I don’t pre-write blog posts as a rule. There are so many COVID-19 focused college football stories in the news right now, though, that it feels necessary to outline the coronavirus-related content of any pigskin preview. How should WagerBop handle hard news? List every opted-out athlete from every school and get it out of the way? Link to 5 COVID-19 information portals and then go on with the forecast? Maybe we could give each program a “COVID-preparedness” rating alongside preseason marks for recruiting, coaching, offense, defense, and special teams.
Strangely enough, virtually no websites (with a partial exception for NCAA.com) have taken the time to collate pandemic-prompted drop-outs, roster moves, and FBS schedule adjustments in 1 spot. I’d be glad to link readers to a database with every noteworthy COVID-19 headline from the Big 12 this summer, but too many “reporters” are too busy chastising the league for holding a 2020-21 season to spend time helping the fans know what’s going on.
We must adapt to the times. If NBC, CBS, and ESPN (the Worldwide Bleater in Sports) won’t focus on college football analysis outside of “Parents of So-and-So accuse Governor So-and-So of So-and-So,” then the answer is to look deeply into the hometown reporting on every program, collecting local scoops on team morale, student-athlete health scares, and (lest we forget along with everybody else) how rosters will actually look on the gridiron.
Gamblers read international sites like WagerBop to get the big picture, of course, not the latest from Anywhere State U.’s alumni message board. Think of the upside, however. Bettors get an upper hand on bookmakers when mainstream-media mythology rules the day. Bovada Sportsbook does not have the human resources to investigate TCU’s 3rd-string offensive line, or how the boosters are coping with COVID at Kansas State. Subtleties – like the mood of an FBS squad after losing a popular senior to a positive test – or even standard angles like minor injuries and position-changes could be lost on bookmakers in the chaos of Week Zero and Week 1.
Sportsbooks were recently making tiny amounts of money and paying skeleton staffs, pricing only a handful of active sports. Now they’re about to be taking-on FBS and NFL football, baseball, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, major championship golf, tennis, and the 2020 election at the same time. Pro handicappers’ schedules will be stretched to the breaking point. There could be many more mistakes in the “consensus” odds than usual. That’s good news.
As for the Big 12’s decision to play in 2020-21, I can only reiterate a prep football editorial published at WagerBop earlier this year. Yes, sports outcomes are nothing compared to matters of life and death. But “life” is the forgotten word in that slogan.
Vangelis didn’t compose “Chariots of Fire” because running in the Olympics isn’t life and death. It may not be death, but for those taking part, it’s a huge part of life. Young people have acquired worse health problems than cases of coronavirus from playing sports. Some have even died from sudden or accumulated injuries. COVID presents yet another danger in a litany of landmines, but playing football in the sun is also far less likely to infect a teenager than socializing indoors. When 11 players go in the huddle and 9 come out COVID-positive, it’s time to stop playing. If a college kid contracts the virus in a bar 2 miles off campus, cancelling football will ensure that it’s 10 kids the next time.
With peace spoken and a piece of your time wasting, let’s move forward and talk some college football.
Big 12 Futures Odds: Predicting a Champion of the Midwest in 2020
Numbers courtesy of William Hill:
Oklahoma Sooners: -125
Texas Longhorns: +140
Oklahoma State Cowboys: +750
Iowa State Cyclones: +1200
TCU Horned Frogs: +2000
Baylor Bears: +2500
West Virginia Mountaineers: +2500
Kansas State Wildcats: +3300
Texas Tech Red Raiders: +6600
Kansas Jayhawks: +10000
When the NFL threatened not to play over a labor dispute a number of years back, I remember having a daydream (or a waking nightmare) of OU’s trademark “Doot-doo-doo-DOOOOOO, doot-doo-doo-doooooo” fanfare playing on virtually every network on every weekend afternoon. Now, because around 1/2 of the Football Bowl Subdivision is temporarily out of the running, the It’s A Small World-level repetition might become a reality.
Don’t say WagerBop didn’t warn you.
Thankfully, the Oklahoma Sooners will be fun to watch yet again this season. Back-to-back-to-back Heisman-worthy QBs have dotted the roster since Bob Stoops took the helm 3 years ago, with Jalen Hurts’ transfer season rivaling the electricity of trophy-winner Kyler Murray in 2018. It’s become a routine to find Oklahoma playing in the College Football Playoff, but also routine to watch the Crimson & Cream lose in the tournament.
Better defense would help turn the Sooners into a genuine national contender, and the 2020 unit will be keyed by sophomore pass-rushers Jalen Redmond and Marcus Stripling. College Football News reports that a secondary of up-and-coming ball hawks should be just fine “so long as the pass rush stays strong,” which vis-a-vis the latter unit is usually the sort of thing said of factors the analyst is unsure of. Even though college pigskin is so transient, it’s still hard to convince ourselves that the next wave of recruited talent won’t shine like the good old boys did. At least that’s not the case in the offensive backfield – pundits have watched OU block successfully for so many great QBs that there’s no question about Spencer Rattler’s poise as the new starter. There could be some consternation over the RB position with Rhamondre Stevenson serving a suspension, which calls Oklahoma’s sub-(EVEN) Big 12 championship odds into question. This will be a shortened season, and missing 2 games is like missing 3.
Texas might be OU’s blood rival, but the Longhorns’ rise has been symbiotic with the Sooners’ push for postseason respectability. QB Sam Ehlinger’s prolific supporting cast will have an easy transition into post-COVID pigskin relative to many Power-5 teams who will sit around waiting for weeks only to open against a powerhouse. Texas opens up against the UTEP Miners on 9/12, followed by Texas Tech, Texas Christian, and finally the Red River game on 10/10. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row, and an athletic secondary on the cusp of maturity could add spectacular TDs to blow away the O/U in early contests. The bad news for Oklahoma is that if both teams manage to field strong defenses in 2020-21, Ehlinger’s ball-control style of offense will be friendlier to a defense than the Sooners’ explosive attack. I’m liking the current odds on UT.
It’s gotten to the point where all a handicapper should do with Oklahoma State is examine the defense and special teams, since the Gundy regime’s institutional focus will always be on the offense and scoring lots of points. OSU’s got a 90% returning defense and lots of fierce tacklers with requisite scary names like Amen Ogbongbemiga, but Sports Illustrated is calling the Cowboy defense “the best unit on the team” in preseason articles full of pithy quotes. “The sky’s the limit for this team. Lots of talent here.” That’s pretty much the kiss of death.
I don’t trust TCU these days, and Kansas State is overrated based on Chris Kileman’s 1st year of coaching competitive modern football and not NDSU’s loaded dice in the FCS. Once the newness wears off, we may discover that Kileman is no better than other coaches who won with clever recruiting in a minor conference, only to flop when game-planning vs similar athletes.
Iowa State’s 12-to-1 line is a little under-priced for a year in which hard work and organization could yield many upsets. Baylor draws less action than a recent title contender should due to the school’s unpopularity on social media, and hence the Bears’ 25-to-1 odds are a bargain.
Now for some win-total picks on Big 12 schools not handicapped above.
West Virginia Mountaineers (Over/Under (4.5) Wins)
I was never a big Dana Holgerson fan, and was glad to see the pass-happy egotist move on after so many years of helping turn the Big 12 (along with Gundy) into the NASCAR conference. However, WVU is struggling for an identity now that the long-time coach has left, and 2nd-year skipper Neil Brown must prepare to meet OSU and Baylor in 2 of the opening 3 kickoffs.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (Over/Under (4.5) Wins)
TTU has made strides toward becoming a legitimate 3-unit football team and not a basketball-style circus, and can post a lay-up win over Houston Baptist which would allow the Red Raiders to go 4-5 and still pay-off on the high side of the O/U market.
Texas Christian Horned Frogs (Over/Under (6) Wins)
FanSided opined this spring that TCU had drawn an impossible out-of-conference schedule against…wait for it…California and Southern Methodist. All due respect to the Bears and the Mustangs, but they’re actually not the 2 toughest animals at the zoo. California probably won’t play until 2021 and while SMU remains on the Horned Frogs’ schedule, for all the AAC representative’s own progress it’s still winnable P5 vs G5 match-up.
The problem is that Gary Patterson’s team has drawn a “bear” of an early conference schedule in place of a now-wistful dream of taking on the Pac-12. ISU, Texas, and OU could punish TCU before the squad comes up for air in mid-season, and even then there are no obvious winning weekends.
Kansas Jayhawks (Over/Under (3) Wins)
I can’t imagine KU going 2-8 under Les Miles this season. Heck, an opener vs Coastal Carolina should get the Jayhawks at least 1/3rd of the way to the Las Vegas total.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.