Predicting the future, or just finding value?

 

The futures markets (and by extension, some of the prop markets) are my favorite to bet into.  Although the limits are low, it's the perfect place to hone your craft, price things well, and try to predict where teams are headed.  Whether I'm betting or not, I like to watch games, and I like to think about teams.  Futures just allow me to express those opinions.  Those opinions are located in this section.

 

8/30, 11:30am ET: The Week 1 CFP Winner Basket

Get up.  It's GameDay.

No, but really, kinda awesome to finally have games to digest tonight and we can really get rolling with this whole thing.  I've been trying to provide as much content as possible so that if you're like how I used to be (slow to get up to speed with the season rapidly approaching) you can get on the level of the rest of us in a hurry.  The final piece of that puzzle is the futures I'm entering the season with.  I don't do CFP winner like a traditional futures basket (equal to win amounts across the board) because I usually will try to take these and hedge multiple ones out (if you followed me for college hoops you know I did that a lot with K-State 200/1 and Texas Tech 200/1) for varying amounts.  These are separate bets, but they're in the same market, so we'll include them together. I won't give a long description for each because I feel like I've been doing that for these teams all month.  If you don't know why I like Oregon yet, for example, I don't know how to help you.  

Before I list, two teams I want to watch very carefully going forward, but don't want yet: Auburn and Michigan. Both play impossible schedules, including brutal Week 1 games, and I am banking on the fact that even victories in primetime Week 1 matchups don't lower the odds tremendously. In Michigan's case it really shouldn't, because they're already 18/1 and they'd still have 5 extremely tough games left (Penn St, Michigan St, Wisconsin, Ohio St, B10 title game).  I love Michigan, but no thanks on that price right now.  Auburn is interesting because they're favored in Week 1, yet their odds to win the CFP are much worse than Washington, who they're favored over.  I think if I really like Auburn, they can be had a little later, or I can bet them individually against Georgia and Alabama when the time comes.

Anyway, away we go:

Ohio State +1000 (BOL): This number was available for a while, and now it's not.  If you want to grab +775 at 5D or try to shop around to find an 8, there may be one left.  I still think it's valuable, as the spreads in their games may reach astronomical levels if they're as good as I think they are.  The game at Penn State may not be lined as small as it is in the look-aheads when we get to Week 5.

Michigan State +3500 (5D): The returning production is absolutely off-the-charts, again I'm down on Penn State, and the Spartans host their next 2 toughest games.  Weakness in the B12 and Pac-12 record-wise could once again create a 2-teams-from-one-conference situation, and this division is the most likely to produce the 2nd team, so Ohio State and them are not mutually exclusive in this case.

Miami +5000 (5D): Favored in all 12, elite recruiting and only bad attrition at one position (defensive tackle).  Mark Richt gets shat on by people all the time when he basically lost a coinflip to Alabama for a title shot.  What are you saying about him if Aaron Murray doesn't throw underneath short of the end zone?  

Florida +10000 (5D): Just seems a little high with a ceiling this enormous.  The range of possible outcomes here is just insanely wide. 3-9 and everyone gets arrested? Sure.  Beat Georgia? Sure.

Oregon +11000 (5D): I am tired of talking about this team.  I don't even like them that much, I just love the schedule and the set-up, and a fully-healthy Herbert for a season would be incredible.

Miss State +12500 (5D): Absurd returning production.  Auburn's more talented, but who would I rather have at current prices? Not even sure that's close given schedules.

 

This of course is just the starter kit.  More to come throughout the season, as we learn more and more about the teams.  Really should be a fun ride.

8/27, 1:45pm ET: SEC Win Totals

I was on such a roll, I figured I might as well come back and bang out the last conference while I'm here. A lot of things in the SEC are properly rated, like Alabama and Georgia being the best teams in their respective divisions. Even the gap between Alabama and Auburn in pricing is justifiable because Auburn's schedule is so brutal (even though there really is not that big of a talent gap between the 2 schools at all this year, and you would give Auburn a huge OC/DC edge).  Everything kind of falls into place for the most part, with a couple notable exceptions.

Tennessee over 5.5 wins -130

No win total may come back to haunt me more than this one, because of the...unique...vocal fans of the SEC.  This one's actually incredibly straightforward though.  In larger conceptual terms, the team has recruited like crazy throughout Butch Jones' time, and he was simply unable to take that talent and convert it to on-field performance, for a variety of reasons. Much of that talent remains, even if it's currently being rated poorly.  And in this conference, talent is required to be competitive.  Great coaching just can't make a dent in meaningful ways without it because of the athletes on the field.  I don't know if Jeremy Pruitt is a good coach, as the Nick Saban lineage has actually been quite dicey in terms of on-field results, with some extreme positives and negatives.  What I do know is that the old regime were NOT good coaches, and were to be routinely faded at all turns.  At least now the fading can stop for a little bit, and that has to mean something.  Tyson Helton and Kevin Sherrer at least have lots of potential, even if it's so far unproven in the coordinator roles they now occupy.

More to the point, this schedule is somehow beatable, which doesn't make sense when you consider that they drew Alabama and Auburn.  I'm not even sure Tennessee has to be that good to win 6 games.  If they're good, they can win 8 or 9. If you read my post on the Big 12, I mentioned how, if you're a lower-tier team trying to overachieve, it can actually help to have your sure losses be road games, in sort of a "kill 2 birds with 1 stone" mentality.  You weren't going to win anyway, might as well knock out a road game too.  It seems almost too simple to be effective, but Tennessee isn't sniffing the playoff this year, they just want to be good again, and that type of luck in scheduling has an impact on the difference between 5 wins and 7. While Alabama is unfortunately a home loss, Georgia and Auburn, the next 2 toughest games by far, knock out 2 of their conference road games.  Yay!  So you need to win 6 of 9 against the following slate: vs West Virginia, vs ETSU, vs UTEP, vs Florida, at SC, vs Charlotte, vs Kentucky, vs Missouri, at Vanderbilt.  Sorry my friends, but that's 6-3 or better a LOT of the time.  There are lots of cases to be made for the rise of Florida and South Carolina, but the gap between these teams isn't nearly what is currently being rated.  Ultimately, it comes to this: the value in the over stems from the fact that this team should be playing it's best football BY FAR at the end of the season, and the 4 games in a row to close are all VERY likely wins.  The projected spreads in those games, especially the pick-em being laid out for home vs Kentucky and at Vanderbilt will most likely appear laughable just a month from now.  It's bottom-of-the-barrel ratings for a team that's perennially underachieved, and the numbers have only one direction to move barring injury or a complete flame-out by Pruitt.  This sets up perfectly for a team trying to build momentum into Year 2.  

Mississippi State over (RIP)

I had this great paragraph written out, and I really like this team this year still, but the markets are suspended because Nick Fitzgerald is suspended, and there's enough going on here that now I'm passy passerson in the interim.  

8/27, 1:15pm ET: Big 10 Win Totals

Might as well just keep rolling through these, since I have serious writer's block (combined with apathy) with 2 other topics I wanted to work on today.  Big 10!  The conference with the most polarizing division in history, featuring 4 legitimate top-15 teams, maybe even 4 top-10 teams, and then...the rest.  Don't need to re-hash what's been happening at some of those places, suffice to say it isn't great. 

Purdue under 6 -130

What Jeff Brohm did last year still blows my mind.  There's a Patreon content provider, @CFBMatrix, who has some pretty wild ideas about statistics and analysis, and tries to create metrics that explain things.  He has something called Coach Effect, which is kind of exactly what you think it would be, the extent to which the quality of a coach helps or hurts his team within a given season.  Some numbers make sense intuitively -- Pat Fitzgerald has a positive coach effect most years.  Larry Fedora does not.  You'll see a +1/+2, or a -1/-2 with some frequency.  Last year, I think he gave Brohm a +6.  It's just insane.  He took a program from the toilet to...I dunno, somewhere else in the bathroom.  The shower, to make it look better?  Whatever.  The problem is, in his 2nd year, when the logical expectation is "now let's REALLY do some damage and get moving upwards!" it's almost a start-over in a lot of ways. And the schedule is as brutal as possible. 

Purdue's 3 non-conference games are vs Eastern Michigan (not at all a cupcake, but a win a reasonably high percentage of the time), vs Missouri, and vs Boston College.  Mizzou and BC are 2 programs that really can go in all kinds of directions this year (I would say the most likely direction for BC is up and for Missouri is sideways), but that's a lot of volatility opposing you when you aren't fielding a very talented team to begin with.  Purdue's recruiting minus attrition really just puts them behind the 8 ball compared to a lot of other Power 5 schools, especially in their own conference.  Coaching and coordinators can only do so much.  In conference play, after that slate, they draw Ohio State, at Michigan State, and at Indiana, 2 of which are very likely losses, and 1 is (at best) a toss-up.  5 conference road games this year too, and although one of them is at Illinois, it does tend to beg the question of where the likely wins are, or the pieces of wins, if you are someone who does the win-total addition that way based on spread.  Minnesota and Nebraska would represent small advantage games, but now those are both on the road.  Northwestern is a small dog Thursday night almost certainly because no one really knows if Clayton Thorson is 100 percent.  Power ratings in that game with a healthy Thorson should be closer to a pk or NW -1.  

All those scheduling factors aside, Purdue succeeded last year mostly with balance.  They had a Top-40 defense in S&P, but they weren't really bad in any other areas (offense was top-70, special teams adequate), and they were extraordinarily well-coached.  This year, they are almost dead last in the country in returning defensive production, a monster problem for a program that doesn't recruit at an elite level.  They bring back a lot of offensive starters, but in terms of offensive stats that correlate positively to improved record and performance, receiving yards is actually a strong indicator.  They lost both top wideouts from last year, and a projected starter, Jared Sparks, is starting the season injured.  There just isn't a lot here past the coaches and quarterbacks, and that only gets you so far on this schedule.

Michigan State over 9 -105

A lot of your opinions about the Big 10 this year hinge on, in my opinion, your analysis of Penn State.  I think analysis of Ohio State will almost always yield the same thing -- that they are close to #1 in the country.  An analysis of Michigan will yield results that they are insanely talented (less so now at WR obviously) but the schedule is so rigorous that there is uncertainty in their possible record, hence 9 is a number that actually makes a lot of sense.  But Penn State...what are they?  Are they going to be a reflection of their dominant recent recruiting, combined with Trace McSorley has potentially the best college QB in the country this season?  Or is this more of a bridge season, required because of the attrition from both sides in terms of real meaningful production.  I think it's a bridge year, and while it may be a 9-3 bridge year, it means I think the other Big 10 powers are more likely to beat Penn State than not.

That's sort of related to Michigan State's win total, because the 2 teams play (duh). And at Penn State is the only remotely scary road game on the docket, unless Nebraska transforms itself by the end of the season (which is possible, just not likely in this short of a time frame.  Nebraska's year is next year, and the year after).  The schedule really does play out favorably.  Michigan and Ohio State both come to East Lansing, only 4 conference road games, and at Indiana/at Maryland are 2 of them.  It's not quite Illinois or Rutgers, but it's still favorable as a draw.  They avoid Wisconsin.  The non-conference is a feisty but generally less-talented Utah State team, at Arizona State (who I can't really be down on more than I am), and Central Michigan, who despite great coaching has a ton of production to replace.  That's 3-0 a really high percentage of the time, and considering the conference schedule and their overall returning production, this is the right price to make this bet.

Not to get everyone too hyped about Michigan State, but the year they made the playoff, obviously a lot had to break right, but the recruiting rankings and the returning production were quite similar to what's coming back this year.  Does that manifest itself in terms of the development of the top-end talent required?  Unknown.  Also the coaching staff will be a little less experienced.  Still, playoff or not, Big 10 title or not, 10-2 (or better) is quite reachable given all factors involved. 

8/27, 11:55pm ET: Pac 12 Win Totals

Got a tiny window of time again, so figured why not.  Only one here, I have Cal over at better #'s, and at 6.5 you are welcome to fire, it's just not as valuable as it once was.  Still like Cal a lot this year though.  Arizona over would be my next favorite one, solely because of the schedule, but Arizona is a team that's actually been bet a lot in many forms already, and they just aren't talented enough to justify the price you'll be paying for them in most forms. Why only a mention of overs? Because wins are probably coming out of USC, Washington State and Arizona State's programs, Oregon State and Colorado remain bad, and UCLA has too tough a schedule.  Those opinions aren't really actionable because the numbers already reflect the opinions.  Anyway, those wins need somewhere to go. 

 

Oregon over 9 +115

I'm going to take a shot here with a better price, and 8.5 -130 to -145 available in a couple other places at last check. I've talked about their schedule to death, but for the purposes of this piece I will now revive it, talk about it again, and then we can finally bury it for good.

They will open the season 3-0, congrats to them already on that incredible start.  All 3 games are at home, meaning between now and the Stanford game in Week 4, they will travel away from Eugene on exactly 0 days.  An entire month to essentially get details just right for the trip in by the Cardinal, who will have already battled San Diego State and USC.  What a spot.  The game against Washington is improved not only because it's at home but because Oregon has a bye going in, and Washington is on back-to-back travel.  Next toughest games are at Utah and at Arizona, both teams the Ducks are more talented than, and with Arizona, by a reasonably wide margin, Tate notwithstanding. 

Unlike basically all Oregon teams from the last 20 years, the defense will be incredibly reliable with big upside, and the skill position players will be a question mark.  What crazy, new world is this? Justin Herbert's health is the biggest question mark.  But I think looking at projected talent, returning production on both sides, and schedule, this bet is kind of a no-brainer.

 

 

8/27, 10:45am ET: 2018 Big 12 Win Totals

A more abbreviated post here than the ACC one.  But still a lot of fun!  Woo!

Baylor over 5.5 wins -145 (BetOnline)

The lowest juice I could find in a quick perusal of 5-6 places, and obviously, price matters.  I've been in on this team from the jump.  After a...less than ideal..situation in which Matt Rhule was thrown into in Year 1, I think the stability and pieces are now in place here to start thinking about a bowl game.  There's still a good amount of talent here relative to many teams in the conference, they have an improving quarterback with experience, and several impact transfers.  Most importantly, the schedule helps a great deal.  They will start 4-0 or 3-1 a lot of the time depending on how the Duke game goes, so 3-5 in conference wins this a lot. They host Kansas (win) and also host Kansas State and Oklahoma State, 2 more great opportunities considering where those teams are this year.  They play Texas Tech on a neutral to close the season, which MAY end up being for the win, but I think it's more likely they're 6-5 in that game anyway.  This is a perfect situation where if the home-road were flipped with all their conference games, they might win 3-4.  If you are a bad team in a major conference, or at least a below-average team, you want the games you were going to lose anyway to be on the road every single time. The talent discrepancy in college football means that some games will truly be non-competitive, or at least a 95 percent-ish win-rate for the opposition in some cases (Baylor is better than 5 percent win expectancy vs. almost anyone, but the rubric is still true for them as a below-average conference team). This year, Baylor plays Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia on the road.  PERFECT.

Texas Tech under 6 wins +100

The exact opposite of Baylor.  Not only do I think this is the end for Kingsbury, the Ryan Gosling of college football, but the schedule is flipped in the worst possible way.  Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, all at home, a guarantee of nothing of certainty in the win column.  Only one other home game (Kansas) and then Baylor on a neutral.  Ole Miss and Houston in the non-conference, games where I would prefer the opposition, if only slightly.  The path to 7 wins here will require the defense to not only maintain their surprising performance from last year, but really improve, and will require a quarterback to emerge from a very mediocre-looking group that achieves great successes.  Both of those things will still require the team to play amazingly on the road in multiple situations.  Here are Kingsbury's true road records in his 5 years in Big 12 play: 2-2, 1-3, 2-2, 1-3, 2-2.  Playing at Kansas accounts for 3 of those 8 wins.

8/27, 9am ET: 2018 ACC Win Totals

I am going to rapid fire my way through the Power 5, providing as much detail as I can before moving on to the next thing.  Again, good news here for you is that these aren't prices from May 10th or something (May 10th was a happier time, when Cal was at 5.5 and summer was still on the horizon).  Anyways, away we go:

**All prices will be given using 5D because it's easier for me in a limited amount of time but PLEASE shop around**

Miami over 9.5 -115

I just don't get it man.  One day, all will become clear to me, and I will achieve true enlightenment perhaps, but until then, I'm still scrambling around in the dark with a flashlight I guess.  This number should always be 10 and it isn't.  This team is infinitely more talented than every other team in their division ((I also like Miami to win the Coastal +115 a great deal, as I wrote at Action Network), they will be favored in all 12 games, they avoid Clemson, and they've recruited insanely.  They check the boxes of talent + coaching (even if you don't love Richt, Manny Diaz has been great) + schedule + price.  Malik Rosier isn't elite but he doesn't have to be to hit this number easily.  He does have to probably be elite for them to make any national noise, which they were on the verge of doing last year.  I'm not as sure that's possible, but the prices are also much more appealing for those events anyway which allows me stomach them.  They have one weakness on their team -- defensive tackle -- where they lost 2 guys to the NFL, but they are elite at so many other position groups.  There are only 4 games on the schedule that they lose with any frequency -- the opener vs LSU on a neutral, vs Florida State, at Boston College and at Virginia Tech.  They are MUCH more talented than BC or VT this year, they get FSU at home, and I'm way down on LSU in general, plus you're getting the Tigers in the first game with a new QB and a new OC.  I think 10-2 occurs by far the highest percentage of the time in the spectrum of records, and there are slightly more outliers up than down.

Pittsburgh under 5 wins +130

This one is much more about price than analysis.  They actually will win 5 a pretty good amount of the time, but the hype/money on this team is a little perplexing when considering the schedule.  They have recruited at about a 40th-type level, so the talent isn't elite. They are breaking in a new defensive coordinator who runs some different schemes so the players need some time to adapt (and they lost 2 defensive players to the NFL from last year's roster), I don't see a lot of great offensive talent, and the QB is a total question mark (who had 1 really good game when they upset Miami last year).  We really don't know who the QB will end being long-term, because they have about 10 of them in camp, and apparently just got Jeff George, Jr. as well.  What I don't see here is returning production and talent on par with a significant improvement in wins.  But let's get back to the schedule: after Albany, the 3 non-conference games are Penn State, at UCF and at Notre Dame.  Win 1 of those and I'll throw you a parade.  At 1-3 entering conference play a high percent of the time, 3-5 or worse is required to win this bet, and really only home vs Syracuse is one you can reliably pencil in the win column.  Virginia is the weakest opponent but they're on the road, and after that it's really a lot of games that can be called toss-ups at best and touchdown-underdogs more reliably as the season progresses.  The one thing which hurt this bet a little bit after I placed it was the UNC sneaker-gate scandal, because Pitt is the 4th game UNC will play, meaning the Tar Heels implicated will miss that game before returning the following week.  Pitt gets a weaker UNC team on the road in that contest.  

NC State under 7.5 wins -130

Here's how I'd like to frame this analysis: I know that Ryan Finley is really good, and will be drafted into the NFL at some point in April. But this is much less about him and much more about the program.  NC State is one of the most underachieving teams the last 2 years that I can ever remember, but people don't talk about it as much because they're NC State.  With the amount of talent on hand last year, the opportunity was there for 10, 11, even 12 wins, and instead they lost to South Carolina, Notre Dame, Clemson, and Wake Forest to go 8-4 and beat Arizona State in the prestigious Sun Bowl.  Their ENTIRE defensive line then got drafted into the pros as well as both key offensive pieces.  What a waste.  So much talent.  We talk up Clemson's defensive line as this four-horseman-of-the-apocalypse, cancel-the-season-right-now unit.  This team JUST DID THE SAME THING.  ALL FOUR GUYS DRAFTED.  But again, NC State, so whatever.  So what's more likely, that this team just gets all the bad bounces in the world every game, and eventually will turn it around, OR that the coaching staff is unable to perform at a high level in taking that talent and converting it into success on the field? Depending on your answer to that, you will probably pick their win total differently.  They basically lost every productive piece on the entire defense from last year -- entire DL, 2 of 3 LB, 2 biggest contributors in the secondary.  Ryan Finley is great, but they only won 8 games last year and he had Hines and Samuels to do everything, as well as a better offensive line. Now I'm supposed to believe they win 8 again? I understand that the schedule is easier and that's honestly why this number is 7.5 and not 6.5 or 6 -- they avoid Miami and VT out of the Coastal, although I guess VT isn't even an avoid right now, and will start 2-0 with a home game against Virginia later in the year -- so you're getting 3 out of the gate.  But find me 5 more.  I don't think they're ever there, and the circumstances to play the teams they're playing did not work in their favor here.  They play UNC at their place the final week when all the suspended players are back and the team will, on average, be playing much better.  They play Syracuse at Syracuse, which is almost a night-day difference when you look at some of the splits and results.  This (to me) is a situation where a truly elite quarterback is masking all of the other really problematic things on a team, including a coaching staff that just botched a legitimate chance for the most successful team in the program's history.

8/24, 7pm ET: The Final 2018 Heisman basket

After writing what seems like 10,000 words on the topic (and believe me, it was really fun to do so), I wanted to just post what I ended up going with as my final futures basket for this market.  There are a few guys that are really close calls for me to add based on price and likelihood of team success...I'd say the most glaring omissions that I think could hurt me are Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, and Jonathan Taylor. I also thought about adding Jarrett Stidham prior to a show-out game in Week 1, but ended up passing because I really don't think Auburn can get to a high win number very often this year (they can do it, just not with great frequency). 

In the end, some of the more eligible quarterbacks had to be excluded because otherwise the payout of the group was going to drop to a really low multiplier no matter who won, and this just isn't a market where you can have EVERYONE who can win. Another important thing to note here: the importance of shopping around.  The good news is these aren't prices I grabbed 5 weeks ago and am putting here now, which do you no good.  These are all available as of this article being published. 

Will Grier +1600 (BetOnline)

Trace McSorley +1650 (Heritage)

Dwayne Haskins +1650 (5Dimes)

D'Andre Swift +4000 (everywhere)

Rodney Anderson +5000 (everywhere)

Nick Fitzgerald +6000 (everywhere)


I'll probably mess around and add more as the season goes on, but in terms of prices that I think have a lot of room to drop, that's the list I'm going with right now. You'll note the lack of total longshots (which have a rich history of doing well)...I think this could be the type of season where none of the preseason longshots do well, but where the race is wide open enough that someone who is added to the markets in the first couple weeks at long odds could emerge and do well.  Like, for example, if Shawn Robinson (QB, TCU) has an insane first week against an FCS team, he may get listed at like 50/1 or higher, and then in week 2 they'd face SMU's leaky defense.  Or if we get more clarity on QB situations in Alabama and Clemson, or RB situations in Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State, where it's possible it's not as much of a committee approach as we thought, action may be warranted.

Regardless, this is what I'm starting with, feel free to add to it as you wish! Enjoy the games tomorrow.

8/19, 3:50pm ET: 2018 Mountain West win totals

I wanted to get this one posted while I had a little downtime on a Sunday because it doesn't require much explaining.  This is one of the conferences in which I will have the least futures bets and the least win-totals.  Why is that?  Because the ratings are appropriate, for the most part.  Yes, Boise State is better than everyone.  Yes, probably by a lot.  Yes, San Diego State and Fresno State are the 2 next best teams (although I'd strongly prefer San Diego State between the 2).  Yes, Wyoming and even UNLV are exciting teams that will have miracle runs and win a small percent of the time too.  That's all reflected in the odds, folks!  How fun!  Anyway, there are still a couple win totals I like here, and I wanted to explain them as we get closer to the awful-but-who-cares-becase-it's-football Week 0 of games.

Boise State over 10 wins +105

I gasped at this price when I saw it a little while back.  Gasped.  I was pretty much expecting 10 -150 or higher, but here we are. Boise isn't just out-recruiting the "average" Mountain West team for the last several years, they might as well be salting the Earth so no other recruits can grow for anyone else.  Only San Diego State is really even close.  The Broncos are doing so well on a talent-level that their feared non-conference matchup at Oklahoma State isn't even THAT much of a mismatch in terms of recruiting...which is kind of scary (lookaheads also have that spread under a touchdown in Stillwater..also crazy).  This is a team that had a bad year, had complete instability in all phases of the game personnel-wise for the first 6 weeks, and went 9-3, one game worse than the posted total.  This year they bring back an incredible amount of returning production, and host Fresno State and San Diego State, after playing each on the road last year.  Their Week 1 matchup at Troy is the sort-of game that CFB dorks love, because it matches up 2 teams that the public doesn't really care about but who played extremely well last year and many feel deserve more respect.  The only problem is Troy lost so much production in such key spots that the game may very well be a blowout.  Anyway, back to Boise.  They have highly-regarded coordinators, and although I wouldn't qualify Bryan Harsin as an outstanding coach, I think only "average" is required to steer this ship correctly.  I also think if this team emerges as the best Group of Five, and it's by a significant margin, there is value on QB Brett Rypien to be invited to the Heisman ceremony.  He is basically precluded from winning, but we saw this type of situation with Kellen Moore and other GO5 schools in the past (Ed Oliver is another candidate that fits this type of angle for me).  He is currently 20/1 to be invited.

Air Force over 4.5 wins -140

There were better prices available recently, but that doesn't really do you the reader any good, so I'll just tell you I still like this, and since there are no alternates available for a team like Air Force, this is what you're stuck with.  On some level, there is an element of trust in Troy Calhoun that has to accompany this pick.  Service academies aren't schools that can be reliably scouted using recruiting because they are service academies. The entire process of figuring out what this team is going to be is a little different.  Returning starters are also frequently less, especially in the trenches, and that frequently is also irrelevant in projection.  Metrics like S&P or whatever Phil Steele uses to be wrong a lot aren't going to value this team appropriately, because that's not possible in August.  You know who's dead last in the AAC in recruiting averages every year?  Navy (and sometimes UCONN, because they're that bad).  You know who hasn't come close to performing at that poor level the last decade because of coaching, player development and scheme? Navy (but not UCONN, they've actually been awful).  I would have written the last 2 sentences using Air Force instead, because it applies, but then I couldn't have made UCONN jokes.

What I will say here is that Calhoun's typical level of production for this program is enough to exceed this number, which is being dragged down because of a very poor performance last year.  They had 1 returning starter on defense last year.  1.  That's insane, even for Air Force.  The advantage of playing so many young guys last year is that returning experience is actually really good this year for a service academy.  They also have a returning QB, Arion Worthman, who can be a star in the conference, and they host Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado State and Stony Brook, all games I would potentially favor them in if power rankings were of any value to a school like Air Force.  Again, more faith required than usual, but if this team even plays like the most average of Air Force teams they win 5-6 games.

 

8/16, 8:34pm ET: 2018 MAC Win Totals

So I'll start by saying "my bad" on some of these.  By waiting to write this, some of the prices have gone completely out of control.  Example: I am holding a Buffalo over 6.5 -110 ticket, and now it's like -170 or worse everywhere.  Whoops.  I'll start there, and explain my process at least.

Buffalo over 6.5 (was -110, and now...not)

The legends of the Wisconsin-Whitewater coaching staff enter the 4th year trying to convert an FBS team to a dominant program.  Lance Leipold leads the charge, but the gang's all here.  The best place to start is the schedule.  They'll be a big underdog (TD or more) in just 1 game for sure, at Toledo late in the season. Even Ohio might end up being within a touchdown spread-wise, and I'm not completely sold on Ohio this year, more on that in a bit. When 11 of your 12 games are VERY winnable, and you're a Group of Five team, that's phenomenal. Their non-conference is really interesting actually, with games at Temple, at Rutgers and vs Army, which all figure to be close.  If you track the arc of Leipold's tenure at the program, you have to really like the monster improvements both the offense and defense made last year, and that the players most responsible for all of that growth return on both sides of the ball.  There are legitimate MAC stars on this team on both sides, and they may have the best QB in the conference (Tyree Jackson).  I think with the win-total just juiced into oblivion, 10/1 to win the conference is a really good idea.  The star power creates a really high potential ceiling, and with Toledo losing a crazy amount of production at all key positions, and Ohio unlikely to become elite despite projections, there may be a bit of a vacuum here where someone can move up a reasonable amount.  This would be my pick for the team to do so.  Unfortunately it seems like in the last few weeks, it also become everyone else's pick, too.

Bowling Green over 4.5 -110

Year 3 of Mike Jinks, and obviously Year 3's can generally be when we start to see a coach's true imprint on a program, with predominantly their recruits and their systems in place.  One thing that's already clear -- they have amassed a lot of talent compared to other MAC schools.  Their 2-year recruiting is basically 2nd in the conference behind Toledo (and it's a big gap from Toledo to everyone else, but still).  A lot of those underclassmen also played last year, overtaking their less talented counterparts.  They started a freshman QB, RB, 2 freshman OL, and 2 freshman LB.  That's absurd in FBS football, at any school.  A full season of QB Jarret Doege (he got hurt on a trick play last year of all things) should give them a chance in almost every game they play. Their amount of returning defensive production is 13th in the country.  It's really not a matter of if they're going to be good, it's sort-of just when -- this is a team that could lose a lot of close games this year and go 4-8 but then absolutely crush next year once the extra experience and recruiting REALLY kicks in.  I'm betting we see improvement this year too though.  

So why on Earth is the number so low, you might be saying? Well, the non-conference slate is gruesome.  at Oregon, vs Maryland, vs Eastern Kentucky, at Georgia Tech.  The good news is at least Maryland's program might be teetering so you at least get some uncertainty there.  Realistically this is 1-3 so often it almost doesn't require more analysis.  They play at Toledo and at Ohio, but both teams are almost certainly going to be worse than last year, so those are less daunting than advertised.  There's significant talent discrepancy between this team and the rest of their opponents with the exception of maybe Western Michigan which is more like a coinflip, edge to BG with homefield advantage.  If they beat the teams they are supposed to beat, they go...bowling.  Get it.  HAHAHAHAHA.

 

Ohio under 8.5 -140

A program that habitually wins 6-8 games every year under the same coach forever, who last year basically blew the division with 2 late road losses to finish 8-4, brings back almost no one on defense, and recruits very poorly compared to the elite teams in the conference...and the # is...wait...8.5?  Really?

I think their level of success last season (prior to Week 11) combined with the fact they have great quarterback play from Nathan Rourke is causing unrealistic expectations here.  We all love the good quarterback.  Yes, the offense will be good...probably. But the margins between them and the rest of the teams in the conference, and specifically their opponents on this year's schedule, did not really grow at all in the offseason.  Of their 8 conference games, Akron is the only opponent who definitely got worse.  6 of the others are teams I'm expecting modest to major improvement for, and Western Michigan's still kinda just hanging around until P.J. Fleck's recruits are all gone and their program can return to it's traditional level of performance.  Their non-conference is being used as a potential pro -- Howard (OK, that's a pro, admittedly), at Virginia, at Cincinnati, vs UMASS.  I would argue they are getting the other 3 teams at the worst possible time...last year, those are all probably more winnable than they are this year.  Cincinnati and UMASS will absolutely be better (Cincinnati almost has to be by default with the talent their stockpiling). UMASS is my favorite over bet on the board quite possibly.  The edge I think I have in making this bet is there are easily 6-7 teams on this schedule that I believe are currently being underrated.  Ohio is basically playing my "most improved list" for a few months.  Generally not conducive to winning a lot.  They probably win 6-8 games...you know, just like they always do.

8/6, 8:35pm: Conference USA Futures, Part 2

Hello again.

In part 1 of the Conference USA analysis, we talked about teams that, for a variety of reasons, were atrocious last year, and now I expected to improve.  Therefore, I was playing their win-totals over. In this part I'm going to briefly talk about my outlook for the rest of the conference and if there are any bets worth making there.

Louisiana Tech over 7 wins +100

A great combination of general factors on the surface, with a longtime coach, 2 coordinators entering their 3rd years, and a good incoming recruiting class.  Stability, thy name is Holtz.  An incredibly high amount of overall returning production including QB.  There are 3 auto-losses on the schedule -- At LSU, at FAU, and at Miss State -- but in conference aside from FAU they get basically everyone I would want on a schedule.  Games against UAB, UTSA, UTEP, Rice, and Southern Miss are all not only excellent opportunities for wins but examples of spreads which I think could inflate once we have a clearer picture of how bad those teams are, or at a minimum, how they are worse than the market currently thinks.  With Southern Miss it's a little unfortunate the game is so late in the year, because with all their turnover I think they'll be particularly vulnerable in September and October.  Still not a bad game to draw.  Oh and in the finale, they host Western Kentucky, and we should probably just get to them right now. 

Western Kentucky under 5 +110

I don't like a whole lot here, and since you've read me mention them several times already with other team's schedules in mind, you know that.  Here's what I find particularly troubling: last year Western Kentucky ran the ball very, very little (actually among the lowest rates in all of FBS), and basically took every offensive possession and told QB Mike White "go do something awesome and win somehow." As Bill Connelly pointed out over at SB Nation, they had 0 runs of 20+ yards the ENTIRE SEASON.  ZERO.  They basically succeeded (read: went 6-7) because White was fantastic.  As a result of throwing so much, his sack rate went up, but he had a strong arsenal of receivers to throw to and he was quite able to get the ball out quickly.  This was like the Air Raid but somehow more Air Raid-ish.  Part of the reason the offense went in this direction is because it was the only thing that worked.  And now White is gone, and so are almost all of his wideouts, and his career back-up is the most viable option remaining, and I'm not sure that's going to be good enough to get anything accomplished.  Not only is that position so much less talented, but the offensive line lost it's 3 best players, so I'd take the idea they'll somehow run better and throw it out the window too.  This team ran a broken offense and it only kind of succeeded because of White.  That doesn't auger well when projecting forward.  I didn't mention their defense a lot, but basically they need to replace almost every contributor in the defensive front while their secondary stays mostly intact.  The losses on the front are significant because they were the most talented.

Now you might be asking, why is the win total even 5 then? And why on Earth is the over juiced like that? (it's -140 in most places).  Well, that's because the schedule's pretty easy.  3 auto-losses (At Wisconsin, at FAU, at Louisville) and a juicy non-con against Maine, so that's 1-3, meaning I need 3-5 out of these 8 games to hit my number: at Ball State, vs Marshall, at Charlotte, vs ODU, vs FIU, at MTSU, vs UTEP, at Louisiana Tech.  I think realistically even when we get to these games, vs FIU and vs UTEP can be projected as likely wins, or at least double-digit spreads (even though FIU is a weird team that might surprise).  However, those other teams, which are currently being looked as the "easy games" (Ball State, Charlotte, ODU) are 3 teams I really like to improve this year.  These spreads are likely to be smaller when we get to gameday in each instance, in my opinion.  A push happens here a reasonable amount of the time, but with the current state of this program, where they've recruited basically in the middle of the conference, this is at a minimum a transition year, necessary for the younger players to get more reps and for them to maybe find their next quarterback.  

Who Wins?

FAU a really large amount of the time, which makes sense considering they're about -110 to -115 in most places to win the conference.  Unfortunately Marshall probably has the next biggest upside (if they can find a QB) because of how they've recruited, but they're on FAU's half.  I'd rather let those 2 slug it out and try to find their opponent, if I can. If you're looking for a price or two to sweat, I'd say Louisiana Tech +700 is pretty good, and North Texas +1300 could also be fun.  Although North Texas is going to be one of the more fun teams to watch this year (light up the scoreboard, former TT QB Graham Harrell is their 3rd-year OC), their D is so porous I don't think you can reliably bet them over their win-total number.  If their offense and recruiting lead that side of the ball to really be other-worldly though, maybe they can essentially break the games they're in, and win some shootouts.  Neither of these are that appealing to me, but maybe I'll throw a couple bucks on both and try to get FAU's prey in the title game.

8/2 9:05pm: A case for Conference USA #Stinktown teams

Conference USA is just massive to try to cover collectively, so we'll do the more fun stuff tomorrow, but for tonight, I want to make a case for some of the just awful teams in the conference to get a little bit better.  These are 3 win-total overs I am playing.  Now, 3 win-total overs is a little counter-intuitive because CFB is, for the most part, a zero-sum game.  If teams in the conference are getting better, someone has to get worse.  I'm pretty sure Western Kentucky and one or two other teams are going to absorb some of those losses among other teams, but we'll get to that tomorrow.  For now, a glass-half-full approach to terrible football teams 

UTEP ov....just kidding.  They're still awful.  Maybe 3 wins, but yikes.  Big rebuild.

Rice over 3.5 +100

Here we go!  Love Rice.  Love 'em.  Love 'em so much that this # was 3 -140 last week and I didn't bet it and now I'm really mad that I have to eat this half win.  Oh well.  Here are some things to know about Rice: they have reasonable academic standards, so that immediately puts them behind the 8-ball with anything involving athletics.  In an attempt to create an atmosphere that can appropriately deal with that, they brought in a head coach from Stanford, which makes a lot of sense.  The good news is, the Stanford style should actually be pretty effective here with 4 returning lineman and a solid running game.  The conversion to that type of football could take effect quickly and effectively.  They are one of the few teams in the conference with a returning QB I actually like, another plus.  Yes, they had basically the worst defense in the FBS last year, but nowhere to go but up, right? They at least have a potentially-competent DC this year who was Michigan's DB coach last year.  Talent analysis aside, it's a lot about who Rice plays.  UTSA might really be awful.  They get UTSA at home.  Hawaii might be one of the worst 10 teams in the country, a total rebuild (and they're QB unexpectedly bolted to Oklahoma State) and Rice goes to Hawaii Week 3.  Throw in the auto-win over Prarie View in Week 1 and I'm basically there already.  Some wiggle room with games against FIU and UAB, 2 teams I have a really hard time figuring out this year, and volatility breeds possible results.  A very real chance that home vs ODU in the final week decides it, although I also really like ODU which you'll see a little further down.  Anyway, I think their average season here is probably 4-8 more than anything, and I'm taking the over.

Charlotte over 3.5 +105

I had a really nice paragraph written about all the things I like about Charlotte this year, but before I published it I wanted to make sure their transfer QB from Miami was still...you know...going to be here.  In the process of confirming that, I stumbled upon the most absurd news story I've ever seen announcing the transfer.  This thing takes a DARK turn.  It's incredible that this wasn't taken down immediately and re-tooled.  

Anyway, I'll give a more abbreviated view of Charlotte now: 19 returning starters + Miami transfer QB who seems poised for success due to system + really bad luck with injuries and 1-score games last year.  Defensive returning production, especially in the secondary, is generally a great predictor of improvement the following year, and this team has that in spades.  The number is only 3.5.  They get an auto-win against Fordham, and host Western Kentucky who I think might be really bad this year.  They host Southern Miss which is a deceivingly close game in my opinion because of how much Southern Miss lost.  The projections for this team are atrocious spread-wise but I really think all the factors point to a bounce-back, and I could see several of the conference-game spreads flipping dramatically.  Over.

Old Dominion over 5.5 -105

Another team that got just massacred by injuries last year.  One of my largest plays of the season was North Carolina against them mid-season when ODU's injury report was somehow twice as long as UNC's by that time (an incredible accomplishment really).  They played much better towards the end of last season, which always gets my attention.  They started a 17-year-old QB last year who almost has to take a step forward after getting that much experience and performing reasonably well.  There are only 3 auto-losses on the schedule -- non-con against Virginia Tech and then vs FAU and Marshall who will both be really good again.  They scheduled Liberty, East Carolina and VMI in the rest of their non-conference slate, a great chance for 3 wins.  A lot of the other games are toss-ups, and at Western Kentucky is projected to be their next toughest game after the 3 losses, and again, I really don't like Western Kentucky this year.  I think barring terrible injury luck for consecutive years, you'll see 6 wins and a bowl game here, possibly a little more.  Over.

8/1, 9:35pm: 2018 Sun Belt Win Total Bets and Futures

It's time to start filling up the basket.  I'll start with the conference that, despite it's entertaining nickname, people care the least about.  I don't have as many strong opinions here, because the predictions about this conference are pretty spot-on.  So many teams are in the midst of rebuilds, and the 3 elite teams in the conference either kept a lot of their non-QB talent, or in Arkansas State's case, their QB but not half of their defense.  Those 3 teams are going to be the 3 best teams again a LOT of the time, and they are rated as such.  The Sun Belt also booted Idaho and New Mexico State, and added a 2-division conference title game at the end of the year.  This matters significantly in terms of how you should bet these futures.

Arkansas State to win Sun Belt +130 (2x) (5D)

Might as well fill the basket with a 2-unit play to begin.  The significant thing is not how good Arkansas State will be (their win total with current over juice may actually be too high, and a number they've only reached once in the past 5 years), but how bad their division is.  The only advisable price on that side is MAYBE UL-Monroe because their offense is going to score a billion points.  Their defense will most likely also allow a billion points, but shootouts can maybe lead to some dramatic turn of events where Monroe Cinderella's there way here.  Barring that, this is Arkansas State almost all the rest of the time.  Troy and App State are both breaking in new quarterbacks, so the potential for a rockier season is more likely, and those are their 2 title game opponents a lot of the time as well.  Some are projecting 10 or 11-win seasons for the Red Wolves; I am much cooler on those predictions, because for whatever reason the team stinks in close games and may allow many more big plays this year than usual. They don't look like a super-dominant team to me.  But they look like the clear winner of the division and if you can get me to the game with the (probably) most talented team at +130, that is a bet worth making.

Georgia State under 4.5 wins -105 (1x) (5D)

Another bet driven more by schedule than anything.  Georgia State won't be that much worse than the middle/bottom of the Sun Belt this year, their front 7 may be excellent, and both of their coordinators are young guys with improving reputations who you'll probably read about at much bigger places in years to come.  They are in Year 2 of this rebuild.  I think next year could produce a bowl depending on a lot of factors, but this year's team will have a hard time getting there.  When you eat 5 losses right off the bat, that's tough, and that's what Georgia State is looking at here.  They have road non-cons at NC State and at Memphis, and they have to travel to the 3 toughest teams in the conference -- App State, Troy and Arkansas State.  It's just awful.  They also host Western Michigan in their 3rd non-con (play Kennesaw State in their 4th, so yay, there's 1 win!).  You're talking about 1-6 in that group of games a crazy high percentage of the time.  Sometimes they're going to upset a mediocre-to-above-average Western Michigan team, but that's not inspiring.  That means against a slate of teams that are essentially their equals in a lot of metrics, Georgia State will have to go 4-1.  The math is just not on their side, I'm afraid.  Home games against UL Monroe and Georgia Southern are tricky because those are 2 teams who I expect to make bigger leaps than Georgia State this year.  I don't see many wins here right now, and it's not even Georgia State's fault really.  There's a rising tide in the middle of the Sun Belt, where a lot of the bottom-to-middle teams from last year should be improved.  

Appalachian State over 8.5 wins +120 (1x) (Heritage)

Really can't beat the price on this, because I project a number just slightly higher than this, and I'm getting +120 on the over anyway.  Valuetown.  I also think the way a college football season works is going to help App State in this case.  They open with Penn State, and they'll eat a bad loss, and that's fine.  They key for this team is to find out who their quarterback is going to be for the meat of the season. They are replacing a 4-year starter, and the weapons around him are immense, as is the prowess of some of the defensive tiers.  There's a lot to work with here, they just desperately need to discover a quarterback.  The good news?  They have 3 fairly easy games -- at Charlotte, vs Southern Miss (who lost EVERYONE talented off of last year's team) and vs Gardner-Webb -- to figure out who that QB will be.  That gives them a nice buffer where they probably win all 3 games no matter who the QB is and get some cohesion going into conference play.  They will spend a month at home without traveling during that time. Assuming they beat Southern Miss, conference play requires a 6-2 record to hit the over.  They do draw at Arkansas State but have a bye the week before (that game begins the Fun Belt portion of the schedule, a Tuesday-night affair), and they host Troy.  They avoid UL-Monroe out of the other half, who is the clear 2nd best team.  The overall talent here is much better than the middle of the conference, and I consider 6 wins more likely than not.  Over.