The Most Important Lesson Of Successfully Handicapping Football?Part 1|
by Kelso Sturgeon
Contributing Sportsbook Editor
The first night of college football is 111 days away and opening night in the National Football League 118 days out but the work to get ready for the coming season is underway. At this writing, Alabama is the 5-2 favorite to win its third straight national championship and its fourth in the past five years while the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers the 5-1 co-favorites to win the Super Bowl.
The first night of college football will fall on Thursday, August 29, and will be highlighted by two nationally televised (ESPN) games, North Carolina at South Carolina and Mississippi at Vanderbilt. The NFL begins the following Thursday night, September 5, with the Denver Broncos hosting the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on NBC.
Baltimore should actually be opening at home, but finds itself in Denver as an 8.5-point underdog because of a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles. While the Ravens and the Orioles do not share the same stadium, they do share the same parking lots and the move was made to eliminate the chaos.
It may seem to some far too early to be handicapping the coming football season but my answer to them is a simple one-I have to analyze in depth 123 college teams and 32 NFL teams and I am already behind schedule. Winning is not an accident; it requires months of preparation.
Handicapping college football is a detailed matter of talent while the NFL is far more complicated than that. When I say talent in reference to the college game, I do not mean it in the same way it resonates with most fans and bettors who speak of it almost in passing, really not understanding what it is, what it means and what result it will produce.
By the way, that number would include Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops who said this week the Big 12 was a better football conference than the Southeastern Conference and that the nation's attraction to the power of the SEC is nothing more than propaganda.
Pretty strong stuff to say about a conference that has won seven straight national championships and has had but one team lose in the game and that was in 2012 with Alabama of the SEC met LSU of the SEC for the BCS title. In other words, the only team to lose in a championship game was beaten, 21-0, but by a fellow conference member.
Stoops Understanding Of Talent Is Superficial
It is not my intention to bash Stoops but his statement about the Big 12 vs. the SEC shows he is among those who do not understand the talent issue.
Winning at the highest level is all about the depth of blue-chip talent each team has recruited and accumulated over the past four seasons and it is the single factor that will accurately reveal whether a team is capable of playing with success its entire 12-game schedule. What is not known to the average football fan or bettor is the fact less than 20 of the 123 NCAA Division I-A teams is equipped to go the distance. The rest will be able to perform at peak efficiency for from three to five games and then begin a slow state of decline.
Midway through each season, the strong will get stronger and the weak weaker. Again, the category into which each team falls will be determined by the blue-chip depth it has on its depth chart. The top teams will be four or five players deep while the rest will be two players deep, with a few three deep at some positions. One only has to do the math to see where this is going.
Alabama's success at the highest level of the game is no mirage and certainly speaks the truth. To say it is simply propaganda is foolish, if not ignorant.
For the record, over the past four recruiting classes-from 2010 to 2013-Alabama has according to the agencies that rate players coming out of high school has recruited 98 players rated as blue-chip, 5-star, 4-star and 3-star types. Oklahoma has 91, but that does not reveal the difference between these two teams.
In breaking down Alabama's recruits in the four-year time frame, the Crimson Tide has landed:
A total of 11 Five-star players.
A total of 56 Four-star players.
A total of 31 Three-star players.
In breaking down Oklahoma's recruits in the same time frame, the Sooners have landed:
A total of 3 Five 5-star players.
A total of 41 Four-star players.
A total of 48 Three-star players.
While on the surface the figures appear to be somewhat equal, they are not. Alabama has 67 players rated five and four stars while Oklahoma has 44. This difference at the highest levels on the depth chart makes Alabama a champion and leaves teams such as Oklahoma on the outside looking in.
The only two exceptions to this are Bill Snyder at Kansas State and Chris Peterson at Boise State. Both are true geniuses of finding and landing exceptional players overlooked by most schools. Both compete at the highest level of the game and their records speak for themselves. Snyder is 170-85-1 in 21 season at Kansas State while Peterson is 84-8 in eight at Boise State.