The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are undefeated against anyone not named the Crimson Tide. They’re also one of only five teams in college football to start the season 5-0 ATS. Is it too late to jump on the WKU bandwagon? Heck no.

Western Kentucky’s bank machine was open all night last year at 10-2 ATS (7-5 SU), yet that hasn’t stopped college football bettors from lining up to make a withdrawal. Besides, the Sun Belt is one of the least followed conferences in the FBS. How many people out there in the betting public have even heard of the Hilltoppers? Or the Sun Belt, for that matter? 

The Other Trojans 

That lack of knowledge is why the mid-majors and low majors are where sharp bettors make their college football picks with confidence. However, before you unload your wallets on Western Kentucky, there’s a big obstacle in Big Red’s path this Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET), and it’s the Troy Trojans. They’re also making money hand over fist at 4-1 ATS, a welcome change from last year’s 3-9 SU and ATS nightmare. 

The betting public might know a thing or two about Troy. They’ll recognize the name – the USC Trojans having made it famous. Or they might even recognize the Other Trojans from their multiple bowl berths; Troy took the Sun Belt title five straight years from 2006 to 2010 inclusive, winning the New Orleans Bowl twice. 

So what happened last year? Well, the Trojans were already on the decline defensively, but the 2011 offense gave away 16 fumbles to go along with 15 interceptions. This is still a problem in 2012: QB Corey Robinson has thrown seven picks, and the team has coughed up the football eight times.

Otherwise, there are marked improvements for Troy on both sides of the ball. RB Shawn Southward is getting more touches, and he’s goosed his production back up from 4.5 yards per carry last year to a more familiar 5.4 yards. And the defense has wisely switched from the 4-3 to the 3-4 after loading up on talent during the offseason.

Brian Fremeau’s efficiency stats show the positive results. Troy’s offense has improved from No. 105 in the FBS last year to No. 59 this year, and the defense has improved from No. 91 to No. 54 overall. Very nice. 

Stand Up and Cheer! 

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

But not as nice as the Hilltoppers. This is a team that went winless in 2009, its maiden voyage as full FBS members. Then Willie Taggert, Western Kentucky’s stud QB back in the late ‘90s, was hired as head coach. Taggert has done a masterful job of building this program, so masterful that he’ll almost certainly be hired by a major-conference team next season. Maybe even the Kentucky Wildcats (–6.5), whom Taggert beat 32-31 in overtime in Week 3 on a trick play. 

Once again, the numbers: The Hilltoppers offense has improved from No. 96 in the FBS to No. 52. The defense has improved from No. 75 to No. 37. And Western Kentucky has played a much stronger schedule than Troy up to this point. Put it all together, and the Hilltoppers rank No. 52 in overall efficiency, well ahead of the Trojans at No. 99.

That’s a yawning gap considering Western Kentucky was laying just 1.5 points to Troy at the open. Sharps didn’t waste their time jumping on that line, either, forcing a quick move to WKU –2. These are very early college football betting lines with what should be low volume, so be prepared for some volatility as Thursday’s kick-off approaches. As for my college football picks, I will be with the Hilltoppers while I can get them this cheaply.

My Pick: Western Kentucky –2