Early in each college football season there are countless issues that can cause headaches for bettors that need to be considered. One of the more challenging is determining whether a new starting QB is ready to be a strong contributor from the start or if betting against him is going to be an attractive option. Here are eight questions for college football handicappers to ask to help evaluate how strong a QB might be out of the gate:
Are they true freshmen? – You need to start by looking at how old the quarterback is. This is logical – the longer a QB has been with a program, the more time he has had to get familiar and comfortable with the team, and the better he knows the football playbook and what the coaches wants. That doesn’t mean that he is going to be a better quarterback in the long term, but it does make it more likely that he will be effective out of the gate. Things move very fast at the college level for a guy right out of high school, but if you have been able to watch games from the sidelines you know more of what to expect. A football player who has been around for a while may even have gotten some mop-up duty so they won’t have the same first appearance jitters of a new player.
When did they join the program? – If the players are true freshmen then you need to look at when they joined the program. Players who are serious about contributing right out of the gate will often graduate high school at Christmas and enroll in college at the start of the new year. That means that they can spend the spring working out with the team, and they can participate in spring practice. That obviously gives them a huge head start over players who join at the traditional time.
Does the system suit them well? – If a run-first quarterback is trying to work in a pass-happy offense then there is going to be an adjustment period for both the player and the coaching staff. If the system fits his strengths perfectly, though, then he’ll be comfortable from the start and could be more effective from the start. The more unnatural a system is for a quarterback, the more he has to think about what he is doing. The more he thinks, the less effective he is likely to be on the field.
Were they chosen, or are they the default? – Sometimes a guy becomes a starting quarterback not because he is the ideal choice but because he is just the best one left standing. If a guy was the chosen starter from the outset then he will be more prepared, and the team and the coaching staff are going to be more confident around him. If the guy did land in the QB position by default then you need to look at how long he has known he will be the starter – the longer the better, obviously.
How highly touted were they in high school? – There are countless examples of college guys who weren’t highly rated in high school who have turned into stars in college football and beyond. As a general rule, though, the recruiting evaluation is solid. Those evaluations are more significant early on in the players’ career – the players haven’t been coached much or thoroughly prepared, so natural ability and athleticism is going to shine. Therefore, I’d be far more likely to trust a five star starting freshman QB than a two star one.
What do they have to work with? – A quarterback can’t do something with nothing, so the players around him are always important, and that is especially true early in the season. Here are some questions for football bettors to ask. Does he have an experienced offensive line in front of him who can give him time to breathe and think? Will his running game be able to create time for him? Does he have receivers that can get open? Is there a tight end who can reliably save him when plays break down?
Is the coaching stable? – The more established a coaching staff is, the less important it is that the quarterback is established. If a coach and his offensive coordinator know each other well and have a working system in place then they can likely make adjustments that will minimize the negative impact of a nervous young QB. If the football coach and/or coordinator are new, though, then they have so much to deal with that they probably don’t have the QB as ready as he needs to be, and they likely won’t be able to calm him down effectively when they are flustered and scrambling themselves.
What is the schedule like? – A weak opponent can make a raw QB look pretty good. An elite opponent can make one look terrible. An opposing defense that is weak against the pass can give a QB opportunities to shine, while a weak run defense can minimize the need for the QB to do much of anything other than hand the ball off effectively. The opponent is at least as important as anything else when college football handicappers are evaluating a young QB.