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It's The Same...Only Different
by Scott Spreitzer - 10/21/2008
Most people who read this have probably been analyzing football for a long time. You have a sense of what it means to handicap the NFL right now. You know how offenses play. You know how defenses play. You have a sense for the intangibles that inspire peak and valley performances.
Imagine you were thrown back in time and had to handicap the AFL in the 1960's. It's still football. But it's a very different ball game. That league emphasized putting on a show for fans. There were high scoring shootouts each and every week. Offenses and defenses were both much simpler schematically.
It was still football. Same game, but different.
That dynamic is basically what we see right now in college football. Some leagues play like the NFL in terms of defensive intensity and trying to use the clock to shorten games. Others play like the old AFL. Well, maybe the old AFL on steroids! Constant passing, out of spread formations. Games that take forever to play. A great show for fans and a tempting lure for skill position talent that wants to play in exciting offensive games instead of boring defensive games.
I went through and calculated the average Las Vegas totals for various college conferences and the NFL the past few weeks. You'll see what I mean by looking through these numbers.
NFL: Low to mid 40's
MOST LIKE THE NFL
SEC: low to mid 40's
ACC: low to mid 40's
SIMILAR TO THE NFL
Big Ten: mid to high 40's
Big East: mid to high 40's
Mountain West: high 40's
NOT VERY SIMILAR
Pac 10: low 50's
MAC: low 50's
MORE LIKE THE OLD AFL
WAC: mid to high 50's
Big 12: low 60's
CUSA: mid 60's
The phrase "handicapping college football" doesn't really have any meaning when you look at it like that. Handicapping the SEC is nothing like handicapping the Big 12, even though those are perceived as the two best conferences in football right now. Handicapping the ACC is very similar to handicapping the SEC. Isn't it interesting how BCS leagues based in the Southeast are playing a similar style of football, putting great athletes on defense instead of stockpiling them on offense. CUSA is trying to compete for offensive recruits in that region by playing fast break football that helps you pile up stats and impress scouts.
When you see the game in this light, you can understand why it's important to develop different strategies for different conferences.
Things I'd encourage you to consider:
*Run defense is always important, but it's more important in the lower scoring leagues because the powers in those conferences use the running game to score points AND run the clock out. Don't even try picking winners in those conferences without serious study of rush defense statistics.
*Quarterback talent is more of a tie-breaker in the higher scoring leads. It's harder to hide a bad quarterback with defense or the running game when you're playing in a shootout. You can get away with mediocrity or worse in the lower scoring leagues.
*Defensive fatigue hits the higher scoring leagues harder because fast break football wears out a defense. Games in the lower scoring conferences move faster, and have fewer plays. They're also played in milder climates that don't zap your energy either, for the most part. Sometimes the strongest late October and early November selections come from going against defenses who have worn out.
*Receiver depth (including backs who can catch the ball and scoot) is important in the high scoring leagues, but virtually irrelevant in the low scoring leagues. You'd be surprised how much this particular element can help you in CUSA or the Big 12 when the injury reports come out.
*I've noticed that letdown and lookahead situations are more dangerous to favorites in the lower scoring leagues. If a favorite is flat and they run into a team with a good defense that knows how to shorten a game, an upset is more likely. There isn't as much time for the favorite to make up for early mistakes. The underdog defense doesn't wear out at the end and allow the "game saving" yards for the favorite.
*November weather can have a big impact on the leagues up north or at elevation. The Big Ten and Big East will turn into the SEC or ACC because conditions limit explosiveness for teams who lack that to begin with. Many also play on slow surfaces with thick grass. Be ready to adjust to that in a couple of weeks.
I'm sure you can think of other angles if you put your mind to it. My point today is that YOU SHOULD PUT YOUR MIND TO IT!
You're not "handicapping college football." You're handicapping a few leagues that play much like the NFL, a few leagues that are more wide open than that, and a few that make the old AFL look like it was played in cement. It takes different strokes for different conferences!