Unlike previous college football seasons, the stability strategy I employ has a little more shelf life because of the disjointed schedules teams are playing. While some teams already have three games under their belts, others such as the SEC have yet to play. Still, this will be the last week I note the weekly stability mismatches until the second wave of season start-ups happen next month with the Big Ten and Pac-12. Last week we had two losses and two postponements, and for the season, this strategy has six winners in 10 games. That is right in line with what it has done the last 10 years. First-year coaches are just 3-12 ATS to date, providing more evidence as to the merit of this methodology.
For Week 4, seven games qualify for a stability edge of seven points or more between two teams. The best news is that those backing the strategy will get the chance to piggyback some of the best programs in the country this week, led by Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M. Can’t go wrong there.
Since we picked up a huge number of new subscribers last weekend, I’ll quickly reintroduce the stability methodology. I typically like to use this approach for a team’s first three games or so. So I would encourage you to continue following the chart in the next couple of weeks for new teams. I just won’t be posting the plays in “Point Spread Weekly.”
Every fall I do an exercise that quantifies the level of stability for each program. I figure that the higher the level of stability, the better the chances for success, particularly early in the season. Putting a numerical grade to it makes it easier to spot stability mismatches. The point spread considered, the feeling is that oddsmakers don’t adjust enough for the instability factors.
Here are the basics for how I determine each team’s total stability score. The score is determined from five factors: head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, quarterback and overall returning starters. You will find a breakdown of all 77 FBS teams that have started playing — and their stability scores — in the chart accompanying this report. Here is how scores are determined:
Returning Head Coach Points
Yes, same head coach as 2019: 4 points
No, new head coach for 2020: 0 points
Returning Offensive Coordinator Points
Yes, same offensive coordinator as 2019: 3 points
No, new offensive coordinator for 2020: 0 points
Returning Defensive Coordinator Points
Yes, same defensive coordinator as 2019: 3 points
No, new defensive coordinator for 2020: 0 points
Returning Starting Quarterback Points
Yes, same starting quarterback as 2019: 4 points
No, new starting quarterback for 2020: 0 points
Returning Starter Points
0-7 returning offensive and defensive starters: 0 points
8-9: 1 point
10-12: 2 points
13-16: 3 points
17-19: 4 points
20-22: 5 points
Here are the top seven college football stability mismatches for Week 4.
(425) GEORGIA at (426) ARKANSAS
Stability advantage: Georgia by 10
Arkansas hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2016, and this doesn’t look like the year things will turn around. New coach Sam Pittman will guide the Razorbacks in their season opener against the team for which he coached the offensive line the last four years. Pittman gets 14 starters back and the benefit of turning at quarterback to SEC-experienced transfer Feleipe Franks from Florida. But most of the coaching staff is new to Fayetteville, and the team was just 2-10 last season, outscored by over 15 PPG. Arkansas also has lost its last 19 SEC games. Georgia is expected to be a CFP contender in coach Kirby Smart’s fifth season. The Bulldogs are inexperienced on offense and lost probable starting QB Jamie Newman, who opted out of the season. However, talent is abundant, and the defense will be dominant again after allowing just 12.6 PPG in 2019. Those backing Georgia will have to stomach laying nearly four touchdowns in an SEC contest.
(419) FLORIDA at (420) OLE MISS
Stability advantage: Florida by 9
Massive changes are going on at both SEC schools in Mississippi. Fortunately for Mike Leach at Mississippi State, his Bulldogs are matched up this week against another unstable program heading into 2020 in LSU. However, for Ole Miss and new coach Lane Kiffin, the season couldn’t start with much more difficulty, as the Rebels have the unenviable task of taking on a Florida team that is strong, experienced and hungry to put itself in the playoff conversation. Kiffin has a nice group of offensive players back, led by eight returning starters, including part-time starting QB Matt Corral. However, Kiffin’s defense is a bit worse off, and the combination of inexperience and new scheme typically doesn’t work out well. The biggest challenge for that unit will be containing Gators QB and Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Trask. This is Dan Mullen’s third season in Gainesville and his best in terms of talent and expectations.
(397) GEORGIA TECH at (398) SYRACUSE
Stability advantage: Georgia Tech by 8
Georgia Tech came through on our stability plays a couple of weeks ago in taking down Florida State. The Yellow Jackets didn’t have much of an edge in that regard last week and were throttled by UCF. However, we are back to trusting in the experience and stability edge coach Geoff Collins’ team will enjoy Saturday at Syracuse. The Jackets will be favorites of about a touchdown on the road against an Orange team making its third straight play-against appearance in this column. Syracuse was quite fortunate last week in covering the point spread against Pitt. The Orange hung around in a 21-10 loss despite gaining just 171 yards, 69 on one play. Georgia Tech was one of my candidates for biggest rebound in 2020, and this game is huge for maintaining hopes of reaching a bowl game.
(411) ALABAMA at (412) MISSOURI
Stability advantage: Alabama by 7
I’m not sure I have ever had Alabama qualify as one of these stability plays. The Tide seem to be always replacing several starters and one or both coordinators. The cupboard is never bare, and even though they are turning to a new quarterback, I’m intrigued to see them in a much more stable state than SEC foe Missouri. Coach Nick Saban’s team scores a 12 on the scale, and Missouri is just a 5 under first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz, who comes from Appalachian State. That’s kind of a rude welcome to Columbia in having to host Alabama in your first game. Drinkwitz has 11 new starters, led by TCU transfer QB Shawn Robinson. The Tide are four-TD road favorites in the SEC, and we all know what they are capable of, new QB or not.
(445) ARMY at (446) CINCINNATI
Stability advantage: Cincinnati by 8
I was quite surprised to see the line put out by oddsmakers for this Army-Cincinnati battle. I realize the Bearcats have lofty expectations, including being named a potential playoff team on ESPN’s “College GameDay” last weekend, but what we saw from Army in the first two games was head-turning. The Black Knights outscored Middle Tennessee and UL-Monroe by a 79-7 count. Clearly, Cincinnati will be a much bigger challenge. Led by QB Desmond Ritter and 14 other returning starters, this team is expected to be as good as or better than its 11-3 season of a year ago. Several pro prospects are suiting up for coach Luke Fickell, in his fourth year with the program. Cincy will need to cover 14 points to notch another win for our system.
(393) SOUTH FLORIDA at (394) FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Stability advantage: South Florida by 7
Florida Atlantic continued to avoid testing its first-ever zero stability score when last week’s game against Georgia Southern was postponed. Last spring it appeared the Owls would have a score of at least 5 in coach Willie Taggart’s first season, but starting quarterback Chris Robison was dismissed from the team, not only costing the team the returning QB points but also taking it down to seven returning starters. FAU was 11-3 last year, but the 2020 team figures to bear no resemblance. South Florida was walloped last week, but by a much better team in Notre Dame. I believe that 52-0 decision aided us this week in oddsmakers’ eyes, as the Bulls will play as underdogs against this highly unstable FAU squad.
(435) VANDERBILT at (436) TEXAS A&M
Stability advantage: Texas A&M by 7
Texas A&M, another SEC team with high aspirations, takes the field for the first time Saturday. The Aggies are picked second in the SEC West by a lot of experts, running behind only powerhouse Alabama. They are led by multiple-threat QB Kellen Mond, a popular long-shot pick to be a Heisman Trophy finalist. This is his senior season, and he has 16 other returning starters alongside him. This is easily third-year coach Jimbo Fisher’s best shot at national prominence for A&M. Vanderbilt is in a much different circumstance. The Commodores are experienced, including at quarterback, but are implementing new schemes and coming off a 3-9 season. Strangely, all 11 defensive starters are back, but is that really a positive when it was the program’s worst unit in five seasons and is being put into a new scheme?