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    College football mega preview: Best bets for top 25 teams 🏈

    College football mega preview: Best bets for top 25 teams

    CFB Vegas Experts

    The 2019 college football season is ready to kick off, and we're here with betting previews for the top 25 teams, according to the ESPN College Football Rankings. (We even threw in five bonus contenders for good measure.)

    College football experts Phil Steele, Chris "The Bear" Fallica, Doug Kezirian, Preston Johnson, Bill Connelly, Seth Walder and "Stanford Steve" Coughlin combine to offer their best bets for each team, from win totals to Heisman potential to national championship odds and much more.

    1. Clemson Tigers

    Under 11.5 regular-season wins (+105)

    Connelly: It's hard to find favorable odds right now (Caesars has been around -110 for both over and under), but even with a great projected rating and a shaky schedule, S&P+ still only gives Clemson a 35% chance of going 12-0. Going unbeaten over two years is really hard and really rare, and an 11.5 total is unforgiving.

    Over 11.5 regular-season wins (-125)

    Kezirian: ESPN's FPI projects the Tigers as at least 20-point favorites in all but two regular-season games. In those two others, they are favored by more than two touchdowns. Clemson should roll easily through a mediocre ACC schedule, while also catching Texas A&M at home. Additionally, Georgia Tech comes to Death Valley and the Tigers no longer have the possibility of being stumped by that unique option offense. Alabama demonstrated last year what happens when a historically dominant defense unveils a prolific offense. We also got a taste of that with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and the Tigers will be incredibly explosive this coming season as he evolves even more. "Clemsoning" is a thing of the past; the Tigers ran the table last season and two of the past four years.

    Over 11.5 wins; win ACC (-650); make CFP (-500)

    Coughlin: Could it be this easy? Can Clemson just waltz its way to another national championship? The Tigers will be at least 17-point favorites in every regular season game. I think they will get a stern test against Texas A&M when the Aggies visit in September, but when you look at the ACC as a whole, outside of Clemson, it's a complete free-for-all. I have no idea who the second-best team is in the conference now or who it will be at the end of the year, but I do know that no one will challenge Dabo's boys.

    Trevor Lawrence to win Heisman (+275)

    Steele: Lawrence quarterbacks my projected top offense in the country and will be playing for the No. 1 team. Clemson will be a 17-plus points favorites in every game this year, and I fully expect Lawrence to pick up where he left off at the end of last season.

    Clemson to reach College Football Playoff (-500)

    Fallica: I get that it's a lot to lay -500, but it's hard not to see the Tigers as a part of the playoff again. Are they really going to lose twice? Or in the ACC Championship Game and be left out of the playoff? Think of it as a three-month certificate of deposit (CD) .

    South Carolina (+23.5) vs. Clemson, Nov. 30

    At Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
    Steele: Jake Bentley, who threw for 501 yards in Death Valley last year, returns for South Carolina. Last year Clemson had the best defensive line in college football, and the Gamecocks had an injury-plagued defense, yet South Carolina lost by only 21 points. This year the Gamecocks are at home and should only be a two-touchdown underdog. Take the points here.

    2. Alabama Crimson Tide

    Over 11.5 regular-season wins (+125)

    Fallica: Alabama's best chance to lose is in its final regular-season game at Auburn. You could play the over at plus money and then if the Tide is 11-0 heading to Jordan Hare, you could take a little Auburn on the money line as a bit of a hedge if you had concerns the Tide could lose that game (as they did in 2017).

    Coughlin: It feels like everyone is so scared of Nick Saban this year because his team got beat in a way we haven't seen since he took over in Tuscaloosa. We know the talent is there, and Tua Tagovailoa returns as the signal-caller and has most of his toys to play with returning. The way the Tide's secondary got torched late in the season that provided plenty of teaching moments for Saban, and I still think no one can coach up and develop players on the back end of a defense better than him. I think the Tide are a wise bet to go over their season win total and make the SEC title game.

    3. Georgia Bulldogs

    Under 11 regular-seasons wins (-145)

    Connelly: Let's put it this way: S&P+ gives the Dawgs an 8% chance of winning more than 11 games, and FPI is at 3%. They might be the consensus No. 3 team in the country, but the schedule features three games against potential top-30 teams away from home, plus four more in Athens. A pretty fantastic team would still only push if the bar is at 11 victories.

    Jake Fromm to win Heisman (15-1)

    Steele: Fromm had an outstanding 30-6 TD-to-INT ratio last year, and if Georgia knocks off Alabama in the SEC title game, it would be great last-minute exposure for the Heisman voters. Georgia is 0-2 against Alabama the past two years but has trailed in those two games for a combined 64 seconds.

    Georgia to win national title (7-1)

    Steele: In their past two games, the Bulldogs have trailed Alabama for just 64 seconds -- but lost both games. This year Georgia has its best team yet under coach Kirby Smart. Alabama is +230 to win the national title, but I like Georgia's value at 7-1.

    Fallica: I like Georgia to win the national championship this year. However, the possibility exists that the Bulldogs could take the 2017 route to the playoff, which saw them lose a regular-season game and then capture the SEC title. This team reminds me of the 2009 Alabama team that couldn't get past Urban Meyer and Florida the previous year: They got another shot and finally broke through. I think the Bulldogs are talented enough to take the next step.

    Coughlin: Assuming Clemson and Alabama would be favored against Georgia if they played in an imaginary game Week 1 this year, I would take the Bulldogs no matter the line. I think this team has everything needed to win a national title. Twice they have gone 12 rounds with Alabama and twice they have been knocked out in the final round. They have led or been tied with Bama for 280 of the 289 minutes they played in those two games. Give me Georgia for everything.

    Georgia to win the SEC (+260)

    Johnson: Smart's squad is stacked with elite talent. They are my No. 3-rated team going into the season, and there is a pretty big gap between them and the next two (LSU and Oklahoma). We know the Bulldogs (win projection of 10.88) can stand toe-to-toe with Alabama, given their matchups the past two seasons in which they've trailed for a combined 1 minute and 4 seconds.

    This ultimately comes down to a comparison between the current and potential price in an SEC title game. In a worst-case scenario -- matching up against Alabama -- I only project Georgia to be a 4.5-point underdog, which is roughly a price of +170 on the money line. That makes having a +260 ticket (as high as +275 at some shops) in our back pocket extremely valuable at that point. There's an outside chance that UGA doesn't win the East division, but there's also a chance that Alabama isn't representing the West -- which presents more upside to a Bulldogs ticket (since they would be a favorite over any other team).

    The swing game could be Florida, but I project Georgia to be a nine-point favorite and win the game 75% of the time. Of the 25% of the time they lose to the Gators, nearly 16% of the time the Bulldogs still win the East anyway.

    4. Oklahoma Sooners

    Jalen Hurts to win Heisman (7-1 at Westgate)

    Steele: Head coach Lincoln Riley appears to be the new quarterback whisperer. Riley worked with transfer quarterbacks in each of the past two years, and both took home the Heisman. Hurts is a dangerous runner and completed 72% of his passes with Alabama last season.

    Under 10 regular-season wins (+150)

    Coughlin: Plenty of people will point out that the pressure is on Hurts to replicate the success Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray had in Riley's first two seasons as the head coach. My issue is what the Sooners have to replace on the offensive line and in the receiving corps -- it just feels like too much inorder to win 10-plus games again. Plus, I think the Big 12 is deeper than it has been in a long time in terms of talent and coaching.

    Oklahoma to win the Big 12 (-165)

    Johnson: The factors that we need to address for this bet are twofold. The first part is assessing the likelihood that Oklahoma (win projection of 10.97) doesn't finish in one of the top two positions in the Big 12 at the end of the season. There aren't any divisions in the league, so the best two teams from the regular season move on to compete in the conference championship game. I rate the Sooners head and shoulders above every other team in the conference, and I project them to be a double-digit favorite in every game this season until their finale on the road against Oklahoma State (and still an 8.5-point favorite in that one).

    The second part is looking ahead at that point to potential prices for the Sooners against their opponents in the Big 12 title game. I currently project Oklahoma to be a double-digit favorite over any other team in the conference on a neutral field, so at the very least we would be holding a -165 ticket in a game that the Sooners will likely be priced in the -300s (or higher). That is an extremely advantageous spot to be in.

    The Sooners have the talent, experience and now the defensive mind to put it all together this season. They ranked 95th in 2018 (6.0 yards per play defensively), but were No. 1 in offense, gaining 8.4 YPP. While the offense will likely drop off to some degree, there's no reason it can't be made up with an improvement on the defensive side of the ball. I think this squad has the upside to be Riley's best since taking over in 2017.

    5. Ohio State Buckeyes

    Over 10 regular-season wins (-115)

    Fallica: Caesars posted 10 as the win total for Ohio State -- and there was a 9.5 out there too. I have a hard time seeing the Buckeyes go 9-3. Are they going to lose at Nebraska, at Michigan and versus either Michigan State, Penn State or Wisconsin at home? The Buckeyes still have more talent than anyone in the Big Ten, and I have a suspicion that head coach Ryan Day will see that the Buckeyes avoid that head-scratching loss that has tripped them up each of the past five years. A new message certainly can't hurt. Last year Ohio State played its best football -- outside of being a home 'dog against Michigan where not many gave them a chance -- early in the year when Day was the interim coach. I'd be on the over here and taking a push as worst-case scenario.

    Michigan (-3) over Ohio State, Nov. 30

    At Westgate
    Steele: Jim Harbaugh could not defeat Urban Meyer in four tries but now takes on a rookie head coach in Day. I feel Michigan has the stronger defense; they allowed 128 less yards per game than the Buckeyes last year. Michigan has the much more veteran offensive line and is deeper at quarterback. I like the Wolverines with the points here.

    Ohio State to NOT make the playoff (-150)

    At MGM Grand Race & Sports Book
    Johnson: There are too many question marks on this Buckeyes team (win projection of 9.88) for me to be in any way bullish about a potential playoff run. For starters, Ryan Day is taking over for Urban Meyer in his first gig as a full-time head coach. Day was 3-0 last season serving as the interim coach to start the year, but this consisted of games against Oregon State, Rutgers and a down TCU team. Meyer is one of the best to ever coach at the college level.

    The Ohio State defense also gave up the most points per game in school history this past season (25.5) and benefited from the best opponent average starting field position in the entire country. Their rushing defense was particularly bad, ranking 75th and giving up 4.6 yards per rush. While nine starters return in 2019, that's not always a big positive. They are likely to improve to a degree, but it's hard to see enough upside with this unit to immediately take them to an elite level again.

    Buckeyes fans may not be worried about the departure of the school's single-season passing leader, Dwayne Haskins, leaving for the NFL, but I'm more skeptical. Justin Fields was a highly touted recruit who committed to Georgia last season, and I was told he was given every chance to win the job over Jake Fromm. While the Bulldogs gave him a few opportunities in games throughout the season, he never quite fit and Fromm never lost the gig. Fields transferred to Ohio State, but completed just four of his 13 pass attempts and was sacked four times in the Buckeyes' spring game. Fields will need to be called upon as a passer to win in the Big Ten -- and I'm not sure he has the ability to do that.

    I prefer the bet on Ohio State to miss the playoff at -150 to betting the season win total under 10 at roughly even money. While I think there is quite a bit of downside to the season for the Buckeyes, I still project they win 10 games more often than any other result. And at 10-2, it isn't very likely they will earn a spot in the College Football Playoff (even if they win the Big Ten title). Ohio State didn't even make it this past season when they finished 12-1 with the conference championship.

    Walder: No matter what you think of Day or Fields, there is uncertainty for the Buckeyes at quarterback and head coach, and that's never a good thing for a team near the top. Add in that this year they head to Ann Arbor -- spare me the Harbaugh can't beat Ohio State takes -- and FPI thinks Ohio State has only a 5% shot to reach the playoff.

    6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Stanford (+6) over Notre Dame, Nov. 30

    At Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
    Steele: The home team is 7-1 in this series over the previous eight years. Stanford has won the past five meetings on "The Farm" and is 56-9 at home the past 10 years, including a perfect 5-0 ATS record as a home 'dog. These teams are close talent-wise, and I see the Cardinal keeping this one within the number.

    Under 9 regular-season wins (+115)

    Fallica: Last year Notre Dame won five one-score games en route to a 12-0 regular season. Gone are Jerry Tillery, Te'Von Coney, Julian Love and Drue Tranquill from the defense. Big-play WR Myles Boykin is no longer available to Ian Book. Caesars has the Irish win total at 9, and I've seen 9.5s out there too. The Irish should be a decent-sized 'dog at Michigan and Georgia. So for this purpose, let's say they drop those two games. Are they going to run the slate at Stanford, versus an USC team that was in the game with them last year, versus Virginia and Virginia Tech and at Duke?

    The way the schedule sets up, Virginia Tech, Duke, Navy and Boston College all are idle in November the week prior to facing the Irish -- and the Irish play each week from October 26th on. Rest could mean a lot at that point of the season. Reaching 10-2 is going to be really tough to come by this year for Notre Dame. And that's what it takes to beat you.

    7. Michigan Wolverines

    Under 10.5 regular-season wins (-175)

    Connelly: Caesars has the under at -175 (break even percentage: 63.6%), but S&P+ gives the Wolverines only a 15% chance of 11 or more wins. Going 11-1 or better will mean winning three of four against Wisconsin and Penn State on the road and Ohio State and Michigan State at home. (It will also mean avoiding a slip-up against Army.) This should be Harbaugh's best team, but that's a high bar.

    Over 10.5 regular-season wins (+155)

    Steele: Don Brown's defense is always in the top 10, and the shift to the spread offense will capitalize on quarterback Shea Patterson's strengths. Michigan has four potential All-American offensive linemen and my No. 7-rated special teams unit. With Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State all having to travel to Ann Arbor, I have the Wolverines favored in all 12 games.

    8. Florida Gators

    Florida (-7) over Miami, Aug. 24

    Connelly: S&P+ says the Gators by 10.4, and FPI says something closer to UF by 8.3 or so. There's value with that big a difference.
    Tennessee (+16.5) over Florida, Sept. 21

    At Westgate
    Steele: Last year's score was misleading, as Tennessee turned it over six times. Each team had 204 yards at the half, but the Gators led 26-3. The Volunteers have lost their past five trips to The Swamp, but the average loss is by just eight points per game. Florida is 0-3 as an SEC home favorite under Dan Mullen, and Jeremy Pruitt is 3-1 ATS as an away 'dog.

    Under 9 regular-season wins (-160)

    Fallica: Mullen did a great job last year in his first season as Florida's head coach, winning 10 games including a dominating New Year's Six Bowl victory against Michigan. But while the Gators might be a better team this year, topping nine wins will be tough. Florida faces Miami and Georgia away from home and has road games at LSU, South Carolina and Missouri; home games against Auburn and Florida State aren't automatic wins either. So Florida has to go 5-2 in those seven games to beat you, assuming the Gators win their other five games. Florida was plus-12 in turnovers and 3-0 in games decided by seven points or less last year and won another close game at Vanderbilt; those things have a tendency to even out over time. And some of the offseason issues might lead to questions about the secondary. I'm on the under here.

    Coughlin: No team has caused me to go back and forth more this offseason than the Gators. The main reason is the bad news continuing to pile up around the program. Whether it was recruits not being made eligible, flipping late or injuries in training camp, the roster seems to continue to get depleted in what looked to be such a promising upcoming season after their impressive bowl win over Michigan last year. I don't see more than eight wins for the Gators this season.

    Johnson: This is a numbers and scheduling play for me. I'm bullish on Georgia and LSU out of the SEC. Florida (win projection of 8.41) has to travel to Baton Rouge to face the Tigers and meet the Bulldogs on a neutral field. I project the Gators to be eight- and nine-point underdogs in these games, respectively. Of their other matchups in the conference, they host Auburn and have to face South Carolina and Missouri on the road. This doesn't even account for two inner-state rivalry games, against Miami and Florida State, to open and close the season.

    I believe Florida will have to win all 10 of those games to beat us here. The Gators aren't on the level of LSU or Georgia, and they don't get the benefit of facing either team at The Swamp. I understand the hype after a 9-3 regular season in 2018 and a bowl win over Michigan, but nine wins is likely the ceiling for this squad.

    9. LSU Tigers

    LSU to win national title (25-1)

    Steele: LSU was No. 129 on my experience chart last year but only lost three games, including a seven-OT loss to Texas A&M. This year the Tigers have eight returning starters on each side of the ball and will be a 'dog in just one game (at Alabama). If the Tigers upset Alabama, they likely win the SEC West -- and that gives them a great shot at a national title.

    LSU (-1) over Texas, Sept. 7

    At Westgate
    Walder: This is a prime opportunity to bet against one of the teams FPI considers the most overrated (Texas) with a team it thinks is a little underrated (LSU). Though the Longhorns return quarterback Sam Ehlinger, he is one of only eight starters back. It's hard to hang with the Tigers with a team that green. Oh, and while Ehlinger had a nice season last year, guess who had a higher QBR? That's right: Joe Burrow. FPI thinks the Tigers should be favored by 9 so this is a monster value

    Under 9 regular-season wins (+105)

    Fallica: At this time last year, there was talk LSU could be a 7-5 or 6-6 type of team. But the Tigers blew out Miami in the season-opener and used that slight as motivation to drive them to a 10-win season. Now big things are expected in Year 2 under Burrow. If you assume a loss to Alabama -- and why wouldn't you, being LSU has scored 9.1 PPG in the past eight meetings -- then LSU can only lose one game the rest of the way to cash over 9. And I see loseable games at Texas, at Florida, at Mississippi State, and versus Auburn and Texas A&M. I have an easier time seeing 8-4 than 10-2, but 9-3 is likely the landing spot.

    Over 9 regular-season wins (-125)

    Coughlin: This is the first time since the 2012 season that I have even thought about LSU going over its season win total. I really like how Ed Orgeron has constructed this roster. The Joe Burrow era began with a successful campaign last year, and the Tigers appear poised for bigger and better things this season. They do have monster road games in Austin vs. Texas and in Tuscaloosa against Alabama. But, as I said, this is the first time in a while the thought of them winning those kind of games has crossed my mind, so I think they can go 10-2 and go over their season win total.

    Johnson: The Tigers (win projection of 9.57) made my favorite hire in the offseason, bringing in Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints to serve as their passing game coordinator. Brady looks to implement pieces of the Saints' dynamic passing game along with run-pass option (RPO) components to an offense that has been as straightforward and "pro-style" as can be in recent years. The best part about this setup is that Burrow, who transferred to LSU last year from Ohio State, was recruited by Urban Meyer to run a spread RPO offense. It's also what he ran for four years in high school.

    LSU was going to be elite on offense this season, but there is a ton of upside that I haven't even accounted for in my projections. Bringing back the majority of the playmakers on both sides of the ball after a New Year's Six bowl win last season bodes well, and the Tigers always recruit at a high level in Baton Rouge. The only reason my win projection is 9.57 is that the Tigers' schedule is going to be one of the toughest in the nation. I do think that they get Texas at the right time in Week 2, as the Longhorns are trying to address replacing nine members of their defense, but trips to Alabama and Mississippi State to go along with home matchups against Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M will test this LSU squad relentlessly.

    I believe the Tigers will finish the regular season 9-3 a decent portion of the time, so the 8.5s in the market in the -150 price range are a worthwhile wager as well (I actually prefer it in this case). Either way, both numbers offer value to the over. If I'm getting a chance to fade 8-4 or worse on the team I rate the fourth-best in the country entering the season -- despite the difficult schedule -- I'm going to take it.

    Kezirian: ESPN's FPI favors the Tigers in all but one game (at Alabama), and I'll concede a likely loss there. Beyond that, though, LSU is capable of running the table. The Tigers can certainly lose a road game to Texas and even Mississippi State, and Florida and Auburn can win at Death Valley, but LSU has so much talent. Additionally, I think Joe Burrow has progressed into a solid quarterback, and the Tigers have started to evolve beyond their archaic playcalling. It takes four losses to lose this bet so I firmly believe this play cashes a lot more often than it loses (even accounting for -125).

    10. Oregon Ducks

    Oregon (+3.5) at Washington, Oct. 19

    At Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
    Steele: Oregon beat Washington last year and has won 14 of the previous 18 meetings. When the teams meet this season, Washington will be playing for an eighth straight week and Oregon will be coming off a bye and two games as a big home favorite. Oregon is No. 1 on my experience chart with one of the nation's top quarterbacks and offensive lines, while Washington is just No. 109 on my experience chart. I like the Ducks here.

    Oregon to win the Pac-12 (3-1)

    Walder: FPI gives Oregon a 36% chance to win the Pac-12, evidently banking on 17 returning starters -- the second-highest in the conference behind UCLA -- to spur improvement more than the market. In Justin Herbert, who has posted a QBR of 73 in at least three consecutive seasons, the Ducks have an advantage at QB over other top conference contenders Utah and Washington.

    11. Texas Longhorns

    Under 9 regular-season wins (+100)

    Connelly: If you've followed anything Texas-related this offseason, you know the stats are very much not in agreement with conventional wisdom re: the Longhorns. S&P+ gives Texas all of a 4% chance of going 10-2 or better, and while Tom Herman has defied the stats in two of his four seasons as a head coach, he a) he certainly didn't in the other two, and b) 4%!

    Johnson: There isn't a more overhyped -- and overvalued -- team in the country this year. In just about every media poll I've seen, Texas (win projection of 6.99) ranks in the top 10. I think the Longhorns are the 28th-best team in the country entering the season.

    Let's look back at what we know from last year's squad: Texas allowed 5.6 yards per play to opponents, but only gained 5.5 YPP on offense. Every time the Longhorns lined up to run a play, they were getting outgained. It's hard to score more points than an opponent doing that.

    So how did Herman muster a 10-4 season? The Longhorns were 7-3 in one-score games. We know that is expected to regress to 50-50 long term, so while it's possible they could defy the odds again in 2019, I'm looking to bet on what is expected to happen, on average. Is a defense replacing its front seven and both starting cornerbacks in a prime position to be relied on in close games (if they can even keep them close)? Big 12 offenses are tough to defend, and Texas lands an elite LSU team in nonconference play early in the season while the defense is still inexperienced. I'm willing to bet against it.

    Season win totals for Texas at 9.5 in the -150 price range exist in the market as well, and I think both are worthwhile options. I project the Longhorns to be underdogs in four games this season and pick 'em in three others. If Sam Ehlinger and the young defense can lead the program to double-digit wins in the regular season and beat us, I'll tip my cap.

    Sam Ehlinger to win Heisman (12-1)

    Steele: Ehlinger guided Texas to wins over Oklahoma and Georgia last year and had 16 rushing touchdowns and 25 passing touchdowns. Wins over LSU and Oklahoma would have him near the top of the Heisman race this season.

    Under 9 regular-season wins (+105)

    Walder: The lack of experience will hold the Longhorns back. It's honestly as simple as that. They're FPI's 24th-ranked team and that won't be enough to get them to 10 wins.

    Fallica: There is a lot of hype around the Longhorns coming off a Sugar Bowl win, but 10 wins is asking a lot. I think they drop at least one of two road games at Iowa State and Baylor. If you can find a 9.5, I would go under. Nine seems "pushy."

    12. Texas A&M Aggies

    Over 7.5 regular-season wins (-105)

    Steele: I know Texas A&M has to face Alabama at home, as well as Clemson, Georgia and LSU all on the road, so they will be a clear underdog in four games this year, which leaves little breathing room. But the Aggies have the talent to pull an upset and only lost to Clemson by two points last year in Jimbo Fisher's first year as head coach at A&M. They will be favored in eight games, so I lean with the over here.

    13. Penn State Nittany Lions

    Penn State to win the Big Ten (14-1)

    Connelly: Penn State is a top-15 team in both S&P+ and FPI, and FPI gives the Nittany Lions a 10.5% chance to win the conference. Granted, road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State make the path a tough one, but at 14-1 or higher, there's some value there.

    Penn State to win the national title (80-1)

    Connelly: If you think there's a 10% or better shot that PSU can win the conference, then you probably think there's at least a 2% shot at a national title, right?

    Over 8.5 wins (+100); win Big Ten (14-1)

    Fallica: The Nittany Lions have sophomores at all the skill spots and the schedule should allow them to ease into things, so sitting at 5-0 headed to Iowa is a strong possibility. When the schedule toughens up later in the year, they could have a scary offense to go along with what should be a really good defense. There's a good chance the Lions get to nine wins this year, and if I can buy stock in the 2020 team, count me in. I've seen Penn State at 16-1 or so to win the Big Ten, and if you have questions in your mind about Michigan and Ohio State, that isn't the worst flier to take.

    14. UCF Knights

    UCF to win AAC (+250)

    At Westgate Las Vegas Superbook
    Fallica: UCF might be without McKenzie Milton, but Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush should be more than capable of directing the potent Knights offense. I'm not sure what to do with the win total, as UCF has nonconference games at FAU, at Pitt and versus Stanford, but those games don't matter in the AAC race. And while the Knights have to visit Cincinnati, there's a chance the Bearcats could win that game but lose two other AAC games, as they visit Houston, South Florida, Memphis and what should be an improved East Carolina team. The Knights will again be in their share of high-scoring games, but until further notice, they are the team to beat in the AAC.

    15. Washington Huskies

    Utah (+4.5) at Washington, Nov. 2

    At Westgate
    Steele: In 2017 in Seattle, Washington scored 10 points in the final 58 seconds to pull out a three-point win. Last year in the Pac-12 title game, Utah was without quarterback Tyler Huntley and star running back Zack Moss, but Washington needed a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown to win by seven points. Utah is the much more experienced team and capable of the road win.

    Over 9.5 regular-season wins (-120)

    Fallica: The Huskies could be favored in every game this season. The three best teams they play (USC, Oregon and Utah) all have to visit Washington, so the schedule couldn't be better. The nonconference slate is again a joke. Sure, there are questions about Jacob Eason, but it's not like Jake Browning was great the past two years. The defense loses a lot, but the Huskies have overcome defensive losses before. I'm in the "trust Chris Peterson/Jimmy Lake' camp, and that would be going over 9.5 wins.

    16. Utah Utes

    Over 9.5 regular-season wins (-115)

    Steele: I have Utah as my No. 1 surprise team in the country (the criteria being a non-top-10 team that I think can make the playoff). I have the Utes favored in 10 games with two toss-ups, which makes them a slam dunk to go over 9.5 wins in my mind.

    Coughlin: Could this be Kyle Whittingham's best team he's had in the seven years the Utes have been in the Pac-12? He said this summer that he sees 11 guys that can get time playing on the defensive line. Eleven! And the Utes have a returning quarterback, running back and a schedule that does not have Stanford or Oregon on there. That makes me think the Utes can win 11 games and maybe even earn a spot in the playoff.

    Under 9.5 regular-season wins (-105)

    Fallica: Utah is the schedule darling of the Pac-12. I'm always leery of getting behind these trendy sleeper teams, although I wouldn't really call a team that won the Pac-12 South last year a sleeper to win the conference. There's a lot to like, but I can't shake this feeling we're going to be looking at a 9-3 ceiling. As Rece Davis and I like to say to each other, if you're not good enough, a loss will find you. Last year's Pac-12 South was a perfect storm, and I would expect USC, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State to be better this year.

    17. Stanford Cardinal

    Stanford to win the Pac-12 (10-1)

    Steele: David Shaw is still the head coach at Stanford, and the Cardinal have the best record in the Pac-12 this decade. Stanford hosts both Washington and Oregon and faces just one Pac-12 team on the road that had a winning record last year. I like the value here.

    18. Auburn Tigers

    Auburn to win the SEC (20-1)

    Connelly: Friends, I am just here to remind you of your old friend Crazy Auburn. Odd-numbered years are when both Georgia and Alabama have to visit Jordan-Hare Stadium, and in two of the three odd-numbered seasons since Gus Malzahn took over, the Tigers won the SEC West. Plain old math reminds us that Auburn's schedule is ridiculous and probably unnavigable. Crazy Auburn scoffs at math.

    Auburn (+4.5) vs. Georgia, Nov. 16

    At Westgate
    Steele: Auburn is an outstanding 11-5 ATS as a home 'dog over the past 10 years, and the last time they hosted Georgia, they knocked off the unbeaten Bulldogs 40-17 as an underdog. Auburn will be underrated, as the Tigers have top-10 talent but are ranked low in the magazines due to their schedule. I would take anything over a field goal here, and Auburn will be fresh off a bye, while Georgia will have just played Florida and Missouri (and have Texas A&M on deck).

    Auburn (+6) at Florida, Oct. 5

    At DraftKings
    Walder: FPI thinks Florida ought to be favored by 3.7 points. That's not a big enough gap for us to generally take note of, but there's also this: We've been exploring trying to quantify returning production by a more sophisticated method than just number of starters, and our initial results suggest Auburn is returning a little more talent than FPI currently thinks and Florida is returning a little less.

    Over 8 regular-season wins (+140)

    Fallica: Auburn has a high ceiling -- but potentially low floor -- this year. The Tigers' total is 8, but they draw Florida and Georgia from the East and face Oregon, Florida, Texas A&M and LSU away from home. My hunch is that with a lot of talent on offense and a great D-line, the Tigers find a way to win nine games. At plus money, over might be worth a smaller play.

    19. Washington State Cougars

    Under 8 regular-season wins (-105)

    Steele: Last season, the Cougars only had four Pac-12 road games, and three of those came against teams with losing records. This season, they have five Pac-12 road games, and all five are against bowl teams from last year. Plus, they have a tricky game against Houston at NRG Stadium.

    Kezirian: I am a huge fan of Mike Leach, so this play gives me some pause. However, this schedule presents a much tougher path than last year's that produced a 10-2 campaign. The road slate includes Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, California and Washington. I would be surprised if Wazzu won two of those games. Additionally, the Cougars also face Houston at NRG Stadium. Home games against Stanford and UCLA aren't exactly automatic wins either. After losing QB Gardner Minshew to the NFL, Leach brings in another FCS stud in Gage Gubrud. Leach's track record suggest the offense will stay on track, but I have to fade the Cougars.

    20. Nebraska Cornhuskers

    Under 8.5 regular-season wins (+115)

    Connelly: S&P+ projects the Huskers at just 6.7 wins, with an 87% chance at landing under 8.5. Granted, FPI is more bullish (and honestly, so am I), but there's a lot of space between the line and what the advanced stats say.

    Fallica: Nebraska will be an immensely popular play over 8.5, but I still need to see more from the defense. How the Huskers react to a potential loss against Ohio State will be huge. Will it burst the bubble of optimism? Or will it drive them to get a potential rematch in the Big Ten title game? I'd go under here if I had to play a side.

    Johnson: The Cornhuskers' under is quite an edge based on the discrepancy between my projections (win projection of 7.14) and the current market. It's not surprising that everyone loves the prospects of Scott Frost in Year 2 at Nebraska and has bet this win total up all summer. We may even see a nine wins pop in the market eventually. I respect what Frost did at UCF and even bet the Knights at 25-1 to win the AAC that year. The high-variance approach is generally a good one to take in these instances (I even bet Nebraska to win the Big Ten at 17-1 earlier this summer), but a play on the over isn't embracing that variance correctly, and this isn't the AAC. The Big Ten is the second-best conference in football.

    The Frost and Adrian Martinez upside is enough to keep this play from being higher on my list, but if it gets to a reasonably juiced nine wins (I haven't actually bet this one yet, since it has just been trickling up all summer), then this will be one of my biggest futures bets of the season. If it ultimately stays put at 8.5 plus-money, it's still an edge worth grabbing under. Nebraska's Pythagorean expected wins and regression metrics from last season point to an improvement, but I don't think it's going to be as significant as the market expects.
    Over 8.5 regular-season wins (-135)

    Steele: The Huskers are my pick for most improved team in the country for 2019, so I clearly like them to go over this total. My top-rated most improved team last year was Florida, and they went from 4-7 in 2017 to No. 7 in the final poll at the end of 2018.

    21. Wisconsin Badgers

    Over 8 regular-season wins (-135)

    Connelly: Granted, someone is going to have to underachieve in a Big Ten West full of contenders, but in the process of talking about Nebraska and Minnesota, we seem to be forgetting that the Badgers went 12-0 just two years ago -- and with a QB situation not a lot more favorable than the current one. Also, S&P+ gives the Badgers a 62% chance of going 9-3 or better.

    Johnson: I understand the hype with a few of the teams in the Big Ten West this season, like Nebraska, Minnesota and Purdue. The division has improved as a whole, and Iowa is always going to be a strong squad, but let's not pretend like Wisconsin (win projection of 8.94) hasn't been the face of the division for the past decade. The last time the Badgers failed to win eight games was 2008, and last year was the only time they needed a bowl game to reach that number. It was the first time Wisconsin didn't win double-digit games under Paul Chryst.

    My projections account for the strength of the Badgers' schedule and the other teams in their division and conference, and I still have them winning nine games more often than any other result. RB Jonathan Tayloris a deserving Heisman candidate, and Wisconsin moving on from QB Alex Hornibrook is addition by subtraction. This is still the best team in the West, and I'm willing to bet the Badgers win at least eight contests in 2019.

    Under 8 regular-season wins (+115)

    Walder: Don't be fooled by the surface-level track record of hitting at least eight wins in every season since 2009 prior to last year. The most important year to pay attention to with this team is the last one, when they ranked 35th in total efficiency. Even if the Badgers kick it up a notch this year, their schedule is much tougher (27th-hardest vs. 60th-hardest last year).

    Wisconsin to win the Big Ten (10-1)

    Johnson: This price is lower at Caesars (10-1), but 16-1 is available at other books. The Cornhuskers and Scott Frost in Year 2 are all the preseason rage, but to put this 16-1 into perspective, Nebraska is only 7-1 to win the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers do have an easier schedule than the Badgers, but even Iowa is listed at 15-1 and Wisconsin gets the Hawkeyes at home (projected 7.5-point favorite). Any time I can get the best team in a division at 16-1 to win the conference, I'm going to look into it.

    In the case where the Badgers reach the championship game, the biggest spread I currently project would be against the Michigan Wolverines. As roughly a 6.5-point underdog in the title game, my true line for Wisconsin to win the game would be +212 -- and we'd be holding +1600. This is plenty of potential value to buy low on the Badgers and snag some 16-1 to go along with our bet on the over eight wins.

    22. Syracuse Orange

    Under 7.5 regular-season wins (+110)

    Connelly: Both S&P+ and FPI project the Orange at only 6.8 wins this season, and S&P+ gives the Orange a 67% chance of winning seven or fewer. Hitting the over will likely require huge things out of QB Tommy DeVito. Possible? Certainly. Probable? Really hard to bet on that.

    Syracuse (+21.5) vs. Clemson, Sept. 14

    At Westgate
    Steele: Last year I had Syracuse getting 25.5 points in Death Valley, and the Orange almost upset the Tigers (they led by two scores in the second half). Syracuse upset Clemson the last time they met in the Carrier Dome and is 9-2 ATS as a 'dog the past two years.

    23. Iowa Hawkeyes

    Over 7.5 regular-season wins (-140)

    Steele: I do nine sets of power ratings; two of them call for Iowa to get to 11 wins, while only one has Iowa as low as seven. The Big Ten West is wide open, and future NFL tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson protect quarterback Nate Stanley.

    24. Army Black Knights

    Under 10 regular-season wins (+140)

    At FanDuel
    Walder: Army finishing in the AP Top 25 last season was a complete mirage, helped by on wins over the 106th-best FBS schedule. Getting plus-money on the under here is a nice bet against a team that FPI expects to win only 9.2 games this season.

    25. Mississippi State Bulldogs

    Over 7.5 regular-season wins (-165)

    Connelly: S&P+ is more bullish on the Bulldogs than I am (it gives them a 73% chance of winning eight or more games). But even if I were to tamp that number down a bit, there's still some space between the projection and the +145 line (with a 41% or so break-even point) that Caesars has been showing.

    Ole Miss (+16.5) over Mississippi State, Nov. 28

    At Westgate
    Steele: The visitor has won the past four Egg Bowls outright, and there have been four upsets in the past six years in this heated rivalry game. I have Mississippi State favored by a touchdown, so there is a lot of value snagging nearly 17 points here.

    Other notables

    Miami Hurricanes

    Over 8.5 regular-season wins (-135)

    Connelly: S&P+ says Miami has a 60% shot at nine or more wins -- despite obvious question marks, the Canes are projected favorites in every game after Florida -- so if you can find a break even percentage below that (-135 or lower), there's some value.

    Steele: Miami has a top-10 defense and brings in Dan Enos to run the offense. The Canes face my No. 69 schedule and should be favored in 10 or 11 games this year. Grab this at 8.5.

    Miami to win ACC title (9-1)

    Steele: Miami is my pick to win the Coastal Division and get to the ACC title game. At that point, the money line should be about +300 to win the game, so 9-1 odds right now show a lot of value.

    Florida State Seminoles

    Over 7 regular-season wins (-175)

    Steele: This is one of my favorite plays. Florida State is my No. 3 most improved team in the country, and I only have them as an underdog in two games this year. The Seminoles could be over this number by November.
    Coughlin: The Seminoles' first year under Willie Taggart wasn't pretty; some people would use the word disaster to describe it. But, even though it was that bad, Florida State still won five games. This year brings a new offensive coordinator in Kendal Briles and a new O-line coach, so you have to think the numbers will improve in every facet of their offense. They have the second-best group of wide receivers in the conference behind Clemson, and plenty of talent on defense returns, especially at the tackle spot.

    USC Trojans

    Utah (+1.5) over USC, Sept. 20

    At Westgate
    Steele: Last year against USC, Utah gave up a fumble return touchdown and trailed 14-0, but the Utes came back and led 34-14 into the fourth quarter. Utah gave up a couple of late scores to make the game appear closer, but overall had a 27-10 edge on first downs. USC is 3-9 ATS as a home favorite the past two seasons. Utah is the stronger team and grabs the road win.

    Under 7 regular-season wins (+110)

    Kezirian: Clay Helton's return suggests stability, and the program continues to attract top-tier recruiting classes. However, Helton has yet to demonstrate any sort of acumen when faced with critical game theory decisions. The son of a coach is just too archaic with his philosophies and decision-making. He is 2-11 ATS as 'dog, which illustrates an inability to outperform expectations against strong competition. That 15.4% ranks dead last of 553 coaches over the past 40 years (minimum 10 games as an underdog). Plus, quarterback JT Daniels never demonstrated the skills that represent his five-star hype out of high school. FPI projects the Trojans as underdogs in four games and minimal favorites in three others. Those toss-up games are where USC will feel the pain of Helton and Daniels most.

    Over 7 regular-season wins (-130)

    Fallica: The Trojans could be underdogs in four or five games this year, and that's not a good thing, as USC has pulled two upsets in Helton's tenure and lost the other 11 games where it was a 'dog. Going 8-4 or better is certainly possible, but there's a lot of pressure on the Trojans this year. Anything less than 7-5 with the talent and staff changes would be a bit surprising to me. Might this be a year where everyone is so down on USC that the Trojans surprise everyone?

    Michigan State Spartans

    Over 8 regular-season wins (-145)

    Kezirian: Cheesy movies have been easier to watch than Michigan State's offense was last season. Simply put, it was a brutal. But the Spartans also battled injuries, have since changed its offensive coordinator and return several key players. QB Brian Lewerke is capable and should lead an improved unit. Meanwhile, the defense ranked among the nation's best and will likely be just as potent this year. The schedule presents an interesting slate as the three toughest opponents (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan) are all on the road. Sparty should be favored in the other nine games. Given it takes five losses to lose this wager, I think the over is a strong play. Head coach Mark Dantonio thrives when he is overlooked or dismissed.

    Iowa State Cyclones

    Under 8 regular-season wins (-110)

    Connelly: The statistical consensus on the Cyclones is blurrier than the conventional wisdom. FPI projects ISU at 7.9 wins, but S&P+ sits at 6.7 with a 71% chance of winning seven or fewer.

    Iowa State to win the Big 12 (8-1)

    Steele: The Big 12 is wide open at the top this year, and the Cyclones have one of the top two defenses in the league with eight starters back. They have a veteran offensive line, and quarterback Brock Purdyreturns as well. The Cyclones almost made it to the Big 12 title game last year, and if they get there, Matt Campbell's crew will have knocked off the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 6 teams in the AP poll the previous two years.

    Over 8 regular-season wins (-110); win the Big 12 (8-1)

    Coughlin: I love what is in store for the Cyclones this year. I know plenty of people have mentioned how the offense will miss running back David Montgomery, but I think Campbell loves what he returns, as every lineman comes back and he also has three tight ends who are all over 6-foot-6, which should really help the run game. Purdy comes back after starting 10 games as a true freshman last year and the schedule sets up pretty well, as Texas visits Ames and the Cyclones play at Oklahoma, where they won two years ago. The Cy-Hawk will be decided in Ames also. I think Iowa State wins more than eight games and also is worth a shot to win the Big 12 title game. Expect great things in Ames this year.

    Last edited by Hman; 08-21-19 at 04:25 PM.

  2. #2
    UNDERDOBS's Avatar Become A Pro!
    Join Date: 07-19-18
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    Love Michigan St over 8 wins!