Welcome to the Wild and Unpredictable World of Betting College Football in 2020
We all have our own opinions regarding COVID — I admit, I think it’s pretty preposterous trying to keep 19 and 20 year olds in check on a college campus, bubble or no bubble. Remember, the starting quarterback may lock himself in a closet but it’s the third stringer sneaking out to the bars that may be the death kneel of the o-line and thus Saturday’s big rivalry game.
A week. That’s how deep into the college football season it took before I realized all of my go-to handicapping statistics, profiles, and strategies should be thrown out the window. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, considering that even under normal circumstances, college football can be a cruel and random mistress. But all I needed was to witness what went down in Week 1 to know that 2020 isn’t going to be about power ratings or tempo changes but rather information…and being able to stomach a bunch of bat shit crazy outcomes.
Week 1 featured five FBS vs. FBS games. A few were fairly uniform. SMU looked sluggish but pulled away from seemingly improved Texas State. Similar deal for Memphis as it got past Arkansas State in a non-point spread covering 37-24 win. The other three? Yikes. Last Thursday, Southern Miss, a team many pegged as one of the favorites to win C-USA, lost to South Alabama outright as -12 chalk. USA won one FBS game a year ago and failed to top 17 points in six games. In true 2020 fashion, the Jaguars went out and hung 526 total yards en route to a 32-21 win over the Golden Eagles. Results like that aren’t THAT out of the ordinary, especially when it comes to early season non-Power 5 games but a coach resigning after the game is. Yes, Southern Miss’ fifth-year head coach, Jay Hopson abruptly stepped down leaving the program scrambling literally a week into a season that is going to be laced with potential pitfalls. As a side note, and I don’t know the real story, you have to wonder if Hopson goes this route if his squad cruises to a 21-point win?
Next we have Army. Most bettors tend to put their faith in service academies being able to properly prepare and handle adversity, especially at the start of a season. The Black Knights took it to new heights by whipping up on Middle Tennessee State, 42-0. I feel like outcomes like theses, even when involving competitive matchups (Army closed -3.5), are going to be commonplace in 2020. The question bettors should ask: Whoa, is Army that good? Or, was MTSU totally unprepared? I lean towards the latter considering the Blue Raiders spent some of the summer preparing for Troy and then Duke. Army obviously isn’t an ideal opponent to prepare for on the fly.
Lastly is Navy. For how good Army looked in Week 1, Navy was the complete opposite. Yes, the Midshipmen lost do-everything Malcom Perry, but the defense was supposed to be the strength of the team. Then this happened. The outcome was no doubt a head scratcher but it was later discovered to be not all that surprising when it was made public that Navy spent all of fall camp NOT tackling! Ken Niumatalolo isn’t the type of coach who makes excuses and took full blame for the loss. It was a clear case of him taking extra precaution due to COVID and doing what he felt best to ensure his team was able to actually play a game — something more than a handful of teams have chosen not to do. And therein lies yet another fascinating handicapping angle to consider this season: What type of practice are the teams you are betting on conducting? Even the Clemsons and Alabamas of the world can’t get away with having a few half-speed walkthroughs and expect to tackle, block, and play at a high level on Saturdays.
Exhausted yet? Well, welcome to Week 2’s field of landmines. As of Thursday morning, five games have been postponed or canceled due to COVID concerns or outbreaks: SMU at TCU (canceled), NC State at Virginia Tech (moved to Sept. 26), Marshall at East Carolina (TBD), Louisiana Tech at Baylor (TBD), and Tulsa at Oklahoma State (moved to Sept. 19). Every bettor knew postponements and cancellations were going to happen but it still doesn’t take the sting away from oddsmakers getting a freebie in terms of the market helping shape their lines if and when the same matchup is played at a later date.
And bettors, this is only the beginning. Check out this quote (Shameless plug: Those who subscribed to BettorIQ’s InfoStream had it earlier this week!) from Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman heading into Saturday’s opener vs. Arkansas State: “We haven’t been as sharp and as crisp as I’d like for it to be at this time, but at the same respect, not one day since we started this true practice time on August 7, not one day have we had a full complement of players out there, and it’s not like you’re just missing a couple of freshmen, you’re missing a key guy in the secondary, in the o-line, in the wideouts, the running backs, wherever it may be, and it’s not all COVID related, some of it is true injury related. Right now, we don’t have anywhere close to the number of guys we started camp with. Whether it’s that or a defensive end learning to play d-tackle or a safety playing linebacker, nickelbacks playing corner, our punter is typically not a field-goal kicker and he’s kicking some field goals. I think you have to do all of those things to give yourself a chance in case something happens to you after these three testing days this week.”
You think Kansas State is the only team in full-on scramble mode? What about team morale with all of the constant chatter about social injustice? Yes, a majority of college football players supported the “we just want to play” mantra but that doesn’t factor in the ridiculous amount of off-the-field distractions that will no doubt impact teams’ on-the-field performance. I’ve heard of guys making bets based on offensive and defensive line mismatches which I get. But I’m more concerned about stability which from the looks of it, few teams currently possess. There’s also the tricky world of transparency. For every team that says, nope, we can’t play due to too many negative tests there’s others (see: small schools desperately needing their “appearance fee”) who are likely pulling various strings to ensure they make it to kick off.
I’ve been doing this a long time and the fact that we have even an abbreviated schedule is welcomed. During a time of the year where my volume and bet size are usually at their most aggressive, I’m instead lying awake at night worried about whether or not I bet an Army or a Navy.