With the start of the college football season just three weeks away, Alex Kolodziej and C Jackson Cowart go over their favorite bets in the Group of 5 conferences, including best win total, teams to play and avoid, national title favorite, and dark-horse Heisman candidate.
(Check out the Power 5 roundtable from earlier in the week.)
What’s the best win total on the board?
AK: I nearly spat out my coffee when I saw one shop hanging a 3.5 on East Carolina‘s win total. This is a team that somehow won three games in three straight seasons under Scottie Montgomery! I like the Pirates’ chances to make a splash in Year 1 under Mike Houston, who won a national title with James Madison in 2016.
Houston’s offenses at James Madison averaged at least 34 points per game in all three of his seasons with the program. East Carolina’s 103rd-ranked unit last season should be able to make huge strides this year after injuries – specifically to quarterback Holton Ahlers – prevented the offense from ever getting going.
CJC: Army emerged as a Group of 5 power last year and deserves plenty of praise for its 11-2 record. But I wouldn’t bank on a repeat this year, as bettors are doing in the early market.
The Black Knights ranked 84th in S&P+ last year with a second-order win total of 8.1 – one of the biggest drop-offs from the actual win total of any team in the nation. Army’s defense, the team’s strong suit in recent years, returns just 51 percent of its production from last season and loses defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, who was lauded for his work turning around the program.
If the Black Knights lose at Michigan in Week 2, they’d need to run the table to cash over 10. At plus-money, I love the under.
Which team will be undervalued in the betting market?
AK: It turns out you can still make money on teams on the upswing. It was crazy that a team like Central Florida, off an undefeated season and changing head coaches, wasn’t only profitable last year, but almost automatic. Anyone choosing to fade the Knights just to be contrarian was hit with a reality check, as UCF went 9-3 against the spread during the regular season.
One team on the rise I feel bettors are still sleeping on is Memphis. The Tigers had one of the oddest seasons in 2018, losing four games by three points or fewer and getting blown out at Tulane by 16. But they have loads of returning talent – Memphis brings back the seventh-most starting production from last season – and a favorable schedule, as S&P+ projects the Tigers to be favored in every game.
It feels like a cop-out to bill a team projected to win nine games as undervalued, but the Tigers are going to win early and often, and they’re a team I want to jump on before their record – and point spreads – starts to inflate.
CJC: Funny you should mention Central Florida as an undervalued team from 2018. I think there’s still value on the table this year, too, which seems unfathomable after a 25-1 record over the past two years.
Like Memphis, UCF is sitting with a win total of nine, yet the Knights face one of the nation’s easier schedules. They don’t play back-to-back road games all year, and none of their opponents face them off a bye. The toughest test comes at home against Stanford, which faces USC the week before and Oregon the week after.
Transfer quarterback Brandon Wimbush is a question mark, but he’s supported by a veteran offensive line, a stout rushing attack, and a receiving corps returning three of its top four targets. UCF’s soft schedule should spell another double-digit win total.
Which team will be overvalued in the betting market?
AK: I’m always leery of backing a mid-major who sees an atypical, one-year spike in production the previous year. So, one program I don’t want much to do with is Utah State. The nation’s No. 2 scoring offense last season lost head coach Matt Wells to Texas Tech and brought back Gary Andersen, who’s a substantial drop-off. The Aggies still have star quarterback Jordan Love, but an offense that returns just 46 percent of its starting production from 2018 figures to take a significant step back under a new regime.
CJC: I’m all aboard the “fade Utah State” train. Andersen did his best to decimate Oregon State‘s football program, and now he’ll take over a team turning over much of its roster. No thank you.
I’m also skeptical that Boise State can return to its 10-game perch after losing quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison, both of whom shouldered a significant load in the Broncos’ 18th-ranked offense, according to S&P+, in 2018. The team brings back a veteran O-line and receivers galore, but I’m not sure it’ll be enough, especially with its toughest tests coming away from the blue turf.
Who’s the best bet to win the national title?
AK: Here’s a hot take: Unless the Power 5 gets banished mid-season, I don’t think we’re going to see a mid-major pull it off this year. But considering Memphis has the easiest route and is loaded with talent, I guess the Tigers are the pick here.
CJC: Hey now, don’t burn the whole building down with that take. Also, can I get the odds on that mid-season banishment?
Here’s my hot take: If UCF runs the table again, the committee will have no choice but to bow to political pressure and put them in the playoff field. All it takes is a chance at the dance to make it worth a 1,000-1 title ticket. Houston could also make a compelling case for a playoff berth if it survives its challenging schedule.
Who’s a dark horse Heisman candidate?
GIVE ME D’ERIQ KING 65-1 OR GIVE ME DEATH.
Houston‘s going to try and put up 100 points per game all while playing no defense under former West Virginia head coach and shootout connoisseur Dana Holgorsen. King was responsible for 50 touchdowns last season and missed 2.5 games in the process. The Cougars should win some games and King’s a stud, so he’s my pick.
CJC: You stole mine, though King’s probably everybody’s Group of 5 pick given what he can do in the open field. He’ll have plenty of opportunities for his “Heisman moment” starting Week 1 against Oklahoma, where he could really set his campaign in motion against the team responsible for the last two award winners.
You and I are both down on Utah State, but if Love can drag his supporting cast to a double-digit season and look good along the way, he’s worth a shot at 150-1 odds. Then again, I’d bet 1-150 that Andersen never coaches a Heisman winner. So maybe just ride Trevor or Tua, after all.
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