think there’s still something to be said about taking care of your business at home. There’s something to be said about that perception that makes a team a clear-cut favorite. There’s something to be said about counting upset losses twice and upset wins twice. Because home field advantage is such a matter of conjecture, and everybody has a different value on what it is actually worth, the SU record takes some of that bias out of the equation as well.

My foundation for home field advantage is not perfect. Guess what? Neither is yours. The best of the best don’t have a “perfect” system either because no such thing exists. Is a night game in Death Valley really worth an extra point or 1.5 points against Alabama, a team accustomed to playing in the spotlight? How about at USC? Or Notre Dame? Or Ohio State? We’re all guessing. It’s an educated guess, but it’s still a guess.

I’m okay with that. I’m at peace with knowing that my system is not perfect and may not jive with what somebody else believes. Here at BangTheBook, we’re in the information sharing business. If you like what you read and want to incorporate, we’re thrilled. If you don’t like what you read, but take the time to do it anyway, we’re thrilled.

This generated a lot of talk last year. Some of it good, some of it bad. Some constructive criticism and something completely different. I’m happy with that, too.

My home field advantage values now range from 2 points to 4.5 points. While I’m only looking at sample sizes of around 20 or 25 games, I feel like this is better than just slapping numbers on HFA haphazardly.

Teams that had an 80% SU + ATS record at home got 4.5 points of HFA. There is only one. It is Alabama. Surprise! Teams that had a 70% SU + ATS record at home got 4 points of HFA. There are a handful. Teams that had a 60% SU + ATS record at home got 3.5 points of HFA.

On the flip side, teams that were less than 50% SU + ATS at home got 2.5 points. Teams that were less than 40% SU + ATS at home got 2 points. Everybody that did not fall into one of those five categories got the standard 3 points. The SU + ATS records were tabulated using Phil Steele’s magazine, for convenience purposes.

Lastly, these remain baseline numbers. Situational spots, long travel, climate/weather changes, and start times do still want to be factored into the equation, but please do so responsibly.

Here are the teams that fall into one of the five brackets and do not get exactly 3 points for HFA:

80% SU + ATS (4.5 pts)

Alabama

Oklahoma was the only team here last year.

 

70% SU + ATS (4 pts)

Michigan

Ohio State

Penn State

Clemson

Oklahoma

Arizona State

Washington

Washington State

Army

UCF

Memphis

Wyoming

Fresno State

There were six teams in this bucket last year. There are 13 this year.

 

60% SU + ATS (3.5 pts)

LSU

Texas A&M

Auburn

Mississippi State

Georgia

Florida

Missouri

Iowa

Wisconsin

NC State

Miami

Virginia Tech

Pittsburgh

Georgia Tech

Oklahoma State

West Virginia

Utah

USC

Stanford

Notre Dame

Temple

Houston

Navy

Utah State

Middle Tennessee

Old Dominion

UAB – (only two years of data, but 12-0 SU, 10-1-1 ATS should be recognized)

North Texas

Ohio

Buffalo

Toledo

Western Michigan

Appalachian State

Troy

Arkansas State

There were 32 teams in this bucket last year. There are 35 this year.

 

<50% SU + ATS (2.5 pts)

Ole Miss

Tennessee

Kentucky

Indiana

Rutgers

Nebraska

Purdue

Wake Forest

Louisville

North Carolina

TCU

Kansas

UCLA

BYU

UMass

Cincinnati

East Carolina

Hawaii

UNLV

San Jose State

Marshall

Charlotte

UTSA

Central Michigan

Coastal Carolina

Louisiana Monroe

There were 17 teams in this bucket last year. There are 26 this year.

 

<40% SU + ATS (2 pts)

Illinois

Oregon State

UConn

New Mexico

UTEP

Rice

Kent State

Akron

Bowling Green

Ball State

Georgia State

Texas State

There were 14 teams in this bucket last year. There are 12 this year.

 

Here are the changes:

Alabama – from 4 to 4.5

 

Oklahoma – from 4.5 to 4

Michigan – from 3.5 to 4

Ohio State – from 3.5 to 4

Arizona State – from 3.5 to 4

Washington – from 3.5 to 4

Army – from 3 to 4

UCF – from 3 to 4

Wyoming – from 3.5 to 4

Fresno State – from 3 to 4

 

Texas A&M – from 3 to 3.5

Auburn – from 3 to 3.5

Mississippi State – from 3 to 3.5

Georgia – from 3 to 3.5

Missouri – from 3 to 3.5

NC State – from 3 to 3.5

Miami – from 3 to 3.5

Virginia Tech – from 3 to 3.5

Pitt – from 3 to 3.5

Georgia Tech – from 3 to 3.5

USC – from 4 to 3.5

Utah State – from 3 to 3.5

Old Dominion – from 3 to 3.5

UAB – from 3 to 3.5

North Texas – from 3 to 3.5

Buffalo – from 3 to 3.5

Troy – from 3 to 3.5

 

Kentucky – from 2.5 to 3

Northwestern – from 3.5 to 3

Cal – from 3.5 to 3

Air Force – from 3.5 to 3

Louisiana Tech – from 3.5 to 3

Northern Illinois – from 3.5 to 3

South Florida – from 4 to 3

 

Ole Miss – from 3.5 to 2.5

Tennessee – from 3 to 2.5

Indiana – from 3 to 2.5

Rutgers – from 2 to 2.5

Wake Forest – from 3 to 2.5

Louisville – from 3 to 2.5

North Carolina – from 3 to 2.5

TCU – from 3 to 2.5

Kansas – from 2 to 2.5

UCLA – from 3 to 2.5

BYU – from 3.5 to 2.5

UMass – from 2 to 2.5

East Carolina – from 2 to 2.5

Hawaii – from 2 to 2.5

UNLV – from 2 to 2.5

San Jose State – from 2 to 2.5

Marshall – from 3 to 2.5

Charlotte – from 2 to 2.5

Central Michigan – from 3 to 2.5

Coastal Carolina – from 3 to 2.5 – (only two years of data, but 6-14 SU + ATS at home)

Louisiana Monroe – from 3 to 2.5

 

UConn – from 2.5 to 2

New Mexico – from 3 to 2

UTEP – from 2.5 to 2

Akron – from 2.5 to 2

Georgia State – from 2.5 to 2

 

In total, 34 teams saw an increase in their HFA and 26 teams saw a decrease in their HFA. I do think that the three-year sample size does cater to teams that are in an upswing and you would want to re-evaluate them, particularly at home, in that window. I think it also has a benefit in isolating a team that has fallen on hard times.

I do wonder if adjusting 60 of the 130 teams in one offseason is a bit too extreme, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

If nothing else for the readers, it is some food for thought. When I put together my power ratings over the next couple of weeks, I will add the HFA values for each team to them and use those for my projected spreads in the season win total previews.

Let me know what you think. You can comment here, hit me up on Twitter (@SkatingTripods), or email me adam(at)bangthebook(dot)com.

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