How to Bank on Jim McElwain, Florida, and First-Year SEC Head Coaches

Jay Pryce

Monday, June 15, 2015 6:54 PM GMT

In this write-up, we offer two wagering scenarios involving the Florida Gators and new coach Jim McElwain based on the pressures of winning right away in the SEC.

Former Colorado State head coach, Jim McElwain, takes the reigns of a Florida Gators football program that slipped into obscurity under the tutelage of Will Muschamp. Hired to re-energize a stagnant offense mired in the bottom third of college football in most major point-scoring statistics over the last few years, and to mastermind a new paradigm for long-term success, he hopes to challenge for SEC titles sooner rather than later. McElwain recognizes the pressure is on to earn results, and to earn them quickly, in arguably the most competitive D-I conference year in and year out. How he will perform in his first year is anyone's guess, though there is guarded optimism circulating in Gainesville.

McElwain has hired a legion of personnel replete with SEC experience and solid recruiting ties to the state of Florida to kick-start his campaign. As a sports investor, I too am curious to see how the Gators' season will unfold, but for different reasons. McElwain's difficult challenge moved me to examine how new SEC head coaches fared in recent years within betting markets and certain situations. Since 2005, he joins a group of 23 men whose enviable (or unenviable) task it was to test their mettle in the toughest, most pressure-packed conference in the NCAA football. These coaches, their first-year-win-loss records, and the prior season's records are listed in the table below:

 

Season

School

Coach

Previous W/L Record

W/L Record

2014

Vanderbilt

Derek Mason

9-4

3-9

2013

Arkansas

Bret Bielema

4-8

3-9

2013

Auburn

Gus Malzahn

3-9

12-2

2013

Kentucky

Mark Stoops

2-10

2-10

2013

Tennessee

Butch Jones

5-7

5-7

2012

Arkansas

John L. Smith

11-2

4-8

2012

Ole Miss

Hugh Freeze

2-10

7-6

2012

Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin

7-6

11-2

2011

Vanderbilt

James Franklin

2-10

6-7

2011

Florida

Will Muschamp

8-5

7-6

2010

Kentucky

Joker Phillips

7-6

6-6

2010

Tennessee

Derek Dooley

7-6

6-7

2010

Vanderbilt

Robbie Caldwell

2-10

2-10

2009

Auburn

Gene Chizik

5-7

8-5

2009

Mississippi St.

Dan Mullen

4-8

5-7

2009

Tennessee

Lane Kiffin

5-7

7-6

2008

Arkansas

Bobby Petrino

8-5

5-7

2008

Ole Miss

Houston Nutt

3-9

9-4

2007

Alabama

Nick Saban

6-7

7-6

2005

Florida

Urban Meyer

7-5

9-3

2005

LSU

Les Miles

9-3

11-2

2005

Ole Miss

Ed Orgeron

4-7

3-8

2005

South Carolina

Steve Spurrier

6-5

7-5

 

As with any classification approach like this, there are certain benefits and imperfections to the specific statistical results from which we draw conclusions. Some schools, for example, are much more talent-rich than others and allow new coaches to have better players to work with in their first year. In the last decade, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Kentucky, who have attended to a host of head-coaching changes, have not recruited nearly as well as other schools on the list, like Alabama, Tennessee, and LSU. Florida, despite their lackluster efforts over the last four years, have continued to pull a top-10 recruiting class every season, and should give McElwain athletic players to work with from day one. One approach I tested in each of the betting angles I will share with you is to not only examine them with all 23 teams, but to also isolate the coaches taking over a program with a winning record from the previous season. This may help filter out some of the poor recruiting schools from the good in a short-term basis. Not that this approach isn't without its faults either. Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin improved their team's win margins by six and four respectively, the former inheriting a 3-9 squad. One also can't measure the new team culture and chemistry among staff members and players that evolves under leadership changes. All in all, we can let the betting market serve as our indicator weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each team, and to what is expected to happen versus what is not for new coaches.

 

Scenario 1
The first scenario I want to share with you is pretty simple to rationalize, and already circled on my betting calendar. Since 2005, new SEC head coaches are 16-5-1 on the over when facing a non-conference opponent sandwiched between two conference games. These are those soft Sunbelt or Conference USA-type home games many SEC teams schedule late in October or November as a breather from the arduous conference play up to that point in the season. In fact, the average line in these contests is -19 points against the spread on the college football odds. Most teams use this week to rest up, and focus on critical late-season conference games. One has to imagine there is little attention given to these matchups from a coaching standpoint, as they are looking ahead to a more meaningful contest. How well a new coach performs in their division ultimately defines their season, and overlooking a walk-in-the-park type game may allow the underdog to score more points than anticipated. The average points scored for the favorite is roughly 40, and 23 for the underdog.

Another way to possibly justify the over-game-total wager success is to consider point margin difference in bowl committee selections. It's no secret teams will run the score up, particularly late in the year, if in contention for a bowl invite as points differential is a primary component used to gauge a team's power ranking. Moreover, for a new coach, a big victory against any opponent is likely a positive in the fans' eyes. For what it's worth, the record is 9-2 for the over when coaches inherit a team with a winning record from last season, like McElwain. The kicker here is that Florida does not play a non-conference game in between two conference contests this year, instead they play Florida Atlantic right before their end-of-the-regular-season matchup with cross-state rival Florida State. What a perfect scenario. Ask any Gator fan the one team they have to beat in any given season, and they will reply “the one that shall not be named hailing from Tallahassee.” Maybe I'm putting it too nicely, as I can think of many uglier ways these two fanbases refer to each other's teams. Not only will Florida most likely sit in bowl contention heading into the contest against Florida Atlantic, but the next matchup against the Seminoles is possibly the signature win McElwain will be seeking to define his first year as head coach.

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Scenario 2
Our second situation involves passing offenses, and should trigger more than once this coming season under an improved unit guided by McElwain. Since 2005, when a new SEC head coach is playing as a home favorite and his team has more average passing yards than their opponent going into the contest, they are 27-11 over the game total. If you isolate the coaches who inherited a .500 or better program from the year before, like McElwain, then the over is 16-3 with a healthy 9.18 points advantage over the game total. I suspect new coaches are reluctant to let their foot off the gas when they have a passing advantage and the pressure is on to win at home in a game where they are expected to. At the end of the season, the wins look more impressive when considering points differential not only in power ranking models, but to university boosters and fans alike. My guess is Florida's offense will outperform expectations all season, despite a beat up offensive line and questions at quarterback, and McElwain will feel burdened to give Florida fans what they have yearned for after several years: points.

Obviously, his offensive acumen earned him this position, as he molded Fresno State, Alabama, and Colorado State into top-30, D-I units in points scored and efficiency. Hiring Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator, who replaced McElwain in the same position at Alabama when he left Nick Saban's team to take the head coaching job in Fort Collins, the two share a similar east-to-west offensive philosophy, and have the talent at running back to allow the passing game to operate more effectively right from the first snap. Florida hosts four conference home games this season versus Tennessee, Ole Miss, Georgia (played in Jacksonville), and Vanderbilt. They will certainly be favored against the Commodores, and most likely the Volunteers, but we'll have to wait to see how the season unfolds before circling the other two contests.

Use this information to support your leans, and best of luck.