The amount of preseason preparation that people take on can vary greatly from book to book, from bettor to bettor. Because of this, there can be huge misses by those setting the numbers. Doing homework early has become one of the most important aspects for college football bettors hoping to enjoy a successful campaign. Those bettors that scour the various betting publications, such as the VSiN College Football Betting Guide, before the season tend to be best prepared once Week 1 rolls around. Other resources I am certain to take in each spring are the Phil Steele annual pub and the work of Brad Powers, who makes regular VSiN appearances as a college football expert.
There are many reasons why things can change dramatically from one season to the next in college football, among them the four-year eligibility rules, the pressure now placed on coaching staffs at every level program, the ever-growing transfer portal, and of course, player transgressions off the field. The result is that there is always turnover from year to year, both on the field and on the sidelines. Bettors expecting to see the same thing they watched from a team at the end of the prior season can often be startled by the change.
Being a numbers guy and always looking for quantitative advantages in betting, I like to conduct an exercise that quantifies the level of stability for each program. I figure that the higher level of stability, the better the chances for success for any team, particularly early in the season. Naturally, putting a numerical grade to it makes it easier to spot this stability. Again, the point spread considered, the feeling is that oddsmakers don’t adjust enough for the “instability.”
Over the last 11 years or so, I have implemented an early season strategy that employs backing the teams with the greatest stability ratings in matchups against those in the most unstable situations. I can tell you that in those 11 years, I have never experienced a losing record by playing the games on the lists for the four weeks of the season. The degree of success has varied during that span, but in all 11 years, I have closed with a profit, including last year, when the plays I shared went 27-20 ATS (57.4%). That is a typical year for this system and had a bettor been playing $100 wagers on each game, they would have profited $480. Of course, these numbers can be improved by factoring in other successful handicapping strategies or by more closely examining the individual factors of instability, but as a stand-alone strategy, the success level is tough to beat.
Just below, I’ve put together a chart of the College Football Stability Scores for 2023. When the season arrives, I will put together lists in each of the first four weeks detailing the top mismatches. I have found that a Stability Mismatch score of 8 is the minimum on which I will consider a play for this thought process. (UCF hosting Kent State on Thursday, August 31, shows the first playable game with a difference of 14)
Here are the basics for determining each team’s Total Stability Score. Essentially, the score is determined from five different stabilizing factors, Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, Quarterback, and Overall Returning Starters. Here is how the scores are determined:
Returning Head Coach Points
Yes, same Head Coach as 2022: 4 points
No, new Head Coach for 2023: 0 points
Returning Offensive Coordinator Points
Yes, same Offensive Coordinator as 2022: 3 points
No, new Offensive Coordinator for 2023: 0 points
Returning Defensive Coordinator Points
Yes, same Defensive Coordinator as 2022: 3 points
No, new Defensive Coordinator for 2023: 0 points
Returning Starting Quarterback Points
Yes, same Starting Quarterback as 2022: 4 points
No, new Starting Quarterback for 2023: 0 points
Very important…I consider a transfer quarterback expected to start for his team as a new quarterback, regardless of the starting experience level he brings to the table. For 2023, numerous recognizable QBs have found new starting homes nationwide. For instance, Sam Hartman at Notre Dame boasts a wealth of college football experience with Wake Forest. While he is not your typical first-year quarterback for the Irish, he is new to that program and its system.
Total Number of Returning Starters Points
0-7 returning offensive & defensive starters: 0 points
8-9: 1 point
10-12: 2 points
13-16: 3 points
17-19: 4 points
20-22: 5 points
SEE THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL STABILITY SCORE FOR EACH TEAM HERE
As you analyze the chart of the 133 FBS teams, you’ll see that there are again teams this season in both very stable and very unsettling situations, more of a return to normal with the super senior rule that was offered before 2021 winding down. Many teams over the last couple of years brought back fifth-year seniors. We’re starting to see less of it. Looking back at the last four years, prior to the 2020 season, there were a total of 19 teams that were returning 17 starters or more. For 2021, there were 69 such teams, more than half of the total FBS programs! Last year there were just 15, and for 2023 there are 16.
Furthermore, in 2021, 89 teams brought back their starting quarterbacks, along with eight entire starting offensive units and nine full defenses. For 2022, those numbers dropped to 78 QBs, zero full offenses, and just one intact defense. In 2023, there are 72 returning starting QBs, and only one intact unit of any kind, that being Texas Tech’s offense. That said, there are also 23 new head coaches and 113 coordinator changes, resulting in 14 teams with Stability Scores of 3 or less, the same amount as last year and nine more than in 2021. Again, this is all returning to normalcy after the crazy 2021 season.
Let’s dig deeper into the teams on both ends of the stability scale.
Highly Stable Teams with scores of 18 or higher
In 2019, there were seven teams with scores of 18 or higher, and in 2020, there were only three. For 2021, the number ballooned to 30 teams that met that benchmark for stability! Keep in mind, the maximum score is 19. Last year, eight teams reached the 18-point benchmark. For 2023, there are six. These programs are in good shape for the coming season, at least early.
CONNECTICUT (Independent) – 18
Jim Mora’s Connecticut team was one of the biggest surprises in college football last season in finishing 6-7 and playing in a bowl game for the first time in seven years. There were little to no expectations of the team doing well, but Mora had some sort of magic recipe. With 17 starters back from that team for ’23, you’d have to think the Huskies have a good shot at keeping the momentum going. There are only a few games in which it would appear that UConn won’t be able to compete for a win. That said, they did win last year as 23+ point underdogs to Fresno State. For a program that won just four games from 2018-21, it’s fun to see what’s transpiring at Connecticut.
FLORIDA STATE (ACC) - 18
If head coach Mike Norvell has really brought Florida State back into the country’s elite ranks, this will be the year his team shows it. They are loaded everywhere, particularly at QB, where Jordan Travis returns for his senior season along with 16 other starters from a team that went 10-3 and beat Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl game. Travis accounted for over 30 TDs last season and is in the mix of Heisman Trophy favorites. The defense allowed just 20.6 points per game as well, the lowest average since the program’s national championship season in 2013. The Seminoles are talented, hungry, and stable heading into 2023.
KANSAS (Big 12) – 18
Another team that made a quantum leap last season and is looking to build upon the momentum in 2023 is Kansas, and like UConn, the Jayhawks are in a very stable position to be able to do so. Back for this fall are 17 total returning starters from the 6-7 team of a year ago, led by QB Jalon Daniels, who, after a fast start, was lost to injury. He missed five starts, and the offense definitely curtailed without him, dropping by about 10 points per game in his absence. If you recall the 55-53 bowl game loss to Arkansas, Daniels and the Jayhawks put on an absolute show in that game. Lance Leipold has this program trending upward, and this should be his best group yet.
TEXAS TECH (Big 12) – 18
Another Big 12 team that looks to be in solid shape to take a step forward this season is Texas Tech, who begins its second season under head coach Joey McGuire. The Red Raiders were 8-5 in McGuire’s inaugural season, including an impressive 43-25 upset of Ole Miss in the Texas Bowl. QB Tyler Shough is back for his senior season after missing about half of last year with injury woes. He leads the only fully intact offensive unit back for ’23 across the country. There are also six defensive starters back, and that group held teams to fewer than 30 points per game for the first time since ’09. The schedule is very manageable as well, and if things come together as they should with such a stable situation, the Red Raiders could surprise a few folks this fall.
USC (Pac-12) – 18
Coming off a double-digit win season for the first time in five years and boasting perhaps the nation’s top player in QB Caleb Williams, expectations couldn’t be any higher in L.A. for USC and second-year head coach Lincoln Riley. While the bewildering loss to Tulane in this past season’s Cotton Bowl left a stain on an otherwise incredible resurgent season for the Trojans, the aspirations for 2023 are even loftier. There are 17 starters back in all, and Riley has returned the program to the elite recruiting standards set in the Pete Carroll days. The Pac-12 is looking pretty strong for 2023, but USC is the team to beat and should be on a 6-0 roll when it arrives in South Bend in mid-October for a clash with Notre Dame. Utah comes right after.
SOUTH ALABAMA (Sun Belt) – 18
There wasn’t a lot of reason at this point last year to think that South Alabama was heading for its first winning season since 2011, much less winning 10 games. That is exactly what happened, as Kane Wommack’s second Jaguars team put it together for a 10-2 regular season before falling to Western Kentucky in the New Orleans Bowl. Now, for ’23, Wommack has even more reason for optimism as all but four starters are back from that benchmark-setting USA team. The offensive stars are QB Carter Bradley and RB La’Damian Webb while the staunch defensive unit that allowed just 21.3 points per game brings back nine starters. The schedule starts fast with trips to Tulane and Oklahoma State in the first three weeks, but this team is in solid shape and should be competitive in those contests, especially where the point spread is concerned.
Unstable Teams with scores of 2 or lower
From 2019-21, there were a total of 16 teams going into the fall with Stability Scores of 3 or lower. The combined record of those teams wound up being 76-92 ATS, good for just 45.2%. However, we have reached a new level of instability thanks to the significant uptick in the transfer portal and coaches and coordinators moving from job to job. Last year there were 14 teams alone that scored 3 or less on this stability scale and eight with scores of two or less. This included a first-ever score of zero for Nevada, who wound up going 2-10 SU and 4-8 ATS. For 2023, there are a lofty total of 11 teams that meet the criteria of scoring 2 or less, including three teams with imperfect scores of 0. Let’s look at those programs:
ARIZONA STATE (Pac-12) – 2
Arizona State was a train wreck last season, and it was obvious from the outside that head coach Herm Edwards had lost control. In for 2023 is new head coach Kenny Dillingham, who inherits a team that was 3-9 and with just half of its starters back. The new QB will be transfer Drew Pyne, who comes over from Notre Dame. The systems will be new, the Pac-12 is pretty loaded for 2023, meaning this could be a long first season for Dillingham in Tempe.
CHARLOTTE (American) – 2
Expectations were reasonably high for Charlotte last year at this time, and why not? The 49ers had some good experience and were led by a fifth-year QB in Chris Reynolds, who has since moved on to the NFL. It turned out to be a disappointing 3-9 season, however, and with head coach Will Healy having been fired, the reins are now turned over to Biff Poggi, who gets his first head coaching chance. Poggi’s team has fewer than half of its starters back and figures to be turning to Bethune-Cookman transfer Jalon Jones at quarterback to run the new system. Add in a conference change to the American, and it’s easy to understand how this mass instability might impact Charlotte this fall.
CINCINNATI (Big 12) – 1
Two years ago, Cincinnati became the first Group of 5 conference team to reach the CFP. Now, the Bearcats are stepping up into the big time, joining the ranks of the Power 5 through the Big 12 Conference. They couldn’t have picked a worse time to do it, as they just lost head coach Luke Fickell and most of his staff to Wisconsin. Not only that but the program was also hit hard by transfers once the Fickell move was announced. In all, just eight starters are back, only two from the offense. The pain should be lessened somewhat by the transfer of new QB Emory Jones from ASU. However, this is a quantum leap in schedule strength for a team that relied on its togetherness to surprise bigger programs in recent years. With a Stability Score of just 1, I’d stay away from, or better yet, fade this team in its early season FBS tilts.
COLORADO (Pac-12) – 1
Sometimes instability in a season can prove to be a great reason for optimism. Such is the case at Colorado this year, where Deion Sanders takes over as head coach for a program that has been in a rut, having played in bowl games just twice in the last 15 seasons. The early returns are fantastic, however, as Sanders has stepped up the recruiting, and the fans have embraced the change and proved it by setting a Spring Game attendance record. However, instability is exactly that, and there are very few teams that are going to be transitioning as drastically as the Buffaloes are in 2023. Their first task is a contest at defending national runner-up TCU, and the schedule doesn’t get very easy at any point. It will be an entertaining situation to watch this season, but I wouldn’t back the Buffaloes with your money, especially early.
KENT STATE (MAC) – 0
Nevada became the first team to post a zero stability score on my scale last year, and for 2023, three teams equal that dubious honor. The first is Kent State, who brings back the fewest starters in the country with just four, including none from the offense. That might not be as disastrous of a situation as you might think. With new systems being put in place by first-time head coach Kenni Burns, who comes over from Minnesota, it might make the installation process a little easier. That said, the talent level at KSU is not what it was just two years ago, and it will take some time for this very unstable situation to show any promise.
LOUISVILLE (ACC) – 2
I mentioned the reason for optimism at Colorado despite a high level of instability. Things could be even more promising at Louisville, where one of the all-time great QBs in program history returns to take over as head coach. Fans are definitely excited about the prospects of Jeff Brohm returning to the Cardinals’ program, as not only does he bring some nostalgia points with him, but he also sports a pretty strong recent history of explosive offenses while coaching at Purdue. Furthermore, he brings an experienced QB with him in Jack Plummer, who should be able to seamlessly transfer the work he put in for Brohm’s Boilermakers’ offense to here. The Cardinals were 8-5 last season and put up a good performance in a 24-7 Fenway Bowl win over Cincy. I’ll call for cautious optimism in this situation, particularly considering the point spread in the first three FBS games.
PURDUE (Big 12) – 2
Louisville’s gain is Purdue’s loss, as Jeff Brohm’s departure leaves a void for a program coming off a season that brought its first trip to a Big Ten title game. Ryan Walters takes over as the new head coach and will be leading a team with just half of its starters back for ’23. Several prognosticators have pegged the Boilermakers for last in the West Division in the conference so it’s quite possible we could be looking at a first to worst scenario in this first transitional campaign. That’s the nature of instability, however.
STANFORD (Pac-12) – 0
The second team with an imperfect score of zero on my Stability Scale is Stanford. Remember that Nevada was just 2-10 SU and 4-8 ATS with this challenge facing it a year ago. The Cardinal could have an even bigger challenge than the Wolf Pack did last year, though, as they are playing in what shapes up to be a very strong Pac-12 for 2023. The schedule is treacherous, to put it mildly, for new head coach Troy Taylor, and he’ll have only six total starters back, three on each side of the ball. Making it more difficult, Taylor takes over for David Shaw, who set new standards for success at the school in his 12 years but unexpectedly flamed out late.
TEXAS STATE (Sun Belt) – 2
There are doormats every year in the FBS on which teams get healthy, and oddsmakers can’t seem to be able to set lines high enough for them. One of those teams in 2023 might just be Texas State. GJ Kinne takes over as head coach and will bring back 11 starters from the 4-8 team of a year ago. I went over it last week, and the recruiting efforts of recent years provide little reason for optimism in 2023 for Kinne and his new staff. That said, the one shining light might be the late addition of transfer QB TJ Finley from Auburn. Still, TSU is a highly unstable situation heading into fall practice, and the first two games on the schedule (at Baylor, at UTSA) wreak of blowout.
TULSA (American) – 1
Last year, Tulsa’s drop in the AAC was unexpected, especially with QB Davis Brin and an otherwise experienced and winning core group back. A couple of upset losses in their first six games and the Golden Hurricane ended up a disappointing 5-7 and left out of the bowl picture. The results cost head coach Philip Montgomery his job, as he is now replaced by Kevin Wilson, who comes over after serving as offensive coordinator at power Ohio State. That in itself is reason for optimism, but mind you, it figures to be down the road. This year’s Tulsa team boasts little experience (nine returning starters) and faces a schedule that finds at Washington and hosting Oklahoma in games 2 and 3. The lines for those contests will have to be massive for me to give any consideration whatsoever, as they will both be qualified as Stability Mismatch System plays for both heavy favorites.
UAB (American) – 0
The third and final zero team for the 2023 season in terms of Stability Scores is UAB, under the leadership of first-time Head Coach Trent Dilfer, who is perhaps known better for either his ESPN analytical career or for having shockingly won a Super Bowl as a starting quarterback. Dilfer’s first job will be a tough one, as UAB is switching conferences to the AAC (from C-USA) and has only seven starters back. This program has been riding high under Bill Clark and Bryant Vincent, but this hire is a massive shock to the system. The Blazers qualified for a bowl game every year since returning to FBS football in 2017 after a two-year hiatus. That was a remarkable feat. It’s a good bet that streak ends in 2023.