Want to win earn a spot in the BCS national championship game? Cover the point spread

National champions need to cover the spread. And they’ve done exactly that during the BCS era.

The last 15 national champions went a combined 123-63-2 against the spread during their title seasons. Those teams earned a shot at the BCS crown by winning impressively, something that’s hard to do without covering the spread.

A team’s record against the spread shows whether it has exceeded or failed to meet the betting market’s expectations. At the end of the regular season, when splitting hairs between the nation’s elite teams, records against the spread can identify which teams have accomplished more than was expected.

In some cases, a team’s record against the spread can be a better indication of its overall performance than strength of schedule. Teams have little control over how opponents scheduled years in advance fare throughout the season. But they can control how they perform against those opponents. And one of the best ways to determine the level of their performance, regardless of the competition, is by comparing the result with the point spread.

Todd Fuhrman, sports betting analyst for Don Best and Fox Sports 1, disagrees and doesn’t believe a team’s record against the spread is a fair gauge, especially for the top public favorites who may be faced with inflated point spreads.

“The goal of the oddsmaker is to try to discourage people from betting the best teams. So if Alabama goes 10-2 against the number, the house hasn’t done a good job of setting prices,” Fuhrman said. “So that’s penalizing teams that are good. In the ideal scenario, a bookmaker wants anybody in the Top 5 to go 0-12 against the spread.”

If that’s the case, oddsmakers have underperformed. The last 15 national champions have covered the spread in 65 percent of their games. The 2007 LSU Tigers are the only BCS national champion to finish their title season with a losing record against the spread. Since 1998, nine of the eventual 15 national champions have started the season ranked in the top 5.

What the BCS title game point spreads mean

The Golden Nugget sportsbook has opened betting on the most likely matchups in the BCS National Championship Game:

  • Alabama -5 vs. Florida State
  • Alabama -8.5 vs. Baylor
  • Alabama -10.5 vs. Ohio State
  • Florida State -4.5 vs. Baylor
  • Florida State -6.5 vs. Ohio State
  • Baylor -4 vs. Ohio State

The Alabama-Florida State line has generated the most betting action. According to Golden Nugget college football odds specialist Aaron Kessler, 90 percent of the action on that game has been on the Seminoles. The Nugget is taking $2,000 limits on the early BCS lines. Every limit bet that had been placed as of Wednesday was on Florida State, and there have been a few.

“Alabama was -6.5 last week, and money drove it down to 4,” Kessler said.

While the potential showdown between the Crimson Tide and Florida State is generating the most betting buzz now, if either team slips up in the coming weeks, the Baylor-Ohio State point spread will become the hotter topic. The Bears are the favorites, but that doesn’t mean Baylor is the more deserving team. That’s not what the point spread is designed to indicate.

A look back at Auburn’s 2010-11 national championship season shows why it’s unwise to say one team is more deserving than another strictly because they’d be favored over that opponent. The unbeaten Tigers were 4.5-point road underdogs to a two-loss Alabama team in the 2010 Iron Bowl. Auburn came back from a 21-0 deficit to win, 28-27, and advance to the SEC championship game and eventually the national championship Game. Multiple oddsmakers at the time said they still would have made Alabama a favorite over Auburn if the two teams were to meet on a neutral-field bowl game.

Alabama is in a similar position this season. The Crimson Tide could lose to Auburn or in the SEC championship game and would still be favored over Baylor or Ohio State.