College football stability mismatches for Week 1

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Since the inception of VSiN’s Point Spread Weekly in 2017, each fall I have presented my College Football Stability methodology to readers. I steadfastly believe in the strategy and the principles it’s founded on. To me, this is a winning strategy, and the more logic like this that you come to rely on in your own handicapping, the more successful you will be. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what makes a game a Stability Mismatch.

Being a numbers guy, I like to quantify the level of stability for each program. I figure the higher level of stability, the better the chances of success for any team, particularly early in the season. Naturally, putting a numerical grade to it makes it easier to spot stability mismatches. Now, the point spread considered, the feeling is that oddsmakers don’t adjust enough for the instability factors.

Over the last decade-plus, I have implemented an early-season strategy that employs backing the teams with the greatest stability ratings and fading those in the most unstable situations. In these 11 years, I have never experienced a losing record by playing the games on the lists for the first four weeks of the season. It’s never been wildly successful, but typically I’ll win about 60% of the games I play on this methodology each season. Of course, these numbers can be improved by factoring in other successful handicapping strategies as well, but as a stand-alone strategy, the success level is tough to beat.

Just below is my list of the top college football Stability Mismatches for Week 1. A Stability Mismatch score of 8 is the minimum on which I will consider a play for this thought process. For the rest of the first month of the season, I will continue to offer the weekly mismatches for you to use. I typically believe that after two to three games for each team, oddsmakers are able to catch up. However, you should feel comfortable employing this strategy in the first few weeks while the dust settles.

Before showing the mismatch games, here are the basics for how we determine each team’s Total Stability Score. The score is determined by five stabilizing factors: Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, Quarterback and Overall Returning Starters. You will find a breakdown of all 131 FBS teams that are playing this fall, and their Stability Scores here, but in short, here is how the scores are determined:

Returning Head Coach Points

Yes, same Head Coach as 2021: 4 points

No, new Head Coach for 2022: 0 points

Returning Offensive Coordinator Points

Yes, same Offensive Coordinator as 2021: 3 points

No, new Offensive Coordinator for 2022: 0 points

Returning Defensive Coordinator Points

Yes, same Defensive Coordinator as 2021: 3 points

No, new Defensive Coordinator for 2022: 0 points

Returning Starting Quarterback Points

Yes, same Starting Quarterback as 2021: 4 points

No, new Starting Quarterback for 2022: 0 points

Returning Starter 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

As you analyze the chart of the 131 FBS teams, you’ll see that there are teams on opposite ends of the stability spectrum. There are far more unstable situations this season because of the all the super seniors lost to graduation this spring as well as the growth of the transfer portal.

What we are really interested in is finding spots where this information is most useful, and looking for mismatches in stability is a great way to do it. We do this by simply comparing the Stability Scores of the two teams in a given matchup and calculating the difference. The larger the number, the bigger the supposed mismatch. Now, this doesn’t mean the team with the higher Stability Score is the better team, just that it is more stable. We are then making the assumption that oddsmakers have not accounted for this factor enough when setting their lines.

I look for a difference of 8 between two teams for the system to produce a play. With all of the instability around the country this season, there are 15 Week 1 plays. Last year, there were nine (and we went 6-3 ATS). Here is a closer look at each of those 15 qualifying games.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 1

NEW MEXICO STATE at MINNESOTA (-36.5)

Stability Advantage: MINNESOTA by 13

In the last two full seasons under coach P.J. Fleck, Minnesota has gone 20-6 with two bowl victories to boot. The 2022 team has high expectations as well, with 12 starters returning from last fall’s 9-4 team. One of those key returnees is QB Tanner Morgan, who has seemingly been a Golden Gopher forever. He begins this season, his last at Minnesota, with 39 career starts under his belt. In the Gophers’ opener, his team will be a heavy favorite over a New Mexico State team that is essentially starting over under Jerry Kill, who, coincidentally, is best known for his years at Minnesota. The Aggies, who were 2-10 last year, bring back 13 starters and usher in new systems on both sides of the ball. They already dropped a game last week, 23-12 against a highly unstable Nevada program. With a line of 36.5, keep up with any movements, as favorites of 36.5 points or more in Weeks 0 and 1 have won nine in a row, both SU and ATS.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 2

VIRGINIA TECH (-8.5) at OLD DOMINION (+ 8.5)

Stability Advantage: OLD DOMINION by 13

The last time Virginia Tech visited Old Dominion was in 2018, and the Monarchs, 28.5-point dogs, pulled a massive upset, beating the Hokies 49-35. The following season, Virginia Tech got revenge for the loss, but only by 14 at home, on the exact same point spread. Could this just be a bad matchup for Hokies? I think we’ll see on Friday, as not only do the ACC reps have that sketchy recent history to overcome, they also are on the short end of the stability stick. They start fresh under coach Brent Pry, the former defensive coordinator at Penn State. Only half of the starters are back from last year’s 6-7 team, a group that last left the field after a 54-10 loss to Maryland in the Pinstripe Bowl. Old Dominion also played in a bowl game and had that same 6-7 record in 2021. The Monarchs change conferences this year to the Sun Belt but should be in good shape to make a nice splash, with 17 starters and a nearly full coaching staff back in place.

TCU at COLORADO (+ 11)

Stability Advantage: COLORADO by 9

If you listen to most experts, you wouldn’t think the host Buffaloes would hold the stability mismatch in this one. They aren’t thought of very highly in most preseason Pac-12 polls despite second-year coach Karl Dorrell getting 12 starters back, including QB Brendon Lewis, who showed promise a year ago as a freshman. Colorado went just 4-8 last year but has shown spunk as a home dog in recent years, going 7-2 ATS in that role since 2019. For TCU, cautious optimism would be the best way to describe the feeling of Horned Frogs fans in 2022. They start anew under coach Sonny Dykes after the 20-year term of Gary Patterson came to a less-than-desirable end. The program seemed to get away from Patterson the last few years. The roster is in good shape with 18 starters returning, but they will be implementing new systems for this season and could struggle to cover the 10.5 in a relatively challenging environment in Boulder.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 3

UTAH (-2.5) at FLORIDA

Stability Advantage: UTAH by 11

Speaking of tough environments, Utah could have its hands full on Saturday when it visits unfamiliar territory in Gainesville. The Utes are playing to lofty expectations in 2022, and with 14 starters back from coach Kyle Whittingham’s conference title team of a year ago, they are considered CFP contenders this fall. Quarterback Cameron Rising is the undisputed leader. Florida on the other hand, is one of the bigger question marks of 2022, having moved on from a rocky tenure of coach Dan Mullen, who spent the last four years with the Gators. They were just 6-7 last season and scored just 17.6 PPG in their final five FBS games. There are 13 starters back for new head coach Billy Napier, who left Louisiana for this gig. Interestingly, Florida played three games as a home dog in the Mullen years, going 3-0 ATS. Expectations for Utah will skyrocket if it survives this test.

NOTRE DAME at OHIO STATE (-17.5)

Stability Advantage: OHIO STATE by 8

For as good as a Notre Dame-Ohio State looks on paper and on the television promos, this might be a mismatch. As well as new Irish head coach Marcus Freeman recruited this spring, those results don’t figure to start having an impact for another year or two. He brings back 15 starters from last year’s 11-2 team but will be working in a new quarterback. That is a tough ask at the Horseshoe, particularly with the expectations accompanying this year’s Buckeyes squad. After putting up 45.7 PPG last year and putting on an offensive show in the Rose Bowl, QB CJ Stroud and company are consensus favorites in the Big Ten and a popular bet as a national title contender. Coach Ryan Day is back for his fifth year and has coordinator Kevin Wilson still leading his offense. The Buckeyes will score and score big every week. Can Notre Dame muster enough to keep it close?

BUFFALO at MARYLAND (-23.5)

Stability Advantage: MARYLAND by 9

When we last saw Maryland, it was putting a hurtin’ on Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl. That effort was seen as a big catapult into the 2022 season, with QB Taulia Tagovailoa leading 16 starters back for fourth-year head coach Mike Locksley. This program has recruited well in recent years and could be ready to take the next step. Buffalo meanwhile, endured a tough first season under Maurice Linguist in 2021, going 4-8 after three huge seasons for Lance Leipold. There are just nine starters back for the Bulls, including a brand-new quarterback. This is a tough first test for the young Buffalo team, and with a significant stability mismatch in place, this could be an overlooked blowout.

COLORADO STATE at MICHIGAN (-27.5)

Stability Advantage: MICHIGAN by 9

Michigan shocked the college football world last year by taking down Ohio State and reaching the College Football Playoff. Much of the offense returns, giving Jim Harbaugh what might be the best unit he’s had on that side of the ball in Ann Arbor. The biggest questions for the Wolverines will be on defense, where they’ll need to replace a few stars who are now in the NFL. It shouldn’t be a problem against a Colorado State team that has just six offensive starters back and will be working in a new pistol system under coach Jay Norvell, formerly of Nevada. His Rams are in one of the most unstable situations in all of college football and face difficult road trips in two of their first three games coming off a 3-9 season.

SMU at NORTH TEXAS (+ 10)

Stability Advantage: NORTH TEXAS by 10

SMU has a lot to be excited about in 2022, with QB Tanner Mordecai and 12 other starters back from an 8-4 team of a year ago, one that scored 38.4 PPG. However, the Mustangs welcome a new coach in Rhett Lashlee, and although he used to be an offensive coordinator here a few years ago, it still represents a change. They’ll need to be careful in what could be a tough opener at North Texas, a team coming off a 6-7 season in which it earned a bowl bid. The Mean Green have 13 starters back for seventh-year coach Seth Littrell, including QB Austin Aune, formerly with Arkansas in the SEC. UNT won its last five regular-season games of 2021 to become bowl eligible and carried that momentum into the season opener with a 31-13 win at UTEP.

RICE (+ 34) at USC

Stability Advantage: RICE by 15

There is no team in the country that brings more intrigue than USC, as the Lincoln Riley era begins. Not only does Riley bring a rich recent history at Oklahoma with him to Los Angeles, but also his quarterback as highly rated Caleb Williams used the transfer portal to end up a Trojan. USC has had back-to-back outstanding recruiting classes, so many experts believe last year’s 4-8 season will be forgotten quickly and that this team is ready to contend for a Pac-12 title. It wouldn’t be hard to get overzealous about their chances of routing Rice in the opener, but be mindful that unstable versus stable in the first four weeks of the season is never a good wager, and having to cover 34 points makes it all the more difficult for USC. Rice has a 15-point stability edge here based on the concept that coach Mike Bloomberg is back with his assistants in place and welcoming back 14 starters from a 4-8 team. Two teams with 4-8 marks, one is stable the other isn’t. Strange that the unstable one is a near-five-touchdown favorite. You don’t see this situation very often.

BOWLING GREEN (+ 24) at UCLA

Stability Advantage: BOWLING GREEN by 9

Bowling Green is one of a handful of teams with 18 stability points, just one shy of a perfect score. The Falcons seem to be in growth mode under fourth-year coach Scot Loeffler, having won four games in a season last year for the first time since 2016. He has 18 starters back, including senior QB Matt McDonald, who led a huge 10 PPG improvement for the offense from 2020 to 2021. UCLA has a ton of question marks on defense as only two starters are back from last year’s unit that allowed 26.8 PPG, and they will be playing for a new coordinator in Bill McGovern, who was with the Chicago Bears last winter. The offense should be in fine shape with QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson leading the way, but that unit might have to score a ton of points to win and cover games, especially with big numbers like this game.

TEXAS STATE (+ 3.5) at NEVADA

Stability Advantage: TEXAS STATE by 10

In all my years of doing the College Football Stability methodology, I have never had a team with a score of zero. Until now, as Nevada sets a new low benchmark in 2022. The Wolf Pack have an entirely new coaching staff, are bringing in new systems, have a new starting quarterback and have just six starters returning. It seems relatively futile to mention that this is a program that has won seven-plus games in four straight seasons. Regardless, Nevada, which won its opener 23-12 over New Mexico State, is a favorite in its second game over Texas State, a team that has 14 starters back and is coming off of a 4-8 season for fourth-year coach Jake Spavital. There aren’t a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Bobcats’ season, but they do seem to be catching Nevada at an ideal time.

OREGON at GEORGIA (-17.5)

Stability Advantage: GEORGIA by 13

This is another game that looks fantastic on the TV promos but might not live up to the billing come game day. Georgia is the defending national champion and although the Bulldogs lost a ton of defensive talent to the NFL draft, they still look formidable and like a title contender. The offense figures to not skip a beat, with seven starters back, including QB Stetson Bennett. The defense has only three starters returning, but it is pretty much assumed that the new studs will slide in seamlessly. The Bulldogs are also playing in their home away from home in Atlanta. Oregon has at least one player used to playing in the Deep South against the likes of Georgia, and that is QB Bo Nix, who left Auburn for this opportunity. Unfortunately, he’ll be working in a new system with the rest of his offensive teammates under coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who held the same position at Memphis. Perhaps an advantage the Ducks might have here is in new head coach Dan Lanning, who left Georgia’s defensive coordinator job to move to Eugene. He could find out the hard way, however, just how tough the Bulldogs are to coach against.

UTEP (+ 31) at OKLAHOMA

Stability Advantage: UTEP by 15

UTEP’s last three visits to Oklahoma were brutal, as the Miners were outscored 179-45 in those games. Apparently, oddsmakers believe this game won’t be competitive either, as the Sooners have been established as better than 30-point favorites. Reality could prove different this time, though. UTEP is very stable heading into the season, and head coach Dana Dimel has 15 starters back from last fall’s 7-6 team. The Miners made a quantum leap from the previous four seasons of winning five games combined. One of the reasons was QB Gavin Hardison, who is back for his junior season. However, they did lose their opener in rather ugly fashion versus North Texas. As far as Oklahoma is concerned, the uniforms are still red and the Sooner Schooner will still be around, but almost everything else is new. Gone are the offensive ways of coach Lincoln Riley and in steps Brent Venables, the fiery former architect of Clemson’s vaunted defense. Also gone are the two five-star quarterbacks who took snaps a year ago. However, Venables does have solid talent to work with, including QB Dillon Gabriel, a transfer from UCF, who will be running the same system he did at UCF under new coordinator Jeff Lebby. Will it click early for the Sooners? We’ll see, but history says that is unlikely.

MASSACHUSETTS at TULANE (-28.5)

Stability Advantage: TULANE by 8

The stability system is great at uncovering hidden blowouts that very few bettors get behind because they can’t stomach laying big points with teams like Tulane. The Green Wave won just two games last season yet are favored by almost 30 points in this game. Why? How about because they have 18 starters returning, including QB Michael Pratt, who has started 20 games over the last two seasons, leading this offense to PPG totals of 34.7 PPG and 27.8 PPG. Those aren’t the typical numbers of a 2-10 team. Plus, the offense hit 66 points or more in a game in each of the last two seasons. They are capable of scoring big on UMass on Saturday as the Minutemen have allowed about 44 PPG over the last four seasons and have a new coaching staff in place for 2022, led by Don Brown, who led the program to FCS greatness back in the early 2000s.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 4

FLORIDA STATE at LSU (-3.5)

Stability Advantage: FLORIDA STATE by 12

This is one of the most interesting games of Week 1. Whichever team comes out victorious figures to launch its season to another level. Florida State seems poised to emerge from the rut it's been in since 2017, as third-year coach Mike Norvell welcomes back 16 starters, including QB Jordan Travis, who, from all reports, has been firing on all cylinders in fall camp. He put up some nice numbers as a sophomore last year and brings a run-pass threat the Seminoles haven’t had in some time. They are an underdog here to an LSU team that has all the usual recruited talent we have become accustomed to but also starts fresh with new head Brian Kelly, two new coordinators, a transfer quarterback in Jayden Daniels from Arizona State, as well as 11 other new starters. The Tigers are also just 11-12 since their 15-0 season of 2019 and hungry to get back on top. However, instability typically requires patience.

 

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