The early part of the college football season can be really profitable for bettors who have done their homework. With 131 FBS teams (plus early-season FCS opponents), it is impossible for every team to be accurately rated and lined.
Isolating teams playing with a different scheme or with a different tempo can create tons of betting value in the totals market as well. Personnel changes help, but some of the big ones have already been accounted for by oddsmakers and the bettors who have molded the spreads in the market. Totals may be a better spot to find value early, especially if you can identify some Group of 5 teams, and it will take oddsmakers some time to adjust.
Let’s look at five offenses that will look a lot different this season:
Oklahoma: The Sooners were an explosive offense under Lincoln Riley, but they also had one of the nation’s more deliberate offenses. In games against FBS opponents, Oklahoma was 107th in plays per game. Under new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, the Sooners are going to play at a much faster pace.
Ole Miss, where Lebby coached in 2020-21, was fourth in plays per game last season. UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel has played in fast offenses throughout his career, including during his time with Lebby at UCF. That’s one of the reasons Gabriel has a chance to be an interesting Heisman long shot in the 40-1 range.
Whether or not Oklahoma is explosive enough to average 6.9 yards per play is a fair question, but the Sooners are going to play much faster and they’re transitioning schemes on defense with new head coach Brent Venables. We could see some high-scoring games early on.
Colorado State: The Rams hired Nevada head coach Jay Norvell, who brings the Air Raid offense of Hal Mumme to Fort Collins. Mumme’s son, Matt, is the new offensive coordinator and this will be a much different scheme than what we previously saw. Nevada was fourth in pass attempts last season and Colorado State was 65th. The Rams trailed a lot as well but were still more of a run-first group.
Nevada was sixth in passing yards per game, while Colorado State was 52nd. Carson Strong isn’t on the Colorado State roster, but Clay Millen transferred from Nevada and was a Norvell recruit, so he knows the scheme.
It may take some time for the Air Raid to take hold, which is going to put the defense up against it. The Rams have a new defensive coordinator in Freddie Banks, who was at FCS Montana State last season. The books know the Rams will throw more but still may not adjust the totals enough.
Nevada: Similarly, Nevada will look a lot different. The Wolf Pack hired Ken Wilson, who was on the staff from 1996-98 and again in 2007. New offensive coordinator Derek Sage was UCLA’s tight ends coach last season. The Bruins were 105th in passing attempts last season and really liked having a mobile QB in Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
The Wolf Pack have a new QB in Shane Illingworth, who transfers from Oklahoma State. It sounds like they’re going to rely heavily on senior running back Toa Taua and try to play a physical brand of football. That is a huge departure from the past.
With Wilson being a defensive-minded guy, expect Nevada games to be boring and likely stay under the early-season totals.
Pitt: The difference between offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and new OC Frank Cignetti is night and day. The Panthers don’t have Kenny Pickett anymore but did get former USC QB Kedon Slovis. He may be regretting his decision to transfer because head coach Pat Narduzzi has made it clear that the Panthers are going to get back to a physical style of running the ball. The Cignetti hire makes sense in that regard.
Whipple’s offense ranked seventh in pass attempts last season, while Boston College’s offense under Cignetti ranked 118th. Pitt averaged over 41 points per game last season, but that number will take a dive with a group that will be more deliberate and less explosive. Pitt games totaled just 43.7 points per game in 2019 and we may be in line for something more like that. The Panthers only averaged 3.98 yards per carry last season.
This will still be a solid defense, but the offense will be tempered down quite a bit, which should lead to low-scoring games early.
Georgia Southern: One of my favorite season win total Unders is Georgia Southern. The Eagles are moving away from the triple-option and have hired former Western Kentucky co-OC Bryan Ellis to call the plays. Head coach Clay Helton was formerly at USC. The Eagles threw just 275 passes last season in 12 games. Only Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota and the service academies had fewer pass attempts.
The personnel is not equipped for this, even with two transfer quarterbacks in Kyle Vantrease (Buffalo) and Kyle Toole (Troy). There are a lot of transfers at the skill positions but not on the offensive line. This is a unit that allowed 28 sacks last season despite running the ball over 66% of the time.
In theory, the Eagles should have a higher offensive expectation by throwing the ball more. They’re also going to put a defense that allowed 6.4 yards per play out there a lot more. The offense might be inefficient, but we could see a higher-scoring group with a defense that remains awful.