College football teams take a huge risk if they schedule a big game against another top level team to start the season – namely, they could lose. A loss early in the season puts them in a huge hole with the whole season still in front of them. For football handicappers dealing with the losers of these season opening big games can be a real headache. Sometimes a team can feel no real ill effects from the loss – they just move on to the next game like nothing ever happened. Other times, though, an early loss can send a college team right off the rails – at least for their next game or two as they pout about what happened and the damage that has been done to their season already. Determining how a team will respond to these losses is an inexact science, but here are five questions for college football handicappers to consider when determining what the best way to deal with these early big game losers is:
How did they lose? – This is by far the most important factor to consider here. If you have watched a lot of NCAA football then you well know that not all losses are created equal. No matter what one team has to wind up as the loser. Sometimes that team plays just as well as the winner – or perhaps even better – but the winner gets just a little bit luckier at the right time to come out on top. Other times, though, a team loses because they aren’t as well prepared as their opponent, their opponent executes better, they aren’t talented enough, or they didn’t matchup well. Before you can make an educated guess about how a team is going to perform the next time they meet the field you have to have a very good sense of what happened the last time they played. If they lost because they couldn’t deal with the style of play of the opponent or because a particular opposing player was unstoppable then that might not be a big issue going forward unless the team plays a similarly dominant player or perplexing style of play. If they lost because of execution issues, or because talent issues that weren’t obvious before were exposed then it could be a much bigger reason to be worried about what will happen next time.
What changes have they made since? – You can learn a lot about how a football team is feeling about where they are by what changes they make after a big loss. The fewer big changes they make the less they are obviously worried about what happened, and the easier it is to have faith in them going forward. If a team makes a big change, though – a change in starting quarterback would be the most obvious and most significant – then it’s a good sign that they are worried about what happened and that they were caught off guard by it. The more a team panics the more reasonable it is for you as college football bettor to do so as well.
How is the public reacting to the loss? – Sometimes the public won’t react too heavily to a loss – they will respect the losing team and won’t assign lasting significance to what happened. Other times they will act as if the team’s loss was the worst possible thing that could have happened and that the team is instantly and irreparably doomed as a result. You can get a very good sense of what the sports betting public is thinking based on what the major media sources are saying. If they are really panicking about a football team then there is a good chance that the betting public will panic as well. That panic can have a big impact on how the lines are set and how they move. If the panic isn’t warranted then a smart sports bettor might be able to find great value on these games and their point spreads.
Who do they play next? – If the losing team plays another tough opponent in their next game then you might really have reason to be worried. If they are playing a very weak opponent – like they often will after a tough opener – then what happened in the opener might not be nearly as significant because the team can afford to be at far less than their best and still come out on top.
Were preseason expectations realistic? – When NCAA football teams head into a big opening game like this the public and the mainstream media probably has an optimistic view of their reputation and what they are capable of. If the team doesn’t live up to that reputation and meet those expectations then the public and the media will be very negative towards that team. As handicappers it is very important to get a sense of whether those expectations made sense in the first place, or whether the public was basing their expectations on unrealistic situations and faulty logic. It is far from uncommon for the perceptions of a team before a season starts to prove to be very inaccurate as the season plays out. College football handicappers need to respond to what is actually happening and what they see, not what people expected to see.