You can have the SEC. I will take the Big East.
The SEC is a monolith in the world of college football. They dominate the headlines, they have cast a veil over the eyes of the fans and people who analyze it, and they dictate the conversation of everything from the National Championship to the Heisman Trophy.
The Big East, on the other hand, is some decrepit remnant of a former pillar of college football. They have been gutted by defection and are a casualty of conference realignment. West Virginia is gone. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are in their final seasons. The league is on life support.
And that is a shame. Not just because as a Northeasterner this is the conference of my childhood. But over the last decade no other league in the country has been as good to college football bettors as The Beast. And for a professional football handicapper like myself, this perpetually underrated conference has been a gold mine.
Current Big East schools boast – by far – the most profitable record against the spread over the last decade in games against other conferences. At 199-150 ATS the Big East has been ripe for college football bettors. And a gambler wagering $100 per game on every nonconference Big East tilt during that time would have net around $3,400 during that span.
By comparison, the SEC schools are just 285-267 ATS against the rest of the world over the last decade. That mark would have net that same bettor a loss of nearly $900 over the same span.
So enjoy the Big East while it lasts. At the current rate we won’t have this ATM machine to rely on much longer.
Here is a look at my 2012 Big East football predictions and futures odds, with the college football odds courtesy of 5Dimes:
The Favorite: Louisville (+240)
No one saw this coming 12 months ago. The Cardinals were still neck-deep in a rebuild and predicted for the Big East basement at this time last year. But after a surprisingly spry 5-2 record and conference co-title last year they are now the league frontrunners.
Can they adjust to being favorites?
Charlie Strong has fashioned a squad with a tough, physical defense and a weathering running game. Like waves on the rocks, the Cardinals just pound away at opponents and try to win by wearing people down.
They have 18 starters back and they get to play their main challenger, South Florida, in Kentucky on Oct. 20.
Dual-threat quarterback Teddy Bridgewater needs to avoid a sophomore slump and minimize turnovers. But he has a lot of potential, and if he takes the next step I don’t know that anything can stop this group.
The Challenger: South Florida (+325)
South Florida has the most natural talent and most athletes in the league. But they are challengers, instead of favorites, because no one trusts this team not to implode. And you can count me among people that are hesitant to get behind this crew.
B.J. Daniels is mediocre and hasn’t shown any star power. And I’ve yet to see Skip Holtz summon any of the magic he seemed to possess at East Carolina.
But this group is experienced.
They have 15 returning starters from last year’s underachieving team and six of them are three-year starters. The South Florida football schedule is nice, and the Bulls even have a bye the week before their trek to Louisville. But they can’t get distracted by nonconference rivalry games against Florida State (Sept. 29) and Miami (Nov. 17) if they are going to win a league championship.
The Dark Horse: Rutgers (+550)
The Scarlet Knights still have to be reeling a bit after losing Coach Greg Schiano to the NFL. But he left behind a tough, physical team that used hook and crook to win nine games and a bowl game last season.
Rutgers has eight starters (and 12 of 15 top tacklers) back from the No. 8 scoring defense (and No. 9 passing D) in the country last year. That is the foundation for this rugged team that really could step up and win the league.
The problem is that these guys really fluked out several wins last year, including overtime wins at Syracuse and against South Florida. Just two years ago these guys went 1-6 in league play and without Schiano we don’t know how they’ll come together.
The offense is still a wreck. And until we see something – anything – from that side this team will have to settle for being a lurker.
The X-Factor: Connecticut (+2000)
Paul Pasqualoni has a 112-66-1 career coaching record. He led a very, very good (but never truly great) Syracuse program for 14 years. I think the guy knows what he is doing. But last year his return was a debacle.
I’ll chalk that one up to some first-year growing pains. And I think that the Huskies are a definite sleeper this year because they are built similarly as two of the other top teams, Louisville and Rutgers.
Connecticut is a defense-first team, with eight starters (and five three-year starters) on the stop unit. They have a really nice offensive line and a potential star in runner Lyle McCombs.
The problem is that they enter the fall with four –not an exaggeration, FOUR – potential starting quarterbacks. Without knowing what they will get from that position it is tough to step out and call for them to be a surprise champion.
The Disappointment: Temple (+3500)
“No, seriously guy, we were GOOD!” I feel bad for the Owls. They were dumped from the Big East because they sucked. Then they went to rogue, got it together, and over the last three years actually had some good teams. They went 26-12, won a bowl game and fell tragically short of winning a MAC Championship (or two).
But now they are back in the Big East and, I’m sure, eager to prove that they belong.
The problem is that they only have eight of 22 starters back and holes all over the field. They have a second-year coach and little top-end talent. If they were in the MAC they would have struggled this year. But in the Big East they are going to get slammed.
It’s tough to be a disappointment when you are already picked for the basement. But if Temple wanted to prove that it belonged back in The Beast, this is not the year to do it.
I think the Panthers would be happy to just make it through a full season with one coach. That would denote a successful season for a team that has had six different coaches in a 15-game span.
It is tough to tell where this team is at right now in Year 1 of the Paul Chryst tenure. He is a pretty no-nonsense kind of guy and I think he will fit well.
But I don’t have high expectations for this group.
They have nine starters back on offense, which isn’t exactly a good thing, and several tough losses made their record look worse than they actually were last year.
I think this team will continue to be a better bet as an underdog than as a favorite. That should bode well for their backers this season because the Panthers should be catching points quite often.
The Bearcats will be hard-pressed to repeat the 10 wins they mustered last year. And that was actually the fourth time in five years that the Bearcats have reached double-digits in wins.
This is an underrated program. And with a cupcake schedule they really could be a threat for 10 wins again. But the problem I have is that they only welcome back 11 starters. And, most importantly, I don’t see much top-end talent on this team in terms of guys that are going to be playing on Sundays.
Munchie Legaux has a lot of potential at the quarterback position. But we really have no idea what we are going to get out of the Bearcats skill people.
If they can beat Pitt in the season opener then I expect this team to be 5-1 when they head to Louisville on Oct. 26 and at least 7-2 going into their last three games.
Oh, the poor, poor Orange. Every time it seems like Syracuse has some good, positive, forward momentum with this program pesky little problems like graduation and injury just crush their hopes.
The Orange are still one of the weakest teams in the Big East, physically and mentally. This team used a candy necklace schedule to reach eight wins in 2010 but came back to reality last year while going 5-7.
This year they have a tough nonconference slate, with games against Northwestern, USC, Missouri and Minnesota. None of those are gimme games and SU will be underdogs in at least three of them.
The Orange have the weakest defense in a league full of rugged stop units and I don’t see senior Ryan Nassib as being talented enough to overcome that. It should be another long, cold fall and winter in Upstate New York.
2012 Big East Conference Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
2. South Florida
Robert Ferringo is an NFL and college football handicapper and is coming off an exceptionally profitable 2010-11 football season (college and pro). Over the last year his clients have more than tripled their bankrolls with his predictions in all sports. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here.