College Football Bowl Game Betting Advice: Handicapping Coaching Changes
There have been 20 coaching changes so far in FBS football this year - further proof that coaches are better off renting rather than buying. Of those programs going through changes, seven are going to bowl games. It's those seven programs that are the most fascinating right now. Because the college football coaching situation is broken, coaches have to jump to new programs before their current team is done playing, and programs have to fire coaches before they have finished their job for the year. Handicapping teams that have faced a coaching change presents a real challenge during the bowl season.
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Here are seven questions to ask when trying to decode these situations:
Why is he gone? There is obviously a big difference between a guy who has moved on to a better job and one who has been fired for underperforming. The former leaves the team in much better shape than the latter. In most cases a guy is fired for a reason, so a team that has made a coaching change at their own initiative is likely facing issues that have gotten in the way of strong performance.
How are players reacting? In most situations we don't hear much from players after a change has been made. Sometimes, though, word leaks out. After Jimbo Fisher bolted from Florida State, for example, we heard a lot of anger directed towards him and what had gone on in the last months of his time in Tallahassee. That had been a distraction, and it could stay that way through the bowl. On the other hand, when Scott Frost left UCF for Nebraska he was talked about with the kind of reverence that is usually reserved only for saints.
How are they replacing him for the bowl game? No matter when the new hire is made, he won't be in place to coach the bowl game. That leads to some very awkward situations. At Florida State, for example, long-time assistant Odell Haggins is serving as interim coach even though Willie Taggart is in place, and the role of Haggins going forward isn't clear. Some interim situations are much better than others, and handicappers need to look at what the school has done to bridge the gap and how much of an impact it could have.
Is there anything odd about the arrangement? This could be called the UCF question. What the Knights have done with Scott Frost is just bizarre. I get that he is a very talented and very popular coach, but this is not the answer. Frost is out recruiting at Nebraska, but he is also coaching UCF into their bowl game. This week, for example, he ran practices on consecutive mornings and then flew across the country to recruit for Nebraska in between. It's crazy, and I don't get how either school thought it was a good idea. There is no way that it can't be a distraction to UCF to some extent.
Is the new guy in place? In this case the answer is yes because only two jobs have not been filled, and neither is a bowl team. When the new guy has been hired you need to look at the impact of his hiring on the focus of the team. Do you think, for example, that UCLA players are more focused on playing in the completely useless Cactus Bowl or more about their future playing under Chip Kelly and the high-profile circus he brings to town? Interim coach Jedd Fisch has an impossible task getting his team entirely prepared for that game.
How stable are the assistants? When a head coach moves on - by his choice or not - assistants often get stuck with the job of keeping things on track into the bowl game. Sometimes those guys are stable and will be part of the staff of the new coach. More often, though, they are looking for their next job while being an interim coach or they are already moving with their former boss to his new job after the bowl ends. Obviously an assistant with one foot out the door can't be trusted as much as a stable coach can.
What is the public thinking? The betting public probably has a strong opinion about what has happened in places like Florida State, UCLA or Oregon. The change made at SMU, on the other hand, isn't going to get too many people outside of the Dallas area too worked up. The more the public is engaged by a coaching change the more likely they are to have overreacted to what has happened - and that can create betting value.
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