Here is my list of College Football Season Win totals for 2017 that I sent to subscribers on Friday August 25. I’ve had good success with these plays, going 29-12, including 16-3 the last 4 years (all posted on my website). You can view my analysis/plays for 2016 win totals and 2015 win totals.
Let’s hope for more of the same.
The odds may have moved after my subscribers played them so pay attention to the constraints listed at the end of each write up.
***Middle Tennessee State – Over 7 (+112)
Middle Tennessee State has won an average of 7.4 games the last five seasons and I think this is their best team under coach Rick Stockstill. Quarterback Brent Stockstill returns for his third season as the starter and has his best receiving corps yet. Stockstill averaged 7.3 yards per pass play as a redshirt freshman in 2015, against teams that would allow 6.3 yppp to an average quarterback and injuries to 4 receivers in August of last season led to some regression last year. However, Stockstill managed to still put up solid numbers (7.3 yppp against teams that would allow 6.7 yppp to an average quarterback) and this year I expect even better production from the Blue Raiders’ pass attack with 3rd team All-American WR Richie James and WR Ty Lee returning (freshman All-American last season).
MTS will not be nearly as good running the ball without RB I’Tavius Mathers, who came from Ole’ Miss to dominate Conference USA with 1561 yards at 6.7 yards per run in 2016. Overall, however, the Blue Raiders will be just as good as the unit that averaged 38.4 points on 508 yards at 7.0 yards per play last season (excluding their game against FCS team Alabama A&M). That attack rated at 0.7 yards per play better than average after accounting for opposing defenses faced and I rate this year’s offense about the same with better passing numbers making up for much more modest pass numbers.
Middle Tennessee’s defense has been 0.3 yards per play worse than average on a national scale in each of the last 2 seasons but that unit should be improved with 8 of the top 9 defenders back. I rate the Blue Raiders’ stop unit at just 0.1 yppl worse than average heading into this season.
Overall, Middle Tennessee is a slightly better than average team on a national scale, which is really good for a Conference USA team and there is value on the Blue Raiders because they were actually better than their scores would indicate last season.
One of the main reasons that Middle Tennessee State wasn’t as good on the scoreboard as they should have been is due to 4th down variance. The Blue Raiders were better on 3rd & 4th downs than their opponents overall (43.4% on 3rd & 4th down combined on offense and allowed a combined 42.2% on 3rd & 4th downs last season). However, MTS was just 4 for 14 (29%) on 4th downs while their opponents were successful on a ridiculous 25 out of 41 (61%) 4th down conversions. The Blue Raiders’ opponents had 21 additional opportunities to extend drives after converting 4th downs than their own offense did and MTS still outscored their opponents by 4 points a game.
It also should be noted that Stockstill missed nearly 4 full games with an injury and the Blue Raiders were just 2-2 in those games despite being favored by an average of 12 points in those contests (lost as favorites of 20 points and 8.5 points). Middle Tennessee State still won 8 games last season despite the injury to their starting quarterback and their horribly negative 4th down variance.
There are no FCS pancakes on the schedule this season but there are 7 games on the schedule in which I give MTS an 80% or greater chance of winning (Bowling Green, FIU, at UAB, at Marshall, UTEP, at Charlotte and Old Dominion) and I give the Raiders a 70% chance of beating FAU. Middle Tennessee should win 7 of those 8 games against the weak teams on their schedule and the win probabilities of the other 4 games (Vandy, at Syracuse, at Minnesota, and at W. Kentucky) add up to 1.6 wins. Overall I project MTS to have 8.5 regular season wins and I’ll go Over 7 wins for 3-Stars at -105 odds or better, for 2-Stars up to -120 odds and for 1-Star up to -125 odds.
***Air Force – Over 5 (-114)
The reason that a team that won 10 games last season (including their bowl win) has a season win total of just 5 wins is that Air Force has just 1 returning starter on defense. However, the number of returning starters on military academy teams isn’t nearly as much of a factor on performance as it is for non-military teams. The slope of the regression equation predicting the compensated yards per play of the Air Force defense (in 10 seasons under Calhoun) as a function of their defensive returning starters is -0.0007 with an R-squared of 0.00, which means that there has been absolutely no correlation between the quality of the Air Force defense and how many returning starters they have.
Last year’s defense with 9 returning starters was actually slightly worse than the 2015 edition that has just 4 returning starters. The 2012 defense, with just 2 returning starters, was only 0.2 yards per play worse than the 2011 team that had 8 defensive returning starters and my algorithm rates this season’s defense at only 0.2 yppl worse than the 2016 stop unit.
While the experience level on defense is obviously significantly below last year’s team, this year’s Falcons aren’t likely to come close to allowing the 16.2 yards per completion that last season’s unit did. I don’t think the pass defense will be any worse getting rid of a quartet of experienced defensive backs that were beaten deep with regularity. I actually rate the Falcons’ pass defense at the same level as last season, as the likely rise in completion percentage allowed will be offset by a likely reduction in the yards per completion. The Air Force run defense won’t be nearly as good (0.9 yards per rushing play better than average last season) but the Falcons have had a solid run defense even in season’s in which they’ve had very little experience in the front seven. Overall, the Falcons’ defense is likely to be worse than last year’s but they won’t fall off nearly as much as the 1 returning starter would lead you (and the betting market) to believe.
I rate the Air Force offense as better this season with Arion Worthman at quarterback. Worthman took over the reins of the option attack after Nate Romine went down with an injury and the Falcons’ attack got better. In the 6 full games against FBS competition with Romine at quarterback, the offense averaged 5.9 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 6.3 yppl to an average attack (thus, -0.4 yppl). In Worthman’s 5 starts the Falcons were 0.3 yppl better than average (6.5 yppl against teams that would combine to allow 6.2 yppl). The graduation of star WR Jalen Robinette will make it a challenge to replicate last year’s strong passing numbers but Worthman is a better runner than Romine and overall the compensated rushing numbers were better with Worthman at the helm. Calhoun hasn’t named the starter but it would be shocking if the coach chose to go back to Romine as the starter after Worthman led the Falcons to 6 consecutive victories to end the season (a comeback win against Fresno in the game Romine was injured and 5 wins as a starter).
Air Force is not going to be as good as they were at the end of last season (i.e. Worthman’s 5 starts) but I rate this Falcons squad at only half a point worse than last season’s overall rating of a 10-3 team. In coach Calhoun’s 10 previous seasons his team has failed to win 6 or more regular season games only once and even his most inexperienced team (5 total returning starters in 2012) managed to win 6 games. My ratings project 6.8 wins for Air Force and we only lose this bet if they win 4 games or less, which is highly unlikely. I have the Falcons as a solid favorite in 7 games this season and they are projected to win 5.4 of those 7 games against VMI, New Mexico, UNLV, Nevada, Army, Wyoming, and Utah State. That means that Air Force is likely to win 5 or more games even if they lose all 5 games in which I have them as an underdog (Michigan, San Diego State, Navy, Colorado State, and Boise), which is only 18% likely based on my ratings. The play is to win 3-Stars on Air Force over 5 wins at -114. It’s a 3-Star up to -125, 2-Stars up to -130 and 1-Star up to -140 odds.
*Oregon State – Under 5 (-115)
I think that Oregon State’s chances of winning 6 games and making it to a bowl game left when quarterback Marcus McMaryion packed his bags for Fresno. McMaryion must have realized that coach Gary Anderson had been seduced by the big arm of JC transfer Jake Luton and that he wasn’t going to keep the job that he earned by playing so well over the second half of last season. McMaryion played well off the bench in week 7 against Utah and performed very well in 6 starts to end the season. McMaryion averaged 6.9 yards per pass play in those starts despite facing teams that would combine to allow just 5.8 yppp to an average quarterback. Those numbers were night and day better than the unsightly stats posted by opening day starter Darell Garretson and backup Conor Blount in the first 6 games of the season. Those two combined for just 51.4% completions and a putrid 3.6 yppp (against teams that would allow 6.6 yppp) with the Beavers’ most productive passing performance with Garretson starting being just 5.2 yppp, which was against a horrible Idaho State team that would allow 9.1 yppp to an average FBS team.
Oregon State has a great running back in Ryan Nall (951 yards at 6.5 ypr last season) and the Beavers went from horribly offensively to better than average with McMaryion starting. One of the reasons for fading Oregon State is quarterback Jake Luton, who has not proven that he can throw the ball accurately enough to lead a decent aerial attack. Luton began his career as Idaho’s backup quarterback two years ago and averaged just 4.3 yards on 83 pass plays against teams that would combine to allow 6.1 yppp to an average quarterback. Luton then went to a junior college and faced inferior defensive players and still only completed 56.5% of his passes while throwing 15 interceptions (he also threw 4 picks in just 78 pass attempts at Idaho). There’s no denying that Luton has a strong arm, but he also has an inaccurate arm and accuracy is not something that is easily taught. I’ll give Luton the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s much better than he’s shown and I’ll call for the Beavers’ pass attack to be 0.5 yards per pass play better than their team rating last year, which is much better than Garretson was but not as good as McMaryion was. However, even a 0.5 yppp increase over last year’s team rating is still 0.3 yppp worse than average FBS team.
Nall will lead a better than average rushing attack but the Beavers won’t have the running of speedy receiver Victor Bolden, who averaged 11.8 yards on his 28 runs. Still, Oregon State rates as only an average offensive unit even if Luton is significantly improved and that’s not very good for a Pac-12 team.
I think the hope for improvement from last year’s 4-8 record comes from a defense that returns 8 starters. However, last year’s defense was only average on a national scale (5.9 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.9 yppl against an average defensive team) and my algorithm forecasts similar overall numbers this season. The run defense will be much better but it’s unlikely that the Beavers will allow just 11.2 yards per catch, which is something that tends to regress towards the mean (12.5 ypc last season was the national average).
Oregon State is not going to be as good as they were at the end of last season with McMaryion at quarterback but they might be slightly better than their overall rating from last season and that puts them back at 4-8 based on my ratings and they need to get to 6 wins for us to lose this bet. Where are the 6 wins? Only Portland State is a sure W and home games against Minnesota and Arizona State are toss-ups. Their next most likely win is a 36% chance that they win at Cal, who I have rated a bit better (Cal should be better than expected). The other 8 games on the schedule are all games in which the Beavers have a 30% or worse chance of winning and all the win probabilities add up to just 3.8 wins. There’s more variance/risk in this play because it’s based solely on Luton not being as good as McMaryion was. So, I’ll just play this one small. I’ll play to win 1-Star on Oregon State Under 5 wins at -120 or better.
**BYU – Under 9.5 (-154)
BYU was 8-4 in the regular season last year and they face an easier schedule this season. However, I don’t see how the Cougars get to 10 wins. BYU actually wasn’t particularly good last year, as they averaged just 5.3 yards per play and allowed 5.8 yppl to a schedule of FBS teams that would only 0.3 yppl better than average. The Cougars did have a compensated play differential of +3 plays but overall they rated at just shy of average from the line of scrimmage last season and were mediocre on special teams. BYU was better than those numbers because they were +14 in turnover margin in their 12 games against FBS competition, which is not likely to be repeated this season (the Cougars were between +2 and -6 in season turnover differential in each of 9 seasons prior to last year).
BYU is still viewed as a good team in the mold of the Bronco Mendenhall teams that were consistent winners during his tenure as head coach. Mendenhall left for Virginia last season and the new coaching staff is frankly not as good. The offense, which was 0.2 yards per pass play better than average with Taysom Hill at quarterback in 2014 and also 0.2 yppl better than average in 2015 with backup Tanner Mangum at quarterback (after Hill was injured in the season opener), was 0.4 yards per play worse than average last season despite having Hill back at quarterback and star running back Jamal Williams racking up 1375 rushing yards at 5.9 ypr. The problem was an offensive scheme that couldn’t get receivers open down the field and settled for short passes. The Cougars averaged only 10.5 yards per completion last season after averaging 12.3 ypc in each of the previous 3 seasons (two will Hill and one with Mangum). That is obviously not a function of the quarterback but rather the offensive coordinator.
Hill is gone and Mangum is the quarterback this season. I suppose some people think that Mangum will play at his 2015 form but he showed no evidence of performing at that level with the new coaching staff last season – averaging just 5.7 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 7.6 yppp to an average quarterback) in his 37 pass plays. Obviously, that’s a small sample size, but Hill was also much worse than his career numbers last season so there is certainly evidence to suggest that the offensive system is the root of the problem. I think Mangum will be better than Hill was throwing the ball last season, but not as good as he was in 2015, and my rating on the BYU pass attack is actually 1.0 yards per pass play higher than last year’s dreadful team numbers (5.2 yppp against teams that would allow 6.4 yppp).
While the passing attack should be better (but may not be), the rushing attack will surely be worse without Williams and Hill, who added 619 yards on 6.2 yards per run (not including sacks) against FBS foes last season. Mangum is not a runner and the backup running backs combined for just 4.3 yards per run last year (621 yards on 145 runs). I project a modest 4.7 yards per rushing play (compensated) even with a more experienced offensive line but overall the offense should be about 0.2 yards per play better this season than it was in 2016.
Defensively BYU allowed an average of just 20.6 points in their 12 games against FBS competition but the Cougars were just 0.2 yards per play better than average defensively in 2016. The scoring average was heavily influenced by the 2.5 takeaways per game, which is a number that will certainly decline this season. I actually see a bit of improvement in BYU’s yards per play numbers but they will allow more points because they very likely will benefit from fewer turnovers this season.
I actually think that BYU will be a slightly better team this season than they were a year ago from a compensated yards per play perspective but the Cougars’ offense isn’t likely to have the positive 3rd down variance that they had last season (48% 3rd down conversions for a worse than average offense is a lot of positive variance) and their +1.2 turnover margin per game will regress towards the mean. BYU had a total turnover margin between +2 and -6 over a stretch of 9 seasons before last year’s lucky year and they are overrated heading into this season based on their fortunate 9-4 record of a year ago. That win-loss record makes it seem like it is business as usual at BYU but I think the new coaching staff isn’t nearly as good as the former one and I see a down year for the Cougars.
I just don’t see how BYU gets to 10 wins to beat us. I have the Cougars as a 20 point underdog to LSU next week (after beating Portland State this week), as a 2 ½ point dog to Utah the next week, and a 9 point dog to Wisconsin the following week. After the bye week, the Cougars have a stretch of 4 toss-up games with projected spreads between +5 and -5 points (at Utah State, Boise State, at Miss State, and at ECU). The final 5 games are all 70% win probabilities or higher. If BYU wins all 5 of those games and loses the two games in which they are 70% or more likely to lose (LSU and Wisconsin) then the Cougars would have to sweep those 4 toss-up games (projected 2.1 wins) to get to the 10 wins they’d need to beat us and I don’t see that happening.
I project just 7.8 wins for BYU and I’ll go Under 9.5 wins at -180 or better to win 2-Stars (or Under 9 at -125 or better) and for 1-Star under 9.5 up to -200 (or Under 9 up to -140).
Dr. Bob Sports 2016 Football Best Bets: 148-107 (58%)
The new NFL play-by-play model was incredibly good last season at 100-69 against the number on Best Bets (66-26 on sides and 34-43 on totals) while my College Football Best Bets were a profitable 48-38 (including season win totals) despite some bad luck on close games (just 12-23 on Best Bets decided by 7 points or fewer).
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