I’m a big believer in the importance of paying attention to fall practices to get ready for the college football season. The sports betting public generally isn’t paying a lot of attention to what goes on before the games start, so if you are on top of what is happening – who is playing, who is underperforming, which football teams are ready and which aren’t, and so on – you can have a nice early edge on the early games in the season. While there is a lot that can be learned from the practices, there is also a lot that you can see that can be misleading or deceptive. Sometimes something that seems to be the case in the spring doesn’t really wind up to be true once the season starts. Here are four things NCAA football bettors can see in fall practices that often aren’t as they appear. Smart bettors will view anything they see in these areas with caution:
First and second teams – If a player who is expected to be a starter is playing most of their time with the second unit then it could seem like a reason to panic. If a player who seemed like they weren’t ready for primetime is playing with the starters a lot then you might think that he is poised for a big breakthrough. The problem, though, is that college football teams all handle their first and second team assignments differently in practice. A team certainly isn’t obligated to use players in practice like they will in games, and there are a whole lot of reasons why a team might not use their starters with the first unit in all cases. It could be that they are protecting a banged up player, or that they want their offense to see a particular type of player in practice. It could be that they are looking to deliver a message to a player or are trying to challenge a young player. It could just be that the coaches don’t really care about who plays when and with who during the fall. Before you draw any conclusions based on what you see here you need to verify from other sources that what you have seen is really an indicator of the direction the team is moving with their starting lineup.
Breakout stars – It seems like every year each team will have a player or two who really breaks out and stuns people with their play in practice. They are typically guys who haven’t been in the public spotlight before – unheralded recruits, or guys who have fallen off the depth chart. For whatever reason they are given a chance in the practices, and they shin. They look fast, strong, and effective. Almost without fail you will start to hear big expectations emerge surrounding these football players from the media and fans. Almost as often, though, they won’t turn the strong practice play into a meaningful impact in the regular season. The problem, of course, is that practice isn’t a game. The speed is slower, the intensity is less, the pressure is far lower, and they are playing against players they see every day in practice against schemes that they know. As a college football bettor, don’t get sucked into the hype surrounding a player until you have a very good reason to believe that the hype will turn into performance.
Injuries – If a football player is injured and out of action then sports handicappers might think that that will lead to problems once the season starts. That very often isn’t the case with veteran players, though. Teams will be very cautious with established players in fall practice because they know that is it far more important to have them healthy for games than for practice. That means that players will often be held out of practice – sometimes for several practices in a row – for minor injuries that wouldn’t limit their playing time if it was the middle of the season. Sometimes older players will be given practices off even if they aren’t hurt. Until a player shows up on an official injury report for a game, or until they are clearly and obviously hurt, NCAA football handicappers should not make any assumptions based on what you see in practice.
Sloppy play – Every time I read a report about a team that is being sloppy or making a whole lot of mistakes in practices or scrimmages I hope that a lot of people are reading that report and assuming it is important. That’s because sloppy play in and of itself is almost totally meaningless as an indicator of anything in spring practices. College football teams will spend the most time in practice working on things that they aren’t as good at. There is no point in working on things that they can already do well. If they are working on things that they aren’t particularly good at then you can be certain that they are going to make a lot of mistakes and look sloppy while they are trying to figure things out. If the team proves to be sloppy and mistake filled once the season starts, or even as practice draws to and end, then there could be cause for concern. For most of the fall practices, though, mistakes are to be expected and are no reason to be concerned when it comes to betting on a particular college football team.