As far as I am concerned February is the most interesting time to bet on college football’s BCS futures. The lines are still fresh enough that there can be mistakes and opportunities because the public hasn’t heavily bet on them yet. On the other hand, though, enough change has happened that we have a much better sense of what teams will look like next season than we had even a couple of weeks before. Any players that are leaving early for the draft have already declared, and players that are transferring have moved on. College football coaching staffs have been shaken up and the new staffs are mostly in place. National signing day is past, so we know what new talent is on the way, and which teams have best filled the holes they face. All in all, this time of year presents the best balance of knowledge and favorable odds.
When college football handicappers are looking to bet on BCS futures in February here are four issues they want to look closely at in the search of the edge they need:
What significant staff changes have happened? – Significant turnovers in the coaching ranks are a fact of life in college football. Coaches want to climb the ladder to bigger programs, or jump into the NFL, so loyalty and long term commitments to anything other than the very elite programs is increasingly rare. Even the elite programs frequently lose their coordinators and assistants as they head off to head coaching jobs at smaller schools. It is absolutely crucial, then, to look at all the coaching changes that have happened – both in the head coaching ranks and among assistants. It’s important to look at the positions that have experienced changes for schools. Have they upgraded the position, or is it a step down? Is the replacement familiar with the program and the system, or is he an outsider? Most significantly, is the public likely to be aware of the change and the significance of it, and are they likely to overreact or not give the move enough significance? Staff changes can have a bigger impact on the fate of a program than any other factor. It can also be the factor that is easier to panic about and overreact to than anything else. Measure the effect carefully before betting.
What instant impact recruits are there? – One of the biggest myths in college football is the instant impact freshman. It’s not that they don’t exist – they definitely do. It’s just that there aren’t nearly as many meaningful impacts from freshman early in the season as people expect. There is so much hype and anticipation surrounding recruiting now that the impact of many players get blown fully out of proportion. Bettors need to try to assess two things, then – what impact freshmen there are out there, and what players are likely not to have as much immediate impact as the public will assume they will. This is particularly significant if the potential impact player plays in a position of great need for a team.
What programs have momentum? – Momentum is very real in college football – or at least the perception of momentum among bettors and fans. Teams that are coming off a strong win in a big bowl game, recruit very well, keep a high profile star who was expected to leave for the NFL, or hire a high profile coach can be seen to be really and rapidly on the rise by the public. On the other hand, teams that lost a bowl game badly, suffered some late defections to their recruiting class, lost more than they gained in their coaching staff, or lost a lot to the draft could be perceived to be moving backward by the public. Needless to say, the public is likely to like the team that has momentum and bet on them – often too much – and be particularly negative about the team that doesn’t. If you’re a college football handicapper who is not as positive or negative about a particular team as the public is then there could be real opportunities in the futures.
Which conferences have had good or bad offseasons? – The perceptions of college football teams can be tied very strongly to the teams they share a conference with. If the conference is weak from top to bottom then any team is going to be seen as relatively weak no matter what they do. On the other hand, in a particularly strong conference even the mid-range teams can be highly respected. General perception of conferences is important when analyzing point spreads and over/unders. The SEC will always have more respect than the Big East, for example, unless something really dramatic happens. It’s also important to look at what has happened in the offseason that can have a big impact on how the conferences are perceived, too. The Pac-12 following the 2012 season is a perfect example of how an offseason can really help a conference. The conference had not had a great season in 2011. USC was not bowl eligible, so Stanford and Oregon were the only teams that had strong years. Oregon won the Rose Bowl, but Stanford fell to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta, then lost many of their best players to the draft. It would have been easy for the conference to really struggle in the public eye. Instead, though, they had a very strong offseason. Several teams made high profile, aggressive, well received coaching changes that featured explosive offensive guys that the public will love. The conference recruited extremely well as well. the perception of the conference rose as a result, so the top teams – USC, Stanford and Oregon – earned more respect by being part of the conference than they otherwise would have.