College Football Betting Advice: Handicapping Early-Season NCAA Mismatches
September in college football typically means nonconference games. And nonconference games often mean mismatches. Brutal mismatches. Major conference teams need games they can play without much risk of losing or doing costly damage that will impact them in conference play. Lesser teams see the big games as a road to a big payday. Losing to an Alabama or Clemson once a year can fund most of a smaller program. For handicappers, these games can be a bit of a headache. The spreads are massive , and the level of interest for the better teams is not always easy to determine. These games can be tough to handicap, but hopefully with these seven questions you can get a better sense of where your money should be:
Is the bad team actually bad?: Obviously, I can't talk about this without mentioning Appalachian State, the team few had heard of before they marched into the Big House and upset a Michigan team that had National Championship aspirations in 2007. But while App State was off the radar of most football fans, they had just won two straight FCS national titles, and they won their third that season. They were dominant at a lower level, and they had a superstar QB, so the mismatch wasn't as big as it might have seemed. When we are dealing with superpower programs it can be easy to assume that the opponent has little chance. Just make sure that that is in fact the case before making your bet.
Is the good team dealing with changes?: Change is a big part of college football, and sometimes the bigger programs schedule these cupcake games as a de facto preseason game to help them adapt to those changes. Maybe a star QB left, or a defensive rock is gone, or a coach has left. If it is early in the season then the team may not be where they hope to be later in the year, and they could be using the game more for preparation than for a demonstration of their full potential.
What can we learn from the past?: If the good team has the same coaching staff and much of the same core then we can learn a lot about what to expect in this case from how they have reacted in similar cases in the past. Some coaches want to show no mercy and ground these outmatched opponents into the ground. They believe that you learn to win later by winning big now. Other coaches will just do enough to win and then show some mercy and get their bench players some playing time. Some players get really fired up for any game and want to show how much better they are than their opponents. Others are happy doing just enough to get the win. The past tends to repeat itself in these cases.
What is the action telling you?: Typically it isn't these games that will get much of the public betting attention. Sure, some people will bet on Alabama regardless of who they are playing. The large majority of the public money, though, will go towards the marquee games of the week - and there is rarely a shortage of those on the schedule. In these mismatch games, then, a larger-than-usual portion of the betting money is sharp money - especially earlier in the week leading up to the game. Watching what this money does can be particularly helpful in figuring out what to expect.
What's up next?: Often times these cupcake games come right before a big game for an elite team. Texas, for example, hosts lowly Tulsa the week before USC this year. It can be easy for a team to look past an opponent in a case like that. Or the team can play hard so that they know they are ready for the next big test. On the other hand, if the weak opponent comes before another weak opponent then it could be tough for a team to feel a lot of urgency. There is no simple answer here, but it is worthwhile to think about what is next and what it might mean.
What will the crowd be like?: Some schools show up for games no matter who their team is playing. Things might get quiet if the game gets out of hand early, but at the start it will be the same as any other game. That obviously gives the home team an edge. Other teams have more fickle fans, though, and they only show up in bulk for big games. A smaller crowd means less energy and quite possibly less of a home-field advantage. Looking at places like Stubhub and Craigslist can give you a sense of how many tickets are available and what prices are like and in turn what can be expected in the stands.
Weather?: The weather is always a factor in college football - except for in Syracuse and other places that play in a dome, of course. If a team has a massive spread to cover then they will have to score a lot, and that could be tougher if it is raining heavily, the wind is blowing, or something even crazier is going on. Wet conditions, for example, could force a team to be more cautious and focus on protecting the ball instead of letting things fly.
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