College Football Mid-Major Conference Betting Preview
by Dave Schwab - 8/30/2011
The 2011 college football season gets underway this Thursday night and while much of the interest with the betting public is concentrated on the teams that comprise the six major conferences, there is a wealth of value and opportunity to be found in the mid-majors as well.
The five conferences that make-up the Division IA mid-major category are Conference-USA, Mid American (MAC), Mountain West (MWC), Sun Belt, and the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). Programs such as Boise State and TCU have led the way for the mid-majors over the course of the past few seasons by routinely working their way into the top of the BCS rankings, but there are a number of schools that field extremely competitive teams and are more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with most of the programs in the major conferences.
The first few weeks of the college season offer a number of games that pit these mid-major teams against the majors before conference play begins. These games are worth a second look when searching for hidden value in the point spreads as there are always some bad lines out there given the unpredictability of these type of games.
When searching for value in Conference-USA, keep an eye on teams such as Houston, Central Florida, Southern Mississippi, and Tulsa. All four of these teams have solid programs and have garnered a few votes in the preseason polls. Houston is a prime example of a team with hidden talent in a quarterback named Case Keenum. He missed most of the 2010 season with a knee injury and the Cougars fell to 5-7 on the year. He received an extra year of eligibility due to the injury and is poised for a big return in 2011.
The MAC has a number of good teams, but none that jump off the page at you. Northern Illinois has gotten some attention in the polls, but the oddsmakers have opened Toledo as the favorite to win the conference at 13/4. Both these teams have some playmakers on offense that can put points on the scoreboard and defenses that lost quite a few starters from last season. These are the type of teams that can cover a double-digit spread while taking a game ‘over’ its total.
The MWC is currently the cream of the crop in the mid-majors with Boise State joining TCU (at least for this season before the Horned Frogs jump ship for the Big East) in the conference this year. Both schools are ranked in the preseason AP poll with the Broncos coming in at fifth and TCU at 14th. The team to really watch in the MWC this season is Air Force. The Falcons return a good chunk of talent from last year’s squad that was ranked second in the nation in rushing yards per game and 28th in points allowed. This is a great combination for keeping games close and covering the spread.
There are no standout teams in the Sun Belt Conference, but that does not mean that schools such as Florida International or Troy do not have the ability to throw a scare into any majors on their respective schedules. FIU faces Louisville in Week 2 on the road and Duke at home on Oct.1. The Trojans tangle with Clemson and Arkansas on the road the first two weeks of the season and offer some solid value in light of what should be a hefty point spread.
The WAC has gotten whacked with some defections, with Boise State leaving this season and Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada all jumping ship to the MWC next year. However, you can guarantee that these three programs will be looking to go out with a bang. The Bulldogs are the current favorite to win the WAC at 3/1, but the Warriors and the Wolf Pack have captured the attention of the polls with some preseason votes. Make a special note to take a look at two of these teams in Week 2. Nevada will take on Oregon in its season opener while the Ducks will be coming off a tough opening day matchup with LSU, which could point to a bit of a letdown no matter what happens in the game with the Tigers. Fresno State travels to Nebraska as most likely a double-digit underdog and could catch the Cornhusker’s napping after they open up against Division IAA Chattanooga in Week 1.
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