Betting September: Bookmakers' most profitable football month

Betting the first month of the college football season can be a volatile ride featuring mammoth point spreads, extraordinary line movement and plenty of dead money.

It all adds up to make September the most lucrative month of the regular season for bookmakers.

• The past five years, Nevada sportsbooks have won more money on football bets in the month of September ($190.3 million) than they have won in October and November combined ($190.1 million).

• Nevada sportsbooks have suffered a net monthly loss on football bets 11 times in October and November. They've never had a losing September.

"Bettors have been waiting all summer long and have saved their money to bet football," Vic Salerno, founder of sportsbook operator US Bookmaking and a 2015 inductee into the Gaming Hall of Fame, told ESPN. "Most of these people are not advantage players."

"September has always been great. The casual bettors love to play parlays and teasers and other propositions, which we have a higher take-out on. By the time it hits October, a lot of them have run out of bullets."

With the season kicking off Saturday, ESPN Chalk examined how the first month of the college football betting market has played out historically. Remember, past performance might not be indicative of future results, but we'll go out on a limb and install the bookmakers as the favorites to best the bettors in the first month.

Good luck!

August/September volatility

• As most would expect, the college football betting market steadies and sharpens as the season progresses. There is less line movement, and the closing spread becomes significantly tighter to the margin of victory in November compared to September.

"The bookmakers don't know how good these teams are early in the year, so you're going to get your most line movement," said Kenny White, a longtime oddsmaker who consults with sportsbooks in the U.S. and internationally. "Oddsmakers and linemakers are all making adjustments week in and week out. The line's going to be the best it can be [late in the season]. Every week, with more data, the line's going to get better."

• According to ESPN Stats & Information, the average margin of victory in August and September since 1978 is 20.4. With fewer nonconference mismatches, the average margin of victory dips to 17.1 in October and 17.5 in November.

• Spread margin -- the difference between the margin of victory and the closing point spread during the same time frame -- is 15.5 points per game in August/September, nearly double the spread margins in October (8.0) and November (8.8).

• According to sports betting database BetLabSports.com, 13.6% of August/September games feature a line movement of 3.5 points or greater in the past 15 seasons. The percentage of line movements of that size decreases to 11.1% of October games and 8.2% in November.

"The market moves more aggressively [early in the season]," John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, told ESPN. "Same thing happens in college basketball. And then market is much more settled by the end of the season, the way it is in any sport."

• The most extreme line movements often happen in August/September. Of the 68 games that have featured a line movement of seven or more points, 46 involved games in August and September.

• The point spreads are also bigger in August and September. Since 2004, there have been 55 games with spreads of 50 or greater; 41 of those have been in August/September.

• Even with the inaccuracy of the early market, the success rate against the spread for favorites and underdogs remains consistent throughout the regular season. In the past 15 years, favorites covered the spread in 49.3% of games in August and September, 49.0% of games in October and 50.6% in November.

Coaching impact

• Select veteran coaches routinely have their teams exceeding the betting market's expectations early in the season, while other coaches' teams consistently start the season overvalued.

• Hot-starting coaches (vs. the spread in August and September): Fresno State's Jeff Tedford (33-19 ATS), Ohio's Frank Solich (35-23-1 ATS), Arizona's Kevin Sumlin (29-17-1 ATS) and Tulane's Willie Fritz (18-8 ATS).

• Slow-starting coaches (worst vs. the spread in August and September): LSU's Ed Orgeron (8-20 ATS) and San Diego State's Rocky Long (25-43-3 ATS).

Scoring trends

• Scoring is consistent throughout the season. The past 10 seasons, games have averaged 55.8 points in September, 55.7 in October and 56.6 in November.

• The percentage of games that go over the total also remains consistent throughout the season. In August-September, 50.6% of games have gone over the total. In October it was 47.4%, and in November 50.1%.

• Plays per game have decreased slightly as the season progressed the past five years. August/September games average 72.3 plays, October 71.12 and November 70.3.

Game time

(A glance at early games, betting action and line movements)

Florida vs. Miami, 7 p.m. Saturday (ESPN): The season kicks off with a classic betting situation. "At least right now, the professionals like the dog, and public likes the favorite," Ed Salmons, vice president of risk who oversees football odds for the Westgate SuperBook, said Sunday.

The point spread has been as high as Florida -8 and as low as Florida -6.5 before settling at -7 by the beginning of game week.

"We got some sharp action on [Miami] plus-7.5," Salmons said. "The person who bet the dog, we gave him a decent-sized wager. It's someone we know and respect."

The over/under dropped two points, from 50.5 to 48.5, after Miami named redshirt freshman Jarren Williams as starting quarterback on Aug. 12.

LSU at Texas, Sept. 7: One of the most intriguing nonconference games of the season, the showdown between the Tigers and Longhorns caused disagreement between oddsmakers and polarized bettors.

"Half the people love Texas, and the other half hate them, and they're really passionate about their stances," Salmons said. "You always have that SEC bias. People will always make the SEC team favored in those kind of games, just because there is so much SEC bias in terms of the way bettors like to bet. Same as with the Auburn-Oregon game. The SEC will always be overvalued as far as the marketplace."

When favored, SEC teams are a combined 109-123-3 ATS in nonconference, regular-season games the past five seasons.

The Golden Nugget opened LSU as a 3-point favorite in late May. DraftKings and FanDuel, the two largest sportsbooks in New Jersey, have the Tigers -4. The SuperBook made the game a pick 'em in July and just last week moved Texas into the role of favorite after a bet from a respected customer.

"I got a call the other night, and we had a customer that wanted to bet five dimes [$5,000] on that game," Salmons said Sunday. "Our limits are only a dime [$1,000] on games of the year, but that's such a big game, so I had no [problem] giving him that bet. Right now, we have three dimes on LSU and five dimes on Texas. For a game of the year, that's a lot."

Notre Dame at Georgia, Sept. 21: The Bulldogs opened as 9.5-point favorites and could be found at -11.5 by mid-August.

Western Michigan at Syracuse, Sept. 21: The Orange will be coming off a home game against Clemson. In the past five seasons, ACC teams are a combined 11-27-1 ATS in games after facing Clemson.

Ohio State at Nebraska, Sept. 28: The Buckeyes opened as 10-point favorites over the hyped Huskers before the number was bet down to -6 at the Golden Nugget.

*Statistical data from ESPN Stats and Information and BetLabsSports.com was used throughout this article.