One of my offseason college football handicapping assignments every year is to attempt to identify teams likely to be overvalued or undervalued by the betting markets during the upcoming season.
To reach my ultimate conclusions, I consume
as much relevant personnel, statistical and other information as possible, perusing digital newspapers, related websites, and annual publications such as Phil Steele’s College Football Preview and Athlon Sports College Football to develop power ratings for all 130 FBS teams.
The process of crafting a power rating for a college football team whose roster may have experienced massive turnover is a tricky proposition — part art and part science. But with more than a quarter century’s worth of experience, I’m comfortable my final work product will be superior to the linemaker’s more often than not.
That is especially true in September before everybody’s numbers start looking the same since we then have data points (results) to more clearly reflect each team’s place in the 130-team pecking order.
Without further ado, here are four ‘Play On’ and ‘Play
Against’ recommendations for 2019:
It’s no secret that Gus Malzahn’s teams have been money burners at the betting window over the past five seasons, posting an overall ATS record of 24-40-2. Plus
the Tigers lack experience at the critical quarterback position, with either true freshman Bo Nix or redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood the likely heir apparent to the departed Jarrett Stidham.
While there are clearly questions, Auburn is talented and experienced in the trenches on both sides of the ball, sporting a Top 10-caliber offensive line and arguably the nation’s top defensive front led by dominating tackle Derrick Brown, who is a probable
first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. If Auburn finds its quarterback, do not sleep on the Tigers.
Off the heels of a top-shelf sophomore season, Brian Lewerke entered the 2018 campaign as one of the more talented quarterbacks in all of college football. But Lewerke
suffered a midseason shoulder injury and slumped badly as the offensively-challenged Spartans started the year ranked No. 11 and finished it with an ugly 7-6 loss to Oregon in the Redbox Bowl.
Lewerke should be 100 percent healthy and looking to atone for last season’s surprising showing, which saw him throw 11 interceptions against just eight touchdowns.
Equally as important is Mark Dantonio’s performance off a season failing to meet expectations. When his Michigan State teams have won seven games or fewer in a season, he has rebounded to win an average of 10.8 games the following year.
For the first time since he took over at Air Force in 2007, Troy Calhoun’s Falcons are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, after their second straight 5-7 finish.
There are reasons for optimism, however, and not the least of those is a seasoned roster that returns a somewhat uncharacteristic seven starters on both offense and defense, including a pair of quarterbacks
— Donald Hammond and Isaiah Sanders — who have seen substantial action.
Although failing to record any eye-popping victories last season, Air Force was competitive in all 12 of its games, with its most decisive defeats being only 10 points (to both Utah State and Boise State). With veteran returnees across both interior lines, the Falcons look primed to turn some of those close encounters into victories.
Predictably, it took awhile for the switch to flip, but, when it did, Chip Kelly’s inaugural UCLA team was a tough out in its final four games of 2018.
The Bruins and true freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson only won one of those final four contests (a 34-27 victory over cross-town rival USC), but their offense came to life late averaging 31.3 points during that stretch.
UCLA lost at Arizona State by three points (31-28) during that span and then only fell to Stanford by seven points (49-42) at home in its season finale. The Bruins led 42-41 with nine minutes to go before the Cardinal rallied for the win.
Kelly’s Bruins should naturally be improved in his second season, plus they are one of the nation’s more experienced teams with 19 returning starters.
A lopsided win over an uninspired Michigan team (41-
in the Peach Bowl last year artificially elevated Florida’s stock entering the 2019 season.
The Gators, who were 12 in the turnover category in 2018, will have lots of new faces on the offensive line as only a single starter (senior center Nick Buchanan) returns and 141 career starts are out the door. The returning linemen boast a total of only 24 career starts, half those by Buchanan.
Even though junior quarterback Feleipe Franks appears ready to take another step in his continuing development, Florida won’t match last year’s scoring average of 35 points per game, which was its highest since Urban Meyer’s next-to-last season in 2009 (35.9 points per game average).
Basking in the immediate afterglow of Texas’ 28-21 upset victory over Georgia
in the 2018 Sugar Bowl, a smiling Sam Ehlinger proudly proclaimed on the floor of the Superdome, “Longhorn Nation...we’re back.”
Not so fast, Sam.
Ehlinger, a 6-3, 230-pound junior who competes with a linebacker’s mentality, was recently named the Big 12 preseason Offensive Player of the Year and the numbers certainly support that designation. In fact, he became just the sixth Power Five quarterback
in the past 20 years to throw for at least 25 touchdowns (25) and rush for at least 15 scores (16) last season.
So with such a leading man under center, why fade the Longhorns? Quite frankly, Ehlinger doesn’t have enough headliners among his supporting cast, especially on defense.
The Longhorns lose both defensive ends, their top three tacklers, both starting cornerbacks, and must retool their offensive line. All told, a total of just eight starters return in Austin.
Led by defensive star Josh Allen (seventh overall pick in the
2019 NFL Draft), the Wildcats allowed a stingy average of just 16.8 points in 2018. Only one team (Georgia) scored more
than 24 points against Kentucky.
In each of Mike Stoops’ previous six seasons, the Wildcats had allowed an average of at least 27.4 points per game, so last year’s stellar showing was an extreme outlier.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the defensive defections do not end with Allen. Kentucky also loses two members of a highly-regarded secondary who were high NFL picks in cornerback Lonnie Johnson (second round) and safety Mike Edwards (third round).
Offensively, Benny Snell leaves Lexington as the school’s all-time leading rusher after recording three straight 1,000-yard seasons in as many years.
After starting his Nebraska tenure with six straight losses, favorite son Scott Frost and his Cornhuskers rebounded nicely to win four of their final six games and create some
renewed optimism in Lincoln.
By the looks of its slotting in some of the preseason publications and across digital media, the expectations of many onlookers in just Frost’s second season as coach seem to be somewhat unfounded.
Sure, sophomore Adrian Martinez, who hails from California, already merits mention as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the land after amassing more than 3,200 total yards offense (2,617 passing and 629 rushing) in his true freshman campaign.
But while Martinez serves as a nice centerpiece for the overall presentation, the Cornhuskers are not without questions. And, frankly, lots of them.
Nebraska must find replacements for four starting offensive linemen, a 1,000-yard receiver (Stanley Morgan) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Devine Ozigbo).
Defensively, the Cornhuskers have been downright bad over the past two seasons, serving up an average of 36 points per game in conference contests over that period. That unit loses five of their top six tacklers and there is no reason to anticipate marked improvement.