I have employed a strategy I call College Football Stability Mismatches for about 10 years, and I steadfastly believe in its foundational principles. To me this is a winning strategy, and the more of this type of logic you come to rely on in your own handicapping, the more successful you will be. Let’s look at what makes for a stability mismatch.
For many reasons, a program’s prospects can change dramatically from one season to the next. Among them are the four-year eligibility rules, the pressure on coaching staffs and players’ off-the-field transgressions. This results in significant year-to-year turnover on the field and on the sidelines. Bettors expecting to see the same thing they watched from a team at the end of the previous season are often startled at the change.
Being a numbers guy, I do an exercise I call quantifying the level of stability for each program. The idea is that the higher level of stability, the better the chances for a team’s success, particularly early in the season.
The system works this way: Teams get four points for a returning coach or quarterback, three points for a returning offensive or defensive coordinator, and 1-5 points based on the number of returning starters. Here are some of the top mismatches this weekend.
UL Lafayette at Texas (-8)
Stability advantage: UL Lafayette by 13
Texas starts a new era with former Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian taking over as coach. Sarkisian’s offenses at ’Bama were record-setting, so it could be a bit of a reality check for him in Austin. While quite good under Tom Herman, the Longhorns’ offense must replace veteran QB starter Sam Ehlinger. Sarkisian brings a whole new staff with him, and the opening contest could prove difficult facing a Louisiana team that went 10-1 last year in the Sun Belt and returns 20 starters.
Akron at Auburn (-36.5)
Stability advantage: Akron by 12
Auburn is one of the biggest favorites on the Week 1 board despite bringing in a new coaching staff after a 6-5 finish last season. Bryan Harsin, formerly of Boise State, takes over as coach and gets 15 starters back, including QB Bo Nix. Akron is one of the many teams in the MAC that brings back a ton of experience for 2021, as 18 starters return, including multi-threat QB Kato Nelson, who has 20 starts to his credit but missed 2020. The Zips aren’t expected to be one of the top teams in their conference, but catching 36.5 points against a team that scored only 25.1 ppg last season looks enticing.
Notre Dame (-7.5) at Florida State
Stability advantage: Florida State by 9
This has to be the biggest game Florida State has hosted in at least five years as the Seminoles look to claw out of a funk in which they have gone 20-26 since 2016. Coach Mike Norvell starts his second season and his first in normalcy. He turns to 17 returning starters as the foundation to rebuild. His quarterback will be McKenzie Milton, who had been out of football for two years after a devastating injury while starring for UCF. Notre Dame lost its defensive coordinator to Vanderbilt and its winningest quarterback in Ian Book. Coach Brian Kelly’s team is one of just a few with fewer than 10 starters back, and going on the road for a nationally televised first game against win-starved FSU will be a challenge, especially as a road favorite.