Final scores can be misleading.
That’s the most important thing to consider as you try to determine which teams are good and which teams are bad in the early part of the college football season.
You probably noticed that Pittsburgh lost to FCS Youngstown State as a 17-point favorite and that Houston lost to Texas State (widely considered to be the worst power rated FBS team) by 17 points as a 36.5-point favorite. Elsewhere, Maryland and Wake Forest had a pair of narrow victories over lower-level teams, and a handful of ranked teams—including No. 4 Oklahoma—looked terrible in games they “should have” won easily.
But before you make wild adjustments to your power ratings, be sure that you understand a very simple concept, one that can help you handicap games over the next couple of weeks: “Teams are never as good or as bad as you think.”
For that reason, it’s important to go beyond the box scores and determine why games played out the way they did. Anybody who watched Oklahoma’s ugly 24-7 victory over UTEP late Saturday saw a team with obvious flaws. The Sooners didn’t look nearly as explosive as they have in years past, but they also didn’t look particularly motivated, either.
It was a late-night non-league game in El Paso, Texas, against a team that’s largely irrelevant. So, either the Sooners are only slightly better than the Miners (the game was tied at 7 at half) or they simply didn’t come ready to play.
We’re far more likely to lean toward the latter.
And expect a better effort next week.
Oddsmaker adjustments and public perception can be taken advantage of in Weeks 2 and 3 if you know what you’re looking for. A classic example from last year involved Kansas State, which needed a late touchdown to sneak past Eastern Kentucky 10-7 in its 2011 season opener.
A week later, the Wildcats played Kent State. They should have been listed as 28-point favorites. Instead, they closed as 17-point favorites and won easily—37-0. From there, they won their next six games (including four straight as underdogs) en route to a 10-3 season and a Cotton Bowl appearance.
The opener was a misleading outcome that told us next-to-nothing about the Wildcats. But it was a great result for those of us who saw a capable team that was far undervalued by both oddsmakers and the public.
We’ll continue to provide our handicapping notes throughout the non-conference part of the season to help you become better informed on teams and games you aren’t able to watch. In the meantime, be sure to share your own thoughts in the BTB Forum.