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Handicapping the Human Element

College Football Betting Strategy: Handicapping the Human Element

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper,

When we wager on college football, our analysis covers a lot of ground. The problem is that we sometimes get stuck in patterns--analyzing the same things over and over, while ignoring more under-the-radar tidbits that would give our wagers more bite. As we pour over stats and past results, we need to remember to acknowledge the human element that is at play, in addition to other overlooked items that could bolster our betting.

First of all, we need to remember there are a lot of things in college athletics that lie in our blind spots. Unless we are following a team like a stalker, we really don’t know until we know. When we bet on a team, we take the leap-of-faith that everything is copacetic. We assume the team will play hard and that they’re approaching the game with a certain amount of professionalism, even though they’re in college.

So if there is something terribly awry with a team, we will often not know about it until it’s too late. We need to keep it in the forefront of our minds that college football betting revolves around young college kids still trying to find their way as young people. And part of finding your way as a young man includes some things that aren’t terribly conducive to covering spreads or winning games.

Can you really be sure that the quarterback on the team you’re betting isn’t going through some drama with his girlfriend? Or that the best offensive guard didn’t drink 22 cans of Budweiser the previous night? Or that a general sense of apathy has infiltrated the team and a bunch of guys are smoking hippie lettuce after practice? Therefore, we can’t be that disappointed when things get a little sideways when betting college ball because unless we have an inside scoop, we really don’t know what’s going on with a team behind the scenes.

Another thing we should do is to stop focusing so much on the big-time players on a team when it comes to injuries. (Related: Handicapping Injuries) We all tend to attribute more importance when a top skill-player is injured. Hearing a quarterback or a running back is out or banged-up resonates very strongly with bettors and rightfully so. We need to develop that same awareness as it pertains to the less-glamorous positions on the field. This is especially true at the college level and even more so when betting on teams that might not be so big-time.

If an offensive lineman for Alabama goes down, you can at least have some peace of mind that the fill-in will be a good player. If he was good enough to be recruited by the Tide and is high in the pecking order, he is probably a capable player or at least not bad enough that his presence will totally disturb the flow of the offense. But if a center for New Mexico State is out of the game and is being replaced by a freshman, how sure can you be that he will be able to keep the machine rolling?

It can be easy to blow off the importance of linebackers. There’s no real stats that we can look at or easy-to-reference info that gives us a leg-up. A defensive line can be judged on how well they do against the run, while the secondary is appraised by virtue of how many passing yards they allow. While those can be faulty guides, at least it forces bettors to take those aspects of defense into account, while the linebacking can slip under the radar.

A defense is greatly impacted by the quality of its linebacking crew. Seems obvious enough, but a lot of bettors have a funny way of negotiating this part of the defense into their handicapping of a game. Unless a team has star linebackers, it’s an area that is ignored by many bettors. They figure, and incorrectly so, that it all sort of evens out and the game will be decided by the line and the secondary. As if the linebacking is just window dressing. That can be a costly miscalculation. A team with a good linebacking crew gives its defense a huge boost, while a shoddy linebacking corps makes it so that defense will often be behind the 8-ball. We can’t just blow it all off and assume it will shake out right. We have to account for it or risk being left in the dust.

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