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College Football Betting Trends: How Have Teams Fared Against Opponents That Played in Week 0?

College Football Betting Trends: How Have Teams Fared Against Opponents That Played in Week 0? article feature image
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Dustin Bradford/Getty Images. Pictured from left: Brevyn Spann-Ford #88, Ky Thomas #8, Axel Ruschmeyer #65 and Nathan Boe #66 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

A Historical Look at a Unique Early-Season Situation

Unlike the NFL, where every team plays on the first weekend, college football has a unique Week 0 in which only a handful of teams play. A majority of those teams will then play in Week 1 against an opponent making its season debut.

That begs the natural question of which has more importance: shaking out the rust in live game experience – or holding a potential advantage in terms of film and preparation.

Teams that have yet to play a game can see what their opponent did in their opener. Meanwhile, they also have the benefit of the unknown. The latter can be especially important in college football, where we see an abundance of coaching and roster turnover each offseason.

Additionally, teams that have yet to play may have a preparation edge. While their opponent may have spent time preparing for their first opponent, teams who didn’t play in the opening week had no such concerns.

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Historical Results

The answer, at least in historical against-the-spread terms, is the team making its debut. Teams playing their season opener against an opponent that has already played have covered at just under a 55% clip historically, including FCS teams.

However, the FCS market is much less efficient (hence the lower limits). Therefore, if we just isolate FBS teams, they have actually fared a bit better at 50-29 ATS (63.3%) since 2005.

For reference, I included only games in August and September. That removes eight season openers in 2020 involving Mountain West and Pac-12 teams that started late due to COVID disruptions.


Noteworthy Outcomes

My favorite all-time result from this data set came way back in 2006.

After beating a top-10 Cal team (that featured Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson) to open its season,  nationally ranked Tennessee barely held on for a victory at home as three-touchdown favorites against an Air Force team making its season debut. In the one-point loss, the Falcons actually failed to convert a potential game-winning two-point conversion in the final minute.

Arkansas has had two of the more infamous losses in this situation. In 2012, Arkansas went down as a 30-point home favorite to UL Monroe. Three seasons later, as 22.5-point home favorites, the Hogs lost at home to a Toledo team making its season debut.

I apologize to my colleague Collin Wilson and all Razorback fans for inducing any traumatic flashbacks. Fortunately for you, Arkansas opens its season against a Cincinnati team also making its 2022 debut.


Caveat Emptor

Please keep in mind that this certainly doesn’t guarantee future results. There’s still plenty of noise in a sample size of fewer than 100 games. Plus, many bettors forget that efficient markets will adjust to profitable trends over time.

This is something rather interesting to simply keep in mind when handicapping a unique situation that only pops up a handful of times each season in Week 1.


Week 1 Games That Fit the Trend

After a much larger Week 0 slate this season, 10 FBS teams qualify and fit the mold for this upcoming week:

Week 1 Debut
Opponent
Opponent Result in Week 0
Minnesota (-37) New Mexico State L by 11 vs. Nevada
Texas State (+4) Nevada W by 11 vs. NMSU
Indiana (-3) Illinois W by 32 vs. Wyoming
Tulsa (-5) Wyoming L by 32 vs. Illinois
Alabama (-41) Utah State W by 11 vs. UConn
Ohio (+3.5) Florida Atlantic W by 30 vs. Charlotte
SMU (-11) North Texas W by 18 vs. UTEP
Oklahoma (-31.5) UTEP L by 18 vs. North Texas
Appalachian State (-1) North Carolina W by 32 vs. Florida A&M
LSU (-3) Florida State W by 40 vs. Duquesne

For what it’s worth, only one game features a conference matchup: Illinois heads 150 miles southeast to take on Indiana in the Hoosiers’ season opener.

The sample size is minuscule, but teams making their season debut in the aforementioned scenario against a conference foe have gone 13-3 ATS (81.3%), covering by just under a touchdown (6.97) per game. You could argue teams in that scenario have an even bigger film advantage and may unleash even more new looks since conference games tend to have more importance.

Lastly, if the film advantage actually does indeed play a role, I doubt Florida State or UNC put too much on film last week in blowouts against overmatched FCS opponents. It’s highly unlikely either spent much time preparing for either opponent, too.


Week 2 Considerations

Another unique angle for Week 1 of the college football season looks at the Week 2 schedule.

Some teams might have a cupcake in their season opener with a significant matchup on deck. In this scenario, some of these may opt not to show too much from the playbook to keep usable film at a minimum.

I like to use this as a potential angle for a second-half wager in Week 1 (on either the underdog or under) if the game is a blowout and I believe the favorite will park the bus over the final 30 minutes. Every situation and coach is different, so this is more art than science.

Here are five teams I circled that might have a more vanilla game plan or slam on the brakes sooner than usual against an inferior team with an important matchup in the following week:

Team
Week 1 Opponent
Next Week:

Alabama

Utah State Texas

Texas

UL Monroe Alabama

Tennessee

Ball State Pitt

Kentucky

Miami (OH) Florida

USC

Rice Stanford

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