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Returning starters mean plenty in NCAA bets

Aug 6, 2002 11:10 AM

With the college football regular season starting in earnest much sooner than the pros (who have already kicked off exhibition play), let’s spend a little time going over some of the differences between the two and how they can affect the bettor.

It’s important to note the number of returning starters to a college program in wagering with or against the points. However, many people are more interested in the numbers rather than what they mean.

Team A returning eight starters on offense is not appreciably better than Team B which only has five returning, if Team A’s missing members include the three year starting QB, the All-American running back, and a key member of the offensive line or receiving corps.

The talent level among the depth charts of the college teams varies quite a bit more than in the pros. It doesn’t take much to bring many programs
into the folds of mediocrity when they lose the stars that were making the team successful the year before.

Another key aspect when analyzing talent, which is often overlooked, is the special teams play. While the pros treat kickers like a dime a dozen, many college teams are anxiously trying find some breathing body who can kick a ball through an upright or punt the ball with some degree of length and hang time.

News stories are filled with coaches raiding their schools soccer fields pleading with players to come tryout for the football team. Examining which teams succeeded or failed in the battle of field position and field goal opportunities is an excellent tool when handicapping the strength of a team.

Finally, we know that certain programs are consistent winners in the college game, and some continue to struggle every year.

With the limit of 85 scholarships per school in place, we are seeing some more spreading out of talent. A prime example being the Mid American Conference, which is becoming increasingly more competitive thanks to the many players that have fallen through the cracks of Big 10 recruiters.

Yet, the bigger schools, the known "football factories", still have the ability to attract the cream of the crop from around the nation and to keep their depth charts filled with talented young men who could be starters at other schools.

Two things result from this fact. First, games between "quality" and "average" programs can be much closer earlier on when the rigors of a long season and injuries have yet to start exploiting the differences in depth.

Second, bettors should not ride expectations based on a team easily defeating inferior opponents in the early part of the year and then wondering how they could look so evenly matched against foes in their own conferences.

All football programs are not equal, even if their records are at a given point in the season. These are some things that bettors of the college football game should consider as they start studying for the upcoming season just a couple of weeks away.

Next week we will start looking at the specific teams that will be among the best in the nation this season.