I’ve spent the last five weeks or so revealing a lot of the information I delve into each offseason in preparation for the college football season. After going back through the coaching changes, the Stability Scores, the transitional systems, the recruiting rankings and playing out the schedule by my power ratings, I’ve locked in on 10 team season win total bets that I will be making. Here are those 10 wagers, with the odds available at DraftKings.
If you missed any of that key information I’ve released over the last month and a half regarding college football season preparations, simply go into your Point Spread Weekly archive and look through issues 40-45. Most, if not all, of it will also be made available in the VSiN College Football Preseason Betting Guide, due out at the end of July.
FIVE OVER WAGERS
Louisiana-Monroe Over 1.5 wins
You might find it strange to start with a team like Louisiana-Monroe for my best options on Over season win total bets, but this number 1.5 just doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, the Warhawks went 0-10 last year, but that season was so far from the norm, and so far from the typical results for this program that I am prepared to label it as a fluke. Before last season, ULM had won at least four games in every season since 2004 with the exception of 2015. This is not a doormat program, and with the change to veteran coach Terry Bowden and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, I don’t expect it to stay on the bottom for long. There is an almost certain win versus Jackson State on the schedule for Week 2 and plenty of other chances in the Sun Belt to make this wager a winner.
Maryland Over 5.5 wins
Maryland has enjoyed a great deal of recruiting success over the last half-decade or so, the last three under head coach Mike Locksley. There were some positive signs before last year to suggest 2020 could have been the season the talent put it all together. Obviously COVID-19 threw a wrench into a lot of teams’ plans, particularly on the East Coast and in the Big Ten. That said, the Terps did post impressive wins over Minnesota and Penn State, proving capable of competing consistently with the conference’s upper-echelon teams. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa showed some explosive ability as well. For 2021, the win total is set at 5.5, and there are plenty of question marks in the Big Ten East Division to think Maryland could move up and make its first bowl game since 2016. There’s a reasonable chance this team is 4-0 when it hosts Iowa to begin October. That kind of momentum could lift Locksley’s team to new heights.
Oregon Over 9 wins
Oregon’s 2020 season was certainly unusual as the Ducks won their first three games, then lost two and still received a berth in the Pac-12 championship game after some opt-outs. The Ducks capitalized, winning that game and receiving a Fiesta Bowl bid, eventually losing to Iowa State. In the end, the Ducks went 4-3, despite having one of the worst turnover differentials in the country at -1.3 per game. What’s the best way to instantly transform turnover problems? In my opinion, it’s starting over at quarterback, which is exactly what coach Mario Cristobal will be doing this fall as Boston College transfer Anthony Brown is expected to take over for the departed Tyler Shough. Cristobal, in his fourth year, has also continued to dominate the Pac-12 recruiting ranks, and his defense, which should be back to full strength after some opt-outs last year, figures to be much better than in 2020. There is a lot of focus on USC and Washington, but I believe Oregon could be the best team out west. I have the Ducks favored in all but one game this season.
Toledo Over 8 wins
Toledo has not played in a bowl game in two years, ending a four-year run. Are the Rockets in the midst of rebuild? Not at all. In fact they are 10-8 over the last two seasons, circumstances just didn’t work out for postseason games. Coach Jason Candle has continued to recruit well and is projected at the top of the MAC standings in that regard based on three-year combined rankings. In other words, they have plenty of talent. The same goes for experience as QB Eli Peters is the only starter from last year’s team not expected to be back from the 2020 group that outscored opponents by an average of 35.0-24.3. My numbers show the Rockets should be favored in 10 of their 12 games. I wouldn’t put a competitive effort at Notre Dame in Week 2 out of your minds either. I expect Toledo back in the MAC title game and then obviously another bowl game.
UCLA Over 7 wins
It’s fair to say that coach Chip Kelly needs to get something done this season, as he has his most experienced group and his offense could finally be ready to meet lofty expectations. There are 20 starters back for 2021, including multiyear starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who fits the Kelly offense to a T. The Bruins were 3-4 last year but lost all four games by six points or fewer. The experience boost in 2021 could be the difference in overcoming those tight losses. There are a lot of question marks in the Pac-12 this season, and UCLA could be the beneficiary. Mark your calendars for Week 2 when the Bruins host LSU, as a win there could propel this team on to big things.
FIVE UNDER WAGERS
Buffalo Under 8.5 wins
Buffalo achieved some of its best football successes in the six years under former coach Lance Leipold. He has left for the challenges that Kansas offers in the Big 12. I wouldn’t say he left the cupboard bare for his replacement, Maurice Linguist, but there is going to be a lot different about the Bulls this year. While QB Kyle Vantrease does return at quarterback, only nine other starters do, and the MAC is loaded with veteran teams in 2021, several with at least 20 starters back. They also lost the bell cow of last year’s offense in RB Jaret Patterson. This program has been known for getting more out of its recruiting than almost everyone else. How does that change under a new coach? If it does, this team could drop dramatically, as 247Sports puts Buffalo ahead of just Ball State and Akron in the MAC based on the last three years ranking. Getting to nine wins in a season in which they are going to be overmatched experience-wise on the field and the sideline could prove impossible.
Marshall Under 7.5 wins
Marshall’s 2020 season was a strange one. After bursting out to a 7-0 start and scoring 37.4 points per game, the Herd offense hit the wall, mustering just 23 points the rest of the way, while going 0-3. The collapse cost Doc Holliday his job after what was a very successful tenure. He is replaced by Charles Huff, and a new defensive coordinator steps in as well. There are 16 starters back, including QB Grant Wells, but it’s fair to express concern over the confidence level of the offense after the late-season implosion. Plus, Marshall’s last two recruiting classes were the worst I had on record. In my opinion, this program is not headed in a positive direction, and I would expect it to be felt on the field in the fall. I’ll call for the Herd to miss out on a bowl game this season for just the second time since 2012.
Northwestern Under 6.5 wins
Northwestern was one of the biggest surprises in college football last season. That said, I believe coach Pat Fitzgerald will pay the price this year, as 14 starters are lost from that overachieving group, including QB Payton Ramsey, who thrived in his graduate transfer season. The 2020 team was extremely gritty, going 8-1 against the spread and taking care of Auburn 35-19 in the Citrus Bowl. Grit isn’t easily recaptured when experience is lost. Keep in mind that only four teams in all of college football return fewer than 10 starters. The schedule is manageable, however, assuming Fitzgerald’s team doesn’t fall off a cliff with the huge personnel losses. My projected conference standings based upon recent recruiting scores showed Northwestern as the Big Ten’s 11th-best team. That would net a sub-.500 record.
Notre Dame Under 9 wins
Notre Dame always recruits well, so talent is typically not an issue. However, in a year when experience is going to be a huge plus for teams that didn’t get ravaged by the NFL draft or transfers, the fact that the Irish have just nine starters back is going to be a lot to overcome. The 2021 schedule is difficult as always, and is made worse by the unusual circumstance finding the Irish playing six teams that will be coming off a week off. Games against Wisconsin, Cincinnati, USC and North Carolina will be huge tests for this very inexperienced team. My preseason power ratings are probably generous for coach Brian Kelly’s team compared with most analysts, and I still project them for right around nine wins. Those projections don’t account for that extra schedule difficulty. I believe the loss of QB Ian Book is being underestimated, and it will affect the Irish big time, possibly as early as Week 1 at Florida State.
Tennessee Under 6 wins
Over the last four years, Tennessee has a 20-27 record, an average of five wins per season. Now, with what is one of the lowest Stability Scores on my scale (2), the Volunteers are asked to win six games to meet their DraftKings win prop. They fit into several of the play-against systems I tracked for offseason personnel changes, not only because of a coaching changeover, but also because they will be breaking in a new quarterback and have just 12 starters back. I like the thought of new coach Josh Heupel taking over long term, and the addition of Michigan QB transfer is favorable, but I don’t see it coming together this season, in a year when experience in a system is going to be an even bigger factor. I see five likely wins and six more likely losses. Week 2 versus Pittsburgh is the key to whether Tennessee can reach six and push on their win total. I expect Pitt to be better this year, particularly early.