It took only 16 seconds last Saturday night for me to realize that college football was officially back.
Austin Peay running back CJ Evans Jr. took an option pitch on the first play from scrimmage and rumbled 75 yards for a touchdown to ignite the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
Social media exploded. My phone buzzed off the hook. People were so excited to have football back on television. And it felt like they were even more excited to be able to bet on it for the first time since early February.
One East Coast bookmaker told me his shop took more money on the Austin Peay-Central Arkansas game than they did on Lakers-Blazers that same night. Bookmakers around the country reported betting handles that were close to or equal to the action on the NBA and NHL Playoffs.
“Oh yeah, people were firing on it,” Circa Sports risk supervisor Motoi Pearson told NBC Sports. “Then there was that late news about several Austin Peay players having COVID. Anyone that had that information got down as much as they could. That line went from -3 to -5.5 and even touched -6. From the looks of it, a lot of the recreational guys had a good time betting college football too. It was awesome to see.”
There are six college football games on the betting boards this Saturday. None of the big boys return to the field yet, but bets will still be flying around at a pace unlike any other season in years past. Labor Day weekend ends with a nationally televised game on Monday night between BYU and Navy. You already know that a stand-alone Monday night game (no NFL yet) is going to pique bettors’ interests.
“Six figures [of handle] would be great,” Pearson said after a chuckle. “We’ve already seen good action on this game. We opened Navy -2 and now we’re at BYU -1.5. Recreational guys will get down no matter what. We’ll have enough bettors and we’ll monitor the money accordingly.”
How about sharp action? Anything to report?
“Middle Tennessee State opened +5 against Army,” Pearson explained. "That’s down to 3.5, so it seems like the Blue Raiders are the sharp side there. Some of these totals just got blasted. Arkansas State-Memphis opened 71.5 up to 74. Texas State-SMU opened 66 up to 69. We’ll probably see some buyback the other way, but these numbers are getting up there.”
Speaking of getting up there, several industry experts estimate that the football handle numbers from September to December 2020 are going to be higher than ever before. After all, you can now legally bet in 18 states and it has never been easier to get down on a football game.
“It’s going to get crazy.” Pearson said of the expected betting handle this season. “It’ll be wild to see what happens all around the country.”