Handicapping College Football After a Season Played During a Pandemic

by Team Del Genio

After a 2020-21 college football season played without fans, the new ’21-22 season appears to return to looking like the game we observed in 2019-20. COVID is still here, and positive tests threaten to wreak havoc once again with the eligibility of players on game day (even if vaccinated). Yet fans will be back in stands, and each of the 130 teams representing the FBS appears poised to play full schedules. 

But normalcy has not yet returned for those of us who handicap college football games. After an extremely unusual college football season last year, those games remain the most recent relevant data points to use when assessing the early games for this season. Team Del Genio is a collection of handicappers that worked with and who were influenced by former oddsmaker turned sports handicapper Lenny Del Genio. We hope we analyze these early college football games the way he would, from the perspective of someone thinking about how the point spread and over/under lines were decided. Three principles will guide our early thinking.

(1) Last Year’s Sample Sizes were Low. Most FBS teams play at least twelve games each season. Many Pac-12 teams played only four times. Many Big Ten teams did not play more than seven times. Non-conference schedules were abandoned. For many of these teams, there is just not much to gather from playing a third to a half of a typical season. With opt-outs and teams declining bowl games, the stakes changed for many programs. The lack of games between conferences makes the data regarding relative conference strength limited. Handicappers and gamblers making strong conclusions from last year’s results do so at their own risk.

(2) Returning Starters/Production is Less Important. Perhaps this has been an overrated factor when handicapping early-season games. A team returning all five starters from an offensive line that was not very good may not be all that advantageous. Talent is probably more important than experience and chemistry. Yet with the NCAA granting all players an extra year of eligibility if they played last year, every FBS team is returning a high number of starters from last year. Returning experience is simply not as important this season since it is an area most programs have benefiting them.

(3) More Than Ever, Coaching Matters. After a year impacted by COVID that precluded practice time and coaching opportunities in the spring and the fall, every FBS program got in spring and fall practice sessions. The surprises relative to point spread expectations will probably come from the better-coached programs. 

Good luck - TDG.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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