NCAA Football Handicapping: Betting the New ACC Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 7/26/2013
The ACC is about to undergo a significant change as we head into this college football season as Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the league as full members. It’s just the beginning of the changes as next year Louisville joins and Maryland leaves. Also, Notre Dame starts to play more of an ACC schedule without fully joining the league.
Ignoring the future for now, you can’t help but see the similarities between what is happening this year and what happened in the SEC last year. The league had been at 12 teams and two divisions since Boston College joined in 2005, but they are now up to 14 teams. Last year the SEC made the same jump from 12 to 14 when Missouri and Texas A&M joined the conference. By looking back at the SEC experience last year we could gain insight into how to deal with the addition of the Panthers and Orange to the ACC this year from a betting perspective:
When a team joins a new league they wind up playing in a lot of buildings in which they either rarely play or have never played before. Teams and players are creatures of habit, so it can take some adjustment to get used to new cities, new travel, and new fans with new traditions and tendencies.
It would be easy to think that could have a big negative effect on teams joining a new league — playing on the road in conference play is tough enough at the best of times, never mind when everything is new.
In the SEC last year, though, the results weren’t as bleak as they could have been. Both teams failed to cover their spread in the first game. The Aggies beat Ole Miss by only three as 12-point favorites, and 10.5 points wasn’t nearly enough to give the Tiers as they were blown out by three touchdowns at South Carolina. After that point, though, the two teams went a combined 5-1 ATS on the road. The Aggies blew out Auburn, beat up Mississippi State, and then pulled of perhaps the upset of the season by winning at Alabama as 13.5-point dogs. Mizzou was a 17.5-point underdog at Florida but only lost by a TD and then beat Tennessee in an overtime shootout. Their last road game was a blowout at Texas A&M that was far from unexpected — they were 23-point underdogs and lost by 30. The net result is that you could have made a decent profit just from betting on the new teams on the road last year. At the very least, then, don’t let the new locations blind you to the possibility that Syracuse or Pitt can compete on the road this year.
Comparative quality of opponents
It’s hard to make a true comparison between what happened last year and what could happen this year because of the quality of opponents. Both Missouri and Texas A&M faced Florida and Alabama, and there aren’t too many easy games in the SEC. In the ACC both new teams will have to play Florida State, and Syracuse plays Clemson while Pitt plays Virginia Tech, but the average level of competition is certainly less in the ACC.
You could argue then that it is tough to learn anything from what is happening. What makes it possible, though, is the simple fact that while the ACC competition is weaker, Pitt and Syracuse are weaker than A&M and Mizzou were last year as well. As such, it would be a mistake to make any decisions driven by a disrespect of the ACC.
Part of what made the SEC changes so hard to decode last year was that they just didn’t make a lot of sense. The membership of the league made perfect sense before last year, but neither Texas nor Missouri were states that seemed to fit with the league in terms of geography or mentality. It was a weird fit — like Rutgers in the Big Ten. For people who are long-time college football fans, then, there were inevitable, almost subconscious biases at play that had to be overcome before you could effectively handicap the new teams.
That’s just not the case in the ACC.
The ACC covers so much geographical space that it doesn’t have the same regional identity as the SEC. Besides, both Pitt and Syracuse are good fits in terms of both location and attitude. Really, they both feel like they fit better in the ACC than they ever did in the Big East — for football, at least. Combine that with the fact that the ACC isn’t nearly as high-profile as the SEC, and that neither of these two teams are as nationally relevant as the Aggies or the Tigers. That tells me that the public impact on the odds in these games will inevitably be less than it was last year. The impact here is still a puzzle, but it’s less of a puzzle than what we saw before.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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