We are now about a third of the way through the college football season, and conference play starts on most fronts this week if it hasn’t already. It’s too early to say we really know anything about teams throughout college football, but we are getting a better sense of which ones are worthy of betting attention and which ones just put bettor’s money in a pile and light it on fire. Here are some of the notable studs and duds of the young season from a betting perspective:
Northwestern (4-0 ATS)
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The Wildcats are off to a strong start -- one of just four teams in the Big Ten to make it through the nonconference schedule unbeaten. They did that while playing three teams from BCS conferences -- though Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College aren’t exactly National Championship contenders. They haven’t been perfect by any means, but they are tough, and their conference schedule is weak to start. They could go to 7-0 -- and cover a couple more spreads along the way -- before things get real.
Texas Tech (3-0 ATS)
The Mike Leach era is long over, but you’d never guess it judging by the Red Raiders play so far. They are averaging just over 50 points a game while giving up only 10. This is likely just a mirage, though. After a trip to Iowa State next week they face about as tough a stretch of five games as any team will play this year -- Oklahoma and West Virginia at home, at TCU and Kansas State, and then hosting Texas.
Western Kentucky (4-0 ATS)
The Hilltoppers got shut out by Alabama, but no one can contend with the Crimson Tide this year -- at least not yet, anyway. Beyond that they have three wins, including a nice win at Kentucky and the destruction of Southern Mississippi. Not bad for a team that only moved to FBS in 2008, lost every game in 2009, and won only twice in 2010. The Sun Belt is surprisingly tough this year, but Western Kentucky will be one to watch.
Fresno State (4-0 ATS)
Pat Hill is gone, but Tim DeRuyter has this team playing feisty football in his first season. The Bulldogs are just 2-2, but they played Oregon tougher than anyone else has and lost by only one at Tulsa last weekend. With Boise State’s weakness the Mountain West is more wide open than assumed, so the Bulldogs could be worth a look.
Purdue (3-0 ATS)
The Boilermakers crushed two outmatched opponents. Notre Dame needed a last-second field goal at home to win. The Big Ten has deservedly faced a lot of criticism for their lousy play this year, but Purdue has been a reasonably bright light. With a competent offense, a solid defense, and a messy conference they have a chance to keep it up.
Houston (0-3 ATS)
We knew things would be rough without Kevin Sumlin and Case Keenum, but this has been really rough. The Cougars opened their season on a very low note as they lost 30-13 at home to Texas State as 34.5-point favorites. They fell short in a shootout with Louisiana Tech and then were no match for UCLA. They had the week off last week, so hopefully that gave them time to get back on track. It’s hard to imagine them winning a whole lot of games given their play, though.
Arkansas (0-3 ATS)
Things are so bleak at Arkansas that I can’t even make fun of the Razorbacks in good conscience right now. They lost to Louisiana Monroe. They were humiliated by Alabama. Rutgers took them out at home. Their QB has been banged up. Their coach is a walking punch line. The wheels have fallen right off this bus, but they still have a long way to drive.
Wisconsin (0-4 ATS)
When you think of Wisconsin over the years you think of offensive linemen the size of an ox who are just as hard to move. After an offseason that has seen plenty of coaching turnover, though, there have been no signs of that brick wall. The Badgers are 3-1, but their offense has been pathetic, they are allowing bad teams to play way too close, and they were outclassed by their only real opponent -- Oregon State. It could be a long year for the team that was assumed to run away with the Big Ten Leaders Division. Of course, things aren’t exactly inspiring for everyone else in the conference, either, so they could be fine.
Washington State (0-3-1 ATS)
I have reasonable confidence that Mike Leach will turn things around here. If he can’t do it then no one will. It’s clearly going to take a while, though. The Cougars went up 31-14 early in the fourth quarter against a really lousy Colorado team and then took the rest of the night off. They lost, 35-34. The team may not be as cruel to bettors the rest of the way, though. The arrival of Leach has excited the public, but now that reality has set in a bit the betting action should be more realistic.
Virginia (1-3 ATS)
The Cavaliers beat Penn State, but they certainly didn’t make it look easy. Then they were no match at Georgia Tech or TCU. There was some sentiment coming into the season that this could be an upstart team. It’s much harder to believe that now.
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