Since the college football season opened, I have been touting my handicapping strategy focusing on program stability. In the 10 years I have employed this methodology, I have never suffered a losing record with it. In the opening weeks of limited games, the plays I have offered based on the system are 6-2 ATS, including three of four last week.
Each fall I do an exercise that quantifies the level of stability for each program. I figure that the higher the level of stability, the better the chances for success, particularly early in the season. Putting a numerical grade to it makes it easier to spot stability mismatches. The point spread considered, the feeling is that oddsmakers don’t adjust enough for instability factors.
For the rest of the first month of the season, I will offer the weekly mismatches for you to use. I typically believe that after two or three games, oddsmakers catch up and fully adjust for teams’ changes. Of course, this is a lot trickier than usual this season with teams playing such unusual schedules. In fact, the SEC isn’t expected to start until Sept. 26, and indications are that the Big Ten could join the fray the weekend of Oct. 17. Some highly unstable situations exist in those conferences, namely Arkansas, Mississippi State and Michigan State.
Here are the basics for determining each team’s stability score. The score is computed from five factors: head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, quarterback and overall returning starters. You will find a breakdown of all 77 FBS teams that are playing this fall and their stability scores in the accompanying chart, but in short, here is how the scores are figured:
Returning Head Coach Points
Yes, same head coach as 2019: 4 points
No, new head coach for 2020: 0 points
Returning Offensive Coordinator Points
Yes, same offensive coordinator as 2019: 3 points
No, new offensive coordinator for 2020: 0 points
Returning Defensive Coordinator Points
Yes, same defensive coordinator as 2019: 3 points
No, new defensive coordinator for 2020: 0 points
Returning Starting Quarterback Points
Yes, same starting quarterback as 2019: 4 points
No, new starting quarterback for 2020: 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
Here are the top college football stability mismatches for 2020’s limited Week 3 slate.
1. (105) FLORIDA ATLANTIC at (106) GEORGIA SOUTHERN
Stability advantage: Georgia Southern by 17
Florida Atlantic has the dubious distinction of being the first program with a zero in my stability formula. At one point in the spring, it appeared the Owls would have at least a score of 5 in coach Willie Taggart’s first season. But starting quarterback Chris Robison was dismissed from the team, costing the Owls not only their returning QB points but also taking them down another returning starter, leaving them with seven. FAU was 11-3 last year, but the 2020 team figures to bear no resemblance. Georgia Southern is by no means stable if it faces the same issues it did in last week’s tight win over Campbell. The Eagles were down double-digit starters for various reasons in that game, so watch the active-player report closely.
2. (143) HOUSTON at (144) BAYLOR
Stability advantage: Houston by 10
Baylor and Houston open their seasons Saturday, and the Bears are facing huge challenges in trying to maintain the momentum the program gained under former coach Matt Rhule, who has moved on to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Dave Aranda, the defensive coordinator of LSU’s national title team, takes over. Besides having a new coaching staff, he also loses 13 starters from Baylor’s 11-3 Sugar Bowl team. Fortunately, QB Charlie Brewer is back as a senior, and he should ease the transition. Houston figures to be much better off than a year ago, when Dana Holgorsen took over. The Cougars were ravaged when QB D’Eriq King decided to forgo the season and eventually transferred after four games. Clayton Tune stepped in and wasn’t nearly as sharp, but for him and the rest of the Cougars, the final eight games were a great growing opportunity. In all, 19 starters are back, one of the nation’s highest totals, and that experience should make them a live underdog at Baylor.
3. (115) MIAMI at (116) LOUISVILLE
Stability advantage: Louisville by 7
Both schools posted SU and ATS wins in their opening games, although each by unimpressive margins. When the Cardinals play host to the Hurricanes, they will boast a measurable stability advantage. They were 8-5 in 2019 for first-year coach Scott Satterfield, including a win over Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl. Satterfield has 16 starters back along with nearly his entire coaching staff. He returns QB Micale Cunningham, who had a huge season a year ago in helping his team improve by almost 14 PPG offensively. Cunningham might not be the better quarterback in this matchup against D’Eriq King of Miami, but he has the stability edge. In addition to King being new at the most crucial position, the Hurricanes have a new offensive coordinator in Rhett Lashlee from SMU. The results of the new scheme were mixed in the opening win over UAB. Oddsmakers have Louisville as the small favorite; perhaps they are leading us to water.
4. (119) SYRACUSE at (120) PITTSBURGH
Stability advantage: Pittsburgh by 7
Another ACC clash lands on our stability mismatch list for Week 3. The Orange are on the short end of the stability matchup for a second straight week. They also were at a disadvantage in their 31-6 loss to North Carolina last weekend. The six points scored is of obvious concern to coach Dino Babers since the offense was supposed to be the better unit this fall with seven starters back, including QB Tommy DeVito. The defense, with just four starters back, held strong for three quarters vs. UNC before giving way. Pitt’s offense will provide another challenge after putting up 42 first-half points en route to a 55-0 season-opening win over Austin Peay. Quarterback Kenny Pickett had a nice day to open his senior season. Sixth-year coach Pat Narduzzi has 15 returning starters and plenty of stability to think his team should cover the 22-point spread.