The difference between college football and the NFL

What’s the Difference Between College Football And NFL?

Pigskin sports reign supreme with sports bettors. If it’s played on the gridiron, sportsbooks will offer odds and action on every game. Whether it’s a Monday night matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, or a rivalry like the one between USC and Notre Dame, you can find something to wager on in college football or NFL football.

Although they both have the word football in their name, there are major differences between the NFL game and college football when it comes to betting. If you don’t understand the nuances involved with wagering on each one, you could see yourself with some inadvertent losses on your betting slip.

Here at Odds Shark, we do not want you to record losses. We want you to be Sportsbooks like Bo Jackson, who, by the way, knows everything. This guide will show you the differences between pro football and the collegiate game so you can make smart picks.

Are The Odds The Same For NFL And College Football?

The way the odds are displayed at the sportsbook will appear the same for both sports. Let’s say there are two “Battle of Pennsylvania” storylines going on during the same weekend. The odds for a typical moneyline wager would look like this at the betting site:

NFL College
Pittsburgh Steelers -180 Penn State Nittany Lions -150
Philadelphia Eagles +230 Pitt Panthers +200

NFL vs College Football Betting

There are many differences between the two football types. Before you bet, you should familiarize yourself with the distinctions to ensure you make educated picks. Don’t worry, Odds Shark’s done the heavy lifting in terms of research.

College Football Has All The Volume

There are 32 NFL teams in eight divisions. The Football Bowl Subdivision has 130 Division 1 college football teams in 10 conferences. In terms of handicapping, you’d have to be a full-time sports betting analyst to be on top of each Div 1 squad and how they’re performing ATS. With the pro game, it’s easier to look into 32 squads and how a team played in its previous games against a certain opponent.

We have a database for the NFL and one for NCAAF where you can get that information. However, it would be impossible to look into 130 schools before you make your bets. We suggest specializing in one or two conferences instead.

NFL Standings In Contrast To College Football Rankings

There are standings and there are rankings. Before the beginning of college football season, an official list of 25 ranked teams is created.

There is no such official list for pro football. Even though many sports media outlets will make lists, these have no bearing on betting.

College rankings have a huge impact on wins. In the NFL, one team triumphing over another will help them in the standings. In college football, a win is only half the battle.

A small margin of victory will hurt a team’s rankings, especially if a squad is favored and only wins by a field goal. Teams that run up the score and destroy their opponents are more likely to see a surge in the rankings.

The same is true for underdogs when they pull off an upset. When a No. 4-ranked team gets slaughtered by a No. 18-ranked school, the lesser squad will probably see a jump in rank, while the other team could fall to No. 5 or 6.

In the NFL, whether the New England Patriots win by 40 points or 10 over the New York Jets, the margin of victory doesn’t matter, and won’t affect where they sit in their divisional standings.

Basically, in the NFL, standings are king. In college, rankings rule.

Talent Distribution For NFL Teams

When betting on the NFL, you’d look into everything from how many catches a wide receiver has, to how many yards a quarterback throws for (or how few, for teams struggling with their offense). This is especially true if you are making a prop bet.

The way talent is distributed in the NFL comes from the draft where top college players go to teams that tanked in the previous season. For instance, a winless Miami Dolphins team would most likely take the best college quarterback in his draft class first overall. On the other hand, a Super Bowl-contending New Orleans Saints might already have the tools in place to make another run at the big game and are looking to build on their momentum.

They aren’t going to take the No. 1 QB, they’re going to take a running back or defensive player to round out their roster or have on reserve just in case someone gets injured. Think of it this way: bad teams look to make moves in the present, while good teams draft for the future.

In college football, there is no draft. The talented players are recruited by the head coach of successful programs. Those schools continue to see success because of major money backing from their boosters. In the NFL, a team that goes all out in the draft will eventually see their bad luck turn around.

It could take a few years but a cellar-dweller will eventually crawl its way out and make its way to being a contender. So, when the best squad in college faces off against an average one, the talent disparity will be widely apparent, and it’s in those spots that you should bet on the point spread – more on that below.

Point Spreads In College Mean Business

As we stated above, there are going to be talent mismatches in some college games, and these matchups are probably going to come with a giant point spread. Generally, college spreads are greater than those for the NFL due to the higher-scoring nature of NCAA football, and when you throw mismatches into the mix, you’ll find awesome betting value.

Exploiting the college spread is easy when you know what to look for. In the NFL, the spread usually ranges from 3 to 14 points. In college football, you could see spreads of 30 points or higher.

Teams like Ohio State and Alabama are known to annihilate their foes. In 2020, the Crimson Tide were favored by more than 28 points five separate times. They covered in four of those instances.

In recent years, the largest NFL spread (26.5) came from a Jacksonville Jaguars vs Denver Broncos game in 2013. You’ll be hard pressed to see something like that in the National Football League often, whereas in college football, you could see that every week, since team scores are so much higher.

The same goes for totals. NFL OVER/UNDER numbers won’t be as high as they would be for college football games since the scoring discrepancies aren’t that big.

Out-Of-Conference Games Aren’t A Big Deal In The NFL

When you bet on NFL games where the two teams are from separate conferences, you’re not looking at major discrepancies in aptitude. If the Seattle Seahawks are squaring off against the Baltimore Ravens, you’d handicap travel since they’re changing time zones but you wouldn’t need to look into the entire NFC’s record vs the AFC as a whole. For college, when a Big 12 club plays an Independent school, you could actually look at both conferences’ past records against each other for a betting edge.

The only out-of-conference game that really matters in the pros is the Super Bowl. You’re better off worrying about divisional rivalry games because those affect the standings and playoff chances.

Professionals Vs Teenagers

Remember how you were in high school? Some of us on the Odds Shark staff – not naming names – used to listen to Limp Bizkit willingly. Nowadays, that person recoils in horror when someone mentions that band. Collegiate athletes are kind of the same.

They’re young university students, some as young as 18. It’s their first time away from home and they can let their emotions get the best of them on the field. They also don’t have million-dollar contracts to fall back on like in professional football.

Mistakes are more likely to occur at the collegiate level than they are in the NFL. A veteran college player is 23. An NFL vet could be in his 40s and knows how to avoid costly errors that might result in loss of yards, or worse, loss of game.


Overtime is different in college football compared to the NFL. In college football, the teams play extra periods until a Sportsbook is declared. Each OT period consists of one possession for each team. A coin toss determines the order. The drive starts at the opposing 25-yard line with a chance to kick a field goal or score a touchdown.

It’s sudden death in the NFL. The first team to score by safety, field goal or touchdown wins. If no team scores, then the game is declared a tie with the exception of playoff games, when the game continues until there is a Sportsbook.

Two-Point Conversions

In the NFL, the two-point conversion starts on the two-yard line. In college football, the two-point conversion starts on the three-yard line.

Down By Contact

In college football, a play is dead the moment any part of the body touches the ground that isn’t the athlete’s hands or feet. In the NFL, a player has to be forced down for a play to be over.

Hash Marks

Hash marks determine where the ball is spotted. In the NFL, hash marks are 18 feet, 6 inches apart. In college football, hash marks are 40 feet apart. The NFL always starts near the middle of the field, with relatively equal spacing on both sides, whereas in college football, the ball can be all the way over on one hash.

The Championships Are Vastly Dissimilar

The Super Bowl is the biggest game in the world for bettors. Betting on college football bowls is huge, but it’s no match for the culmination of the entire NFL season. Sure, there are more bowls to bet on in college but the stakes aren’t as high until we get to the New Year’s Six, because Sportsbooks of some of those bowls will make it to the championship game.

Another thing to consider is the unofficial cheering squad. College football fans will travel far to attend bowl games. NFL fans generally won’t travel out of state. Is a Las Vegas Raiders fan going to go to Texas to watch the big game?

Chances are, they’re going to watch it from the comfort of their own home. You can bet on an LSU Tigers fan going to travel to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl.

For college teams in bowl games, their fans can turn any match into a home game by the sheer noise of their cheers and jeers. When Indianapolis is hosting the Super Bowl, you’ll get an audience of mostly Colts fans whether or not their team is playing. You’ll also see celebrities because they can afford to pay the exorbitant ticket prices.

The good news is, you can bet on the NFL and college football at the same time, especially if you create a parlay ticket – multiple wagers on one betting slip. That’s the great thing about sports betting, you have carte blanche to bet on the Detroit Lions and the Michigan Wolverines – especially if you keep it locked to Odds Shark, where we have all the handicapping info you need to make educated bets.

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