I love college football fall practices because they are a clear sign that the brilliant college football season is just around the corner. From a sports betting perspective the best part of fall practices is that the general public isn’t paying a lot of attention. That means as a sports handicapper if you do your homework and pay attention to what is going on you can gain a nice edge over the betting public – especially early in the season when the public will be making picks based more on names and reputations than what teams have shown themselves capable of on the field. Here are five things sports bettors should keep an eye on as fall practices unfold:
Quarterback battles – Quarterbacks are obviously crucially important in college football. A good quarterback can make an average team much better, while weak QB play can be too much for an otherwise strong team to overcome. Because players are so young in college, though, there is often a whole lot of uncertainty and change at the quarterback position. Many football teams come into the preseason knowing who will be taking their snaps, but a surprising number of teams enter August without a clear idea of who will emerge as the leader in the race. Sometimes teams are so desperate or uncertain that they even consider going ahead with more than one starter sharing the roles. The sooner you can get a sense of where a team is at with their QB battle the better off you are because the more you can deduce about how effective they are going to be early in the season. Fan forums and local newspapers are going to do a much better job of giving you a real sense of what is going on than the national media will. You can look beyond the quarterback position if there are other key positions battles that are going to have a big impact on the play of the team – like the running back on a run heavy team, for example.
Tone of the team – You obviously can’t get into the locker rooms and dorms to see how college players are really feeling, but you can get a pretty solid sense of how the team is feeling throughout spring practices. Are they excited and enthusiastic, or do they seem cautious and uncertain about the future? Do they truly seem optimistic and excited, or are they nervous and tentative? Are they on the same page and working together, or there seem to be some division and split focus? The most successful college football teams early on are the ones who feel ready and excited, so you can get a good sense of that by paying attention to what is said during the fall practices and how players and coaches act.
Returning injured player – If a key player missed a key part of last season – or perhaps all of the season – then you can never be sure how ready they are going to be for action this year after an offseason of healing and rehabbing. If they are expected to be a starter and a key contributor then it is especially important to understand if they are ready and if they can perform up to expectations. You can get a good sense of this in fall practices by looking at how much they are playing, whether they are playing with the first unit, and how they are measuring up against those around and across from them.
Coaching changes – Coaching changes are a huge part of college football. Each year between a fifth and a quarter of teams make a change at head coach, and there are many more changes made among coordinators and position coaches. Fall practice is the best early chance to get a sense of how the transition in coaching is going with a team. Are they looking to keep the same core schemes, or are they making major changes. Do players seem to be on the same page as the staff, or are they resisting the changes? Is the general tone entusiastic or confused? Does the staff seem to be in command and effective, or are they feeling things out as they go along as well?
Freshmen impact – Freshmen can have a big impact right out of the gate, but most often it takes a while for them to get used to the speed and demands of college football. High profile players come to college with huge expectations on their shoulders because fans have often followed them for a couple of years already as they have gone through the recruiting process. That means that the public can have unrealistic expectations out of the gate in a lot of cases. Fall practices can give college football handicappers a good sense of how freshmen are faring and whether they will be key players from teh start. Are they playing with the first team? Are they making a lot of mistakes? How are they comparing to the older, more experienced players around them? What are the coaches saying about them? Are they holding up physically?