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