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3 stability mismatches in CFB Week 1

By Steve Makinen  () 

Using college football stability mismatches is a strategy I have employed for about 10 years, and I steadfastly believe in the principles on which it relies. This is a winning strategy, and the more you use this type of logic in your handicapping, the more successful you will be.

Having worked with people on both sides of the betting window for many years, I have found that the amount of preseason preparation can vary greatly from book to book and bettor to bettor. Because of this, those setting the numbers can miss by huge margins. Doing early homework has become one of the most important aspects for college football bettors hoping to enjoy successful campaigns. Bettors who scour betting publications, such as the VSiN “College Football Betting Guide,” before the season tend to be best prepared once Week 1 rolls around.

For many reasons, things can change dramatically from one season to the next in college football. Among them are the four-year eligibility rules, the pressure on coaching staffs and off-the-field player transgressions. The result is that year-to-year turnover is always significant on the field and on the sidelines. Bettors expecting to see the same thing they watched from a team at the end of the previous season are most often startled at the change. With the impact of COVID-19, the number of factors affecting teams’ stability levels is greater than ever. Bettors must be cognizant of players opting out of games or becoming infected with the virus.

Being a numbers guy, I like to quantify the level of stability for each program. The higher the level of stability, the better the chances for success, particularly early in the season. Putting a numerical grade to it makes it easier to spot stability mismatches. The feeling is that oddsmakers don’t adjust enough for instability.

Over the last decade, I have implemented an early-season strategy that employs backing teams with the greatest stability ratings and fading those in the most unstable situations. In those 10 years, I have never experienced a losing record by playing the games on the lists for the first four weeks of the season. It’s never been wildly successful, but typically I’ll win about 60% of the games I play using this methodology. These numbers can also be improved by factoring in other successful handicapping strategies, but as a standalone approach, the success level is tough to beat.

I have found that a stability mismatch score of 8 is the minimum on which I will consider a play. One of this week’s games meets that criteria. However, I’ve also written about the two games that show a 7 difference. Keep that in mind as you choose whether to go below the usual benchmark for making the other two games a play. I believe that after two or three games, oddsmakers typically can catch up and fully adjust for the teams’ changes. However, you should feel comfortable employing this strategy in the first few weeks while the dust settles.

Here are the basics for determining each team’s total stability score. In essence, the score is figured by five stabilizing factors — head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, quarterback and returning starters. You will find a breakdown of all 78 FBS teams playing this fall and their stability scores on the chart accompanying this report, but in short, here is how the scores are determined:

Returning Head Coach Points

Yes, same head coach as 2019: 4 points

No, new head coach for 2020: 0 points

Returning Offensive Coordinator Points

Yes, same offensive coordinator as 2019: 3 points

No, new offensive coordinator for 2020: 0 points

Returning Defensive Coordinator Points

Yes, same defensive coordinator as 2019: 3 points

No, new defensive coordinator for 2020: 0 points

Returning Starting Quarterback Points

Yes, same starting quarterback as 2019: 4 points

No, new starting quarterback for 2020: 0 points

Returning Starters Points

0-7 returning offensive and defensive starters: 0 points

8-9: 1 point

10-12: 2 points

13-16: 3 points

17-19: 4 points

20-22: 5 points

The chart of the 78 active FBS teams shows that many teams are in very unsettling situations. In fact, seven teams have stability scores of 5 or less. Florida Atlantic faces the biggest challenge, becoming the first team to score a zero since I began doing this. Mississippi State (2) and Arkansas (3) are also in challenging rebuilding situations. On the other hand, four teams score 18 for 2020: Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Tennessee and UAB. Since 19 is the maximum score, those programs figure to be in good shape this season.

Looking for mismatches in stability is a great way to find spots in which this information is most useful. We do this by simply comparing the stability scores of the teams in a given matchup and calculating the difference. The larger the number, the bigger the mismatch. This doesn’t mean the team with the higher stability score is the better team, just more stable. We are then assuming that oddsmakers have not accounted for this factor enough when setting lines. Here are the top three stability mismatches for the limited Week 1 slate.

1. (241) Middle Tennessee State at (242) Army (-4)

Stability advantage: Middle Tennessee State by 9

Analysis: The biggest mismatch on our board for Week 1 is Middle Tennessee State over Army. The Blue Raiders have a stability score of 17, while Army scores just an 8. The Black Knights figure to be in this same position in a couple of weeks when they take on BYU. Middle Tennessee was just 4-6 last season but returns 13 starters from that group, including junior QB Asher O’Hara, who threw 20 touchdown passes a year ago. Coach Rick Stockstill is in his 15th season in Murfreesboro and brings back both coordinators. Army struggled unexpectedly in 2019, finishing 5-8 after winning double-digit games in back-to-back years. The Black Knights also lose multiple-year starter Kelvin Hopkins at quarterback and welcome in new defensive coordinator Nate Woody. MTSU lost all five games last year as a road underdog but went 3-2 ATS in those, a good sign for its ability to compete in this one.

2. (235) South Alabama at (236) Southern Miss (-15)

Stability advantage: South Alabama by 7

Analysis: This stability score produces a mismatch of seven points, typically below the benchmark I trust. But a measurable difference in stability exists between these teams, so they are worth noting on such a small slate. Southern Miss has been hurt by several opt-outs from key players and is expected to bring back only half its 2019 starters. Quarterback Jack Abraham is back, and he threw for almost 3,500 yards in 2019, but big losses are expected on the other side of the ball. The Golden Eagles, who have new offensive and defensive coordinators, were walloped by Tulane 30-13 in the Armed Forces Bowl last season. South Alabama is in a much more stable situation, with its coaching staff intact and 14 returning starters. The Jaguars are heavy underdogs as they look to improve on last year’s 2-10 record. Sophomore QB Desmond Trotter took over late in the season and had a respectable 8-2 TD-INT ratio. The Jaguars were also 7-5 ATS.

3. (237) Arkansas State at (238) Memphis (-19)

Stability advantage: Arkansas State by 7

Analysis: Mike Norvell was a highly sought-after coaching candidate after leading Memphis to the Cotton Bowl last season. He left for Florida State before that game. New coach Ryan Silverfield stepped in, and he held on to his co-offensive coordinators. The Tigers will have a new defensive coordinator in Mike MacIntyre. They will have 13 starters back, and although the key player is prolific QB Brady White, they will be without RB Kenneth Gainwell, who opted out after a season in which he gained over 2,000 yards. That is a big loss. Arkansas State, with a stability score of 17, plays as nearly a 3-TD underdog in this game. The Red Wolves were 8-5 last year, including a Camellia Bowl win, and return 13 starters. Logan Bonner, a part-time starter a year ago, is expected to get the nod at QB after producing a 10-1 TD-INT ratio. The all-upperclassman offensive line is also back from a team that scored 30 points or more 10 times.

 

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