Three college football stability plays for Week 0

August 24, 2022 07:19 PM
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Hopefully, you were one of the many readers of the 2022 College Football Betting Guide, or alternatively, have been a VSiN subscriber for a while now. If so, you’re probably familiar with my methodology for college football Stability Scores heading into each season. If not, in a nutshell, these scores provide a quantitative way to determine each team’s level of stability compared with how they left us in the prior season. It is one of the foremost strategies I employ every year to find value early. The thought is that teams that are in more stable year-to-year situations are better bets early while those that have undergone a lot of change should be faded. 

The logic is fundamentally sound. Returning fewer starters, starting over at quarterback and welcoming in new head coaches or coordinators are hurdles for teams to get over. Eventually, the teams may overcome these hurdles, but it usually doesn’t happen early, and oddsmakers don’t account for these factors enough in setting their lines. The recent surge of the transfer portal has only added to the instability. For the record, I consider a transfer quarterback who is expected to start for his team as a new quarterback, regardless of his starting experience. For 2022, there are numerous recognizable QBs who have found new starting homes. 

Being an analytics guy and always looking for quantitative advantages in betting, I like to conduct an exercise that quantifies the level of stability for each program. I figure that the higher level of stability, the better the chances for success for any team, particularly early in the season. Naturally putting a numerical grade to it makes it easier to spot this stability. Again, for the point spread, the feeling is that oddsmakers don’t adjust enough for the instability.

Over the last 11 years or so, I have implemented an early-season strategy that employs backing the teams with the greatest stability ratings in matchups against those in the most unstable situations. I can tell you that in those 11 years I have never experienced a losing record by playing the games on the lists in the first four weeks of the season. The degree of success has varied during that span, but in all 11 years I have closed with a profit. Of course, these numbers can be improved by factoring in other successful handicapping strategies or by more closely examining the individual factors of instability, but as a stand-alone strategy, the success level is tough to beat.

In Point Spread Weekly, coming out Wednesday, you’ll find a chart of the College Football Stability Scores for 2022.

Here are the basics for how I determine each team’s Total Stability Score. In essence, the score is determined from five stabilizing factors: Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, Quarterback and Overall Returning Starters. Here is how the scores are determined: 

Returning Head Coach Points

Yes, same Head Coach as 2021: 4 points

No, new Head Coach for 2022: 0 points 

Returning Offensive Coordinator Points

Yes, same Offensive Coordinator as 2021: 3 points

No, new Offensive Coordinator for 2022: 0 points 

Returning Defensive Coordinator Points

Yes, same Defensive Coordinator as 2021: 3 points

No, new Defensive Coordinator for 2022: 0 points 

Returning Starting Quarterback Points

Yes, same Starting Quarterback as 2021: 4 points

No, new Starting Quarterback for 2022: 0 points 

Returning Starter Points

0-7 returning offensive & defensive starters: 0 points

8-9: 1 point

10-12: 2 points

13-16: 3 points

17-19: 4 points

20-22: 5 points 

If you analyze the chart of the 131 FBS teams, you’ll see there are a far greater number of “unstable” situations this season because of the super senior rule that was offered before 2021. Last year, many teams brought back fifth-year seniors, which meant other players were kept out of a starting spot. In fact, before the 2020 season, 19 teams returned 17 starters or more. For 2021, there were 69 such teams, more than half of the total FBS programs. This year there are just 15. Furthermore, at this time last year, 89 teams brought back their starting quarterbacks, along with eight entire starting offensive units and nine full defenses. For 2022, those numbers drop to 78 QBs, zero full offenses and just one intact defense (BYU). That said, there are also 30 new head coaches along with more than 130 coordinator changes, resulting in 14 teams with Stability Scores of 3 or less, nine more than last year. Let’s dig into the teams on both ends of the stability scale a little deeper. 

In my college guide Stability Score article, I outlined the teams in the most and least stable situations for the ’22 season. Now that the first games have arrived, for the first four weeks, I will be putting together lists detailing the top mismatches.

I have found that a Stability Mismatch score of 8 is the minimum on which I will consider a play. Here are this week’s three qualifying plays. 

Northwestern (+ 12.5) vs. Nebraska

Stability Advantage: Northwestern by 8

Northwestern has a Stability Score of 17, Nebraska’s score is 9, thus giving the Wildcats the minimum edge of 8 to qualify as a system play. Northwestern comes off a 3-9 season in which it entered as one of the most unstable teams in the country, and it showed. Typically, over the last five years, when head coach Pat Fitzgerald brings back a lot of experience and an intact coaching staff, his teams have been quite good. Such is the case for 2022, as Northwestern brings back 14 starters, including nine on offense, led by QB Ryan Hilinski, a former transfer from South Carolina. He obviously has the talent to do well in the Big Ten and he has an experienced supporting cast around him. Scott Frost’s Nebraska team also finished 3-9 last year. The Cornhuskers have 12 starters back but are beginning anew at quarterback, with Texas transfer Casey Thompson taking over, and at offensive coordinator, where Mark Whipple comes over from Pittsburgh, where he held the same position. This game is being played in Dublin, Ireland, and Nebraska is a 12.5-point favorite despite the identical records last year and more stability for the Wildcats. 

UConn at Utah State (-27.5)

Stability Advantage: Utah State by 10

The Aggies are in a strange position opening up here as 27.5-point favorites over Connecticut before traveling to Alabama, where they are already listed as 38.5-point underdogs. That 66-point swing is about as big of a one-week variance as you’ll see. For this week, Utah State has a massive stability edge over the Huskies, plus an obvious talent advantage if you go on 2021 records alone. Head coach Blake Anderson’s team was among the most unstable in the country before last year but shocked many people by winning 11 games and the Mountain West title. For this fall, the expectations are much higher, with 12 starters back, including prolific QB Logan Bonner, who came with Anderson from Arkansas State before 2021. The Aggies are rightfully huge favorites over UConn, which figures to be in for a long season under new head coach Jim Mora Jr. He and his new staff get 15 starters back, but that group is from a team that went 1-11 and was outscored 38.5-15.6 on average. Historically speaking, the stability edge here for Utah State is indicating that oddsmakers are not accounting enough for the stability gap even at nearly a four-TD point spread. 

Vanderbilt (-7.5) at Hawaii

Stability Advantage: Vanderbilt by 8

One of the common misconceptions about my stability system is that a Stability Advantage of 8 for Vanderbilt does not mean that I project the Commodores to win by 8 points. It simply is indicating that on my scale, Vanderbilt has a stability advantage over Hawaii that exceeds the minimum edge I look for, and that correspondingly, I don’t believe oddsmakers have accounted for it enough. The Vanderbilt Stability Score of 11 does not represent the most stable situation by any means, as it is a fairly low score. However, Hawaii’s score of 3 represents a program that is in full transition. New coach, new offensive system and coordinator, new quarterback and only six returning starters typically amounts to “play against” in the first few weeks of any given season. Hawaii head coach Timmy Chang is not new to Warriors football, but he is new to being a head coach and being in charge of an entire program. Most experts predict Chang’s team to finish at the bottom of the MWC in 2022, and it is reflected in this week’s line, as they are home dogs to the worst team in the SEC. There’s not a ton to be excited about with Vandy, but head coach Clark Lea’s team did win two games last year after an 0-9 season in 2020 and has 14 starters back. There are two new coordinators, but perhaps that will be a good thing for a team that was outscored by 20 PPG last year. 

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