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Looking Back on the First Weekend of College Football, 2007...By Jay Graziani
One thing that separates early-season college football from the NFL is the lack of reliable handicapping information. Many new starters for each team means limited performance to evaluate. Entire squads often change dramatically from year-to-year, especially when high-talent players leave for the pros. The amount of uncertainty in predicting team performance is very high at the start of the season. With the limited information available, as well as the sense of anticipation surrounding the first weekend of college football, public (square) bettors pay undue attention to the storylines and results of the season opening games. This often leads to these results being greatly overvalued in the mind of the betting public. The hallmark of a bad bettor is placing too much weight on any one game, where a lot of randomness and luck can make for misleading or unusual outcomes. Sharper handicappers will realize that one aberrant game is not necessarily reason to throw your preseason homework down the drain, and may in fact make for valuable betting opportunities.
The tough part is figuring out which games were really flukes, and which reflected the true talent of a team that was over- or underrated before they stepped on the field for the season. Of course, there is still a great deal of subjectivity involved in handicapping this early in the football season. You can gain a leg up on your handicapping by identifying teams that are likely to be favored or ignored by recreational bettors, and therefore subjected to unusual amounts of square action. An easy way to take advantage of early season results is to find teams that your handicapping indicated were overrated to begin with who greatly outperformed expectations in their opener. The week 1 results should drive the line on these teams even higher as they attract more public support, creating opportunities to bet against them versus the now-inflated line. Likewise, look for underrated teams who underperformed, especially if there were unusual circumstances like questionable calls or extensive turnovers. These teams will lose a lot of support, forcing linesmakers to pump up the spread to try to balance action.
A few of this weekend's games stand out as having potential to influence the public bettors enough to make for favorable wagering opportunities in the near or immediate future:
Michigan vs. Appalachian State:
While this game was not even available to most of the public for wagering, it was definitely the biggest story of the weekend. While we have to wonder what effect such a devastating loss will have on Michigan's psyche the rest of the season, this team is just too talented to be kept down for long, especially on the offensive side of the ball. With the Wolverines opening only minus-7 this week, and some 6's popping up sporadically, this might be a good time to bet on them to rebound. This week provides an intriguing possibility as they face an Oregon defense that gave up 545 total yards to Houston, bad enough to be ranked 113th in the nation last week in yardage allowed. There may also be opportunity to be found wagering against Appalachian State. With only a limited number of sportsbooks carrying Division I-AA lines for micro-limits, enough square action may materialize to inflate the line substantially.
Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech:
The Irish were handed a nationally-televised pounding at home in a game which saw them open as a favorite before being bet down. Expectations were already low for Notre Dame, a team that usually receives a lot of public backing that likely won't materialize anytime this year. Contrarian bettors may be tempted to take the unloved Irish, but next weekend against a PSU team ready to steamroll them might not be the best time. Notre Dame has an amazingly difficult schedule this year, so waiting for them to drop to 0-3 or 0-4 before backing them may be the wisest move. With only Big 10 opponents in the month of September (3 on the road), followed by UCLA, Boston College, and USC, Notre Dame could very well not taste victory until November. Their public stock still has plenty of room to fall, so waiting a few weeks to support them may pay off after they "bottom out" in the public eye.
Auburn vs. Kansas State:
Few gave Kansas State a chance in this game, installing them as 2-touchdown underdogs. Yet they shocked bettors by leading for much of the game before giving up 17 unanswered points in the second half to cruise to a loss. However, the win was due mostly to some serious problems in the Auburn offense, and Kansas State will likely end up overrated in the public eye and a possible go-against team in the coming weeks. While Auburn certainly has problems in on offense, particularly the line, opening as only a touchdown favorite over South Florida seems low. South Florida wasn't particularly impressive against cupcake Elon in their opener, so it looks like Auburn's offensive struggles may be weighted too heavily in this week's lines.
California vs. Tennessee:
Saturday night's prime-time contest between Cal and Tennessee was likely watched by the majority of the betting public. Cal dominated, but that was not entirely unexpected for a team ranked 12th in the nation and a touchdown betting favorite. Recreational bettors will likely continue to back Cal strongly, though it seems they still might be underrated relative to USC. Tennessee, however, played generally well against a tough team and the box score Saturday was a lot closer than the final score might indicate. Tennessee might be a team worth backing for the near future, and laying 11 next week against Southern Mississippi seems like it might be a bargain.
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