Steve Makinen: My 20 college football season win-total bets

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I’ve spent the last six weeks or so revealing the information I study ahead of each college football season. After going through the coaching changes, Stability Scores, transitional systems and recruiting rankings, plus playing out the schedule by my power ratings, I’ve locked in on 20 season win-total bets. 

If you missed any of the key information I’ve released over the last month and a half, go back to the Point Spread Weekly archive and look through Issues 41 through 45. Most or all of it will also be available in the upcoming VSiN College Football Betting Guide, due out at the end of July.

Before revealing my 2022 plays, here’s how I went 7-3 on my 2021 plays released at this same time a year ago:

Buffalo Under 8.5 wins — Win: This one was a freebie from bookmakers, as the Bulls won just four games. They won all four times they were favored and lost all eight times they were catching points.

Louisiana-Monroe Over 1.5 wins — Win: This was a fairly easy winner, as the Warhawks reached two wins in their sixth game and went on to go 4-8.

Marshall Under 7.5 wins — Win: I had to sweat this one out until Game 12. Marshall was 7-4 but lost as a 1.5-point favorite to Western Kentucky at home.

Maryland Over 5.5 wins — Win: Another sweat. Maryland crushed Rutgers in the final week of the regular season to finish .500. The Terps then routed Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl. 

Northwestern Under 6.5 wins — Win: Northwestern was one of four teams in all of college football to return fewer than 10 starters. It was a long season as the Wildcats finished 3-9.

Notre Dame Under 9 wins — Loss: Notre Dame outperformed my expectations and finished 11-2. The Irish covered the spread in their final seven regular-season games.

Oregon Over 9 wins — Win: Oregon finished 10-2 in the regular season before losing in the Pac-12 title game and the Alamo Bowl.

Tennessee Under 6 wins — Loss: Tennessee finished 7-5, only the second time since 2016 in which the Vols won that many regular-season games.

Toledo Over 8 wins — Loss: The Rockets went 7-5 in the regular season. Making matters worse, they lost four of those five games as favorites. 

UCLA Over 7 wins — Win: UCLA rallied for an eight-win season after taking its final two games as an underdog. The Bruins’ bowl game was canceled.

Now for my 2022 plays. I’ve doubled the number of wagers because my preseason preparation has revealed more strong and weak spots than usual.

Teams to go Over their DraftKings season win totals

Arizona Over 2.5 wins: Coach Jedd Fisch seems to be at the beginning stages of something good, as he just recruited the program’s best class since its glory days. He also has a competent QB this year in Jayden de Laura. After going 1-11 last season, losing three games by 10 points or fewer to high-quality opponents, I see the Wildcats as one of the more improved teams. My simulations have them winning 3.2 games.

Bowling Green Over 3.5 wins: It’s a bit strange to see an experienced team’s win prop drop below the number of wins it had the prior season, particularly when the program seems to be heading in the right direction. Bowling Green hadn’t won four games in a season since 2016, so its 4-8 record in 2021 was actually a decent accomplishment. The Falcons return 18 starters, including senior QB Matt McDonald, who has started every game over the last two years. In what looks to be a relatively weak MAC East, I’ll take this team to finish .500 or better in the conference.

Florida State Over 6.5 wins: It seems more a matter of when, not if, Florida State will return to better days under Mike Norvell. This season might be the one, as the Seminoles bring back 16 starters, including QB Jordan Travis, who gave them their most promising production at that position in a long time. Last year they lost five games by 10 or fewer points in a season in which they went 5-7. If two of those games are flipped by this experienced group, we’ll have a winner.

Fresno State Over 8.5 wins: Two of my favorite Under plays are from the West Division of the Mountain West, and I was close to pulling the trigger on a third. That leaves the best team from the division in very good shape, and in my opinion that team is Fresno State. Even though the program is turning (back) to a new coach in 2022, Jeff Tedford is familiar with FSU, and he brings back 15 starters from last year’s 10-3 team. He also has the conference’s best QB in Jake Haener.

North Carolina Over 7.5 wins: There will be a lot made about North Carolina losing multi-year starting QB Sam Howell, but this team underperformed with him in three years under Mack Brown. The program has recruited at an elite level since Brown arrived and its new quarterback, Drake Maye, could be better than Howell. In a weakened ACC Coastal Division, UNC has as good a shot as anyone to win it.

Northern Illinois Over 6.5 wins: This is another situation where a team coming off a very good season and returning a lot of experience sees its win total lowered. Northern Illinois won the MAC title game last year after going 8-4, then put up a heck of a fight against Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl. The Huskies have former Michigan State QB Rocky Lombardi back for a second season and 17 other starters return as well. Why would things get worse?

Northwestern Over 3.5 wins: Northwestern went 3-9 in 2021 with one of the most inexperienced teams in the country. In 2022, things look much more promising, with nine starters back on offense, including former South Carolina QB Ryan Hilinski. Coach Pat Fitzgerald always gets his team to play its best. Last year, its best was not very good; this year, Northwestern should be far more competitive. The 3.5 wins seems like a layup and could be won by October. 

SMU Over 7 wins: I like the look of the American Conference this season, as Houston, UCF and SMU all look capable of challenging a lesser Cincinnati team. Of the three, the team DraftKings has treated with the least respect is SMU. Perhaps it’s because the Mustangs are turning to a new coach in Rhett Lashlee. However, Lashlee was this team’s offensive coordinator a few years ago and is familiar with the program, so it won’t be a major transition. The Mustangs come off a season in which they went 8-4 and scored nearly 40 PPG behind former Oklahoma QB Tanner Mordecai. The QB returns, meaning this should again be one of the top scoring units in the country.

Stanford Over 4.5 wins: I wouldn’t go as far as saying Stanford was tanking at the end of last season, but in losing the final four games by 31.8 PPG, coach David Shaw was able to gain a lot of on-field experience for this year’s starters. One of those starters is QB Tanner McKee, who posted a 15-7 TD-INT ratio and more than 2,300 passing yards in nine starts. In all, 17 starters are back and this team should be much improved in a Pac-12 Conference loaded with question marks.

TCU Over 6.5 wins: TCU spent 22 seasons under Gary Patterson, and from what I’ve read this offseason, it was clearly time for a change, as the program wasn’t nearly as sharp as it used to be. The talent figures to still be there, and this year’s team brings back a ton of experience for new coach Sonny Dykes, who helped lead SMU to a 25-10 record over the last three seasons. Dykes’ Horned Frogs get the benefit of what could be a more wide-open race than usual in the Big 12. If the first three games go well, the showdown with Oklahoma on Oct. 1 in Fort Worth could be intriguing.

Teams to go Under their DraftKings season win totals

Arizona State Under 6.5 wins: I saw a tweet indicating that a preview magazine saw nothing but ugly days ahead for Arizona State and coach Herm Edwards. I won’t go as far as using the nastiness it did, but it did reconfirm what I have been feeling. After the listless bowl performance against Wisconsin plus the loss of QB Jayden Daniels and 14 other starters, I just don’t see this team making a bowl game in 2022. The Sun Devils showed up on a couple of my transitional decline systems because of their lack of returning experience, plus the Pac 12 South looks more formidable this year.

Colorado State Under 5.5 wins: You can count on the fact that at least half of my season win-total bets will come from programs either highly rated or lowly rated on my Stability Scores. Colorado State is on the lesser end, with a score of just 2 (out of 19). The Rams will be working in new systems under coach Jay Norvell and have only won 11 of their last 40 games. They only bring back 12 starters, so experience will be an issue as well. Throw in a challenging non-conference slate and I struggle to see this team reaching bowl eligibility. My power-rating projections show just 4.8 wins.

Hawaii Under 4.5 wins: There’s only one team in the country that returns less production than Hawaii (you’ll be reading more about that team in a bit). The Warriors compound their on-field inexperience by bringing in a first-time coach that leaps from low-level assistant to running an entire program. Timmy Chang is a well-known name in Hawaii football circles but this is going to be a big job this season, and it could get ugly. The win prop is 4.5, already a full win lower than when I first saw it, despite the fact the Warriors play 13 games. Hawaii has a lot of success-starved programs on its schedule that will be lining up for a shot at the Warriors.

Louisiana-Lafayette Under 8.5 wins: Sustaining success as a Group of 5 program is much harder than as a Power 5 one. Bigger schools poach the coaches that have built these smaller programs and the transfer portal has made it a challenge to retain under-recruited stars. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be facing a major challenge in 2022 as they move on without former coach Billy Napier (Florida) and multi-year starting QB Levi Lewis (NFL). Making matters worse, 10 other starters are gone from last year’s 13-1 team. Although the Ragin’ Cajuns won’t be completely down, 8.5 wins seems overzealous with the losses this team has suffered.

Nevada Under 5 wins: The team with the least amount of returning starters in college football is Nevada. The Wolf Pack bring back just six from last year’s 8-5 team. They are also bringing in an entirely new coaching staff, led by Ken Wilson, who climbed the ladder quickly and arrives from Oregon, where he served as defensive coordinator. I have never had a team with a Stability Score of 0 heading into a season — until Nevada this year. With the lack of experience and a monumental change in schemes, I don’t see this team doing well.

Oklahoma Under 9.5 wins: The recurring theme of the Nevada wager and the next two wagers is scheme change. I find it hard to get behind a program that has been running a certain way for a long period of time and all of a sudden changes the emphasis. Granted, Oklahoma coach Brent Venables has a lot of talent to work with, but he is a defensive guy. The Sooners have been pretty bad defensively in recent years, which has kept them from reaching their goal of a national title. OU brings back just 10 starters from last year’s 11-2 team, plus Texas is up and Oklahoma State is a threat. I already wrote about TCU, and the rest of OU’s schedule is no layup. My power-rating projections show 9.2 wins. I think nine is the number, if not eight.

Texas Tech Under 5.5 wins: Many fans have come to love the Texas Tech program for its potent offenses. Insert new coach Joey McGuire, who spent most of his coaching career at the high school ranks in Texas before ending up as Baylor’s defensive coordinator. He inherits a program that has gone stagnant, failing to reach the eight-win mark for eight straight years. This year’s total is set at 5.5, and assuming the Red Raiders beat Murray State and lose their other two non-league games (vs. Houston, at NC State), they’d have to go 5-4 in league play to beat the number. My power ratings call for 3.5-5.5 in Big 12 play. It won’t add up.

Virginia Under 7.5 wins: Some of my season win-total wagers come down to common sense. With Virginia’s number set at 7.5, the Cavaliers would have to be two games better than a year ago with just 10 starters back and a new coaching staff. QB Brennan Armstrong is back, and he had a solid 2021 season, but that doesn’t stop a new system from coming into play. Entire new coaching staffs (HC, OC, DC) combined with 11 or fewer total starters returning is an unstable situation. 

Western Kentucky Under 8.5 wins: There may not have been a player more responsible for his team’s success in 2021 than Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe. No misprint: He threw for 62 TDs and 5,967 yards last season. Unfortunately, he was a one-year rental, and for those arguing that his numbers were scheme-related, I rebut with the fact he was also a prolific passer in his FCS days with Houston Baptist. Despite all of his heroics, WKU only went 8-4 in the regular season, losing in the C-USA title game before winning their bowl game by scoring 59 points. For the Hilltoppers to beat this year’s win prop, it would mean they’ll be a better team without Zappe and just 11 starters back. No freakin’ way.

Western Michigan Under 6.5 wins: Since 2013, there have been 56 teams that brought in a new starting quarterback and four or fewer offensive starters. Of these, only 14 improved, and the average decline in winning percentage was 12.8%. That’s one of the challenges facing coach Tim Lester and Western Michigan this season, as Lester looks to replace QB Kaleb Eleby and 10 other starters who have moved on from last year’s 8-5 team. Unfortunately, the inexperience issue is compounded by the fact that WMU’s recruiting rankings have plummeted in each of the last three seasons, bottoming out at No. 120 this spring. Add a difficult non-conference slate and what looks to be an improved MAC West Division, and storm clouds are forecasted for the Broncos.

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