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Assessing stability in 2nd wave of CFB starts

By Steve Makinen  () 

My college football stability methodology gained a lot of traction on VSiN in the opening part of the 2020 season. After all the postponements and other schedule changes, the stability mismatches that qualified for my system early this season were 9-6 ATS, which is pretty much dead in line with the success rate it has achieved essentially every year for a decade. And now, with a second wave of season openers almost here, we’ll have a brand new set of teams to look at from a stability standpoint.

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

Many reasons can cause things to change dramatically for a team from one season to the next, such as the four-year eligibility rules, the pressure on coaching staffs and player transgressions off the field. The result is significant turnover from year to year, 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 often startled at the change. For 2020, with the impact of COVID-19, the number of factors affecting teams’ stability levels has been greater than ever. Bettors have needed to be continuously cognizant of players opting out of games or becoming infected with the virus. Even so, all this change has not affected the success rate of my stability mismatch system.

Being a numbers guy, I do an exercise I call quantifying the level of stability for each program. I figure the higher level of stability, the better the chance for success for any team, particularly early in the season. Putting a numerical grade to it makes it easier to spot stability mismatches. Now, the point spread considered, the feeling is that oddsmakers don’t adjust enough for the instability factors.

Over the last decade or so, 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 that span, 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 on this methodology each season. Of course, these numbers can be improved by factoring in other successful handicapping strategies. But as a standalone strategy, the success is tough to beat.

Now I’ve put together a list of the top college football instability situations for teams in the conferences that are just getting started or will be starting in the next couple of weeks. I’ve also listed all the games for the Big Ten, Mid-American, Mountain West and Pac-12 that show a difference of 7 or greater between the teams in terms of stability score. Barring schedule changes, injuries or other roster news, these games should be given consideration under the stability mismatch system. I believe this methodology works well for teams in their first three games. After that, the numbers have shown a tendency to straighten themselves out.

Here are the basics for how we figure the total stability score. The score is determined from five stabilizing factors: head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, quarterback and overall returning starters. If you saw “Point Spread Weekly” Issue No. 36 last spring, you’ll know I also used instability in these areas to predict which teams would be better or worse in 2020.

Here is how the scores are determined:

Returning Coach Points

Yes, same coach as 2019: 4 points

No, new 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 Starter 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

Many teams are in very unsettling situations this season. In fact, five teams have stability scores of 5 or less. Michigan State shares a dubious distinction with a team that has already started, Florida Atlantic: They are the first programs to post zeroes since I began doing this. On the other hand, Purdue and Miami (Ohio) scored 18. Considering that 19 is the maximum, those programs figure to be in good shape.

Teams with extremely low stability scores heading into 2020 season:

MICHIGAN STATE (0)

Mark Dantonio spent 13 mostly good years in East Lansing but was forced to step down in February after allegations of recruiting violations surfaced. After winning 53 games from 2010-15, the program won only 27 in the last four seasons, so perhaps a change was due anyhow. In the last five seasons, the Spartans are just 26-39 ATS, so betting backers might eventually embrace the change to new coach Mel Tucker. But ESPN ranked the Spartans 117th of 130 last summer in terms of returning production, and with the internal problems the athletic program is enduring, this might be a team in the early stages of decline. MSU is a play-against stability mismatch team for its first three games.

HAWAII (2)

In 2016, Nick Rolovich inherited a Hawaii program that had won 11 games in four seasons and took them to three bowl games in four seasons, including a 10-win campaign in 2019. He became a top candidate for a Power 5 program and landed at Washington State. However, the Warriors were just 21-32-2 ATS (39.6%) in Rolovich’s stay, so they aren’t at the top of the mountain. New coach Todd Graham takes over after two seasons away from football. He has a 95-61 career record at Rice, Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State. His teams have played fast and scored — and allowed — a lot of points, so what we see from Hawaii shouldn’t change much. However, would-be senior QB Cole McDonald declared early for the NFL draft, leaving Graham a huge hole to fill.  Hawaii appears as a fade on our game list just once, against Wyoming in Week 9.

NEW MEXICO (2)

From the sound of it, many New Mexico fans were already positioning to get Danny Gonzales back to his alma mater even before the university agreed to part ways with Bob Davie. Gonzales was the defensive coordinator at Arizona State the last two years. If nothing else, it seems the energetic Gonzales could provide a shot in the arm for a program in need of it after eight total wins over the last three seasons (11-24-1 ATS). Fortunately for the Lobos, their only stability mismatch comes Halloween night vs. San Jose State.

WASHINGTON STATE (3)

Mike Leach’s departure from Washington State was abrupt, but the program replaced him quickly with another innovative offensive coach in Nick Rolovich, who led a resurgence at Hawaii. While that would seem to be a positive, the Cougars will have a new head coach, new coordinators on both sides of the ball, a new quarterback and several other new starters for 2020. That is the definition of instability, and it plays right into this system I’m detailing. You’ll find the Cougars on the short end of the stability mismatch angle in two of their first three games. 

WASHINGTON (5)

Continuity is a key word in discussing coaching changes. Washington’s situation could almost be fluid, as with the resignation of Chris Petersen coming before the Huskies’ bowl game last December, new coach Jimmy Lake started his reign with a resounding 38-7 blowout of Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Though this will be Lake’s first head-coaching gig, he was the defensive coordinator at Washington for four seasons under Petersen. However, QB Jacob Eason declared early for the NFL draft and the Huskies will have a lot of other fresh faces in their lineup. Numerically, this qualifies as an unstable situation. We’ll find out if reality matches that assessment early, as Washington is a play-against team in the stability mismatch system in each of its first three games.

Teams with extremely high stability scores heading into 2020 season:

PURDUE (18)

Coach Jeff Brohm caught a major break when stud wide receiver Rondale Moore retracted his decision to opt out of the 2020 season. Many stars could be lining up for the Boilermakers this season, with 17 starters back. The program hasn’t finished more than one game over .500 in 13 years. But Brohm has brought Purdue up to a different level in recruiting, and after a 4-8 season in 2019, I would expect results to begin showing very soon. However, Purdue will have no early stability mismatches because the first three opponents are also relatively stable programs.

MIAMI (OHIO) (18)

Coming off an 8-6 season that culminated in a third straight bowl win, Miami (Ohio) is looking for more in 2020, and it is the most stable team in the MAC. Chuck Martin’s team brings back all but one starter on offense, including QB Brett Gabbert, younger brother of Blaine. The RedHawks will be seeking a second straight conference crown, although many think Buffalo or even Ohio U. might be the class of the East Division. An experienced and stable Miami (Ohio) team will look to prove naysayers wrong starting Nov. 4 at home against Ball State, a game that qualifies for the stability mismatch criteria.

Week 8

10/24 Boise State vs. Utah State: Stability Advantage - BOISE STATE by 9

10/24 Rutgers at Michigan State: Stability Advantage - RUTGERS by 7

Week 9

10/30 Wyoming vs. Hawaii: Stability Advantage - WYOMING by 7

10/31 Michigan vs. Michigan State: Stability Advantage - MICHIGAN by 12

10/31 San Jose State at New Mexico: Stability Advantage - SAN JOSE STATE by 11

10/31 Nevada at UNLV: Stability Advantage - NEVADA by 9

Week 10

11/4 Kent State vs. Eastern Michigan: Stability Advantage - KENT STATE by 11

11/4 Miami (Ohio) vs. Ball State: Stability Advantage - MIAMI (OHIO) by 7

11/5 Nevada vs. Utah State: Stability Advantage - NEVADA by 8

11/7 Iowa vs. Michigan State: Stability Advantage - IOWA by 12

11/7 Stanford at Oregon: Stability Advantage - STANFORD by 11

11/7 UCLA at Colorado: Stability Advantage - UCLA by 11

11/7 Oregon State vs. Washington State: Stability Advantage - OREGON STATE by 10

11/7 Ohio State vs. Rutgers: Stability Advantage - OHIO STATE by 9

11/7 California vs. Washington: Stability Advantage - CALIFORNIA by 7

11/7 Illinois vs. Minnesota: Stability Advantage - ILLINOIS by 7

Week 11

11/14 Stanford vs. Colorado: Stability Advantage - STANFORD by 11

11/14 Oregon State at Washington: Stability Advantage - OREGON STATE by 8

Week 12

11/20 UCLA at Oregon: Stability Advantage - UCLA by 11

11/21 Stanfors vs. Washington State: Stability Advantage - STANFORD by 14

11/21 Arizona at Washington: Stability Advantage - ARIZONA by 9

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