The Bears have been successful on the gridiron and at cashing tickets for college football bettors. Will that upward trajectory continue this season? This article is a college football betting preview of the 2014-2015 Baylor Bears.
Baylor is not just RG III or Lache Seastrunk. They are not an offensive flash-in-the-pan. From consistent offensive success, to a Big 12 title, to newly-built world-class facilities, to extraordinary coaching talent, Baylor has arrived as a college football force, with an increasing popularity in betting markets.
Baylor’s Art Briles Against-the-Spread (ATS)
Art Briles is a winner, and that applies to your college football betting as well. Since coming to Baylor in 2008, Briles is 61.33% ATS. He is the sixth-most profitable head coach in college football. If he has an ATS weakness, it is playing away from Waco. While Briles’ Bears are an amazing 69.23% at home, they are a narrowly-profitable 53.13% ATS Away. That Home-Away chasm has only deepened the last three seasons as Baylor was an otherworldly 90.48% ATS at Home, while just 44.44% ATS Away. With every Home/Away and conference/non-conference combination, Briles has been profitable except for Big 12 Conference Away games. In those contests, Briles is 51.85% ATS (with “profitable” being defined as anything over 52.38%).
Expectations in College Football Betting
As an admitted oversimplification, betting lines are driven by expectations. For the first time in nearly 35 years, Baylor has elite expectations- both by the general public and for themselves. Last year was the first time Baylor ever won the Big 12 Conference, and they return some marquee players- none more prominent than 2013’s second-best quarterback (by overall QB rating), Bryce Petty. Pinnacle has Baylor’s National Championship futures odds tied for ninth-shortest. In nearly every pre-season poll (keeping in mind that this is being written more than two months before the release of the 2014 Preseason AP Poll), Baylor is ranked in the top 10. They are certain to be in the Preseason AP Top 25. Putting that into perspective, the last time Baylor was ranked in the Preseason AP Poll was 1986! Anything that raises expectations for a team is generally bad for ATS outcomes. In our article outlining preseason predictive principals, we discussed three conditions for a profitable ATS season:
1) Be unranked in the preseason polls. Already mentioned, that will not be the case for the highly-regarded 2014 Baylor Bears.
2) Be unprofitable the prior ATS season. Baylor was a very profitable 69.23% ATS in 2013.
3) Increase the straight-up (SU) wins from the prior season.
Baylor has been playing football since 1899, yet 2013 was the first time they ever won 11 (SU) games. In order to improve on 2013’s SU win total, the Bears can lose no more than one game, and that includes the assumed Bowl game; that is awfully tough when playing Texas and Oklahoma at their places. (Under Briles, Baylor is just 1-4 SU when playing those two schools Away.)
Utilizing the NCAA’s method of determining strength of schedule, Baylor ranks 67th. Take a look at Baylor’s 2014 schedule below:
|DATE||OPPONENT||LOCATION (STADIUM)||NOTES (BU Under Art Briles)|
|08/31/14||SMU||Waco, TX (McLane Stadium)||BU’s season opens with intra-state “rival” SMU. Around 100 miles separates the two campuses, but 35 points separated the two teams when they last played in 2012 as BU destroyed SMU and the 6.5-point closing spread. BU is 4-2 ATS in season-openers.|
|09/06/14||Northwestern State||Waco, TX (McLane Stadium)||BU has played NW St. twice under Briles. The Bears have outscored the Demons 119 to 19 in those two games. BU is 3-2 ATS vs. FCS teams.|
|09/12/14||Buffalo||Buffalo, NY (UB Stadium)||BU is 2-0 ATS vs. Buffalo, beating the spread by an average of more than three TD’s. Both of those games, however, were played in Waco. BU is 2-4 ATS in road openers.|
|09/27/14||Iowa State||Ames, IA (Jack Trice Stadium)||The Home team is 5-0 ATS in this series. BU is 0-2 ATS in Ames- both times failing to cover the (closing) spread by exactly 11.5 points. Last year (in Waco) BU easily covered the 32-point spread, winning by 64 points! BU is 4-2 ATS in Big 12 openers, but 2-4 ATS in conference road openers.|
|10/04/14||Texas||Austin, TX (Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium)||Even though BU is just 51.85% in Big 12 Away games, the Bears are 5-1 ATS vs. Texas, including 3-0 ATS when Away.|
|10/11/14||TCU||Waco, TX (McLane Stadium)||Although BU is 69.67% ATS at Home vs. the Big 12, BU is 1-3 ATS vs. TCU (1-1 ATS at Home). BU is 3-3 ATS in Big 12 Home openers.|
|10/18/14||West Virginia||Morgantown, WV (Mountaineer Field)||BU is 2-0 ATS vs. WVU. It might be worth noting that the last time the Bears played in Morgantown (2012), they beat the spread (as double-digit underdogs), but still lost the game (SU) by a TD.|
|11/01/14||Kansas||Waco, TX (McLane Stadium)||BU is 3-1 ATS vs. Kansas, including 2-0 ATS at Home. Baylor is an unimpressive 5-5 ATS after a bye week.|
|11/08/14||Oklahoma||Norman, OK (Gaylord Family OK Memorial Stadium)||BU is 4-2 ATS vs. OU including 2-0 ATS in Norman. The Bears were underdogs in five out of six contests; that includes being 21 and 27.5-point underdogs in their two games in Norman.|
|11/22/14||Oklahoma State||Waco, TX (McLane Stadium)||BU is just 1-5 ATS vs. OSU. The lone ATS victory was the last time these teams met in Waco (2012). The Bears have been underdogs in five out of six contests. The only time BU was the favorite (2013), they failed to cover the spread by 39.5 points!|
|11/29/14||Texas Tech||Arlington, TX (AT&T Stadium)||BU is 5-1 ATS vs. TT. Even though Baylor went 3-0 both SU and ATS in the last three games, the Bears covered the spread by an average of just 5.67 points. For each of the three games, the Total closed in the 80’s, yet all three games went Over with the total number of points being 97, 97, and 108!|
|12/06/14||Kansas State||Waco, TX (McLane Stadium)||
The underdog is 4-0 ATS in this series. BU is 1-3 ATS vs. K-State, including 1-1 ATS at Home. The Bears are, however, 5-1 ATS in final regular season games.
Baylor’s offense is a bona fide juggernaut. The last three seasons they have averaged more than 44 points per game (against FBS competition), and that has placed the Bears in the top-4 scoring offenses in each of those years. Bryce Petty returns as a fifth-year senior to lead that explosive offense. Fans should be elated, but bettors might be more reserved in their exuberance.
Why the reservation? First, Petty is a known and outstanding quantity. In other words, expectations for him (and Baylor’s offense, in general) cannot be higher; they will be built into the betting line. Second, despite the fact that Baylor’s ultra-potent passing game might feature 2014’s best receiving corps, the running game is still the nucleus of Art Briles’ offense. Over the past three seasons, Baylor QB’s have been responsible for running the ball in 25.7% of all running plays. Last season saw the QB run the least (of the three seasons), but having running backs Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin, Shock Linwood, and Devin Chafin took a lot of pressure off of Petty’s running game. In fact, 2013 was the first season that Briles (at Baylor) had four RB’s run for more yards than his QB. Linwood and Chafin are back, but Seastrunk and Martin (responsible for nearly 58% of 2013’s rushing yards per game) are gone. The offensive backfield has, at once, real talent and serious depth issues. This season, Coach Briles has called for Petty to step-up his running game. That could be a problem. Should Petty get injured, the QB’s behind him are uncharacteristically inexperienced. The combination of a steep drop-off from the top QB to his backup, an increased emphasis on the QB shouldering the running load, and Baylor’s near-pathological dependence on that scoring offense to compensate for their scoring defense leaves Baylor an injurious play away from real trouble.
Defense Still Wins Championships
Even dynamic offensive gurus like Art Briles would admit that defense is critical to winning titles. Baylor won their first Big 12 title last year- the first year that Briles fielded a Baylor team whose scoring defense was in the top 75! (They ranked 42nd against FBS competition.) Going into 2013, Baylor had 73.6% of their tackles returning. That was the 36th–best in the FBS, and the 3rd–best in the Big 12.
Going into this season, Baylor returns just 50.3% of their tackles- 112th–best in the FBS, and 3rd–worst in the Big 12. They will be without the services of three of their top-four tacklers from 2013. Of course, defense is not all tackles. Turnovers play a huge role in the determination of both a game and an ATS outcome. Last season was the first time since Briles’ first season at Baylor that he had a turnover margin (TM) rank in the top 35 (they ranked 8th in TM against FBS competition in 2013). For the defense’s part in the TM equation, it was not recovered fumbles that made the difference. After all, they recovered as many fumbles as their offense lost in 2013. Their takeaway expertise was interceptions (INT’s). In 2013, Baylor was sixth in the FBS for INT’s. This season Baylor will be without 73.68% of those INT’s, primarily in the form of losing their top-3 INT leaders. TM is so critical to ATS success that teams ranking in the top-10 in TM in 2013 collectively finished the season beating the spread at the rate of 64.15%.
Baylor lost 16 SU games in the last four years. In 15 out of those 16 losses, they allowed opponents to complete at least 61.3% of their passes. They were 3-13 (18.75%) ATS in those games. For Briles’ first five years at Baylor, opponents completed an average of 64.36% of their passes. In 2013, they completed just 48.2%. Expect this defense to be something less than its 2013 counterpart.
More Bear Facts (Under Briles)
When the public majority was on Baylor’s side in Home games, the Bears beat the spread 72% of the time.
Line movement (from the opening to the closing betting line) was not very predictive. Line movement indicated the correct side just 52.63% of the time- nearly the same predictive power of a coin toss. Reverse Line Movement (RLM): Usually an indicator of where the “sharp” money has gone when it opposes the majority of the public bets, the RLM side has been correct LESS than it has been incorrect. Therefore, RLM appears to be no indicator of the correct side in Baylor games.
The Bears are 77.78% ATS as Home favorites, but just 50% ATS as Home underdogs.
In games where Baylor is favored by at least three TD’s, the Bears are 75% ATS.
When Baylor’s offense runs at least 90 plays, they are 75% ATS. When their defense allows at least 90 plays, the Bears are just 42.86% ATS.
When the Bears held opposing offenses under 100 rushing yards, Baylor was 93.75% ATS! When opposing defenses held the Bears under 100 rushing yards, Baylor was an abysmal 21.43% ATS.
The Over has been correct in 61.97% of Baylor’s games while a majority of the public betting has been on the Over in 97.26% of their games!
The 2015 College Football National Championship will be determined by playing-off four teams chosen by 13 people. For good or ill, this will be the most subjective method of determining the four best teams in college football since before the BCS. Given the extreme subjectivity of the selection process and the fact that we have no data on the results (since this is the first year of the process), we recommend the most conservative approach to your National Championship futures betting. Despite Baylor breaking through the “glass ceiling” of elite programs, losing a single regular-season game is likely to knock them out of National Championship consideration. Going undefeated in the Big 12 for this year’s Baylor team is not impossible, but it would require an injury-free season for Bryce Petty, Shock Linwood and (likely) the offensive line. The secondary would have to surprise and play well beyond current expectations. Since the selection process is so new and subjective, and since Baylor is supremely dependent on good health, we recommend against wagering anything on a Baylor National Championship futures bet.
It is quite possible that point spreads will now reflect Baylor’s newly-discovered prominence. Unfortunately, that might just coincide with the Bears’ defense taking a step back. Art Briles has displayed his dynamism as a coach (going from mastering the veer to innovating the spread concept). It will be interesting to see how (or if) he chooses to protect Bryce Petty. If he runs Petty more (his expressed desire) and leaves him in the game longer (padding his statistics for a Heisman campaign), then the likelihood of injury to that critical player/position increases. Even a play-through-it injury (à la Marcus Mariota of 2013) could be devastating to the overall success of this Baylor team, both SU and ATS. Early on, look to the SMU game to see how the secondary survives, and then watch Baylor go to Buffalo and Ames to see if the prey-turned-predator has led to ATS complacency.