In my opinion, and in most cases, college football injuries are overrated in terms of game handicapping and overall public reaction. How many Wally Pipp type stories are there in college football? These are still 19-20 year old kids and the drop off from starter to backup, in a lot of cases is minimal.
A great example of this from the 2010 season was Louisville catching 7 points at Syracuse. The Ville were 4-4 on the season and the week before had lost as a 9 point dog at Pittsburgh 20-6, one of the best teams in the Big East. Syracuse was 6-2 at the time, but 3 of those wins were against Akron, Maine and Colgate. Their two losses were blowouts to Washington (41-20) and at home to Pittsburgh (45-14). Other than the Akron game, where they were an 8 point favorite, they had not been favored all season. All my numbers suggested that these two teams were statistically even and 7 points was far too many points for an average Big East team to be giving against a similar average conference foe. So why a TD discrepancy in a game against two evenly matched teams? Louisville’s starting QB and top RB were out with injuries that week, thus a typical 2-3 point line was inflated by more than a FG. Louisville won outright and the backup QB threw 2 TD passes. Moral of the story: don’t be overly influenced by injuries when handicapping college football games.
In our Louisville example above, a lot of times when a team losses their star player(s) they may not miss him right away, especially when the team is rallying around the injury. It may be different down the line when the enthusiasm wears off and opposing coaches have had more time to game plan against the replacements. But in my experience, for the most part this affect is minimal.
By contrast, I believe injuries begin to take their toll on a team when they start to accumulate, especially on one side of the ball or one specific unit (OL or LB as examples). A great example of this from the 2011 season was the Texas A & M/Missouri game. In this case it was multiple injuries to A&M’s defense that kept getting worse each week. With a good offensive team and a mobile quarterback like Mizzou coming to town, A & M was due for it to catch up with them. Ten points was simply too many to give the Tigers in that game with 5 or 6 A&M defensive starters out. That line didn’t move all week, but when you put two good conference teams with winning records together late in the season, you better have all of your ammo when you are favored by double digits. Missouri beat Texas A & M outright 38-31 in OT.
Multiple injuries can particularly have a negative effect on lesser-BCS and non-BCS teams. A MAC team can ill afford to lose 2 or 3 OL starters and be expected to be the same team they were before the injuries. The quality depth simply isn’t there.
In most cases single player injuries, and on deeper teams even some multiple injuries, can be overcome and you can get some inflated spreads because of it. However, if a unit gets decimated throughout the season, it usually catches up to a team at some point, especially if it happens to one of the lesser BCS or non-BCS conference teams.
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