The third week of the college football season taught us a lot about the power of an early week off and what it can mean for teams. We’ll look at the specifics in a second, but let’s look at it generally first.
Most college football teams schedule a week off at some point during the season. Through quirks of scheduling some teams find that break coming after they have only played one game. Later in the season the benefits of a break are obvious. First, they allow players an extra week to get healthy and ready to play at a high level again. Perhaps more significantly, it gives the coaching staff an extra week to prepare for their opponent, and the luxury of time to look back at what the team has done so far to see what can be fixed or tweaked for better results. A football team coming off a bye week later in the season in college football always deserves a closer look.
An interesting situation crops up, though, when that break week comes just one week into the college season. When the second week is a vacation week teams don’t get the benefit they would later on because of a likely absence of injuries or even bumps and bruises, and coaches don’t have as many established problems to identify and remedy. What we find, then, is an impressive difference in how teams respond based on how they played in their opening game. Simply put, NCAA football teams that lost their first game historically struggle to cover spreads in their next game, while teams that won their opener are a good bet to cover game two. Coming into this season teams were 56-70 ATS coming off of a loss and week off, and an even uglier 28-43 ATS when the second game was on the road. On the flip side, teams coming off a win and a bye were 114-84-4 ATS.
So, why the big difference here. The biggest obvious reason is that the teams have little other than that first game to judge themselves against. If they won that opener then they can spend two weeks feeling good about themselves and their prospects going forward. They’ll practice better, feel more confident, and just be in a better head space. College football teams coming off a loss will automatically question whether they are good enough to win at all, or if they just aren’t as good as they thought they were.
This kind of simple yet powerful statistical situation is just what bettors dream of. Smart bettors know not to follow systems like this blindly, but they do know the power of using them to identify interesting spots to examine further, or to shape and strengthen opinions that have been formed in other ways.
So, how did these two situations hold up this year? In a word, pretty darned well. Here’s a look:
Teams coming off a loss and a break
Two BCS conference teams fit the bill here this week. First, North Carolina had had a week to dwell on their tough loss to LSU in which they were forced to play very short-handed. This situation was particularly interesting because there were so many reasons for North Carolina to be distracted and negative in the off time because their program is such a mess. The Tar Heels lost by six as home favorites to Georgia Tech. Oregon State lost a tough one to a very good TCU game, though they did cover the spread. This week they beat Louisville, but not nearly as badly as they were expected to, and they didn’t even come close to covering the spread. Two games and two wins for college football bettors who bet against the teams in question. Powerful stuff.
Teams coming off a win and a break
Three teams fit this category – Indiana in the Big Ten, and two high profile non-BCS teams in Boise State and Fresno State. Boise State was flying high after their shocking late win over Virginia Tech in a true classic of a game. They didn’t struggle to maintain that momentum at all – they crushed the life out of Wyoming this week. The spread was a sizable 22 points, but they won by 45. Indiana covered a huge 29 point spread against Towson in the opener. In week two they beat Western Kentucky by 17 facing a 14 point spread. Fresno State beat up on Cincinnati at home in their opener. Two weeks later they traveled to face a tough Utah State team and left with a 17 point win when they were favored by 3.5. Three more games, three more winners for sports bettors. Needless to say, this is a scenario to stick in your back pocket for next college football season.