I’m not sure that there is a time in any sport and certainly in college football that is better for making money with relatively little risk than the first two or three weeks of the non-conference season. NCAA football teams aren’t game tested, and most bettors haven’t done the work required to be ready for the season, so the lines are soft and value is available in full supply. To cash in, though, you have to know where to look, and you have to be willing to put in the work that most bettors won’t. Here are five places where college football handicappers can often find nice value in the early non-conference season:
Offensive line mismatches – The offensive line is responsible for so much in the game of football. If the offensive line plays well then the quarterback has time to relax and establish a passing game, the running game can become a force, and the defense gets a chance to rest and won’t be forced to constantly play from behind. At the start of the college football season the lines that have the best chance to play well and be effective are the ones that are returning a large number of starters from last season. The preseason in college football is short and lacking game real game action, so it can take a few games for new starters to get comfortable with the schemes, their teammates, and the speed of the game. If one team in a game has four or five returning starters on the offensive line while the other has two or fewer then the more experienced team could have a solid – and often surprising to the general public – edge.
Replacement QB who is ready to play – When a successful QB leaves a college team for the NFL the betting public generally assumes that the team is going to take a big step back – especially early on. While that is often the case it doesn’t have to be. It is well worth spending some time looking at the replacements for departing quarterbacks to see which ones should be able to make a relatively seamless transition and far exceed public expectations. Has the replacement QB played meaningful action in the past? Has he spent a lot of time with the program? Is the offense particularly suited to his skills? Is it an intricate, demanding offense, or are there things a QB can do in it early on?
Non-BCS teams ready for war – The non-conference football schedule always features major conference teams scheduling games against cupcake teams. Those games feature huge lines, and the public assumes that the major conference team – almost always playing at home – will cruise to an easy win. As Appalachian State’s shocking win over Michigan taught us, though, things don’t always turn out as you would expect. The betting public will assume that a team isn’t going to be competitive if they come from a minor conference and are fairly obscure. If you do your research, though, you can often find these supposed cupcake teams that are ready to battle and which can provide a real test for their opponents. It could be that the team is particularly talented or experienced, or perhaps they run offensive or defensive schemes that are particularly unique and hard to deal with if they are unfamiliar. Most people will assume that the major conference football teams will win easily, so if you know they won’t necessarily then you are positioned to cash in.
QBs starting for third year – Just like a veteran offensive line can be important, a team can gain a lot just from having a veteran, established QB at the helm. In my experience the third season as a regular starter is the sweet spot for a QB – as long as they have been working under the same head coach over that time. By the time they enter their third year they are as comfortable and prepared as they are going to be, and they often take a big step forward at the start of their third season. If a starting QB is established but operates well under the radar then he can provide some outstanding value for savvy football bettors in the first couple of games of the season before the public gets up to speed on him.
Deceptive first games – You can make good money with your sports picks in the second week of the season if you are aware of the games in the first week that aren’t a good representation of what the team is truly capable of. If a major conference team wins their first game in a major blowout then the public will be high on them in the second week – regardless of who they played in the first week or what that performance taught us. If a team gets blown out in the first week then the public will be negative – even if their first week opponent was obviously superior to the second week opponent, or if the matchups are dramatically better in the second week. Spotting games in the first week that told a misleading story is a great way for college football handicappers to find second week profits.