Over the last two years we’ve seen two absolute extremes in the Big XII when it comes to totals. Like the steroid era in baseball, 2008 saw an explosion of offense as team averaged 33.6 ppg in conference play which led to 65% of games landing over the total. In 2009, offenses dramatically regressed, so much so that 59% of league games went under the total. Familiarity had a lot to do with it as the spread offense because less challenging to prepare for. Teams likely dedicated more time in the offseason to defense and recruited heavier on that side of the ball. Laws of averages also came into play as most teams hit their ceiling in terms of offensive capabilities. Oklahoma averaged 55.1 ppg in conference games in 2008. Even had Sam Bradford not been injured, the Sooners were destined for a decline. The one team that stuck out in our study was Texas A&M who was one of only two teams (Colorado) to increase its scoring average from 2008 to 2009. They were also lined the exact same in both years with an average total of 60 on their league games. As a result, the Aggies were the strongest "over" team in the Big XII last year at 8-5 overall and 6-2 in league play.
Throughout the two-year span, the betting market was fairly quick to adjust to things. Kansas played Iowa State in the 2008 Big XII season opener with a total of 50. In the Jayhawks’ regular season finale against Missouri, the closing total was 70. Last season, far less production in non-conference play may have tipped many bettors off as most teams were lined very similar throughout league play. But while the market made adjustments, the ends results showed it clearly wasn’t enough. For example, Oklahoma went over the total in every conference game in 2008, yet even with a 78.5 on the Big XII title game against Missouri, we saw 83 points. Same thing with Nebraska last season as no closing total was below 40 yet five of the Cornhuskers’ nine league games featured 30 or fewer points. There will always be some resistance in the market with numbers that stick out – low totals played over; high totals played under.
So what does all of this mean for 2010? It would be guesswork to assume some sort of league-wide zig-zag that offenses will return to 2008’s numbers. However, if the defenses could make the needed adjustments then the offenses should in turn be able to do the same – the cyclical nature of sports. On paper, the conference looks to have more offensive potential based on returnees. Eight teams return starting quarterbacks while nine return seven or more starters on offense. Defensively, only four squads return seven or more starters. One other intriguing factor is returning starters along the offensive line. The Big XII North is projected to return 26 of 30 o-line starters, while the South brings back only 13. That could be a key ingredient to the once sizable gap closing between the two divisions.
Overall, it is nice to see 60% trends but catching them early as oppose to after-the-fact-analysis like we are doing here is the key. I’ve personally never taken an approach that I am going to play every game in a particular league over or under the total. The closest I ever came was during college basketball when I unearthed mid-season that the MAC conference was split into two distinct categories. When group A played another team from group A, we played it over and vice versa for group B. But even after making a handful of units, the market was quick to adjust and after a month, our trend went bust. That is why it is seemingly easier to look at totals from a team-by-team or game-by-game perspective. That doesn’t mean you can't view a conference like the Big XII and feel that offense or defense may be the strength of the league this season and look to play accordingly – 2008 proved that even with market adjustments, "over" bettors still cashed in. But looking for the right situations and the most value is key. Oklahoma was lined in the low 70’s for a good four or five weeks back in 2008 before the market pushed its totals up to nearly 80. So while the game against Missouri with a total of 78.5 did go over the total, at a touchdown inflation, some bettors likely went against the market or passed the game. For me personally, I am certainly going to look for indications of offensive improvement from teams in the Big XII this season. Nebraska for example could be an “over” candidate after last year’s two extremes of fantastic defense and horrific offense. Texas A&M hasn’t returned nine starters on defense in nearly a decade. If the Aggies maintain themselves as a good offense but improve by four or five points on defense, last year’s 8-5 record to the over could be flip flopped in 2010. I’ll be diving in feet first over the next couple of weeks regarding college football so stay tuned.
*All records indicate Over/Under
2009 (Overall/Conference/Avg Conf Total…Scoring differential in conf play from 2008)
Iowa State 3-9/2-6/53…………-3.1
Kansas State 3-8/3-5/51………-6.1
Oklahoma State 5-8/3-5/54…-10.7
Texas A&M 8-5/6-2/60…………+4.8
Texas Tech 5-7/2-6/61…………-10.1
Overall 60-89, 59.7% unders
Conference 20-29, 59.1% unders
Non-Conference 20-31, 60.7% unders
2008 (Overall/Conference/Avg Conf Total)
Iowa State 8-3/6-2/56
Kansas State 8-3/6-2/65
Oklahoma State 6-6/4-4/66
Texas A&M 8-4/6-2/60
Texas Tech 7-4/6-2/69
Overall 86-57, 60.1% overs
Conference 32-17, 65.3% overs
Non-Conference 22-23, 48.8% overs