Any thought of South Carolina football for 2013 automatically triggers some sort of Jadeveon Clowney response. In 2012, the automatic response would have included Marcus Lattimore. After Lattimore went down with a season-ending injury against Tennessee in 2012, South Carolina went undefeated, proving the Gamecocks were greater than just one elite player.
Gamecocks Against-the-Spread (ATS)
Predicting any team’s ATS success or their college football odds in the off-season is challenging, but we have discovered some correlations worth examining. In general, a team’s ATS season record often stems from the difference between expectations and actual results. Those expectations can be measured by their preseason ranking, their variation in straight-up (SU) wins (from the previous season), and an extreme (either very good or very bad) ATS season immediately prior to the one in question. South Carolina is coming off of back-to-back 11-win seasons, a first in school history.
The Coaches’ Poll ranks South Carolina #7. If the Associated Press (AP) Preseason Poll agrees, the Gamecocks will have their highest preseason ranking since the arrival of Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier. The combination of SC’s high preseason ranking, along with having the world’s best football player (according to Georgia’s Mark Richt) equates very high expectations.
Over the past 11 years, two out of the three times that South Carolina was ranked in the preseason top-25, they had unprofitable ATS seasons. Having 11 SU wins in 2011 and again in 2012 does not leave a lot of room for improvement for 2013. The only year that Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks had fewer SU wins than in the previous year, South Carolina had an unprofitable ATS season. In the last 10 seasons, South Carolina has followed profitable ATS seasons with unprofitable ones, two out of three times, and 2012 was their second most profitable season in more than a decade.
- Of the 13 active head coaches with more than 80 ATS victories, Steve Spurrier ranks 4th, winning more than 55% of his games ATS. (That figure includes all the teams he head-coached. Spurrier’s ATS record at South Carolina is a fraction away from 54%.)
- Coach Spurrier is 0-6 ATS versus FCS schools while at SC (and his Gamecocks play FCS Coastal Carolina on November 23rd).
- Coach Spurrier is 6-2 ATS versus in-state rival, Clemson (while at SC).
- Unlike many SEC programs, South Carolina under Steve Spurrier is still a decent bet when they are double-digit favorites, winning 56.25% of those games (including a 5-2 ATS record in 2012).
- Avoid backing SC when they are favored by more than 21 points at Home. They are 2-7 (22.22%) ATS in such games over the past 10 seasons. (Under Spurrier, SC is 2-6 [25%] ATS in all games when favored by more than 21 points.)
- Avoid betting SC when at least 75% of the public betting is with them at Home. Over the past 10 seasons, they are 2-5 (28.57%) ATS in those games.
- Reverse Line Movement (RLM): This betting phenomenon often indicates where the “sharp” money is going when it contrasts with the public betting majority. In South Carolina’s case, RLM has been no indicator of the right side (since RLM has predicted the correct side exactly 50% of the time over the past 10 seasons). A noteworthy exception to ignoring RLM on SC games is when the betting volume is unusually high. Of their eight highest betting-volume RLM games, the “sharp” side has been correct in six of those games (75%). That includes being correct in three of SC’s four Bowl games that experienced RLM.
2014 BCS National Championship Futures Betting
As this is being written, Bovada has South Carolina at 20-to-1 to win the 2014 BCS National Championship, giving them the 9th shortest odds on the board. In a previous article, we outlined our 60% Rule, where all BCS National Champions had at least three of the following five criteria before starting their championship seasons:
1) An upperclassman quarterback:
It's 2013, and part of what's new in college football is the fact that the SEC has some of the best quarterbacks in the country. Three SEC QB’s finished 2012 with a top-10 QB rating, and one of them was NOT Johnny Football. The three were Alabama’s A.J McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw. All three of those guys are seniors in 2013. Only one of those three has RUSHED for over a thousand yards: South Carolina’s Connor Shaw. Of those three, the guy with the highest QB rating in 2011 was, again, Connor Shaw. Because he shares a locker room with Jadeveon Clowney, he does not get the publicity he deserves. Even his backup, junior Dylan Thompson, is good. He beat Clemson in Death Valley last season (stepping in for the injured Shaw) and threw for over 300 yards and three touchdown passes in the process. Suffice it to say, South Carolina meets the first criterion of the 60% Rule with two excellent upperclassmen QB’s.
2) A top-20 scoring defense one year prior:
Of the 15 previous BCS National Champions, 13 (86.67%) had top-10 scoring defenses the year they won it all. As a predictive criterion, 12 out of 15 teams (80%) had top-20 scoring defenses the year before winning the BCS. South Carolina’s scoring defense ranked 13th in 2012, so the second predictive criterion of the 60% Rule is met.
Now get ready for our bombshell: South Carolina looks to have a problem this year, and it is... defense. Stop screaming “Jadeveon Clowney!” and consider some facts: From that highly-ranked 2012 defense, seven out of their top-10 sack and tackles-for-loss leaders are gone. The four leading tacklers are also gone. South Carolina only returns 41.8% of their tackles (as in people who bring down ball carriers, not the position) from 2012. That puts them at 116th in the country and second to last in the SEC.
What is more, the concern is compounded when we consider which tacklers are gone. The Gamecocks look to have the youngest and most inexperienced linebacking corps in the SEC. Despite South Carolina’s linebacker-light 4-2-5 base defensive scheme, as with most defenses the linebackers should be making the most tackles. Accordingly, 9 out of 10 top-10 scoring defenses in 2012 had linebackers for leading tacklers. South Carolina has had a top-15 scoring defense in each of the last two seasons, during which time the Gamecocks went 22-4 SU, the greatest two-year stretch in school history. In each of those two years, their top tackler was a linebacker (not a defensive lineman named Jadeveon Clowney). In fact, three out of SC’s top-four tacklers were linebackers in each of those two years (including the defensive back-linebacker hybrid “spur” position). In 2010, three out of their top-four tacklers were defensive backs. That should not be the case for elite defenses.
Accordingly, when defensive backs were the leading tacklers, South Carolina’s scoring defense was ranked 43rd. In short, the entire 2013 linebacking corps falls on the untested shoulders of three underclassmen who have a combined total of eight tackles. At this time last year, we would have told you that the linebacking corps was in the hands of three seniors who had a combined total of 374 tackles. BIG DIFFERENCE.
3) A preseason top-10 ranking:
The third criterion of the 60% Rule is having a preseason top-10 ranking. As this is being written, the Preseason AP Poll is a week away from being released, but current projections have South Carolina ranking in the top-10. (Again, the Coaches’ Poll has them at #7.) Consequently, we consider South Carolina meets this criterion.
4) Membership in the Southeastern Conference (the SEC):
The fourth criterion calls for membership in the Southeastern Conference. Proudly, South Carolina has been a football member of the SEC since 1992, so the fourth criterion is met.
5) A head coach who had been at the school for two to four years:The final criterion of the 60% Rule calls for the head coach to be at his institution for two to four years. Steve Spurrier enters his ninth season as Head Ball Coach at South Carolina, so the Gamecocks fail to meet this last mark.
In total, South Carolina meets four of the five predictive criteria for winning a BCS National Championship, making them a qualified candidate (at least on paper). Add to that the fact that South Carolina does not have to play Alabama, LSU, or Texas A&M in the regular season, and a 2013 futures bet might look tempting. Given the grave concern for returning tackles and inexperience at all linebacker positions, however, we do not recommend such a wager on the Gamecocks this year.
In terms of college football picks, Steve Spurrier wins games against-the-spread, even at times when his teams are double-digit favorites. His teams’ best efforts, however, are seldom against FCS schools. Because expectations are just about as high as ever for South Carolina, and because the betting public could have “Jadeveon Clowney blindness” when it comes to the state of South Carolina’s defense, the wise betting position might just be to exercise real caution before backing the Gamecocks in 2013. As for the 2014 BCS National Championship, even though South Carolina is one of just a handful of teams to meet the 60% Rule, we would not recommend placing that futures sports pick on the Gamecocks.
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