High departure rates within the ranks of NCAA football teams creates an expensive problem for the casual bettor. The preseason information mills are inefficient and unreliable.The general media-darlings guess their way through closed camps and various regional pundits do their best to rate conferences that lie far beyond their comfort zone. The result is a Preseason Top 25 that is absolutely incorrect.
As an example: In 2008, Utah finshed #2 in the AP poll, but they were NOT in the Preseason Top 25. In similar fashion, #7 TCU was not mentioned in the first top 25 rankings of 2008. The same applied to #11 Boise State, #17 Cincinnati, and #18 Oregon State. Alabama finished at #6 but barely scratched the AP Top 25 at the beginning of the season, and they were joined by eventual #8 Penn State.
This failure rate is one of the prime reasons for the massive edge that Vegas commands in the first few months of the season. The media is ill informed; the player departure rates are dramatic; and the available information is sparse, or misleading. THE INFORMATION THAT YOU ARE BEING FED IS NOT RELIABLE IN THE FIRST FEW WEEKS OF THE SEASON. The best Mega-Indicator for this assertion are the foolish predictions of the AP Preseason Rankings.
Tennessee, one of the worst BCS offenses in recent memory, was ranked #18 in the 2008 AP Preseason Top 25. Their Western counterpart, Auburn, was ranked #10! Clearly, the smarter and more involved handicappers take complete advantage of this foolishness, but the larger part of the gambling marketplace follows the advice of these press-mavens, so the money falls into the wrong hands.
I have no interest offering a critique of today's sports writers, but I do have a vested interest in telling you that they do not write for you. They aren't constrained by the harsh reality of laying hard currency on their information. If they were, then the preseason Top 25 would look much different. Frankly speaking, all sports writers should also be gamblers. But, alas, they aren't.
With that in mind, let me tell you one way to beat the lack of data. I'll try to show you a way around the detached opinions of 25 year old beat writers and 50 year old hacks.
You can only invest in what you know.
When you look at Big 10 statistics you'll see the following:
In 2002 Penn State returned 8 starters on Offense and they averaged 424 yards per game and finished with a +14 turnover margin.
The following year (2003) Penn State returned 5 starters on offense and they averaged 313 yards per game and finished with a -6 turnover margin.
They returned 5 players on offense in 2006 and gained 350 yards.
They returned 9 players in 2008 and gained 450 yards.
LARGE PLAYER RETURN RATES, ON GOOD UNITS, LEADS TO AN UPTICK IN MEASURABLE PERFORMANCE! Small return rates might lead to a drastic decline.
Go up and down the rankings and you'll see that returning starters make a difference. There's also a "double-whammy" that pertains to teams like Florida. The Gators entire defense returns this year. They only trailed Albama and Tennessee with the 3rd rated defense in the SEC in 2008, so it stands to reason that they should advance to #1 or #2 this year. I've found that teams with highly ranked units that return 9 or more starters turn in repeat (or better) statistical performances in the following year. This is a "measurable" indicator! Let's look at the 2007 and 2008 Oklahoma offenses:
In 2007 Oklahoma Returned 8 offensive starters. They gained a monsterous 449 yards per game and were +8 in the turnover department.
In 2008 they returned 8 offensive starters (and only 5 on defense) and they averaged 548 yards per game and were +23 in total turnovers!
Florida returns 11 on a defense that had 34 sacks and a +22 turnover diferrential in 2008! What will we see in 2009? HMMMMM?
The trick is to think small
I hope I've made it clear that we have value in high player return for teams that had efficient units during the previous season. Most of this seems obvious, especially when I'm using perennial powerhouses to prove my point, but this can be applied to the smaller schools as well. Southern Mississippi is returning almost every player from a defense that became very good over the span of their last 5 games. They might actually do some damage this season as a slight dog in the early games (Virginia and Kansas). So we can take this concept down to the smaller schools, and really find the value in a few underdogs.
But BAD is still BAD no matter what!
Be careful. We need to take returning starters that actually did well. MTSU has 10 offensive starters returning on an ineffective unit. The Blue Raiders averaged 3.1 yards per carry last season and they were #84 in points per game. You need to put a lot of lipstick on that pig, so avoid giving them any relevance unless they prove something. Sometimes, returning the whole squad is not so impressive.
You still have to do the follow-up research; check for injuries; and look for any changes in the lineups due to competition, but here is a list of the teams that appear to be returning the bulk of certain units for 2009. Some of them are good and some of them, like the Arkansas defense, finished at the bottom last year. You must also look for changing systems. Tennessee's defense is usually rock solid, but they've installed a Tampa Cover-2 methodology that relies on reading "keys" and filling "gaps". The Tennessee players may, or may not, fully grasp the system's finer points until mid-season. Eight returning starters on a NEW defense is not the same as 8 starters on a defense that they've had for 3 years.
Here's a list of teams with at least 8 returning starters (injury and attrition are not configured)
Florida returns 11 starters on defense.
Bama returns 9 starters on defense.
Vandy returns 9 starters on defense. (not a good one)
Arkansas returns 10 starters on defense (not a good one)
Minnesota returns 9 on offense
Illinois returns 8 on offense
Texas returns 9 on offense
Oklahoma returns 9 on defense
Texas A&M returns 10 on offense
Colorado returns 9 on offense
Iowa State returns 9 on offense
Wake returns 9 on offense
Virginia Tech returns 8 on offense (-1 for RB injury)
Georgia Tech returns 10 on offense
North Carolina returns 9 on defense
USC returns 9 on offense
UCLA returns 9 on offense
Stanford returns 9 on offense
Washington returns 10 on defense
Rice returns 9 on defense
Southern Miss returns 10 on offense and 9 on defense.
ECU returns 9 on offense
UCF returns 9 on offense
UAB returns 11 on offense
Louisiana Tech and Utah State return 9 on offense.
Toledo, Eastern Mich, and Akron all retunr 9 on offense.
Central Mich returns 10 on defense.
Temple returns 9 on defense.
Sun Belt Conference
MTSU and FIU return 10 starters on offense.
UL-Monroe returns 9 starters on defense.
Remember: These numbers will be affected by injury and attrition, so make sure you do the follow-up work. Also remember that 10 returning starters on a bad unit is still 10 returning starters on a BAD unit! Although you can still use their bad history as a guide for your wagers. Knowing is half the battle.
Also: If you see that a team on the list has 9 returning starters, but 2 are injured, and 1 was beaten out, then you just have to research the injury replacements and see if there might be a dropoff in terms of talent. The player that was beaten out should be an upgrade.
I hope this helps.