Hard to handicap upcoming season

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The NCAA’s recent decision to allow athletes to resume on-campus workouts Monday made the cloudy prospects for a college football season seem a little bit brighter. 

The coronavirus curve may be flattening, but there were more than 26,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the United States reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday. 

And even though the NCAA has given approval for certain activities, individual Division I institutions are setting their own rules for deciding what is safe. 

Clemson, Ohio State and most SEC schools announced they would resume workouts next Monday. Big 12 schools can begin on June 15 — except for Oklahoma, which said it would wait until July 1. 

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The California State University System announced that fall classes would be taught remotely, which means mostly empty campuses and fewer students available to attend games. If member institutions like San Diego State, San Jose State and Fresno State decided to forgo the football season, other Mountain West Conference schools like UNLV and Boise State would have holes in their schedules. 

The Rebels are scheduled to open the new Allegiant Stadium on Aug. 29 against California. 

University of Miami President Julio Frenk said the Hurricanes would likely begin their 2020 season without fans present, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Iowa is aiming for a half-full stadium, and Ohio State has said it hopes to fill 50,000 of its 105,000 seats for home games. 

Plans could be cast into further confusion and doubt if the country sees an uptick in coronavirus cases with the easing of some social-distancing restrictions over the summer or a feared second wave in late fall. 

Where does all this leave college football bettors, who would normally be wagering in futures markets that are currently rather thin? 

Professional handicapper Ted Sevransky said he thinks the season is pick’em to kick off on time and an underdog to finish on time. 

“It’s difficult for me to predict where we’ll be,” Sevransky said. “We’ve yet to see an NBA game played. We’ve yet to see an NHL game.” 

The NBA is targeting July 31 for a return to play, while the NHL, which voted to abandon the remainder of its regular season and expand the Stanley Cup playoffs to 24 teams, has not set a date for action to resume.  

While German soccer and Korean baseball have returned to empty stadium seats, Sevransky said those leagues weren’t really comparable to American sports. He said he couldn’t imagine college football being treated the same as the NFL. 

“(The pandemic) has changed my timetable,” he said. “I’m more confident about an NFL season than a college season, because they’re professional players.” 

Las Vegas handicapper Kelly Stewart, a host of Bleacher Report’s “B/R Betting Game Show,” said the shutdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak gave her more time to plan her college football betting strategies. 

“I am preparing no differently at all,” Stewart said. “Yes, there are uncertainties, but the work invested is completely the same with my summer prep. In fact, I am even more prepared for the football season this year with the extra time in I’ve found.” 

If the players do play in empty or half-full stadiums, will teams lose some of their home-field advantage? 

“The answer is,” Sevransky said, “nobody knows.“Compare what Akron is worth — or what the Rebels have been worth — (at home) to schools like Ohio State or Boise State. There’s money to be made with that.” 

Stewart said she believes that college football and college basketball are the sports in which home-field advantage is most important. She said she will adjust the weight she normally grants to home teams. 

“In the NFL my strongest home-field edge is 3.5 points while in college football I may give a 6-plus-point edge in certain situations — a Penn State whiteout, LSU at home at night,” Stewart said. “In college football I’m taking a wait-and-see approach as well, but my initial thoughts would be to use 60-70 percent of my full home-field edge and adjust from there.” 

Schools with new head coaches or coordinators or starting quarterbacks could be at a disadvantage with the unusually tight window for preseason workouts and practices.  

The different return-to-work timelines add to the unpredictability of this season. Tennessee players, for instance, who are returning to campus on Monday, will have a 22-day head start on Oklahoma players. The Sooners are scheduled to host the Volunteers on Sept. 12. 

“I’m used to being very confident,” Sevransky said. “But you worry more about inconsistency (this season). Randomness does not help the savvy sports bettor.” 

As Stewart pointed out, of the 24 Division I programs with a new head coach, seven missed out on spring practices and do not return an experienced quarterback, and nine others had no spring but do have a returning starter. 

“I have those teams circled,” she said. “(But) I am not ready to automatically play against (them). Instead, I’ll keep a close eye on the reports coming from each camp in August when practices resume.” 

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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