The Strategy Of Betting College Football First Half Props
The weekly college football card presents all sorts of ways to win a bet. While most think of betting in full, 60-minute segments, one way is to bet the first half. You’re not sure a team will win the game outright, but you do think that team will be good at the start of the game and will be able to lead outright or maybe even lead by a certain number of points at halftime.
A first half point spread for a favorite will be less than the full game spread. If a team is a 10-point favorite for the game, it might be anywhere from a 3.5-point favorite to a 6.5-point favorite in the first half of a game. You’re not betting on 60 minutes of action, but the first 30. It’s something sharp sports bettors love to focus on, so let’s go into some of the details of how to handicap college football first half props.
Hot Starters And Slow Starters
The challenge of betting on the first half of a college football game has a lot of dimensions. One of the fundamental aspects of this situation is being able to weigh hot starters versus slow starters. Some teams have a pattern of starting hot, and others have a pattern of starting slowly. You might have heard that a team is a “first-half team” or a “second-half team.”
It never hurts to look at a pattern of results under a specific head coach or in home or road (or neutral field) situations. Maybe look at one or two years of data since some players on a team in 2021 might still be on a team in 2023. Players on a team in 2019 are gone, so you probably don’t need to look at results from that year, but certainly for 2022, you should be looking at results to consider a possible angle or opening for a 2023 game against a certain opponent or in a specific situation.
Maybe the favored team is nevertheless a second-half team instead of a first-half team. The team favored to win the game might be a touchdown favorite in the first half (11 to 13 points for the whole game). You could consider betting on the first-half underdog, the team which is a touchdown underdog for the first half and an 11-13-point underdog for the whole game.
The game might be really close in the first half before the favorite gets it going in the second half because its coach makes really good halftime adjustments. You could get the first-half point spread underdog on one ticket and then bet on the favorite – the second-half team – at a lower point spread or a lower moneyline price at halftime. You can cash multiple tickets and get action on both teams.
The reality of betting on first halves in college football games is shaped in part by lookahead games. A great example of this is Florida State at Boston College contest in New England in the 2023 season. Florida State was looking ahead to Clemson the following week. Teams will be thinking about the next week’s game against an elite opponent instead of the lower-tier opponent in front of them on that day. Florida State was a 25-point favorite for the game, probably favored by about 14 points (give or take a few) in the first half alone. However, a sleepy start for FSU created a sluggish first half. Florida State led only 17-10 at halftime.
If you had Boston College plus 11 points for the first half, you won. You weren’t betting on Boston College to win the game outright, but you were betting on BC to have a good first half and FSU to struggle in the first half. That would have been a correct instinct.
There is a lookahead game in college football, and there is also something called a letdown or hangover game. The letdown game is the week after a crushing loss in a very important game. Think of the Clemson-Florida State game this week or the Notre Dame-Ohio State game this week. Next week, the losers of those games might be vulnerable to a letdown. They are sulking and sad and deflated, and they just won’t play with a lot of enthusiasm the next week.
Coaches are fond of saying, “Don’t let this game beat you twice.” They are referring to the need to prevent one week’s loss from spilling into the next week and creating damaged morale which hurts team performance for several games. Coaches are speaking about the need to avoid a letdown.
Brian Kelly was asked about any potential letdown after the loss vs. Alabama.
He doesn't think the team goes that route.
"We won 10 games last year. We need to win 10 again. If you want to close the gap to being elite, back-to-back 10-win seasons can do that for you."
— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) November 6, 2023
There is also the hangover game, the game after a really huge win. People often like to celebrate big achievements by going out to a bar or a club and getting drunk. They celebrate deep into the night and get a hangover which leaves them foggy for the next morning. They might not function very well the next day. In college football, the team which wins a huge game – such as Ohio State-Notre Dame – comes out the next week without a lot of intensity, still floating on the emotional high of the previous week and not being very focused or task-oriented for the next game being played. This is another way in which the previous week affects a team’s concentration and level of performance for the next week.
The weather is an obvious factor in betting on the first half of a game. If the conditions are rainy, the offensive players will have to adjust to the wet ball and the wet turf. Snowy conditions for November or December games will require an adjustment as well. The other big weather factor can be the wind.
Teams might go into the wind and struggle to both throw and kick the ball, but teams with the wind at their back could have a lot of success throwing and kicking. You would want to hold off on your first-half bet until you know which team is going with and against the wind in the first quarter, and which team would therefore go with or against the wind in the second quarter. There’s a lot to keep track of here.
Injuries And Suspensions
The targeting rule is such that if a player is flagged for targeting in the second half of a game, he will miss the first half of the following week’s game. First-half suspensions definitely warrant attention if the player is reasonably important to that team’s offense or defense.
USC offense in the first half while Utah safety Cole Bishop was on the sidelines serving "targeting" suspension:
97 yards rushing
139 yards passing
USC offense in the second half with Bishop on the field:
48 yards rushing
117 yards passing
— Matt Patton (@patton_matt) October 25, 2023
Sometimes you will find a game in which the teams might not have first-half or second-half tendencies – the strong inclinations which might lead you to make a first-half betting choice – but will be affected in one half because of a suspension. That team might then play a lot better in the second half once that first-half suspension ends. This is another way to crack the code with first-half betting.
Another central reality of college football is motivation. When two teams or two coaching staffs engage in smack talk during the week, or when a coach provides bulletin board material for the opposing team, you might see the annoyed team come out firing in a way which might not have been expected if the trash talk had not occurred. You saw this recently when Colorado State – a 23-point underdog for the game and a double-digit underdog for the first half – was involved in a lot of heated back-and-forth sparring sessions in the media.
Colorado State wanted to prove a point to Deion Sanders and Colorado, who were getting all the attention before the game. Colorado State played Colorado close and tough the whole game before losing in overtime. A first-half bet on Colorado State against the spread would have cashed. The motivational component of the game was certainly a factor. Colorado State probably won’t play a better or more inspired first half all season, but this was an in-state rivalry and a very particular collection of circumstances which played into Colorado State’s hands.
You also have to consider the schedule when looking at first half performance and likely outcomes. A good example of this is USC. The Trojans are beginning (on September 23) a nine-week grind in which they play a game on nine straight weekends without a single weekend off in that stretch. USC plays September 23 through November 18 without interruption.
You will look at a game in late October or early November and consider the point that USC might be tired and sluggish, and might therefore start a game slowly not because of boredom or a lack of focus, but simply because of fatigue and the accumulated wear and tear which visits all football players and teams over the course of a season. If a team is playing a seventh, eighth, or ninth straight game, it might not start that game with a lot of juice, and it will therefore not perform well when measured against a first-half point spread.
College Football First Half Props Can Pay Off
If you’ve mostly focused on betting full games – with spreads, moneylines and totals – try handicapping the first halves. Given the smaller segment of game time, it’s a different style of bet targeting different factors. The same goes for player props, which can also be focused on halves. Follow the guidelines we’ve gone over above and you should get off on the right path with first halves.