College Football Stability Scores for Week 1

August 28, 2023 11:55 AM

College Football Stability Scores for Week 1

Hopefully, you’re already familiar with the methodology I’ve used for the last 12 years or so regarding College Football Stability Scores heading into the start of each season. I know Bill Adee has been effusive in sharing its details in the VSiN Newsletter for the last few years around this time. If you’re not familiar, in a nutshell, what these scores are is a quantitative way to determine each team’s level of stability as compared to how they left us in the prior season. It is one of the foremost strategies I employ every year to find value early. The thought behind it is that teams that are in more stable year-to-year situations are better bets early while those that have undergone a lot of change in the offseason should be faded.

In my opinion, the logic is fundamentally sound. Returning fewer starters, starting over at quarterback, and welcoming in new head coaches or coordinators are always hurdles to get over for teams. Eventually, the teams may overcome these hurdles, but the general thought is that it doesn’t happen early, and oddsmakers don’t account for these factors enough in building their lines. The recent surge of the transfer portal has only added to the potential instability. For the record, I consider a transfer quarterback who is 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 again found new starting homes across the country at some of the nation’s foremost programs nonetheless.

Being an analytics 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 12 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 12 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 12 years, I have closed with a profit. 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. Note that these first four weeks include Weeks 0, 1, 2, and 3. Unfortunately, there were no qualifying plays last Saturday.

Below, I’ve compiled a chart of the College Football Stability Scores for 2023. Here are the basics for how I determine each team’s Total Stability Score. In essence, 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

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


As you analyze the chart of the 133 FBS teams, you’ll see that there are teams in both very stable and very unsettling situations this season.

In the VSiN College Football Betting Guide article I put together detailing the Stability Score system I utilize, I outlined the teams in the most and least stable situations for the 2023 season. Refer back to that for more details on the varying levels of stability across the country. Now that the first games have arrived, I will be putting together lists detailing the top mismatches for the next three weeks. I have found that a Stability Mismatch score of 8 is the minimum on which I will consider a play for this thought process. We are blessed to start the season strong with 15 qualifying plays alone this week.

Recognize that the level of stability mismatch has nothing to do with the point spread or any type of projected score. It is simply a statement of how varyingly different the teams are in terms of stability heading into the season. Note that I also don’t feel any more strongly about the mismatch equaling 17 than I do those equaling 8. I have never found any correlation showing the higher the mismatch number, the more successful.

Here are the details of the 15 qualifying Stability Mismatch plays for Week 1:

Thursday, August 31, 2023

(141) KENT ST at (142) UCF (-35.5)

Stability Advantage: UCF by 14

It wasn’t until last year that I ever recorded a stability score of ZERO for any college football team, but now Kent State meets that dubious distinction for ’23. The Golden Flashes don’t have a single offensive starter back this season, and there are only four on the other side of the ball for new head coach Kenni Burns and his staff. At the same time, UCF moves to the Big 12 this year and is in a nice stable position to perhaps make some noise. Head coach Gus Malzahn has 15 starters back, led by QB John Rhys Plumlee. This is a big number to lay, but the level of stability mismatch suggests it should be even bigger.

(143) NC STATE at (144) CONNECTICUT (+15) 

Stability Advantage: CONNECTICUT by 9

Connecticut was one of the nation’s biggest surprises last season under first-year head coach Jim Mora, Jr., improving from 1-11 to 6-7 in just 12 months. Now, for an encore, Mora brings back a very experienced roster, including 17 returning starters. His team gets an ideal chance to make an early name for itself when it welcomes NC State to town for the season opener. The Wolfpack are off an 8-5 season but must replace multi-year starter Devin Leary at quarterback along with about 10 other first-unit guys. Virginia transfer Brennan Armstrong figures to be atop the QB depth chart, but that doesn’t make head coach Dave Doeren’s team any more stable according to my methodology.

(145) NEBRASKA at (146) MINNESOTA (-7)

Stability Advantage: MINNESOTA by 14

Minnesota brings back a good supply of talent for 2023 for head coach PJ Fleck and welcomes in a very unstable conference opponent for a season-opening matchup. The Golden Gophers are off a 9-4 season, bring back 13 starters, and have their sight set on a Big Ten West Division title. The Cornhuskers begin a new era under head coach Matt Rhule, and while I am optimistic about what this may mean for Nebraska football going forward, the simple fact is that a lot will be different for this program in the first month of the season. Jeff Sims, the transfer QB from Georgia Tech, will run the new system under offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield. This is a tough opener for a transitioning team on the road against a conference foe in a tough environment.

Friday, September 1, 2023

(155) STANFORD at (156) HAWAII (+7)

Stability Advantage: HAWAII by 17

Hawaii will already have the luxury of having a game under its belt when it hosts Stanford on Friday evening. The Warriors opened their season at Vanderbilt in a very competitive loss so they will have a game’s worth of experience to their advantage and a massive stability edge. Stanford is one of the three teams beginning 2023 with a ZERO stability score. While things aren’t supposed to be a whole lot better for head coach Timmy Chang’s second-year team at his alma mater, at least he has a season’s worth of his systems in place as well as 14 returning starters. For the Cardinal, there are just six total starters back for first-time head coach Troy Taylor, and while this is a hire that most experts are smiling upon long term, the immediate future is bleak for a program that hasn’t won more than four games in a season since 2018.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

(157) TEXAS ST UNIV at (158) BAYLOR (-26)

Stability Advantage: BAYLOR by 11

A pair of tough road games to open the season await new head coach GJ Kinne at Texas State, and while he has brought in some Power Five talent to the transfer portal, his team’s general instability figures to rear its ugly head in the games at Baylor and UTSA. The Bears are a fairly experienced club, bringing back 13 starters, including QB Blake Shapen, from their 6-7 team of 2022. McLane Stadium is a tough place to play in general, as Baylor hasn’t lost a home non-conference game since 2017. For an unstable club, the task is even tougher.

(163) ARKANSAS ST at (164) OKLAHOMA (-33.5)

Stability Advantage: OKLAHOMA by 8

Oklahoma was on the opposite end of the stability spectrum last season, as head coach Brent Venables and a new coaching staff were welcomed in, as was transfer QB Dillon Gabriel from UCF. I projected OU to struggle for that exact reason, and it did, 6-7. For 2023, in the second year of the new-look Sooners, the prospects look a lot brighter, and this powerhouse program should be in the running for at least the Big 12 title. Their first opponent is an Arkansas State club that was just 3-9 last season for head coach Butch Jones and brings back just half of its starters. Quarterback James Blackman is not one of them either, and he was a big reason the Red Wolves put up 25 PPG. This new-look offense will have a heck of a time keeping up with Oklahoma here.


Stability Advantage: NORTHERN ILLINOIS by 10

On the surface, most bettors would feel a lot of apprehension about betting a MAC team in a season-opening road game at an ACC foe. Well understood. However, if you look under the hood at this particular matchup, it looks a little more favorable for the little guy. NIU was just 3-9 last season but suffered through a number of key injuries. The Huskies were much better with QB Rocky Lombardi under center. He is back for 2023 along with 14 other starters. BC shared that same 3-9 record and scored just 17.8 PPG last season. The Golden Eagles are also replacing starting QB Phil Jurkovec, who has moved on to Pitt.

(175) OLD DOMINION at (176) VIRGINIA TECH (-14)

Stability Advantage: VIRGINIA TECH by 10

The 2019 season was the last one in which Virginia Tech finished with a winning record. Second-year head coach Brent Pry hopes that this is the year it turns around for the Hokies. If so, they need to get out to a big performance in this season opener versus Old Dominion and build some momentum. Pry has named returning starter QB Grant Wells as this season’s #1, but Wells and 16 other returning offensive starters need to improve on a 19.3 PPG performance in 2022. Old Dominion was just 3-9 last season despite a strong performance from QB Hayden Wolff. Unfortunately, Wolff left via the transfer portal, and only seven total starters are back for this fall. Could be a rough opening part of the season for fourth-year head coach Ricky Rahne.

(183) UTAH ST at (184) IOWA (-23.5)

Stability Advantage: IOWA by 8

I don’t disagree with you if you look at this matchup between Utah State and Iowa and wonder how the Hawkeyes can put up enough points to cover a 23.5-point chalk line. Before you get too cute about it though, recall that Iowa shut out Nevada at home last season, 27-0, and allowed a total of 13 points in four conference games. The better question you might want to ask yourself is how many points this Aggies team actually expects to get in Iowa City. They averaged just 22 PPG against far weaker defenses last year and only have four starters back on that side of the ball this fall.

(185) TOLEDO (+9) at (186) ILLINOIS

Stability Advantage: TOLEDO by 8

Illinois, coming off its best football season since 2007, faces a difficult and dangerous task out of the gate this season. Not only is Illinois having to replace about 10 starters from last year’s 8-5 team, but they will also be replacing their defensive coordinator after that unit allowed a paltry 12.8 PPG. It won’t be easy to control a Toledo offense that scored 31 PPG and returns only two starters. Quarterback DeQuan Finn leads that group and accounted for 32 TDs last year alone. Head coach Jason Candle’s team is the favorite in the MAC this year and would love nothing more than to start the season by upsetting a Big Ten team on the road.

(187) COLORADO at (188) TCU (-20.5)

Stability Advantage: TCU by 11

The magnitude of the transition that has occurred since the end of last season for Colorado football is well-documented, and while Buffaloes fans are certainly excited for the future about what new head coach Deion Sanders can bring, there’s still the simple fact that this team has a stability score of 1 going into its tough season opener at TCU. The Horned Frogs are the defending national runners-up, although the expectations are tempered this year with 12 starters gone from that team, including stud QB Max Duggan. In what figures to be one of the more intriguing games of Week 1, head coach Sonny Dykes’ relatively inexperienced team will still enjoy a huge stability edge over Coach Prime’s squad.

(203) MASSACHUSETTS (+39.5) at (204) AUBURN

Stability Advantage: MASSACHUSETTS by 9

A lot has gone wrong at Auburn since their last truly successful football season back in 2019. However, the Tigers could be ready to turn the corner under new Head Coach Hugh Freeze, who comes over from Liberty. He has named Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne as his starting quarterback, and 16 other starters return from the 5-7 team of a year ago. Still, with a full new coaching staff and new QB, this team is by definition unstable. Now granted, they are far more talented than UMass, and the huge line reflects it, but are they going to be sharp enough to get the rout victory? The Minutemen have 14 starters back for second-year head coach Don Brown.

(205) NEW MEXICO at (206) TEXAS A&M (-38)

Stability Advantage: TEXAS A&M by 11

It’s been said that head coach Jimbo Fisher is on the hot seat at Texas A&M, and to get off of it, his Aggies are going to have to enjoy a big year in 2023. The talent, coaching staff, and returning experience are in place to do just that. They need to get off to a big start versus New Mexico, and according to the odds (-38), they are expected to. The Lobos have just nine starters back for fourth-year head coach Danny Gonzales, including only two on defense, which was their far better unit last season. UAB transfer QB Dylan Hopkins steps in as the new starter, but he is also new to UNM.

(207) SOUTH FLORIDA at (208) WESTERN KENTUCKY (-13.5) 

Stability Advantage: WESTERN KENTUCKY by 9

After going just 4-29 in the three years under prior head coach Jeff Scott, USF desperately needed a reboot. It gets that change this season under new head coach Alex Golesh. And while change can sometimes be good, instability at the beginning of a college football season rarely is, as I have shared profusely over the last 12 years. Golesh’s Bulls open the season with a fairly tough task at Western Kentucky, a team that can light up the scoreboard. This Hilltoppers put up 36.4 PPG a year ago for head coach Tyson Helton and return QB Austin Reed and six other starters. WKU may be laying close to two TDs in this one, but it’s a good bet they will score their fair share of points.

(213) CALIFORNIA (-7.5) at (214) NORTH TEXAS

Stability Advantage: CALIFORNIA by 8

California and North Texas share at least one thing in common as they begin the season. They will both be working with new quarterbacks. Other than that, very little else is similar. Justin Wilcox has been in charge for seven years for Cal. He brings back 17 starters from his 4-8 team of a year ago. North Texas has a brand-new coaching staff headed by Eric Morris, who gets his first FBS shot after coaching Incarnate Word from 2018-2021. His biggest job will be replacing QB Austin Aune, who is now with the Falcons in the NFL. Be careful with what looks like a trap line (Cal -7.5), as the Golden Bears are the bigger conference team and the more stable.

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