Turnover in the coaching ranks in college football is a frequent fact of life. With so many schools looking for a better answer every year it is inevitable that several coaches that are hired are in their first year as a head coach. Many of those college coaches will struggle, but some will be lucky enough to lead their team to a bowl game. For handicappers it is a challenge to determine how a coach who has never coached in a bowl game is going to perform in his first. Will the team be ready, or will they be outclassed? Will the new coach rise to the occasion, or struggle under the pressure? Is the fact that the coach is a rookie a big concern, or nothing to be worried about when picking a winner in the game? Here are six questions for college football handicappers to ask to help answer those questions:
Have they been to a bowl game before? – We know that the football coach hasn’t been a head coach in a bowl game before, but have they been there as a coordinator or an assistant of some kind? Bowl games are unique in sports because of the amount of time for preparation, the unfamiliarity of opponents in many cases, and the scrutiny surrounding the games. If you haven’t been involved with getting a team ready for a bowl game before then you can be caught off guard when it comes to knowing what it takes to do so. Guys who have come from the NFL might think they know college, but if they haven’t been to a bowl as a coach before then they really won’t know what they are in for.
Have their key players been to a bowl before? – Concerns about the inexperience of a football coach can be offset somewhat by experience from his players. If the coach is leading an older, experienced team that has played in bowls before then the players will know what to expect, and will require less guidance and support from their coach to stay on track. The combination of a young and inexperienced team with an inexperienced coach, though, could create problems.
How prepared have their teams looked? – Bowl game success relies on the ability of a coach to have their team prepared in unique circumstances. You can get an insight into how they might handle that based on how they have prepared their team during the season. Has the team been consistently ready to play, or were they unprepared for some teams? Did they play well against some styles of opponents but struggle against others? Were they less effective when they had a short week or had to travel a long way?
Have they had discipline issues? – Nothing to send a college football team off the rails heading into a bowl game faster than discipline issues. If a coach has to suspend or deal with players in other ways because of off the field issues then the team can lose focus in a hurry. When players have time on their hands then they can definitely get in trouble. It can be harder for a first year coach to know how to deal with these issues and keep the team focused, so discipline issues are a real concern with a first year coach.
Who are they playing? – You can easily over-complicate handicapping when it comes to bowl games, so it is important to remember that this is still the most important factor just as it is in any other game. How well do the players match up with the players they will line up against? Do the schemes give one team an advantage over the other? Is depth a concern? Has the team struggled against similar opponents, or have they thrived against them? The presence of a first time head coach can definitely be the difference in a tight game, but it shouldn’t blind you to the fundamental realities of a game.
Does the public respect the coach? – The betting patterns of the public are important to note in bowl games because it can have a big impact in how lines are set and how they move. If the public really likes a first year coach – if he is a high profile coach who was hired with a lot of hype – then the public could potentially give him too much credit. If he is a coach with an obscure background who the general public doesn’t know, though, then the coach could easily get less respect than they deserve and there could be value in betting on him despite his independence.