College Football Handicapping: Teams with Deceptive Schedules
by Trevor Whenham - 8/20/2009
It happens every year - a few teams get out to a hot start in college football, and people start to think that they are something special. But then comes the inevitable crash back down to Earth.
Last year it was East Carolina. After three weeks they were undefeated and people were talking about them as a potential BCS buster. A month later they were 3-3 and trying desperately to figure out what in the world had happened.
In 2007 South Carolina was 6-1 and it finally looked like Steve Spurrier had remembered how to coach again. But then they lost their last five games to barely remain bowl eligible.
Sometimes, like in the case of East Carolina, a team just starts out too fast and can't maintain the pace. More often, though, it's a case of people getting deceived by a college football schedule that starts out easy and then gets much tougher down the stretch. If you can be aware of teams that are likely to get off to a fast start that doesn't reflect their real talent then you can avoid getting sucked in by the hype and can potentially save your bankroll. Here's a look at five teams that start out with particularly easy schedules:
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Penn State - The Nittany Lions are potentially dangerous to bettors. They are expected to be one of the two elite teams in the Big Ten, so everyone has high hopes for them. Those hopes will only be reinforced because the team is very likely to not only be 3-0, but to win their first three games by wide margins. They start with Akron, a team stuck in the midst of an ugly rebuilding process. Next up is Syracuse. With all due respect to Greg Paulus, if a guy who hasn't played football for five years wins your starting QB job a week into training camp then you are far from a good team. Next up is Temple - another lousy team. People are going to think that this is an exceptionally good team heading into game four against Iowa. They may actually be, but nothing about the first three weeks will be an accurate indicator.
Cal - The Bears are getting a lot of respect in the Pac-10. A lot of people now seem to think that they could be the second best team in the conference. Those feelings will be strengthened if they jump out of the gate strong, and they are very likely to do so. Maryland is first up - a team that seems to be perpetually rebuilding lately. Eastern Washington is an easy win. Then comes Minnesota, another team that Cal shouldn't struggle with too much. Cal will likely not only be 3-0, but they will have two major conference wins. That will have people thinking that they are a very strong squad, and that means that people could have unrealistic expectations heading into the next three game stretch - Oregon, USC, and UCLA.
North Carolina - The Heels are rapidly rebuilding under Butch Davis, and expectations are high. Those expectations will only grow once this team starts out 3-0, and they are almost certain to be 3-0 after playing Citadel, UConn and Citadel. That second game would be heck of a basketball game, but the Heels are ahead of the Huskies in terms of their development right now, and it probably won't be a great football game. The schedule just gets harder, and the back half is brutal.
Iowa - It has become popular recently to suggest that the Hawkeyes could be a surprise team in the Big Ten - a legitimate contender to Penn State and Ohio State for conference supremacy. If several people think that now, a whole bunch more will think that after they beat up on Northern Iowa and Iowa State to start the season, and then probably beat an Arizona squad that is never as good as people think it should be because of who coaches it. Iowa and Penn State meet in a big Big Ten showdown in Week 4, and one of those teams isn't going to be as good as people think they are.
Kansas - Todd Reesing is a senior this year, so it would be understandable if some people expected that Kansas could be surprisingly good. People who think that now will think that even more after the start this team is likely to have. The Jayhawks have perhaps the easiest start to the season of any major conference team in the country. They will have to try hard not to end up 5-0 out of the gate. It's really almost laughably easy - Northern Colorado, UTEP, Duke, Southern Miss and Iowa State. Given the remainder of their schedule, this is potentially the kind of team that could start 5-0 and wind up out of the bowls if it isn't careful. Seriously.
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