College Football Handicapping: Studs and Duds Against the Spread
by Trevor Whenham - 8/12/2011
College football is just around the corner, and I for one can’t wait. As we get close to the season I can’t help but look back at what happened last year to see what it can teach us about the coming season and help with our college football handicapping. One good place to look is at performance against the spread. Can the best ATS teams last year continue to shine this year? Are the teams that were the cruelest to bettors last year going to continue to burn money this year? Here’s a look at the best and worst of last year:
Hawaii (11-2 ATS) - The Warriors were a bit of a surprise last year, but they enjoyed such college football betting success thanks to an incredible statistical feat — they were only the second team ever to produce a 5,000 yard passer, a 1,000 yard rusher, and two 1,000 yard receivers in one season. This year they have gone through a whole lot of changes — only three starters have returned, and the quarterback is the only one from that group of four record breakers. On defense they return only six starters as well. Despite the upheaval, though, they are looked at as one of the top contenders in their last year in the WAC. No one pays any attention to Hawaii most of the time, so if they are as good as they could be then there is a good chance that they will again be a good team to invest in.
Ohio State (9-2-1 ATS) - It would take a miracle for the Buckeyes to perform at this level again. They lost their coach and their QB amid the total chaos that was this offseason. They have talent questions, their conference is tough, and internal turmoil is almost certain to continue through the season. Needless to say, I am not optimistic about this season for Ohio State.
Virginia Tech (10-3 ATS) - The Hokies are, on paper, in for a bit of a rebuild this year. It may very well not turn out that way at all this season, though. They have some real talent on board as always, and they are playing in a conference that could be painfully weak this year. If the Hokies can solve their QB problems out of the gate then they have a chance to put together a very nice season. Because they aren’t being talked about among the national elite this year there is a good chance that if they play as well as they could in their conference they could cover a whole lot of spreads as well. From a betting perspective the Hokies are certainly a team to keep an eye on.
Central Florida (10-3 ATS) - the Knights are coming off a conference title and a team-record 11 wins. Last year they were led by a very strong defense and an improving offense. This year they have lost seven defensive starters, so the offense is going to have to carry much more of a load this year. I don’t expect them to be quite as good this year — though they are still a real contender in Conference USA — so I am not confident that they will be able to cover spreads like they did last season.
Buffalo (2-10 ATS) - Losing Turner Gill was a huge blow to this program (and not yet a big boost to Kansas). They still are going to be a long way from a good team, but they should be a better betting proposition by far than they were last year. They had a surprisingly decent defense last year, and that should continue to help them. Offensively last year they were a disaster, but they have nine returning starters and a new QB coach, so we should see some improvement. I don’t necessarily expect them to make backers a profit this year, but I expect them to cover many more than two games.
Rutgers (2-9-1 ATS) - Last year was a disaster for a team that was only a few years removed from being national darlings. DT Eric LeGrand was paralyzed early in the year and the team never got over it. It’s a new year now, though, and the future seems brighter. They return 10 starters on offense and they have a new offensive coordinator who has brought much-needed energy to the unit, so they have a chance to be solid. They won’t win the Big East, but they shouldn’t be in the basement of the weak conference, either. They should cover several more games than last year.
Vanderbilt (3-9 ATS) - Last year was a total disaster for the Commodores. Their coaching situation was a joke, their defense was horrible, and their offense was even worse. Now they have a new and competent coaching staff in place, and things look at least a little brighter. They have a rare distinction — they are returning all 11 offensive starters. When a unit is as bad as theirs was, though, it’s hard to know if that is a good thing or not. The attitude around the team is much improved and recruiting has been very strong, so the future is bright. It just isn’t going to be a fast turnaround. I do expect better effort this year, though, and that should translate into more covered spreads. Last year’s coaching was so incredibly incompetent that it is a miracle they covered any games at all.
UCLA (3-9 ATS) — I have a friend who is a Bruins’ fan. I used to make fun of him relentlessly, but I just don’t have the heart to do it anymore — he has suffered enough, and he’s going to keep suffering. What have we learned from this team recently? Rick Neuheisel is terrible at coaching football, and you can’t be a good team without a good QB or a good offensive line. All three of those issues are going to be an issue again this year, so this team is again going to struggle. They may or may not be this bad ATS again, but they certainly aren’t going to be good.
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