How to Handicap College Teams That Won't Name Starting QB
College football can be a ridiculous sport at times. Coaches, trying to get any edge they can, will do truly frustrating, silly things. The latest manifestation of this is the recent trend of not naming starting quarterbacks heading into games. There have always been some coaches who don't really embrace the idea of public depth charts. However, as we head into this season, it's only getting worse. A quick search at the opening weekend of action uncovers at least nine teams that are not publicly acknowledging who will be under center when the season begins or how their QB options will likely be used. It's all just gamesmanship, and it's ridiculous. Coaches like to pretend that their evasiveness makes it tougher for opponents to prepare - that this will be the edge they need to win. Like this is going to decide the outcome of a game in any meaningful way. As we try to deal with this annoying situation, here are five factors to keep in mind:
Is it really a mystery?: Ohio State finally named a starting quarterback on Tuesday after Ryan Day had been annoyingly coy for a few weeks. But despite attempts for some people in the media to create some drama and uncertainty, everyone with half a brain knew that Justin Fields was going to be the guy. Day surely realized that he might as well make the announcement because he absolutely wasn't fooling anyone. And some other programs face decisions almost as mysterious. If a decision isn't announced but is painfully obvious, then it isn't really a mystery.
Does it matter?: If, say, the New England Patriots hadn't named a starting QB, and it seemed like there really was uncertainty, it would be cause for concern because it would have a major impact. The season expectations shift just a little bit if Brian Hoyer is playing instead of Tom Brady. But if the team has two or three viable starters, and it is tough to distinguish between them, then the lack of a decision doesn't matter. And there is more than that as well. Is this a QB dependent team - one that needs huge play from their QB to have a chance to succeed? Does one guy have an edge over the other in the race, or do they both bring strengths to the table - and both have real weaknesses? Are they functionally different quarterbacks, or two versions of the same thing? If one guy is a big passer, and the other is a run-first guy, then the mystery about the starter could really impact the style of the game and what it means for the potential outcome. But if both guys are likely to execute basically the same playbook, then it matters much less. And since neither guy has distinguished himself enough to be the obvious starter, the difference in execution between the two guys isn't likely to be that significant. And finally, having a starting QB named is all but irrelevant if the program has a history of playing two quarterbacks regularly.
Will the QB decide the outcome?: There are games that you handicap and you know that, ultimately, it is going to come down to who the better quarterback is. The teams are well matched, and the edge is going to come from better offensive execution. But that is far from always the case. In some college games, you could have Aaron Rodgers in his NFL prime playing for a team and they would have basically no chance of winning. They can't match up in the trenches, they don't have speed in the secondary, or whatever else. When a team can't compete in other places on the field, then who will be starting at QB isn't worth too much thought.
How much does the public know?: Ultimately, the biggest thing we need to be concerned about is how this affects the way lines are set and how they move. It's all about value. And a big part of that line movement will depend on how the general betting public is relating to the uncertainty of this decision. If the starting QB decision comes down to two guys, but the public doesn't know too much about either guy, then the eventual decision will have little betting impact. The public has no real perceived preference, so they won't react strongly when a decision is made. But if one of the two options is a much bigger name than the other, then the eventual decision will have a big impact because the public will largely be happy or upset depending on how things turn out.
Oddsmakers are caught off guard by these situations: We'll close off with what is just a gentle reminder. Oddsmakers are just smarter than you. It's that simple. This is their business, and they work very hard to avoid losing money. If there is certainty around a starter even though it hasn't been announced, then the oddsmakers will know it - even if the public isn't aware of it yet - and it will be factored into the price. And if there really is a mystery, then that will be in the price, too. This is one of those situations where it would be easy to overthink the situation and try to outsmart the oddsmakers. That almost never turns out well.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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