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.