College Football Betting: What We Learned Group of Five Edition
Happy holidays! Another regular season college football season comes to a close and we learned as much as any other year that I can remember. We will reflect on each conference this week with a quick winners and losers run down starting with the Group of Five. Opening week of 2020 will come quicker than you think so these notes could in fact shape or influence your power numbers.
The winners outweigh the losers but the biggest winners in 2019 were SMU who went from a perennial 6-win fringe bowl team to a dominating 10-win team with Sonny Dykes enjoying the best season of his career. The Mustangs are also setup well for coming years and will keep the AAC points-y and fun.
With what was initially thought to be a questionable hire, Temple’s Rod Carey guided the Owls to eight wins. I had this team projected very low but they exceeded expectations and in typical Carey-like fashion, it wasn’t flashy. He will now have a very experienced defense and young offense moving forward. Just as he drew it up!
Navy went from a 4-win program and no defensive identity to showing they could win both a slugfest and shootout. Malcolm Perry also showed what a throwing quarterback could do in this offense. This year’s 9-win squad was a force and are setup well to repeat that for some time if they can hang onto head coach Ken Niumatalolo.
Saturday’s championship game between Memphis and Cincinnati features two completely different teams but both with very special head coaches. Mike Norvell will likely be on the move but Luke Fickell is right where he belongs in his home state. One should represent the non power-5 for New Year’s 6 and both are completely deserving.
Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell is only a freshman with next level potential and was my personal favorite player to watch in 2019. Moving forward, the Tigers lose most of their defense and should Norvell leave, someone offensive minded will likely step in.
Cincinnati is going to be a force again in 2020 as they played almost no seniors this year. The Bearcats have been building a dynasty in the AAC since 2016 as they are out-recruiting everyone outside UCF. They could be special for some time.
This will surprise some but UCF showed a chink in its armor by losing three games but all three were close and Josh Heupel, who I love as a totals bettor, showed a propensity to mismanage end games and also relied on a freshman quarterback far too often.
With Willie Fritz at the helm and the talent they are amassing, I felt like Tulane should have been much better. But I am starting to think this program has a 7- or 8-win ceiling. Fritz is a special head coach but this is the SEC of non-Power 5 and he hasn’t shown me anything that suggests he can take the Green Wave to an elite level.
Charlotte made its first bowl and won seven games in head coach Will Healy’s first season. They did so by speeding up the offense and being willing to trade points at times. They lose their all-world running back Benny Lemay to the NFL (I’d assume) but were young on offense and could be a very good team overall going forward.
It’s embarrassing how wrong I was about UAB during the preseason. I forgot that extremely special coaches like Bill Clark don’t need a lot of experience or high-level recruits; they run a system and get players to buy in. Projected as 105th in the preseason, the Blazers are now are one win away from back-to-back conference titles with an almost all-freshmen and sophmore look. Watch out for UAB for years to come if Clark sticks around.
No team has ever cost me more financially in one season that Florida International. I bought in early on FIU who looked on paper like the only team to compete with Florida Atlantic and Marshall. They had it all and look as if they could win nine games. Instead, the Panthers did absolutely nothing well or consistently. A narrow win over UTEP, a blowout loss to MTSU, a good offense one week followed by bad offense the next week. I unfortunately bought into the experience charts and I don’t know where they go from here.
North Texas had senior quarterback Mason Fine, his main wide receiver back, and a plus running game; in other words the offense should have made up for the lack of defense specifically a young secondary. Well the offense collapsed as Fine wrestled with injuries and the defense was as bad as advertised. More concerning was that the Mean Green were was a total no-show in numerous games and must fine a replacement for Fine. It could get ugly in Denton.
Southern Miss was my personal pick to win C-USA. The Golden Eagles had the most returning experience and quarterback Jack Abraham lead the nation in completion percentage in 2018. They also hired a better offensive coordinator and we knew the defense would still be lethal at times. Fourteen weeks later and USM is only a 7-win team, same as last year. They lose most of their secondary and will have a lack of playmakers on offense. The window was small and it might have shrunk.
Central Michigan was 0-8 in conference play last year before hiring Jim McElwain. The Chippewas were +4500 to win the MAC; a crazy bet even at a mere $10. But with a revamped power run offense, quick tempo pass game, and washed up Tennessee transfer quarterback they find themselves on the cusp on a turnaround we rarely see in such a short time. They will be a young squad in 2020 but they made a point to get some of their younger talent playing time late in the second half.
Miami-Ohio went from perennial losers to winners of close games. Chuck Martin does not believe in winning in blowout fashion as much as he doesn’t believe in losing by much either. Relying on an experienced secondary, Miami became a very conservative and ball control offense and won just enough close games for us to ignore momentarily that their entire offense was made of freshmen and sophomores. The future of 3-6 point wins looks good.
Western Michigan started the season as heavy chalk with a powerful offense and a loaded defensive line. Tim Lester never embraced the offense and ignored all signs of tempo after an early shootout loss at Syracuse.
Akron first-year head coach Tom Arth was in over his head. We could call this Year Zero but the Zips were relatively experienced! The offense had no identity and the defense collapsed in record fashion.
Toledo was completely noncompetitive after losing injury-prone quarterback Mitchell Guadagni. Head coach Jason Candle lost this team. The defense was disinterested and the offense followed shortly after.
Ohio had it all including once in a lifetime MAC quarterback Nathan Rourke. A regular season win total of 8.5 seemed like a breeze. I had them ranked in the mid-40’s as their defense looked to be in place but if it faltered you had Rourke. Instead, a Week 14 win over Akron got them to 6-wins. They lost every type of game and in a year that set up for Frank Solich to finally win the MAC or at least play in the title game, the Bobcats will start all over in 2020 on offense and presumably with a new head coach as Solich has hinted at retirement.
I don’t have any idea what the plan is for Bowling Green moving forward but Scot Loeffler is not the guy.
Northern Illinois needs to stop scheduling so many power 5 road games.
Mountain West Winners
Hawaii is fun. Hawaii wins games. They play a style that is just electric and are still fairly young, specifically on offense. If they don’t lose head coach Nick Rolovich, Saturday’s title game vs. Boise State may be a common matchup in the years to come.
Air Force’s Troy Calhoun lost a close game to Navy in the final minute, otherwise it’s an 11-win season. The Falcons missed the postseason the last two seasons as they dealt with injuries and youth. They are back and this was also a preview of what’s to come as almost all of this defense will return as well as quarterback Donald Hammond III.
Boise State, San Diego State, and Wyoming were also winners. All three teams succeeded at a level that was originally projected.
Mountain West Losers
Fresno State went from winning the conference on the backs of a great defense — of which they returned most of — to a 4-win, bad shootout team. They lacked a single consistent game all season and after losing both coordinators in 2018 the future looks murky as they have not recruited well.
Utah State may get an NFL-caliber quarterback once every 25 years. Not running the offense through him was idiotic but that’s what we saw for most of the season. A 11-win team that was dominant in 2018 was a shell of itself in 2012. They’ll return most of the defense which is probably what Gary Andersen wanted when he interviewed for the gig.
Sun Belt Winners
The biggest winner was no doubt Georgia State who quietly got two seven wins. While everyone clamors over ULL’s Billy Napier everyone is overlooking GSU’s Shawn Elliott who has now shown an ability to win very low scoring and slow moving games (2017) and now high scoring shootouts. He is out-recruiting most of the Sun Belt and while they lose their everything quarterback Dan Ellington, they will have almost their entire defense back in 2020.
UL-Lafayette turned heads for a 10-win season but most overlooked they played for a conference championship just a year ago and returned their entire offense. Still, very impressive. I hope they get a good head coach because 2020 they return a ton of talent once again.
Appalachian State didn’t miss a beat with new head coach Eli Drinkwitz at the helm. Eleven wins and one home game left to secure a conference championship and possibly a New Year’s 6 bid. This system is not overly easy to get kids to buy into especially with a new coach. Hats off to the Mountaineers.
Sun Belt Losers
You can’t go from 10 wins to no bowl with the same offense. Troy’s Chip Lindsey had only coached offense and it was apparent all season long as the Trojans were an offense-only driven team. They lose most of what made the offense tick in 2020 and I’m not high on Lindsey at all going forward.
UL-Monroe wasted much of quarterback Caleb Evans’ career due to numerous close loses. What should have been a shootout team with a high ceiling saw Evans playing ball control in every first half and once trailing expecting him to deliver miracles. Five wins in a season where you have 17 returning starters back from a 5-win season is recipe for regression moving forward.
We will pick back up with a Power 5 winners and losers piece next week. Until then good luck to all and don’t let any one bad beat ruin your mood for longer than the game itself.