Daily Blog •Aug 1, 2012 Blog Archives

# How Often Do Underdogs Win Outright?

Naturally there are different levels of underdogs and if you know me by now, you know that I will head to my computer and get all the details. There has been a lot of college football played since 1997, 15 years worth of it. If you count each FBS team playing a game (so 2 teams each game) in that span there were 20,882 different games of data for me to analyze.

Let’s look at the biggest favorites and you will see that Las Vegas does its job well picking out big favorites. Since 1997 there have been 596 teams that have been favored by OVER 31 points in a game. Of those 596 only SIX have lost the game straight up. The biggest upset ever was when Stanford (+41) upset USC in 2007 and showing what a weird year that was, the 2nd biggest upset ever was also in 2007 when Syracuse (+37) beat Louisville. The other 3 huge upsets since 1997 were: Temple (+35.5) over Virginia Tech in 1998, Central Michigan (+35.5) over Western Michigan in 2000, James Madison (+35) over Virginia Tech in 2010 and North Texas (+32) over Texas Tech in 1997. Basically if your team is installed as an underdog of 31 points or more in a game, they have a 1% chance of winning.

Now let’s look at the chances of your favorite team winning if they are installed as an underdog of 24.5 to 31 points. Since 1997 there have been 756 teams that have been favored by 24.5 to 31 points in a game. You would expect the underdogs would have a better chance of winning outright than the above teams and naturally they do. In that span 30 teams that have been favored by that margin have lost straight up in a game with three such upsets last year. Texas Tech was +28.5 when they upset Oklahoma on the road, Iowa St was +27.5 when they upset Oklahoma St at home and Sacramento St was +27.5 when they beat Oregon St on the road. The amount of upset did not go up as much as I thought they would as upsets occurred only 3.97% of the time or 1 out of every 25.2 games.

You would figure that the percentage of upsets in the 17.5 to 24 point favorites level would go up drastically from that 3.97% in the previous category. Since 1997 there have been 1,316 teams that have been favored by 17.5 to 24 points. I am still a little surprised that there were only 89 upsets in this level of favorites over the 15-year span. That is just 6.8% upsets which comes out to 1 upset loss for every 14.8 teams that are favored by 17.5 to 24 points. Last year there were six such upsets which included UNLV over Hawaii, Northwestern over Nebraska. Wyoming over San Diego St, New Mexico St over Minnesota, Colorado over Utah and UAB over Southern Miss.

I will start breaking it down into smaller categories as we continue to go down in level of favoritism. The next category to look at are teams that are favored by 14.5 (more than 2 TD’s) to 17 points. Since 1997 there have been 836 teams that have been favored by 14.5 to 17 points in a game. Of the 836 teams favored by this amount 110 have lost the game outright. That is close to double the odds as the category above as 13.2% of the teams favored by 14.5 to 17 points lose outright and an upset occurs 1 time for every 7.6 games played in that level. There were only 8 such upsets last year including USC over Oregon.

The next level down that I will look at is the 10.5 to 14 point category. From 1997 – 2011 there were 1,458 teams that were favored by this level. Of those 1,458 games there were 306 upsets which was 20.99% of the time. That still means that roughly 4 out of every 5 teams favored by 10.5-14 points wins the game with an upset occurring once every 4.8 times.

From 1997-2011 there were 1,360 teams that were favored by 7.5 to 10 points and of those 1,360 teams there were 359 upsets which was almost the same results as the favorites from 10.5 to 14. That means that 26.39% of the time a team was favored by 7.5 to 10 points they lost outright and that translates into 1 upset every 3.8 games.

Since 1997 there have been 2,476 teams that have been favored from 3.5 to 7 points. These are teams that are expected to win the game but the game should be close. The last time we tightened up the category the upsets went from every 4.8 games to every 3.8 games. Should we expect 1 in every 2.8 games here? Since 1997, 865 of the 2,476 teams that were underdogs of 3.5 to 7 points have pulled outright upsets and that translates into 1 every 2.9 games or 34.9% of the time.

Now we get to the category that will tell us if Las Vegas knows what they are doing. Games where a team is favored by 3 points or less. These games are basically toss-ups but Vegas favors one team and makes them the favorite. What percentage of teams pull minor upsets as underdogs of 3 points or less? As I type this I do not know the answer but I will guess 45% of them. Now let’s go to the computer. Since 1997 there have been 1,643 favorites of 3 points or less. My 45% guess would have 739 minor “upsets”. The actual answer is 785 “upsets” by teams that are underdogs of 3 points or less which comes out to be 47.8% and that shows these games are definitely toss-ups!

As I type this I am thinking that 3 point games should have a much higher % of the favorite winning so let’s take a closer look at just those games. There have been 576 games in which a team was favored by 3 points by Las Vegas over the last 15 years. How many times does that team win outright? The answer is 319 times or 55.4% of the time. That is 319 times the favorite has won and 257 times the underdog has won which means the underdog is almost as likely as the favorite to win the game when the line is exactly 3 points.

Here is a quick chart showing the chances of a team winning outright depending on where Las Vegas sets the line.

 Favorite of # of Gms Lost Outright % 31+ pts 596 6 1.01% 24.5-31 756 30 3.97% 17.5-24 1316 89 6.76% 14.5-17 836 110 13.16% 10.5-14 1458 306 20.99% 7.5-10 1360 359 26.39% 3.5-7 2476 865 34.94% 3 or less 1643 785 47.78%