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College Football Preview

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/29/2006

I've been talking it over with some football experts here in Las Vegas and
we can't remember ever confronting a college football season like this.

*Every legitimate national championship threat has to replace significant
skill position talent, or high impact players on defense.

*There are at least 15 teams who can make reasonable cases that they've got
a shot to play in the BCS championship game if they can win their big games.

*The addition of a 12th game to everyone's schedule this year has taken away
many bye weeks. If you've already scanned through the schedules, you know
that many teams will be eight or nine games deep into the schedule before
they get a week off. Some go straight through until getting a break around
Thanksgiving. That means injuries and depth will play a bigger role in
college football this year than ever.

So, you may be asking how anyone could project a national championship
favorite or even a reasonable top ten given all of that? Or, how could
anyone even trust their power ratings in the opening week? Remember how bad
those early polls were last year? Tennessee was a consensus #2 in the
country in the preseason even though they wouldn't make it to a bowl. A lot
of popular darkhorse picks ended up with four losses or more.

How do you handicap in this kind of environment? Here's what I suggest:

*First, remember that the oddsmakers are in the same boat you are. They're
in one of their biggest positions of weakness in quite some time. That
should boost your confidence right off the bat.

*Be conservative if you have yet to gain a strong feel. You've probably
heard that a Las Vegas bettor's biggest advantage is that he can pass any
game while the oddsmakers have to put up a number in all of them. The
oddsmakers will be putting up a few guesses. If you've got insights about a
certain coach or a certain team, you'll be able to cherry pick some great
winning situations.

*Consider playing second half lines. The best way to get a read on two teams
going head-to-head is to watch them play each other. In the old days, this
was of no benefit to bettors because only full game lines were available.
Now, you can watch the first half and bet on the second half. The oddsmakers
will be floundering here as well with so many games going on simultaneously.
You can cherry-pick the ones you watch and look for soft spots.

*Give extra weight to experienced quarterbacks. They're more valuable than
normal this year because so many big name teams will be breaking in
newcomers. This is going to be a BIG deal in the first few weeks of the
season. This should affect your thinking on both sides and totals.

*Remember to look for climate advantages. The Southeast and Southwest have
had brutally hot summers (and are still having them). It's very likely that
any teams from mild weather will fade badly in the second halves of games
played in very hot weather. This is something that often trumps differences
in experience, so you can still play this edge with confidence.

*To set the tone for your late season handicapping, start paying very close
attention now to which teams have depth and which don't. Every year, many of
the smaller programs fade badly in the final month of the season. They may
get up for their rivalry game, but otherwise, they're blowout fodder for the
powers. Without the bye weeks this year this will happen to more programs,
and it will happen earlier than ever before. I think this particular angle
will offer up several big play opportunities in the second half of the
season.

I know you'll be watching a zillion games on TV in the coming days. We all
will! Make notes of any depth-related comments you hear from the announcers,
and eyeball for yourself how well the backups do when they get a chance to
perform. It will pay off time and time again down the road.

We're coming up on what could prove to be a very unique season. The
oddsmakers are talking tough. But I know they're scared to death about these
early games. They know in their hearts that they're just guessing with the
early numbers. Analysts like you and me who use the right approach will be
able to teach them a lesson about Smash Mouth handicapping!

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