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Last July, 42 players were put on the watch list for the 2016 Jim Thorpe Award, given to whomever a panel of voters deems college football’s defensive back of the year.
Iowa cornerback Desmond King wasn’t on that list. Five months later, he was in Atlanta wearing a snappy suit and purple bow tie, holding the Thorpe Award trophy.
In the summer of 2008, 43 players were on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, given to whomever a panel of voters deems college football’s running back of the year.
Iowa’s Shonn Greene wasn’t on that list. Five months later, he was in Orlando looking quite dapper himself with a dark jacket, and a peach-colored shirt and tie, holding the Walker Award.
Besides being a tribute to the two players for their emergence as stars, it’s also verification that the best thing about the start of a college football season is the end of the off-season clutter.
Like seeing watch lists galore. Like getting news stories telling us which three players from each Big Ten team will take part in the conference’s media days in Chicago. Like anyone and everyone’s predictions.
By the way, who has correctly predicted Iowa’s regular-season record in any of the previous four offseasons? Even I waited until I saw the Hawkeyes roll over Illinois State in the 2015 season-opener before declaring they’d go 12-0.
As for the watch lists, Friday brought the news King and Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell are on the Bronko Nagurski Award watch list. That honor will go to whomever a panel of voters deems college football’s defensive player of the year.
A tribute for King and Jewell? Sure. They’re two terrific players. But there are 88 players on the list! Five Alabama players are on it, bringing shame to the other six defensive starters who aren’t.
The most-useful off-season tidbits come from the most-objective people on the planet. They are professional oddsmakers, who have no interest other than turning a profit.
The sports books don’t love or hate your favorite team. They just want you to bet on it.
The over/under regular-season wins numbers the oddsmakers put on teams is more informative than all the college football preseason magazines combined.
Iowa’s 2016 number is 8.5. The oddsmakers think half of the public will bet the Hawkeyes to go 9-3 or better, half will go 8-4 or lower. If most bettors go in one direction, the line will get adjusted. Las Vegas didn’t become Las Vegas by not being adaptable.
Iowa’s number was 7.5 last summer, but I don’t recall anyone saying it was way off. Yet, by the end of the Hawkeyes’ eighth game, the “over” was a winner and the “under” was a loser.
Most Big Ten numbers were pretty accurate. Ohio State (11) and Indiana (6) were hit on the head, while Minnesota (5.5) and Penn State (7.5) were as close as you could get given teams don’t get half-wins.
The league’s two outliers were Iowa and Nebraska. The Cornhuskers’ number was 8, and they went 5-7 in the regular-season. They also were just a few plays from a much-better mark.
This year, Iowa and Nebraska are both 8.5, though the Huskers’ schedule (Oregon, at Northwestern, at Wisconsin, at Ohio State, at Iowa) looks considerably tougher than Iowa’s.
Wisconsin’s over/under number is 7. Rounding out the Big Ten West, Northwestern is at 6.5, Minnesota is 6, Illinois and Purdue are 4.5.
In the East, Michigan is 10, Ohio State 9.5, Michigan State 7.5, Penn State 6.5. Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers are 4.5.
Here’s a real oddity: At Bovada, an online betting site, Iowa is listed as even money to win the West, but only 9-1 to win the conference title, behind Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
In four months, some of these things will look like they were slam-dunks that should have been bet hard. But right now, everyone’s on a watch list and nobody knows anything.
By the way, Cedar Rapids’ Zach Johnson was 80-1 to win the British Open a year ago today. “I got a lot of tweets from people who made money on me,” he told Golf.com.
Johnson is 50-1 to repeat. Just sayin’.