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Quarterback Experience Key in College FB Openers

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/26/2008

It's always been one of the most important factors for college football handicappers to consider in season openers. Now, with some last second rules changes that have been implemented, it's probably the key element we have to evaluate.

You've probably heard by now that college football has done some more tinkering with the clock. There will be 40 seconds between plays this season rather than a 25-second clock that starts once the ball is ready. And, out-of-bounds plays will now only temporarily stop the clock. There will be a restart once the ball is set for the next snap.

It's too early to say what the full ramifications of these changes will be. We've seen time and time again in the world of sports that things which seem little often have a big impact. Take a few inches off the pitching mound, add a smidge to the strike zone, kick off from the 30 instead of the 35, and a Pandora's Box is opened that can be hard to shut. Time will tell if the changes announced last week will help or hurt the game. I'm very confident that they will temporarily reward experienced teams and punish newcomers.

Why is that?

Time management has become a very important part of the college game. The NFL has really been emphasizing this for several years now. The colleges usually catch up to what the pros are doing once they've seen it in action for awhile. Ohio State runs clock the way the Indianapolis Colts do. Many spread offenses try to mimic the most dangerous of the NFL passing games. Blitz schematics became much more complicated in the colleges about a half-dozen years after they started getting more complicated in the NFL.

Amidst this evolutionary cycle, we now have last second changes that will make it very easy to sit on leads, and much less easy to play from behind. Give an experienced quarterback a lead, and make an inexperienced guy play from behind, and you've got a comfortable victory that's probably going to stay Under the posted total.

If two conservative coaches are meeting heads up with experienced signal callers on the field, you're going to see an extremely fast game that could end in 2.5 hours tied at 16 points apiece. If two inexperienced coaches are meeting heads up, with new young quarterbacks, all heck is going to break loose. There's no telling what might happen.

It's very important to go through all the board teams and make note of quarterback quality and experience. The best veterans will have little trouble adjusting to the rules changes because they're already in command of the offense and strategies. The greenest newcomers will be making several mistakes, calling time outs, and walking backward over and over again from repeated penalties. Yes, veterans always have an edge over rookies in the first week. These late summer changes will likely magnify those edges to an extreme degree in my view.

Some suggestions for the first couple of weekends:

*Look at veteran quarterbacks vs. rookies at any reasonable price.

*Look at Unders when conservative coaches with veteran quarterbacks match up.

*Look at Unders when conservative coaches with veteran quarterbacks are big favorites. They'll be able to make the clock disappear in the fourth quarter.

*Look at Unders if there are any bad weather games. The combination of weather AND confusion about the clock will really limit a teams ability to drive the field quickly and efficiently.

*Think back to all the coaches you've ever yelled at for poor clock management in the past, and try to go against them at value prices. If they were mistake-prone under the old rules, they're likely to be really panicky in this first week of the 2008 season.

*Think back to all the coaches who have impressed you with play calling or clock management in big games, and try to take them at value prices. The smartest coaches will have little trouble adjusting. Sorry to say it, but a significant number of college coaches just aren't that great at on-the-fly thinking. Recruiters, teachers, leaders of men...fine. Chess players? It's not a strength for many. Those who aren't intimidated by change will thrive right out of the gate. The rest will be punting.

I have to say this is one of the most interesting opening weeks in my handicapping career. There were some intriguing matchups anyway. These last second rules changes make things a lot more interesting. That's fine with me. I trust my ability to map out the ramifications much more than I trust the oddsmakers. They know the smart money already has some keys figured out.

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