2014 College Football Handicapping: Under-the-Radar Teams to Watch
by Trevor Whenham - 7/31/2014
Whether you are a fan of the new college football playoff or not, the one thing you absolutely can't deny is that it, and the power maneuvers that it has caused, have further widened the gap between the haves and have-nots in college football. Teams in the Power 5 conferences get the attention, and the rest will get even less than normal - and that's saying something. It's a shame, really. Not only is there some great football played outside of the spotlight, but some of the best betting opportunities lie with teams that the public doesn't pay any attention to. Here are three programs from outside of the Power 5 that have a chance to put together a solid season from a betting perspective:
BYU Cougars: As we have seen many times in college football, the presence of one or two elite-level athletes can really allow a team to play at a higher level than they otherwise might. BYU this year has two such athletes on offense, and it could have a huge impact for them. Quarterback Taysom Hill ran for more than 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, so he definitely has some game on his feet. His progress in the passing game last year is what makes him so intriguing, though. He was lousy early on, but he sharpened up noticeably. In his second year as the starter he could make a big step forward. He is 23, so maturity certainly isn't a concern. Combine his running talents with those of running back Jamaal Williams and you have a heck of a duo. Williams had more than 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore last year, and will be even better this year. Last year this team had wins over Texas, Boise State, Houston and Nevada to build on, though they wound up just 8-5. This year their schedule has some tests, but they have a chance to make some early noise and should be able to close the season on a real tear. This is the best team BYU has had since they went independent four years ago.
Navy Midshipmen: There seems to be a theme of picking independents developing here. Navy has improved in each of the last two years and could be poised to take another step forward this year. QB Keenan Reynolds is pretty much the perfect choice to run the triple-option, and he showed it by running for 31 touchdowns last year - a record for a QB. He was at his best against Fresno State when he ran for seven scores. In his third year of starting, Reynolds could be poised for an even bigger year, and that could lead Navy to take another step forward. Another thing that makes Navy compelling, though, is their schedule. They open up with a game against Ohio State in Baltimore. That is very likely not going to go well for them. For public bettors who pay little attention to the service academies, a decisive loss there would mean that Navy would be entirely off the radar. They have a schedule after that which features 10 very winnable games and a virtual home game against Notre Dame. This team is going to quietly win a lot of games and could score a lot of points in doing so.
Cincinnati Bearcats: Of all the teams negatively affected by the conference re-shuffling that has gone on lately, I feel worse for the Bearcats than anyone else. They have been a strong team for several years now, but they never really had a serious option to move and are now stuck in the barren wasteland that is the American Conference. They will be easily forgotten - especially now that Louisville has deserted them for greener pastures in the ACC. This edition of the Bearcats deserves better. They have seven returning defensive starters and an improved defensive coaching staff, and they should be very good when they don't have the ball. Their offensive line is excellent. Former blue-chip recruit Gunner Kiel will be at quarterback after transferring in from Notre Dame, and he has strong talent to work with at running back and wide receiver. Tommy Tuberville is in his second year with the program and should have the team performing more like he wants to this season. The team has 10 winnable games, and two chances to make a huge statement as they travel to Ohio State and Miami. There is a lot to like about this team - even if most people couldn't possibly care less about their joke of a conference.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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