College Football Handicapping: Deceptive Nonconference Schedules
by Trevor Whenham - 7/25/2013
The nonconference schedule in college football can be very deceptive for bettors who are aren’t paying enough attention. After the long absence of football we get so excited for the new season. If a team starts out with strong wins and impressive stats we can get excited — even if those wins don’t ultimately mean much because of the weak competition. On the flip side, we can write a team off if they struggle early in the season even if they are likely to do fine once conference play starts because the competition is more reasonable.
Here’s a look at three teams with deceptively easy nonconference schedules this year and three that will likely struggle through a brutal nonconference string that is tougher than league play will be:
I hope Rich Rodriguez likes cupcakes, because in his second year at Arizona he’ll face a lot of them. He starts out with Northern Arizona. Then he takes a road trip to UNLV. Then he caps nonconference play by hosting Texas-San Antonio. That’s not just easy, that’s ridiculous. Expectations are high after a surprising first season, and the Wildcats will win each game by about a million points. Don’t let that fool you, though. Until we see how they can replace Matt Scott against real competition, we know nothing about this team.
Art Briles is a coach that people like to think highly of. They like his offense and seem to think he will lead a major Big 12 contender every year now. While that may or may not be true, the fact he will be 3-0 in impressive fashion will mean little. Baylor hosts Wofford and Buffalo in their first two games — hardly a test. Then they play Louisiana-Monroe. That’s a much more challenging game because of QB Kolton Browning, but it should still be manageable at home.
There’s all sorts of attention on the Buckeyes this year to see if they, led by Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller, can repeat their unbeaten season when it matters. They will get a third of the way to 4-0 without even breaking a sweat — intra-squad scrimmages will be consistently tougher than nonconference play. They host a Buffalo squad that just isn’t very good then a flawed San Diego State team in search of an identity. Then they travel to Cal where the transition to Sonny Dykes will create more than a few speedbumps this year. Finally, they host Florida A&M. Very, very little that happens in those first four games will tell us anything about their readiness to face a Big Ten schedule that is tougher than most people are giving credit.
June Jones is slowly turning this program around, and I like the trajectory they are on. They aren’t going to look like they are making progress this year, though. First, they take a step up in class to the conference formerly known as the Big East. Before they even get there, though, they have to run a gauntlet. They open against Texas Tech, which will be very hyped to debut under Kliff Kingsbury. Then they host Montana State, one of those dangerously tough FCS teams. After a week off they stay close to home for two brutal road games — at Texas A&M and TCU. Anything better than 1-3 would be a major success, but the team isn’t as bad as that sounds.
Coming off an impossibly ugly winless season, the Golden Eagles really need to get things going. They have made a lot of changes, and most are very positive, but people will understandably expect very little from them this year. Those expectations will be even lower by the time conference play rolls around. They should be able to open with a win hosting Texas State, but then they travel three times — to Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State — and are very likely to lose all three. This is a clear case where you need to focus on the small things they are doing on the field instead of the scoreboard. They could still deliver great value after getting blown out three times.
Sonny Dykes was a very bold hire, but in the long term I really like it. I think he could even pull off a surprise or two later in his first season — much like Rodriguez did in Arizona last year. Things get rough early, though. Hosting Northwestern will be a tough welcome to the new team — Pat Fitzgerald is running a tough, focused program. Hosting Portland State will be a much-needed break and a chance for a confidence-building win. But then they get to get crushed at home by Ohio State. If that’s not bad enough, they next have to open conference play by traveling to Oregon.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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