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Adjusting to the New College Game
by Scott Spreitzer - 10/03/2006
Off-season rules changes and the new emphasis on defense have made this a somewhat of a throwback season to the way college football used to be.
Offenses are focused on playing smart and moving the chains. High risk approaches are just too dangerous to run now because there's less time to come back if you dig yourself a hole from turnovers. An ability to chew up yardage and run the clock helps keep lesser teams within striking distance when it's close, and helps teams with big leads finish off the game without worrying about an hour of garbage time.
It's a cleaner game. It's faster-paced game. And we're seeing a lot of close, exciting fourth quarters because it's harder to put distance between yourselves and your opponents than it used to be.
What is there to complain about?
Well, if you're a season ticket holder, those four and a half hours games probably spoiled you. Now you feel like you're getting less for your dollar. If you got rich specializing in betting 'Overs' in Las Vegas in college games, you'll have to hold off for a while until teams get the hang of running two minute offenses within the new framework. That's one of the hidden keys to all the September 'Unders'. There's not a rash of scoring in the last two minutes of each half because young quarterbacks just haven't had a chance to learn that part of the game yet.
To me, the good outweighs the bad to an extreme degree.
Now, let's discuss what this opening month of football should be teaching handicappers.
*Even though this is throwback football, you've got to treat it like a whole new ballgame if you've only been handicapping the last five to ten years. Everything's changed! Stat handicappers are trying to figure out what seemingly condensed boxscores mean. Guys who use yards-per-point formulas are in a tizzy because nothing makes sense the way it used to. Guys who like to use trends are stunned by how many things seem to have no connection to reality any more. The pointspreads don't even mean what they used to. A team that was a 10-11 point favorite last year should only be a 7-8 point favorite this year. Teams who were favored by 28-31 in the past should only be 21-24 this year. Shorter games have led to smaller margins in blowouts.
*You've got to recognize the difference in margin potential when comparing run-based teams to pass-based teams. A national or conference contender that focuses on the run or on short passes will only win by blowout margins if they get some cheap points off of turnovers. They eat up so much clock when running their offense that four touchdowns comes close to knocking out the whole game. On the other hand, pass based teams get a lot more stoppages because of incomplete passes and plays that go out of bounds. Also, many have decided to go out of the no-huddle offense as a way of keeping defenses back on their heels. These teams can win by much bigger margins even though they're no better than the running teams who are winning by lesser scores (this is going wreak havoc with those computer ratings systems that base their rankings on final scores, and on oddsmaker power ratings that do the same thing).
*Finally, you've got to be ready to read and react as the season progresses. The first few weeks of September were very low scoring by historical standards. Games went Under to a tune of about 65% in the middle of the month. But offensive coordinators are getting smarter, young quarterbacks are getting smarter, and defenses will gradually wear down the rest of the season (though at a slower pace than in past years because the games are shorter). You've got to keep your eyes open to see which offenses are getting the hang of things, and which are still struggling to work out the kinks.
If you're having trouble picking on your own because you got in the habit of looking at stats, trends, or computer ratings, you're going to have to make some adjustments. The good news for you is that the oddsmakers are in the same boat. And the volatility that still awaits in the coming weeks could make life more difficult for the sportsbooks. Be sure you do the right things to take advantage!