Reading Between So Many Lines Can Eventually Turn You Blind
Every March, I sit in the office with two NBA games going (muted), and I start the Notebook. I know it’s going to take me 200-300 hours minimum going in. It’s tedious and, yes, it’s boring. But I also love it and, while there are days I’d rather be in the mountains playing with my dog, I know my edge increases daily. The goal is to be an encyclopedia on each team before the market itself catches up.
I have always loved the research more than the betting. The betting is how you get paid but also when the craziness begins. I once saw an interview with a very famous poker player and he said, “you ever lose so much that you can’t breathe? I live for those moments. I know I’m alive then.” Well, I have lost that much and I can tell you first hand that there are better and easier ways to feel alive!
My passion for college football has always been more of a passion for the never-ending research that you can do. If you wanted to, you could breakdown all 130 teams every day of your life and still not have all the information. When a third string punter is the starting quarterback for Maryland in November of 2016, you probably didn’t notice in your football preview mags that Maryland only had two scholarship quarterbacks on their roster. I did and I love those moments, and of course the profit that came with it.
On the other hand, too much information can kill a good bankroll. I listen to every head coach interview I can find online. Usually small schools will have just one or two interviews and you can uncover a small nugget or two. In 2015, Central Michigan had just hired an offensive line coach from the NFL as their head coach. John Bonamego said flat out that his staff and him were still learning the names of players and the players were taking longer than expected to get the new systems installed on the fly after a lengthy recruiting process. This was in Fall camp!! Oh my God…I had found a goldmine!! I was going to get rich betting against the Chippewas! I bet under six regular season wins and told my partner Alan all about it. We were giddy.
Well, apparently Bonamego taught quickly and his players were pretty quick to adapt to his style and playbook, because they covered the first five games and easily won a seventh game to end the year. I lost basically a new car because of one interview. I flushed probably six hours of preseason work down the drain and changed what was the right power number to a lesser one. I did not trust my number and the lines got blurry.
I change two main sources of where I get a lot of info every year. There are hundreds of people who cover college football and preview each team. One season, I went with a very simple writing style by a former beat writer who was covering all non-power 5 schools. It took me six weeks of writing down and tracking notes and projections to only realize he disliked everyone. I was rereading his work as a whole when it became clear he simply was comparing Western Kentucky, who was phenomenal that year, to the Alabama’s and Clemson’s of the world.
The flip side is (trying very hard not to names here) preview magazines where they simply cannot dislike or give an unbiased opinion of a school with a rabid and large fan base. I’m going to be 100% transparent here, and sorry in advance to fans of these schools.
It is literally impossible for Tennessee, USC, Texas, Florida, Florida State, Auburn and most of the ACC to be good, or be literally one hire or big recruit away from a national championship run. These magazine writers, whose JOB it is to convince you to PURCHASE magazines, would rather guess every year until the end of time that your school is great year after year (instead of every third or fourth year) than lose you as a fan, reader and consistent purchaser.
Here is what we can all agree upon – great players win championships, only a handful of schools can land those players, they have the coaches to teach them that are far above par, and of course resources play the biggest part. You can dress up a school with returning starters, trends of all types, new assistant coaches and head coaching hires, but in the current climate of college football, 99% are playing for a third-place finish, 90% of teams are playing for a top 10 finish, 80% are playing for a top 25, 70% just need to be on TV once in a while and hope to find the next Pat Fitzgerald who, by the way, is part of the 80%. There are no more than six or seven schools that have a realistic chance to make the playoff this year.
Of course, we need an ESPN selection committee and a weekly show to tell us that no non-power 5 school is eligible week in and week out. We need that excitement as humans to be convinced what we are watching every week is worthwhile and that maybe, just maybe, Tua and Lawrence will be surpassed and Tennessee, who had the 107th most efficient offense in the FBS and hired a Georgia offensive coordinator, is going to knock Alabama right off its throne. This could be the year! Tune in!
There was a lot of discussion about returning production in college football and it’s worth on Twitter the past month. Here is my take: You have to be able to understand what production is worthwhile and what positional units mean overall. However, if you see something egregious, you cannot ignore it. If a team has two returning starters on the entire defense that was ranked 17th in defensive efficiency the year prior, you have to be able to adjust and perhaps massively at times.
Just opposite of that is “what if the returning production was atrocious last season?” What does it really matter if UConn has 10 returning starters back on a defense that allowed 51 points per game or an offense like Rutgers that has nine returning starters?
You have to be able to read between the lines. What were the issues, were they correctable and are the stats you are looking at caused by a skewed game or two? Talent evaluation is much more important to me than the returning starter number. An NFL player departing with a replacement-level sophomore filling in is worth a ton more than a mediocre junior who mostly got his ass kicked the year prior.
Certain sections of most preview magazines and websites that most glaze over are probably most pertinent preseason. Yes, they are mostly boring and sometimes not overly useful, but counting out a depth chart is essential for me. What do I care if the defensive line for a team has four returning starters but has only two defensive tackle reserves and both are undersized and inexperienced? No defensive tackle on earth can play every down of every game. That depth will play a bigger role in a betting total down the road than people will realize. Long and large sample size.
Special Teams matter! A program with truly poor special teams is usually a loser. One, it’s a reflection of a coach’s desire to really win. Any coach willing to sacrifice field position and points, unless named Nick Saban, usually doesn’t care about other key aspects of end game management. If you backed Buffalo as often as I did last year, then you and I were lucky. Not many teams can survive missing extra points and have no return game, and still win. God bless the MAC.
Recruiting matters only so much. USC is proof that good recruiting translates to media hoopla but doesn’t necessarily translate to wins. There are exceptional head coaches who do very well with very little talent pools, but they are beyond far and few between. However, if you can find a top 15 recruiting class, you ultimately get the preview mag drool and a blind fanbase. But as bettors, we have to be able to separate the two.
The lines are confusing, non-correlated and leave us completely blind if we don’t find the ability to have a strong opinion and utilize it in this never-ending rabbit hole of mental aerobics that is college football betting.
Thank you, Eddie