Bettors need to analyze a host of different variables when handicapping any college football matchup. There is no magic bullet for any wager. Evaluating talent is one tactic to help find an edge. Find out why, and check out a profitable angle here.
Success in football (and life for that matter some argue) largely boils down to a combination of skill and good fortune. The college game, ripe with huge talent disparities among teams, tends to favor the former. The NFL, meanwhile, leans toward the latter with parity dominating the league. Advanced analytics, for example, has shown luck determines more than one-third of an NFL game (The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing, 2012). There are just too many moving pieces, actors, and forces dictating game outcomes—and at similar expertise levels in the pros.
In college, the wide gap in talent acquisition, talent development, and talent use improves a team’s chances and ability to control on-field events. The capacity to create luck is easier, if you will. Do oddsmakers factor this into betting lines? Of course. But the disproportion among teams fosters a data environment much tougher to pin down then the NFL. Adjusting to one’s opponent, strength of schedule, and the like, has a measurable impact on the betting market, but it’s much more difficult to decipher with the prospect of say an increase in garbage-time plays or personnel taking their foot off the gas in blowouts. In addition to other forces, weighing an extra point or two for a team with a talent edge is best practice when handicapping most college football games. The abilities variables are too tough to measure. Recruiting class indexes can help bettors establish a number.Talent in September
The first few weeks of the college football season are the most vulnerable for oddsmakers. There are no preseason games to evaluate, making it difficult to adjust to key player additions and losses. A squad with a high number of returning starters, especially at quarterback and kicker, can prove a significant edge early on. They understand team systems and concepts well, and can mediate certain game-time pressures better due to experience. These intangibles are often the difference between winning and losing close games at this point in the season.
Talent disparity can also prove valuable to bettors in the first few weeks of the season, especially in expected competitive matchups. Early power rankings and odds are based largely on last year’s statistical data. Each season is unique and the numbers do not exist to evaluate confidently current squads and matchups through the first few weeks. This is where talent edge can be the difference between a winning and losing bet.
Take the SEC for example. For decades, it has been the top recruiting conference in the nation. One can assume nearly every representative owns a better talent than most non-Power Five schools, which shines through in competitive matchups. Since 1980, if you toss out ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 opponents, the conference is 38-24-1 SU and 38-25 ATS (60.3 percent) through the first two games of the year closing with a touchdown spread or less. For what it’s worth, the conference is 156-142-2 ATS (52.3 percent) with a -18.7 average line in the first two weeks against non-Power Five foes. The single-digit spread suggests a competitive matchup where talent serves as one of the forces providing a handicapping edge in a largely uncertain market. Vanderbilt falls under this angle in Week 1, laying 6.5 points to Middle Tennessee of Conference USA.