MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With the advent of the one-time penalty-free transfer and with player movement at an all-time high, predicting the outcomes, or even setting odds, on collegiate sports contests months in advance is more fraught with danger than ever.
Twenty, or even 10, years ago, rosters for an upcoming football season were pretty much known by April or May. While there might have been one or two transfers still pending, or eligibility questions for a couple of incoming freshmen still to be worked out, evaluations of rosters and comparisons of matchups could be made with at least some assurance of stability at this point in the year.
Like with so many other things in college athletics, though, there has seen a seismic shift.
While there are a number of high-profile transfers that have already been completed, many of those involve players who have not practiced once with their new teams — and in a number of cases are just now enrolling for summer sessions or moving to their new schools. How will they mesh with their new teams? What additions are still to come, and what holes still need to be filled? What will each school’s success rate in those areas be?
Add all of that to the normal uncertainty of the offseason — including injury recovery, individual improvement and, yes, even a couple more departures that will probably occur, and setting lines and odds on games that won’t kick off until some 3 1/2 months from now is like trying to predict the weather for those games.
Of course, that doesn’t stop gambling outlets, which are only concerned with separating you from your money, from issuing lines and projections as early as possible. That serves to generate interest (and bets), and in an age where getting some money down on your team is just a click away, it’s good business, at least for them.
One side effect of that process, though, are the expectations that are created for teams that are projected to do well, and the outcry from fans of those who are on the short end of the early lines. That brings us to today, and a couple of early views of West Virginia’s projected football fortunes for 2022.
On the conference level, one service has West Virginia tabbed as a 40-1 pick to win the Big 12 title. That doesn’t sound so bad, except that it places the Mountaineers eighth (ahead of only Kansas State at 50-1 and Kansas at 300-1). That has some WVU fans up in arms, but a fair look at all of the issues to be addressed on the field makes such a line reasonable, or at least defensible. Of course, that’s offset by the normal optimism that prevails prior to actual games being played, so the Mountaineer fan base isn’t taking that rating lying down.
Then there’s FanDuel, which already has odds up for a number of games, including three involving the Mountaineers. On this rapidly expanding sportsbook, WVU is seen as a six-point underdog to Pitt in its opener on Sept. 1, a 2.5-point favorite over Virginia Tech three weeks later, and a massive 13.5-point dog to Texas on Oct. 1. Those early lines, especially that of the Pitt contest, have also drawn a good bit of reaction from WVU fans.
One thing to remember here, though, is that lines aren’t necessarily set as a perfect reflection of team strengths. They are set to draw equal amounts of bets on both teams, which guarantees profit for the sportsbooks. While some of that obviously involves relative team talent, it’s also takes into account bettors’ perceptions of the match-ups, which has as much or more to do with putting money down, especially when emotions or fandom are involved.
That explains why, for instance, that Texas, a huge underachiever on the field that dominates in fan interest and sycophantic media coverage, is an even-money bet against both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at this point, even after going 5-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big 12 a year ago.
Back to WVU, though. The Texas game aside, the Pitt and Virginia Tech lines are at least somewhat indicative of where the three programs are at this point. The Panthers are coming off a very successful 2021 season, while WVU and Tech will both be trying to rebound from losing seasons a year ago. Thus, those early lines, while tough to accept for Mountaineer fans, probably aren’t all that much off the mark — at least at this point in the process. But take heart — it’s a long way until September.
The best piece of advice at this point, other than saving your money to spend it on your family, is to use these lines as points of discussion. They are likely to change, perhaps even significantly, as the calendar flips over toward fall, and they have no impact on how the games will actually play out.