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Beware of College W/L Records
by Scott Spreitzer - 11/02/2009
I’m surprised by the number of bettors who continue to evaluate teams based on their won-lost records. In college football, schedules are so soft now that records for some teams are virtually meaningless!
I was reminded of this watching one particular conference game this past weekend. A team entered with a 6-1 record. The announcers kept talking about their chances to win their conference. They were laying just a field goal against a team that was fourth in the conference standings.
The favorite was 6-1 in name only, (now 6-2!).
College programs have figured out the secret to padding their record. Everybody does it now. Some teams are bigger offenders than others. But, we’re at a point now that handicappers have to basically ignore a team’s won-lost record when trying to evaluate their true caliber.
Let me explain this using report card grades. Let’s say a team that would be just a “B-minus” or a “C” against a representative slate has played a schedule of nothing but “D” or “F” teams. They’re going to be undefeated most likely. Maybe they had bad luck and lost a game. Against that schedule, they’re going to compile a gaudy record. But they're still just a “C” type team!
A “B” team playing a tougher schedule will have a worse record. Maybe they fell to an “A” team in their conference, then lost a coin flip with another “B” team. If you just glance at the records, you’ll be tricked into thinking that the “C” team was better than the “B” team.
On the field, “B” is going to win heads up against “C”.
This is always an important element of the handicapping process. It’s arguably never been as important as it is right now.
*More teams than ever have padded their record with September “scrimmages” versus small-time opponents.
*Every conference has sub-par teams who haven’t been as competitive as hoped. If a team has lucked into drawing those opponents early in their conference slates, they will have a misleading record.
*The pollsters rank teams based on won-lost records rather than true quality, particularly once you’re past the top five to ten teams.
*The media hypes teams based on the rankings, particularly emphasizing teams who weren’t expected to rank so high.
*The BCS computers are purposely programmed to emphasize wins and ignore victory margins (meaning you can create illusions by winning close games vs. weak teams).
Add it all up, and you get what is largely one big grand illusion here at the two-thirds mark of the college football season. I’d say, and this might be a conservative estimate, that there are a few dozen teams who aren’t as good as their won-lost records would suggest. When many of the ranked contenders finally play some real competition in November in their league races, they won’t strike you as 8-0 or 7-1 caliber teams. If they’re in weak conference, they might carry a 12-0 or 11-1 record into a bowl just to get embarrassed when they finally step up in class.
Further down the list, teams who are 6-2 or 7-2 right now would basically be .500 caliber squads against a real schedule. There are teams at .500 now who will have poor final records in their conferences.
This “pollution” is all over the sport. No conference is unaffected. The current BCS rankings would be significantly different if everyone played comparable schedules. Everybody is trying to game the system. Some are being more successful than others.
As handicappers, we have to see through the pollution. To pick winners in college football or any sport, you have to be in touch with the reality of what’s happening on the field. Here are some suggestions that will help.
*Evaluate everyone’s strength of schedule from top to bottom. Give their schedule a report card grade, and have that handy when studying the coming week’s card.
*Don’t give anybody credit for blowout wins over patsies, unless they’re playing another patsy this week. Coaches “call off the dogs” at different margins depending on their personal style. You just can’t use what happens in blowouts to evaluate what’s going to happen in non-blowouts.
*Penalize teams who play poorly vs. soft opponents. This is a big red flag that somebody is overrated. If you’re just barely beating “C” or “D” teams, then you’re not an “A” team!
*Pay attention to records against the spread. It’s true that teams aren’t focused on “covering spreads” as much as they are on trying to win. But pointspread performance will tell you which teams have been overrated and underrated by the market. Winning teams who aren't covering spreads probably aren’t as good as their straight up won-lost record would indicate. That will matter when they step up in class.
*Read the boxscores to get a sense of true dominance or the lack thereof. I’ve given you plenty of hints here in my articles over the years here for what stats to emphasize. Now more than ever in this sport, game stats tell you more than won-lost records do about college teams.
This final month of the season is shaping up as a real challenge for the general public. They listen to what the media says, and the media is hyping a lot of teams who aren’t as good as they seem. Vegas lines are strongly influenced by public perceptions because of how the money influences the spread. If you can get in sync with the reality of the sport, YOU’RE GOING TO CLEAN UP!
Let the public choke on the pollution.