Las Vegas-based sportsbook Circa Sports is responsible for some of the first college football lines to launch each week during the season.
The spreads and totals of Circa, set by professional bettors and often influencing the rest, usually appear on Sunday morning. The action that follows often affects the rest of the betting market.
“For now, we still plan to release our college football lines at 11 a.m. each week [PT] Sundays,” Matt Metcalf, the Circa sportsbook director who oversees college football’s opening lines, told ESPN. “Only time will tell if this remains the world’s premier weekly college football line, or if someone opens sooner and strips us of our place in the ecosystem.”
A month before the start of the college football season, Metcalf participated in a short email Q&A session with ESPN. The content has been edited slightly for clarity.
How much has USC improved in your performance metrics from the end of last season to now?
Metcalf: I’m starting USC with basically the same rating I had for them when they started last season, but a lot has happened in 2021. I definitely overrated them when I started last year, but USC under Clay Helton has always been a tough team number. They always seemed to have the most talent in the league but have always underperformed in my opinion. At various points during his tenure they seemed to have figured things out and to be on the right track, but they never pulled it all together and have returned to an elite level. When Helton got fired I kind of expected a demolition, but to my surprise they played pretty consistently for most of the season, just falling down the track and kind of limping to the finish.
USC will be one of the teams I’ll be quick to adjust in my ratings based on early success. Oftentimes, I have such a negative opinion of how a trainer ran a program that I feel like I just have to remove it [the coach] can be quite important regardless of what the new coach brings into the equation. This would probably be the case for me at USC as well as the University of Miami. If USC can improve on defense and make some noise on offense – as Caleb Williams is expected to do – the climb back to the elite level could be pretty quick. I try to be overly cautious about how much I increase them early in the season as there are so many variables when a new coach gets into a situation like this, but I could definitely see their cap up to a TD higher than I will have rated them at the beginning. For these reasons, I’m opening it with the same rating as Utah, and we’ll take it from there, although I think Utah’s cap is significantly lower than USC’s.
How was betting on USC in your futures market? Are the Trojans among the most popular betting teams?
Metcalf: We definitely adjusted our USC odds quickly when Lincoln Riley came to the coach; We probably over-moved them, to be honest. We went back to 16:1 [to win the national championship] with the thought that this was going to be a massively public team, and the Pac-12 hadn’t had elite teams to challenge them in a while. When we started reading a little more this summer, we brought that down to about 25-1 because we thought this team still had a decently high ceiling, and compared to the Big Ten and the SEC in a relatively weak conference plays.
When we came up with our season win numbers, we came up with about 8.5 wins, but definitely wanted to open higher based on the public team factor and the potential advantage I mentioned earlier. We opened with 9.5 profits and basically waited for the bettors to tell us what to do. With high profile teams like USC, there are always two numbers: what we make of it and what we use based on public perception. LSU would be another example of one of those teams this year. Our raw number for them is 5.5, but we used 6.5 because we knew the public would most likely bet this team on a low number. In these situations we are basically looking for a number that recreational gamblers or fans will bet on and below which no professional gambler will bet. That remains to be seen given that we’re so early in the offseason betting cycle, but so far we’ve only taken money on these two teams, which is fine with us.
LSU has been a hugely popular team in national title futures, largely because you get the chance to back another high-profile new coach (Brian Kelly) who’s moving to a historically elite program, but at a much higher price point than USC . LSU has attracted significant money to some higher prices in the 70/90-1 range and we are now sitting at 55-1 where we are still seeing decent action. USC didn’t pull that much because we honestly think they have a much better chance of making the playoffs and got a price to match. I’d say we’re still early in the offseason, but from a betting standpoint, a lot of the money will show up in August.
What do you notice about your college football futures markets at this point?
Metcalf: The inactivity is noticeable at the moment. With the elite teams being so far ahead of the crowd (Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State) this seems to have had a really negative impact on betting behavior. I think people on some of the midrange teams are discouraged because they’re usually more excited about betting because of the top-heavy nature of the college football landscape. A title game at Alabama-Ohio State is looking really inevitable to a degree, and if things get really crazy you might get Georgia-Ohio State. A futures market isn’t that attractive to anyone unless there’s a little more parity.
https://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/34281754/lsu-attracted-significant-money-qa-las-vegas-oddsmaker ‘LSU has attracted significant money’