Small Conference Teams That Could Be Big Moneymakers
by Trevor Whenham - 07/30/2008
Every year in college football some of the biggest money to be made comes from spotting low profile teams from minor conferences that are going to quietly and consistently cover spreads. Troy, Temple, Bowling Green, Ball State, San Jose State and Central Florida were all among the top 25 best teams ATS last season, all were at least 7-4 ATS, and yet most bettors couldn't name more than three players from the six teams combined. Everyone has their opinion on the high-profile teams - Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, USC and the like - but the value is usually thoroughly bet out of them. Instead of spending more time looking at them, your time can be more effectively and profitably spent getting familiar with the teams fewer people care about. The betting volumes are much less, the lines are often looser, and that's grand news for bettors. Here's a look at four teams well outside of the spotlight that could put together a solid year. First, one major proviso. BYU is not going to be on this list. They are going to be good. Perhaps really, really good. They are loaded and have a schedule that will make people pay attention. They shouldn't surprise anyone, though. As a final note, keep in mind that a team doesn't necessarily need to be good to make this list, just better than people think they'll be:
New Mexico State - This is the perfect kind of team for this list - they weren't very good last year and they haven't been very good in a while, but they have a solid core. Chase Holbrook is back at QB, and he's the real deal. He threw for almost 3,900 yards last year, and he has completed 70 percent of his passes over his career. He throws more interceptions than is ideal (18 compared to 26 touchdowns last year), but that should improve with more experience this year. His receiving corps is pretty good, and it returns mostly intact. The schedule isn't too bad, and it includes one particularly intriguing game. They visit Nebraska in Week 2. The Huskers will obviously be the public choice, but the Aggies seasoned offense could surprise Nebraska and their new regime and lead to a cover.
Florida Atlantic - The Owls won the Sun Belt Conference last year, and they are in a very good position to do it again. They were also reasonably kind to bettors last year, going 7-5 ATS. At the center of the expectations for this team is the return of Rusty Smith at QB. In just his first full year of starting last year, Smith threw for 3,688 yards, and he had four times more touchdowns (32) than interceptions (eight). Smith has a class edge over much of his conference, and he'll be able to hit the ground running - he is one of 17 returning starters. There's a risk that this team will get some early attention thanks to a brutal non-conference schedule - Texas and two Big Ten foes. On the other hand, some setbacks here could turn the public off when the conference schedule starts, and that would mean value. Regardless, this is a team that I expect solid returns from.
Ball State - I know I'm focusing on teams with flashy quarterbacks, but that's as good a place to start as any when it comes to looking for teams that can surprise. When it comes to lesser conferences, a potent offense gives a team a solid edge. David Letterman's alma mater will have Nate Davis taking snaps and giving them their edge. Davis had numbers pretty similar to Rusty Smith (3,668 yards, 30 TDs, six picks). Ball State made a bowl last year for the first time in an eternity, and the fact that they have 10 returning offensive starters should help them build on that much-needed accomplishment. The team was a robust 7-4 ATS last year. There is little doubt that they will take a step forward on the field this year. It just remains to be seen if that can translate success at the betting window.
Central Michigan - I live in western Canada, yet for some strange reason Central Michigan games seen to be on my TV more than any other mid-major. That doesn't make sense geographically, but I don't mind at all because it means that I have got to see a lot of QB Dan LeFevour over the last couple of years. It would be hard to exaggerate just how good this guy is. If he were playing for a major conference he'd perhaps have a Heisman in his trophy case by now. He can pass as well as anyone on this list, and on top of that he's a reliable 1,000+ yard rusher. The Chippewas had some buzz two seasons ago, and that was enough to get coach Brian Kelly a promotion to the Big East and Cincinnati. A slow start last year made Central Michigan fall back off the radar. As the new coaching staff found their comfort level, though, this team turned things around. They were 7-1 in conference, and ended up at 6-4-2 ATS. The best sign of their progress came against Purdue. This was on of the few cases last year in which teams played twice. They played early in the season, and Purdue won handily. In the rematch in bowl season, though, Central Michigan edged the Boilermakers in a classic. That showed their development, and I expect that development to continue this year as LeFevour puts on a QB clinic.