One of the most frustrating things about the early season in both college football and the pros is when a team fails to meet expectations in their first game. We spend a lot of time over the spring and summer deciding what to expect from a team, so when they don’t look anything like we thought we have to go back to the drawing board. It’s frustrating when a team we thought was good tanks, but it’s just as frustrating when a team we had written off looks like natural born killers. When you are forced to reconsider a team after their opener here are six things to keep in mind:
How did they win or lose? – It can be very easy to get fooled by the final score in the game at any time, but especially early in the year. What is far more important is how the game was played. Did the winning team win because they were dominant offensively, or did they score on special teams and defense? Were turnovers significant to the outcome of the game? Did the referees play a big part in the game with penalties or missed calls? Was the defense particularly good or bad for one team? Quite often you’ll find that a final score – whether it is good for the team in question or bad – doesn’t come close to telling the whole story about the team’s actual performance. Only by looking beyond that score can you see how badly the team actually failed to meet your expectations.
Opponent – Who they were playing is a very important factor here as well. If you expected a team to be pretty good but not overwhelming then they could easily look fantastic against a bad team, or lousy against a very good team. Neither of those results necessarily would have to change your expectations of a team. What you really need to be concerned about is when your team looks lousy against a bad team, or is dominant against a strong team.
Changes – Quite often we get excited about the chances of a team because of changes they have made. Maybe they have changed defensive schemes, or they have installed a new offense. While those changes often pay real dividends in the long term they might not be smooth in the short term. The first game of the regular season is the first chance that the starters have had to implement their new systems at full game speed for a whole game. Chances are good that there will be issues. That doesn’t mean that the team is doomed to disappoint all year. It just means that they will have to build up to their full potential. It’s important, then, to make sure that your expectations are based on what a team is now, not what they have the potential to be in a few weeks.
Injuries – Bettors are good at taking note of high profile injuries, but less insightful about non-marquee injuries. Those lower profile injuries can have a huge impact on a game, though. Perhaps your team was far better on offense than expected because the opponent’s starting nose tackle was injured and the backup played like he was on rollerskates all day. Or perhaps your quarterback was far less effective than expected because your right tackle was injured and the QB was constantly under pressure as a result. Injuries can often explain an unexpected outcome if you dig deep.
Age of lineup – As a general rule, the younger and less experienced the core of a lineup is, the harder it is to predict how they are going to perform out of the gate. Players perform better when they encounter something they have seen before, and that’s not necessarily the case when a freshman plays in college, or a rookie starts playing NFL football. Perhaps your expectations weren’t met because you got too excited about the potential of a blue chip recruit or stud draft pick and forgot to compensate for the fact that they aren’t likely to be as good in their first game as they will be in their 10th. Or maybe your team looked better than you expected because the opponents has a young lineup that needs to grow into itself.
Were your expectations wrong? – If you can’t explain what happened through the previous five factors then perhaps you have to look in the mirror. Maybe the issue wasn’t that the team didn’t meet expectations, but that you set bad expectations. Did you get sucked in by hype, or fooled by negative but inaccurate reporting in the media? Did you give a player too much or too little credit? Did you forget to account for a change in coaching staff, or did you give a change too much significance? There are all sorts of ways to miss the boat on a team, and it happens to everyone. The successful bettors are the ones who can recognize when they have done it and quickly make adjustments.