Here is my list of College Football Season Win totals for 2016 that I sent to subscribers on Thursday morning. I’ve had good success with these plays, going 23-10, including 10-1 the last 3 years. Let’s hope for more of the same. The odds have moved after my subscribers played them so pay attention to the constraints listed at the end of each write up.
**Memphis OVER 6.5 (+115)
Expectations are down for Memphis with quarterback Paxton Lynch now in the NFL (1st round draft pick) and head coach Justin Fuente now at Virginia Tech, but I still think the Tigers are going to be pretty good while the other top teams in the American Athletic Conference are not as good as they’re perceived to be.
The Memphis offense will obviously take a hit without Lynch, who completed 67% of his passes and averaged 8.2 yards per pass play (against teams that would combine to allow 6.4 yppp to an average quarterback) while throwing just 4 interceptions all season. New head coach Mike Norvell was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State the last 4 years and new quarterback Riley Ferguson has good talent. Ferguson was a top 40 quarterback prospect out of high school and signed at Tennessee before transferring to play at a JC last year (honorable mention JC All-American). Four of last year’s top five receivers return so Ferguson will have a solid receiving corps to throw to. The pass attack isn’t going to nearly as good, although it should still be better than average, and overall the offense will be worse than average on a national scale unless a running back can emerge to lift the ground assault to decent levels (0.7 yards per rushing play worse than average last season).
A projected 0.7 yards per play decline in offensive efficiency will be partially offset by an improved defense. Last season the Tigers had just 3 returning starters on defense and their inexperienced secondary allowed far too many big plays. The Tigers went from allowing just 11.3 yards per completion from 2012 through 2014 to allowing a horrendous 14.3 ypc against FBS foes in 2015. The fact that Memphis was only 0.2 yards per pass play worse than average while giving up an extremely high yards per completion is a good indicator of significant improvement this season with 3 of 4 starting defensive backs returning along with 4 other starters from a year ago. Memphis should see a big improvement in their yards per completion allowed while improving in all other areas of the defense and I expect the Tigers to go from 0.1 yards per play better than average defensively to 0.6 yppl better than average on that side of the ball this season.
Memphis has been consistently good in special teams and both kickers and both returners are back this season. Punter Spencer Smith averaged 47.2 yards per punt last season and kicker Jake Elliott was 0.9 points per game better than average kicker in 2015 and was named AAC special teams player of the year for that and his booming kickoffs that went for touchbacks 75% of the time.
The Memphis offense will be down but the special teams and defense will be good and I rate the Tigers as 5 points better than average team on a national scale and certainly good enough to compete for an AAC title if Ferguson proves to be simply average at the quarterback position. The AAC’s other top teams on Memphis’ schedule are Houston, USF, Temple, and Cincinnati but the Tigers have 3 of those games at home. The league’s top team, Houston, is not as good as their ranking – unless they magically are +21 in turnover margin again – and I rate the Tigers as better than the Owls and expect them to get their revenge in that game.
Taking a look at the schedule I see 5 games with an 80% or greater chance of winning based on my ratings (SE Missouri State, Kansas, at Tulane, Tulsa, at SMU), 2 other games in which I think the Tigers will be a solid favorite (Bowling Green and Temple), 4 toss up games with between a 40% and 60% of winning (at Navy, USF, Houston, at Cincinnati) and only one high percentage loss (at Ole’ Miss, who will have the revenge motive for last year’s loss in Memphis).
The Memphis win total is 6.5 wins and I project 8.0 wins for the Tigers this season. The Tigers are projected to win 5.9 of the 7 games they’ll be clearly favored to win while being projected to win 2.1 of the other 5 games. Let’s say Memphis only wins 5 of the 7 games they have a 70% or more chance of winning and that they lose at Ole’ Miss. That means they’d have to lose 3 of the 4 toss-up games to not get to 7 wins, which is unlikely.
I’ll risk 2 Stars on Memphis OVER 6.5 wins (+115 odds). Play at -120 odds or better.
(1.5)*Maryland OVER 4.5 (-225)
It’s too bad I didn’t finish my team ratings a month ago, as this win total was the 2nd worst opening line according to my ratings. The market obviously agreed, as the odds on going over 4.5 wins is up to -220. The question is if there is still value and the answer is yes.
Maryland was only 3-9 last season but being -18 in turnover margin had a lot to do with that dismal record and that number is very likely to regress towards zero. From a compensated yards per play perspective Maryland was actually a solid team, as the Terrapins averaged 5.5 yards per play and allowed 5.7 yppl while facing teams with a combined rating of 0.7 yppl better than average. In other words, Maryland was 0.5 yppl better than average FBS team. The Terps might have become bowl eligible without the turnover problems they had last season.
The new coaching staff has named Perry Hills as the starting quarterback, and he did throw 13 of the Terrapins’ ridiculous 29 interceptions last season, but new offensive coordinator Walt Bell, the OC at Arkansas State the last two years, should put Hills in better position to succeed. I still rate Hills at 0.6 yards per pass play worse than average (but with upside variance) and I still expect significantly more interceptions to be thrown than an average quarterback, but Hills is a good runner (646 yards on 92 runs last season) and the number of interceptions shouldn’t come close to last year’s team total. Bell coached a mobile quarterback, Fredi Knighton, at Arkansas State and that unit averaged 38 points per game in his two seasons as OC. That’s not going to happen here but Hills should have a much better season with Bell at OC than he did last year. I don’t expect Maryland to run the ball quite as well as they did last season (6.2 yards per rushing play) without star RB Brandon Ross (6.4 ypr) but the rushing numbers should still be good with Hills picking up big chunks of yards running out the pocket.
Overall, I rate the Terrapins about average on a national scale offensively and the defense was much better than the 34.4 points per game they allowed would indicate. The points allowed average was a result of the -18 in turnovers and not Maryland’s defensive unit, as the Terrapins were actually 0.4 yards per play better than average defensively last season (5.7 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average team). New head coach D.J. Durkin is a defensive minded coach who led Michigan’s defense to a top 5 ranking last season and he’s got some star players returning in LB Jermaine Carter (103 tackles and 14 tackles for loss) and CB William Likely. The Terps’ stop unit is actually a bit more experienced (with just 5 returning starters) than they were last season (only 4 returning starters) and I expect Maryland to be 0.5 yppl better than average this season.
Maryland has traditionally had strong special teams and I see no reason for that to change with the new coaching staff, especially with 2 time 1st team All Big 10 return man William Likely back. Overall I rate the Terrapins as a better than average team and they should have no trouble getting to 5 wins. In fact, there is a 63% chance that the Terps start the season 4-0 (32% at 3-1) with games against Howard, at FIU, at UCF, and Purdue all being games with at least an 80% chance of winning. If they start 4-0, which is likely, then they need only one more win to cash our ticket and there is a 98.8% chance that they don’t end the season with 8 consecutive losses. You can probably chalk up losses at Michigan and versus Ohio State and likely losses at Penn State (31% win) and at Nebraska (27%). That leaves 4 games that I give Maryland at least a 40% chance of winning, as they are 53% to beat Minnesota at home, 41% to beat Michigan State at home (the Spartans are overrated), 58% to win at Indiana, and 72% to beat Rutgers at home. It all adds up to 6.7 expected wins and about an 80% chance of winning 5 games or more. So, even at -220 odds there is value in betting Over 4.5 wins.
I’ll take Maryland Over 4.5 Wins to win 1.5 Stars (-225). Play up to -250 odds. Over 5 at -135 is also available and is about the same value.
**Ohio UNDER 7.5 (-110)
Last year I had a Best Bet on Ohio to go Over 5 wins (at -170) and the Bobcats started the season 5-1 and went on to win 8 games. However, last season’s very experienced team (17 returning starters) raised the bar too high and I think it will be tough for this year’s team to meet those raised expectations. Ohio actually wasn’t that much better from the line of scrimmage last season (0.8 yards per play worse than average on a national scale) than they were in 2014’s 6-6 campaign (-1.0 yppl) and I don’t see the Bobcats being any better this season than they were last year. Ohio’s offense rates slightly worse than a year ago. The injury to starting quarterback J.D. Sprague isn’t that much of an issue given that he was being pushed for the starting spot by senior Greg Windham before his injury, and the rushing attack also figures to be a bit worse with a less experienced line. Ohio’s defense should also be at about the same level, with an improved run defense but a worse pass defense.
While I rate Ohio only slightly worse than last season the Bobcats are not as likely to have as much positive variance. Ohio averaged 5.7 yards per play and they allowed 5.7 yppl last season but they were +5 in turnovers and had a big advantage in 3rd down conversion rates, converting on 41% of their 3rd downs while their opponents converted on just 33%. A mediocre team like Ohio, that averaged and allowed the same yards per play should be about the same offensively and defensively in 3rd down efficiency, so the Bobcats’ +8% in 3rd down differential is mostly due to variance (i.e. luck), which had a significant impact last season. From 2012 through 2014 Ohio also averaged and allowed the same yards per play on average over those 3 years (5.6 yppl both on offense and defense) but their average 3rd down conversion rates in those 3 prior seasons were 41% on offense and 44% on defense, so last year’s 33% 3rd down defensive efficiency was very random and should return to normal, mediocre levels this season. Ohio may be just as good as last season from a yards per play perspective but they’re not going to be as fortunate on 3rd downs as they were last season.
Taking a look at the schedule reveals that Ohio has 4 games with a 70% chance or more of winning (Texas State, Gardner Webb, Eastern Michigan and Buffalo) and 3 games in which I give them a less than 20% chance of winning (at Tennessee, at Toledo, and at Central Michigan). The remaining 7 games are toss-up games with Ohio having between 42% and 53% of winning based on my ratings. Let’s say Ohio wins the 4 games that they should win and loses the 3 games that they should lose (the math projects 3.7 wins in those 7 games). If that is the case then the Bobcats would have to go 4-1 in their 5 toss-up games to get to 8 wins, which is very unlikely. My ratings project just 6.2 wins and getting to 8 wins is going to be a challenge if the Bobcats don’t have another season of positive 3rd down efficiency variance.
I’ll play Ohio Under 7.5 wins to win 2-Stars (-110). Play up to -125 odds.
**Notre Dame UNDER 9.5 (-130)
Last year’s Notre Dame team was the best of Brian Kelly’s 6 seasons – a bit better than the 2012 team that lost in national championship game – but the Irish won’t be nearly as good as they were last season and getting to 10 wins against a tough schedule is unlikely.
Notre Dame returns just 3 starters on offense and has only 4 returning starters on defense and the losses are impactful. The only issue at quarterback is that head coach Brian Kelly can’t decide between two talented passers, as last year’s opening day starter Malik Zaire is back from an injury he sustained early in week 2 and DeShone Kizer has proven himself to be an effective passer in 10 ½ games under center after Zaire was injured. Regardless of who the quarterback is the pass attack won’t be nearly as good without the services of star WR Will Fuller, who averaged a very impressive 13.2 yards per pass targeted at him last season. The rest of the Notre Dame wide receivers combined to average a modest 7.8 yards per target, which is actually below the national average for wide receivers. Overall, only 1 of the top 7 receivers from last season are back now that WR Corey Robinson has retired due to concussions and talented TE Alize Jones failed to qualify academically. Notre Dame is still likely to have a good pass attack. They just won’t have a great one. The Irish rushing attack should still be special, however, as sophomore Josh Adams will get the bulk of the carries after averaging 7.1 yards on his 117 runs last season while playing behind C.J. Prosise, who left early for the NFL after running for 1032 yards at 6.6 ypr in 2015. The offensive line doesn’t figure to be quite as good and backup Tarean Folston hasn’t proven to be much better than mediocre (5.2 ypr on 266 career runs). While Adams is certainly not a step down from Prosise, the production from the 2nd back figures to decline this season. Even with that being the case the projection is for the Irish to be 1.3 yards per rushing play better than average (4th best in the nation) while the pass attack rates at 1.3 yards per pass play better than average. Notre Dame was an incredible 1.9 yards per play better than average offensively last season (7.1 yppl against teams that would allow 5.2 yppl to an average attack) but they’ll have to settle for a more modest, but still potent, +1.3 yppl rating heading into this season.
While Notre Dame’s offense will still be strong the defense is likely to be worse than last year’s pretty mediocre unit. The Irish were only 0.3 yards per play better than average defensively in 2015, allowing 5.5 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.8 yppl against an average stop unit, and this year’s group is a lot less experienced than last year’s veteran laden edition (9 returning starters). Only 4 starters return this season (5 if you include NT Jarron Jones, who started in 2014 but missed last season with an ACL injury) and just 1 of last year’s top 8 tacklers returns this season and the projection is a return to the mediocre levels of 2014. Notre Dame was just average defensively in 2014 and that is how they project in 2016.
Notre Dame is still a good team but this year’s team rates about the same as the 2011, 2013 and 2014 teams, who were all good but not elite teams. Those teams were 8-4, 8-4, and 7-5 in the regular season and my ratings project only 7.7 regular season wins for this year’s Irish. Notre Dame has 5 games in which they are heavily favored by my ratings (Nevada, Duke, Syracuse, Navy, and Army) and one game where they are clearly the underdog (just 29% to win at USC). The win probabilities of those 6 games add up to 4.5 projected wins, but let’s call it 5-1. The rest of the games are in the middle. Those games are at Texas, Michigan State, at NC State, Stanford, Miami Florida, and Virginia Tech. The win probabilities of those 6 games add up to 3.2 wins and 2.8 losses but the Irish would have to go 5-1 in those 6 games to go over 9.5 wins for the season if they go 5-1 in the games that are not expected to be as competitive (rather than the 4.5 wins they are projected to get). I just don’t see it. Kelly’s Irish have won more than 8 regular season games only twice in six years and this team would have to have a lot of close games go their way to top 9 wins.
I’ll go UNDER 9.5 wins at -130 odds to win 2-Stars (-130). Play up to -145 odds. Under 9 wins at +115 or less is okay.
*Tulsa UNDER 6.5 (+110)
Tulsa was 6-7 last season but their 6 victories were all against teams that were 10 points or more worse than average with 5 of those coming against teams that were at least 16 points worse than an average FBS team (FAU, ULM, SMU, UCF, and Tulane). Every game played against a team with a rating of -5 or better resulted in a loss and 6 of those 7 losses were by double-digit margins. Tulsa should actually be a bit better this season because their defense is likely to get better just because it can’t get worse (39.8 points per game allowed and 1.3 yards per play worse than average). The offense actually rates the same as last season (0.2 yppl better than average), but the Golden Hurricane have not closed the gap on the better teams in the American Athletic Conference and the bad teams have improved. Last season’s 3 conference wins were against teams that were a combined 2-22 in conference play but those teams are all better.
Tulsa will beat NC A&T in week 3 and they’ll be pretty solid favorites in home games against SMU and Tulane. However, the Golden Hurricane have 5 games that are very likely to be losses (at Ohio State, at Houston, at Memphis, at Navy and home against Cincy). The sum of the probabilities of those 8 games adds up to 3.1 wins and 4.9 losses with Cincy being the most likely upset win (although only 35%) and SMU being the most likely upset loss (33%). The other 4 games fall into the toss-up category between a 45% and 60% of winning. Those games are San Jose State, at Fresno State, East Carolina and UCF. I actually think Tulsa will be favored in at least 3 of those games and possible all 4 but the Hurricane would have to win all 4 of those to get to 7 wins if they go 3-5 in the non-toss up games. That’s highly unlikely and my ratings project only 5.2 wins for Tulsa in 2016. Only a significant improvement defensively or significant turnover luck would keep the Under from being a good play here. The defensive improvement could happen since teams as bad defensively as Tulsa was last year tend to regress towards the mean even if their talent isn’t any better. That’s already been factored into my ratings but it’s enough to play this one a bit smaller than the other win totals.
I’ll risk 1-Star on Tulsa UNDER 6.5 wins at +110. Play at -110 or better.
**Michigan State UNDER 8 (+120)
Michigan State was not nearly as good as their record last season and the combination of positive variance stats is not likely to repeat itself this season. How did the Spartans go 12-2 while averaging only 5.6 yards per play while allowing 5.6 yppl? It was a perfect storm of positive variance items that led to the mirage that was the MSU 2015 season – a mirage that suddenly disappeared with a 0-38 loss to Alabama in the playoffs.
Positive variance item #1 was a +14 in turnover margin, which was pretty unlikely based on the number of passes defended for and against. Passes defended (interceptions plus passes broken up) is a better indicator of future interceptions than interceptions are, so Michigan State was lucky to have been +7 in interception margin despite having had 10 more passes defended against them (71) than their defense defended (61) – and they were even luckier to have been +7 in fumbles, which is 90% random.
Extreme positive variance item #2 was Michigan State’s incredibly high 49% 3rd down conversion rate on offense (35% 3rd downs allowed on defense). To be an average offensive team overall (5.6 yppl is the national average) and be so good in 3rd down conversions is an anomaly and is something that is highly unlikely to repeat itself this season. Perhaps that was a function of having a 4th year starting quarterback, Connor Cook, who certainly had plenty of clutch moments in his career. Whatever the reason, it will not happen again and a 3rd down percentage differential more in line with expectations will have a significantly negative impact on Michigan State’s bottom line this season.
Lucky item #3 was the Spartans’ 6-1 record on close games (games decided by 7 points or less) and 4 of those wins were by 3 points or fewer. Michigan State would have been 8-4 in the regular season last year if they split their close games and even worse if it weren’t for the positive variance in 3rd down conversions and turnovers.
I actually rate Michigan State as a slightly better team on a yards per play basis this season but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be as lucky in turnovers, 3rd down variance, and in close games without Cook to save them (and without a random botched punt on the final play against their rival). Michigan State is a good team but they are not a great team and my ratings project only 7.0 wins for the Spartans this season. I have MSU as pretty solid favorites in 4 games (at Indiana, Northwestern, at Illinois, Rutgers) and pretty solid dogs in 3 games (at Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State). The other 4 games are the toss-up games with between a 40% and 60% chance of winning (Wisconsin, BYU, at Maryland, at Penn State) and if the non-toss up games go according to plan (4.0 wins and 3.0 losses if the probabilities of each of those games are added up) then Michigan State would have to sweep the 5 toss-up games to get to required 9 wins to beat us. That’s not very likely to happen.
I’ll risk 2 Stars on Michigan State to go UNDER 8 wins at +120 odds. Play for 2-Stars down to even money and 1-Star to -110. Under 8.5 up to -150 is also okay.
**Marshall UNDER 9 (-145)
Marshall was 9-3 in the regular season last year thanks to an easy schedule. The Thundering Herd were only underdogs in 2 games and lost both (to MTS and Western KY) and they were upset once (by Ohio, which was not really an upset based on my ratings). Marshall was actually a worse than average team from the line of scrimmage last season, rating at 0.7 yppl worse than average offensively (5.5 yppl against teams that would allow 6.2 yppl to an average team) and 0.3 yppl better than average defensively (4.7 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.0 yppl), and I rate them about the same this year (a bit better on offense and a bit worse defensively) from the line of scrimmage. However, Marshall picked up 3 points per game in special teams value last season and that number is going to go down without return man Deandre Reaves, who had 3 special teams touchdowns in 2015 (Marshall allowed none).
While Marshall is pretty comparable to last year’s team, the schedule is tougher. Most teams in Conference USA are terrible but there are two non-conference games on the schedule that are highly likely to be losses. Last season the Thundering Herd were favored in all 4 of their non-conference games but they’re very likely to lose against Louisville and at Pitt early this season, as my ratings give them only a 10% chance of beating Louisville at home and just a 7% chance of winning at Pitt. It is 84% likely that Marshall will lose both of those games and that would mean we’d need just one conference loss to avoid losing this bet and two to win it.
Marshall will be a 70% or more favorite in 7 of their games and a heavy underdog in the two non-conference games against good ACC teams. The win probabilities of those 9 games add up to 5.8 wins and 3.2 losses so the Herd are actually likely to suffer an upset loss in those 7 games as a significant favorite. If they happen to win all 7 of those games they’d still have to win all 3 of their toss-up games to hand us a loss on this bet. Those games are at Southern Miss (37% chance of winning), home against Middle Tennessee (59%) and home against Western Kentucky (53%). The chance of winning all 3 of those toss-up games (11.6%) or of winning at least 1 of their two games as big dogs to ACC teams (16.3%) is just 27.9%, which approximates the chance that Marshall will have at least 3 losses even if they go 7-0 in their 7 games as clear favorites. The chance of sweeping those 7 games is only 20.5% and adding up the win probabilities of all games projects 7.4 total wins by Marshall. So, it’s very unlikely that Marshall will win the 10 games necessary to beat up and they are 59% likely to win 8 games or less.
I’ll play Marshall Under 9 wins at -145 to win 2-Stars. Play up to -160 odds. Some books may have the under on Marshall at 8.5 wins at +115 odds, which is pretty much the same thing (although I prefer Under 9 at -145).
**Florida International Under 5.5 (-150)
FIU returns 14 starters from last year’s 5-7 team but that squad was much worse than their record, as the Panthers rated at 1.2 yards per play worse than average offensively and 0.8 yppl worse than average defensively in 2015 after adjusting for their easy schedule. FIU will be better offensively with quarterback Alex McGough returning along with 8 other offensive starters but even a solid improvement still has the attack at 0.7 yppl worse than average. This year’s FIU defense is less experienced (5 returning starters after having 8 last season) but that unit isn’t likely to be significantly worse than last year.
FIU was much worse than their record last season and I don’t expect them to be significantly better this season – so getting to 6 wins is going to be a challenge without an FCS team on the schedule this season. In fact, my ratings project only 3.4 wins for the Panthers in 2016.
I’ll play FIU Under 5.5 wins at -150 to win 2-Stars. Play up to -180 odds. This one is not widely available.