College Football Handicapping: Targeting Worst ATS Teams in NCAA
by Trevor Whenham - 8/27/2014
When it comes to betting on college football - or any other sport, for that matter - it is typically the teams that win a lot of games and cover a lot of spreads that get a lot of attention from bettors. The important thing to remember, though, is that teams that cover very few spreads are just as attractive as those that cover a lot - betting against a team and being right pays just as well as betting on one correctly. Teams that are really bad against the spread can often be easier to spot than teams that are strong ATS as well because the public is unlikely to pay any attention to them.
So, how can a team be really lousy against the spread? There are obviously all sorts of ways, but three general trends stand out as the most effective - and perhaps the easiest to spot:
Incredibly lousy teams: This is the most obvious and most logical of reasons. These are teams that are not just bad, but they are far worse than people think that they are. These teams just stink. The seven worst teams in the country against the spread last year all had two or fewer wins on the season. Just being really bad is no guarantee that the team will be lousy against the spread, though - Georgia State didn't win a single game in 12 tries last year but was a very solid 8-3-1 ATS. You need to be sure that the team has fatal flaws that will make it impossible for them to play tough with any consistency.
Higher-profile teams that fail to live up to moderate expectations: Heading into the season last year people didn't expect Northwestern or West Virginia, for example, to be national championship contenders. There were a lot of people, though, that expected the teams to be decent - winning several games, scaring an elite team or two, and generally having a positive year. They won just five and four games, respectively, and they were far from good. Underwhelming against even moderate expectations in these cases was enough to drop the teams to just 3-9 ATS.
High-profile traditional powers that are decent but far from great: For many teams an 8-5 season would be seen as a reasonable success. For a program like Georgia, though, eight wins borders on a disaster. People expect more than that from such a team, and the public will make betting decisions on the team based more on their name than the realities of their disappointing year. As such, the team sputtered to a 3-9-1 ATS mark.
So, which teams could be destined to deliver big profits because they are just so lousy? Here are four strong candidates:
Cal: The Bears made a dramatic change when they brought Sonny Dykes in to coach. The program was a disaster, so it is no big surprise that they won only one game. Things are perhaps slightly better this year, but it is going to be a slow process, and they are forced to rebuild in what is the deepest and perhaps toughest conference in the land this year. Their schedule is absolutely brutal - one of the very toughest in the country - so they could be improved and still not win many games or even stay close in many.
UMass: The Minutemen are a prime example of how not to transition from FCS to FBS. They have just two wins the last two years and have looked just horrible. The problem right now, though, is that they aren't making much progress - at least not in any hurry. They have problems all over the field, the coaching staff changes constantly, and they just aren't good enough to contend. They are no better than they were last year, and there is a chance that they are the worst team in the FBS. That's really saying something.
Hawaii: This team is an absolute mess. Norm Chow was a genius at offensive coordinator long ago, but he hasn't been strong in that job for a long time and has really struggled in two years as head coach here. The talent isn't good enough. The coaching is suspect. The travel is brutal. The future of the program is in serious question because of funding, and that will surely be a distraction. Add it all up, and this is a program that could really struggle.
Oklahoma: Could the Sooners be the candidate to fill the high-profile disappointment role that Georgia did last year? They come in with bigger expectations than the Bulldogs did. Those expectations are matched, though, by plenty of warning signs. Injuries. Suspensions. Odd and sometimes desperate player moves - like having Blake Bell, the former QB who is now No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end - again taking QB snaps in camp. A history of underwhelming in recent years. Add it all up, and there is a chance that the Sooners could struggle to met the expectations they face.
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