When you are handicapping college football you don’t have the advantage of a preseason, and you often don’t get a lot of good information out of fall practices. That means that you have to go into the first game of the season relying more on what happened last season and what the team has to offer on paper than on current information, stats and first hand analysis. In short, handicapping the first game of the college football season often requires essentially a lot of educated guessing.
After the first game has played you obviously have your first real, first hand game speed information to base your football handicapping on. That means that it is very important to assess what happened in the first game and how that changes what we think about the various teams as they head into the rest of the season. Unfortunately, that’s not always as easy as it seems. Because of a lot of reasons – nerves for young players and new coaches, varying levels of opponents, and so on – it can be dangerous to draw too many conclusions from what you see in the opener. There are, however, several things that college football bettors can safely learn from the games – and which can prove valuable. Here are six examples of information in the first game of the college football season that can prove very useful and profitable for bettors in the second game and beyond:
Surprises in starters or playing time – Based on the talent on the football team and the clues we can draw from fall practice bettors usually have a pretty good sense of who is going to start in key positions, such as running back, quarterback and wide out, for high profile teams and how much they are going to play. Sometimes, though, those assumptions prove to be far from accurate. It could be that the guy who was expected to start doesn’t start at all, or that an unexpected player gets a whole lot of playing time. When anything unexpected like that happens sports bettors need to assess why it happened and what impact that will have going forward.
Unexpected schemes – Based on the college football coaches and personnel that are in place handicappers make conclusions about what kind of schemes they are likely to see. Sometimes the first game of the season shows us that those assumptions weren’t entirely accurate – at least not in the short term. The start of the 2011 season showed a perfect example of this. When Brady Hoke took over from Rich Rodriguez at Michigan a lot was made about how superstar QB Denard Robinson would have to cope with a shift from the option offense he was used to a pro style one that would see him playing mostly under center. In the first game against Western Michigan, though, a strange thing happened – the big changes that a lot of people were concerned about weren’t nearly as dramatic as it seemed. In fact, Robinson played out of the shotgun more than 70 percent of the time, and the running game featured a whole lot of option philosophy. That forced sports bettors to adjust expectations about this team heading into the rest of their season.
General level of coaching aggressiveness – You can’t necessarily see what kind of a coaching job the coach is going to do over the whole year from how they perform in the opener. What you can get, though, is a sense of the mindset they are going to attack the season with. Are they particularly aggressive when given a chance, or are they far more conservative? Are they happy to stick to the fundamentals to beat their opponents, or will they take risks and try unexpected plays?
How well players know their assignments – It’s hard to judge how well a college football player – especially a young player or new starter – will perform for the season based on their first game – nerves or inexperience can be such a big factor. What you can learn a lot from, though, is how well the players do at being where they should be when they are supposed to be there. If a team is well disciplined and in position then they are obviously well prepared. They might not be executing perfectly yet, but you know at least that they are listening to the coaches and absorbing what they are hearing. When a team is confused and often out of place, though, often times they never really get their act together over the season.
The tone of the team – Are the players fired up and excited? Are they focused and confident? Do they look like they are thinking too much about what they are doing? Do they seem to be lacking confidence and energy? You almost have to be an amateur psychologist to assess where a team is at and what impact that could have on their future performance. The more confident and focused a college team appears, and the more they seem to be enjoying playing and enjoying each other, the more likely they are to reach their potential.
Ability to adapt – During the course of any college football game there will be periods when a team isn’t performing as well as they should be. For some teams it could just be for a while during a game, while for others it could be the whole first half. The poor performances are inevitable. What separates good teams form lousy ones is their ability to adjust to what has gone wrong and make the changes that will put things back on the right track. Good teams and good coaching staffs adjust very well. Bad football teams don’t. In the first game of the season there is a good chance that a lot of players have never faced the problems they are facing before, so the ability of a NCAA football team to adjust early on is testament to the strength or weakness of the coaching staff.