There is nothing in college football that gets more attention than the polls. Where a team is ranked and how they are moving in the polls is a topic of endless discussion, debate, and arguments. Used properly and logically, the polls can be a useful tool for bettors – especially those who don’t pay really close attention to college football. If you don’t use them logically, though, then there are even more ways that the polls can cause you problems and lead you to bad decisions. Here’s a look at both sides for college football handicappers.
How the polls can be helpful:
Alert you to teams you aren’t watching – Unless you are a really dedicated college football handicapper you can’t possibly follow every team closely. With 120 teams in Division I, and many of them playing teams in the FCS each week in the opening weeks of the season, there is just too much information to process. The football polls can be a quick shortcut to which teams are playing well. They are especially useful for college teams that are typically outside of the spotlight – if a team from a mid-major conference is ranked then it has to be doing something right – especially if that team isn’t one like Boise State, Utah, or TCU.
Movement from week to week good assessment of how teams are playing – Many weeks there are a couple of teams that lose ground in the polls despite winning. That’s a pretty good indicator that they aren’t playing well despite their success, and that those issues could come back to haunt them against a tougher opponent. Other times you’ll see a team that loses a game and basically holds their position in the polls. That’s a sign that they looked very good in the loss, and that they might not be headed for many more losses. There are other things that you can deduce from the polls – for example, if a college football team was unranked and drew few votes one week and then is ranked the next week then they are obviously doing something worth noting.
How polls can be dangerous for bettors:
Good teams won’t get punished as much as they should in many situations – Elite level, high profile teams always get too much credit for their play. Teams like Texas, Oklahoma, USC, and the like are going to enter almost every season highly ranked, and are going to stay that way even if they don’t play well unless things go really badly for them. As a result the college football polls can make you think that these teams are better than they may be.
Bias towards BCS teams – It’s much easier for a moderate team in the SEC to get ranked than it is for a good team in the MAC. The polls have an obvious and undeniable bias towards the bigger conferences. That can lead to problems if you use the polls as an indicator of relative strength when a BCS team is playing a non-BCS squad, and it can make a result seem like a big upset when really it wasn’t based on the real fundamentals.
Hard for a team that is playing well to break into rankings – It can take a few weeks for a team to get the recognition they deserve in the polls – especially if that team opened the season with a loss. As a result, some teams that aren’t ranked can be playing better football than some teams that are. One good way to combat this problem to an extent is to not only look at the ranked teams, but also the teams that aren’t ranked but which got some votes in the poll. Often times a football team that is worthy of paying attention to will have to slowly build momentum, so as a sports bettor if you look beyond the top 25 you can catch on to them before the general public will.
Doesn’t factor in opponent as much as it should at times – Some teams – especially the higher profile ones – will get a lot of credit for a series of big wins, but the pollsters won’t compensate adequately for the caliber of the opponents. If a college team is beating up on weaklings that can be less impressive and less meaningful than if they were narrowly getting past strong opponents, but the blowouts are going to earn them more style points in most cases.
Can cause you to ignore good teams and situations – It’s very easy to let the polls blind you to what is going on in the sport. Many bettors look no further than ranked teams, and if they do they don’t venture beyond the BCS conferences. Often times, though, the best betting opportunities actually present themselves to college football handicappers outside of the bright lights. If you rely on the polls too much you’ll never find them.