The Beginning of a College Football Season
Rather than diving into the meditative practices needed to bring down the stress levels bettors endure during the 21 weeks that is the college football season, I want to first discuss the steps I personally take just to create a power number on a team. As a bettor, power numbers are used to compare two teams in a given matchup and derive a betting line. Your power number is going to be adjusted by many different factors but you want to start by creating two key numbers – a base power number and a base total number. Both are important but they shouldn’t be correlated to one another.
The first step you want to take in college football is getting to know your coaches. The players constantly change, AD’s change, television contracts change, and the climates at the schools themselves can change from year-to-year. You can only learn so much about a kid with a two-year sample size of games. But if you know a coach well, you can create an easier path to cashing betting tickets.
Coaches change too, but unlike the players, they have long histories that you can study. Even the younger coaches coming up nowadays have a history or background you can easily find online.
I use five main factors to evaluate every head coach.
- Age and tenure length (the most overlooked)
Age and tenure length are the important factors in analyzing a head coach. If you’re like me, you are beginning to feel your age at times. I like familiarity and prefer doing the same activities that have made me comfortable for a long time now. When I look at a 64-year old Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, who has been there for 34 years, I don’t have to wonder what offense he will run this Fall. I don’t have to wonder what kind of offensive coordinator he will bring in. He has won 200+ games playing a “ground-and-pound” style, deliberately recruiting offensive linemen before quarterbacks and wide receivers. He’s a man that knows what he wants.The older a coach is, the less likely he is to change what got him his wins and his long, lucrative contracts. Job security is a hell of a motivator at $4 million a year. The younger a coach is, the less predictable he will be overall. Less-tenured coaches are more willing to roll the dice and try different systems on both sides of the ball every offseason. Your biggest money makers are going to be finding the coach who installs a new system in the Spring while the linesmakers are using a power number from the previous season.
- Where did the head coach come from and what system did he learn as a graduate assistant?
This is instrumental in assessing the new head coaches and even your new coordinators. New coaches are hired to change something that the old coaches lacked. If you can discover what that school wanted from the previous guy, then you will have a great read on betting totals going forward. Many people assume all coaches are hired to win games, but while that’s ultimately the goal, many are hired just to re-energize a program. Let’s take last year’s big successes at head coach in Georgia St.’s Shawn Elliott and Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. One was hired to fix a 127th ranked defense and the other was hired to boost an offense that had national championship talent but was completely inefficient. Elliott was the Appalachian St. defensive coordinator and Riley was East Carolina’s offensive coordinator. Both were in the top ten of efficiency with their respective units in the previous season. Not all coaching hires worked so well but it was an easy read for me that Georgia State would be a strong UNDER team and Oklahoma would be a heavy OVER team.
- The hot seat
The hot seat is a well-publicized concept nowadays referring to head coaches that may be sent packing if things don’t get better soon. What many don’t realize is that a head coach who is about to be fired is an absolute wild card. He will do anything to stay in place and, in rare instances, his kids will do anything to prevent that. We have seen head coaches fire every member of their staff and start all over. Others have gone from a very fast-paced style of play to a snail’s pace and vice versa in a matter of weeks. They may try a two-quarterback system or convert wide receivers to defensive backs to fix leaks. They empty their benches like there might not be a next year. There’s usually no more than 10 hot seat coaches to begin a season, so I personally attack early. A desperate team and coach laying points is not a place I want to be. If you are new to betting on college football, I suggest waiting a week or two. Since I’ve seen this act many times, I am willing to take my chances right away.
- First-year head coaches
We discussed coaches that are hired to fix leaks. The previous regime may have upset fans, boosters, recruits and possibly players on the current roster. In the coaching carousel of 2018, we have 23 new head coaches – the least since 2015. Every one of these guys got big money and some are strictly the guy that holds the program in place while they find the real guy. There will be maybe two that will last six seasons if history tells us anything, 15 that will be done in three years and six that will leave before their third season. First-year head coaches are the easiest to break down. Schools provide full bios on every aspect of their lives and why they are brilliant, even if it’s rather obvious that they are not. Of these 23 newbies, only 11 will have a winning ATS record if you use the sample size of the last decade. They need time just like anyone at a new job. They have 110 kids to learn about, teach, find a respect line, assess their value, access said value, and then get each kid in place and find early victories during 22 practices and a spring game. It’s not the smallest of tasks. Head coach Jeff Brohm at Purdue was a 28-point dog at Louisville in Week 1 last year and lost by just by 6. At the end of the season, he would have been around -3 for the same game and venue. He was sensational. We can all find the Brohms with some effort. Bad coaches, which there are more of than good coaches, can be equally as rewarding for bettors. Coach Brennan at San Jose St., had no experience coming in and went 1-11. He never had a chance in year one. Find these guys before you look for the Brohms and Elliotts. Why did San Jose St. hire Brennan? Who cares! Just identify them and compare them to everyone else. We all have resumes. These guys, however, have public resumes and there’s a big edge to be had by studying them.
- Coordinators – Offense, Defense and Special Teams
Rarely do people realize that the coaching carousel doesn’t stop at the head coach. Offensive (OC) and Defensive Coordinators (DC) change more often than head coach’s. If you see an OC hired from Texas Tech, it’s very clear why he was brought on board. He will manage a fast pass heavy-pass offense. If you see a DC from Southern Miss or a MAC school, it usually means a blitz gamble-heavy system. There is just as much information available for coordinators and some could argue they hold more value than anything else that you’ll do research on. Get to work.
Now, onto the fun stuff! The first thing we need to do is separate our teams into 11 conferences. Your power numbers will make zero sense if you have done three months of research and then bunch all 130 FBS teams together. Make a power number base number for each conference. Common sense will take over but, if not, go to any recruiting site and order your conference power numbers by the number of 5,4,3 and 2-star players by each conference over the last three years. This will help you avoid having Alabama power rated at 99 and Troy at 94. They may look similar on paper without realizing the initial talent gap in place. In time, you will notice that the talent gap between conferences is closing as the years go on, but that’s different discussion for a different day.
The first thing that I do that is essential for my college football power numbers. I find out the quarterback situation and I rank that situation (not player, the actual situation) from 1 to 130 for every team. Do this right away and don’t take anyone else’s opinion. For instance, let’s say Phil Steele says Penn St. has the #1 QB in the nation. If you can clearly spot that the depth chart has no backup in place, I’d really pause before putting the Nittany Lions as #1 overall.
I also make three brief notes on certain team’s quarterback situation. These notes will help provide some context around my ratings and assessing upside and downside for a team.
QIPD – Quarterback in place with depth
RQBC – Returning quarterback but competition
NRQC – Non-Returning quarterback with competition for starting job
After putting together my overall ratings and notes, I then assess each quarterback situation by conference. This is extremely helpful during conference season, so you can evaluate what each team is working with. Remember that no player on the field means more to a team than the quarterback.
We now move on to the rest of the team. The MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR in college football assessment is returning starters. You have a sample size to work with and these are kids we are talking about. If they show a lot of positive development as sophomores and juniors it is worth noting. The whole team returning starting production is usually built into the line, as its well-known that experience trumps inexperience when it comes to a game that is now played two or three levels ahead of what they played in high school. Offensive line and defensive line returning starters are more valuable than skill position players. You want to back good teams? Find production from within and look outward from there.
If the secondary is inexperienced, it’s no secret it will cause disarray even for the best teams and best recruits. Freshmen cornerbacks are picked on and exploited by many DCs and that will never change. Freshmen safeties usually don’t have the body yet to make the big open space tackles in their first year.
People love running backs and quarterbacks. But if you give them one returning starting guard and four freshmen on the line, that’s going to be a tough sell on your wallet over a large sample size.
All-Conference and All-American Lists
I will tell you that 90% of pre-season previews are purely a waste of money and time. But they do have one valuable section in common. Every conference has a Q&A media day with coaches. The coaches vote on the best players of their conference. I track everyone that they name. Most bettors know all about Saquon Barkley, but pay attention to the lesser known guys that coaches mention.
No one, including myself, in June will know who the best offensive guard and offensive tackle in the Big Ten is. If a lineman gets injured in October, he will soon be forgotten. This is one of the biggest points of emphasis in my team notes. People often forget that an injured starting center is really important to an offense. If the freak athlete all-conference safety in the Sun Belt who was the only guy who got preseason all-conference votes goes down in Week 4, what do you think that does to a pass defense of a team like Louisiana Lafayette?
Team Previews and Reviews
Now it’s team to read some team previews. I track four main analysts/writers who give me full details of what to expect. I’m not willing to name them here, but I can safely say that Phil Steele is your barest of bare bones. Dig deep and then deeper. Every single school has a beat reporter or two.
Next, I’ll walk through how I track every game from the previous year. I initially log the final score, ATS result and over/under outcome. I then look for three primary things:
- Close wins and losses. Was this team lucky, unlucky, on the verge of something or peaking?
- Outlier games.A team blew someone out as 3-point dogs and next week lost by 21 as 1.5-point favorite. You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to lose games. The goal is to learn why a team won and lost a game, and what you might have done wrong in your handicapping of that game. You can more easily identify errors if you can visually remember the game.
- Look for teams that quit. Nearly 25% of the teams will quit on the season at some point. Did the coach and staff get them to rally? You don’t want to make a fatal mistake based solely on your numbers. Make your number but consider the mindset of the team. Teams that quit probably didn’t play to their numbers.
This is the very last step in my handicapping process. I have an overall power number in place after assessing all of the variables. Now I have to analyze the schedule to come up with an estimate for a team’s regular season win total and circle certain key spots or stretches. There are four things to pinpoint when breaking down the schedule:
- Where is the tough patch? Every team besides a select few will have a stretch of 50/50 games and I want to really focus on where that is. I also don’t want to lay points the week before that stretch begins (I’m quirky like that).
- Games that are not close. If you have a team that begins with three softies where they are two or more possession faves, it changes the dynamic. On the flip side, a team could open with three absolute monsters that they don’t belong on the same field as. Strength of schedule matters and you have to consider how it impacts the team, its numbers and morale.
- Bye weeks. Kids look forward to these weeks to rest and recover. Some coaches are brilliant with time off and others are the exact opposite.
- Rivalry games or payback games. Because I track past results I can easily see what games coaches circle on the calendar. This is vital information for momentum purposes. I also circle the early season games I want to watch for the teams I may not have a good feel for.
As you can see, there are a ton of factors to consider in assigning power ratings to teams and it’s going to take some experience to learn exactly how to apply them for a beginner. I’ve been through those battles for years and now feel confident in the process. Using all of the factors I’ve discussed, I can create a solid power number that I can adjust throughout the season, including a base total. I can begin making lines on all 65 games each week and really get the best of it. With any kind of luck mixed into my logic-based cocktail, a huge season could be waiting.
Thanks for reading, Eddie.