College Football Betting: What We Learned Power Five Edition
The Power 5 was less predictable than most would have guessed with Alabama losing to LSU, the PAC-12 having an actual powerhouse in Utah, the ACC falling at such a rapid pace, and the Big Ten being the most competitive it has been in years. We have a lot to review so let’s dive in.
The ACC was atrocious in 2019. Let’s face it, when you have Clemson nearly a 30-point favorite for the second consecutive season in the conference championship game, something, actually, a lot is amiss. We saw Virginia Tech surge late as the Hokies took advantage of bad team after bad team. The list of losers is far longer than winners but let’s start off with the obvious one.
Louisville’s Scott Satterfield took on arguably the largest reclamation project in college football; a program that only won two games in 2018 and finished dead last on defense in most categories. He went through three quarterbacks and endless defensive injuries and turned Louisville into a 7-win bowl team. Incredible turnaround and it’s clear to me Satterfield is among the elite after this season.
North Carolina reached a bowl in Mack Brown’s first year. Despite how poor their opposition looked the fact that they went from three to six wins with a true freshman quarterback and a makeshift secondary along with a new staff is to be applauded.
Virginia finally beat Virginia Tech in a year where the Hokies were very respectable. The Cavs rode quarterback Bryce Perkins to a 9-win season but with Perkins gone, the future will have to be defensive driven. Speaking of defense, VT’s Bud Foster will retire in three weeks and Justin Fuentes, who is very offensive minded, will have a lot to decide before next September.
My “losers” list includes everyone else except Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Boston College who all performed as projected. Not sure how you only have six wins with Manny Diaz. Why is every single year a quarterback competition the second a kid throws an interception? They bring in the next kid who and to no surprise, he tosses a pick too. Miami had elite seniors on defense and now they are gone. To make matters worse, the Hurricanes are 50th in recruiting. The U is not back or anything resembling fun. The culture is broken and Diaz looks a lot like a deer in the headlights.
It was a tough choice between Syracuse and Duke but let’s go with the Orange who didn’t lose a top three NFL draft quarterback. Syracuse looked like it panicked and fired the entire defensive staff in Week 8 after the offense couldn’t score a lick. A team with its entire back seven in place and a former 4-star quarterback and all-conference running back was the most inconsistent team, specifically for totals bettors, that I can ever recall. They never embraced being a shootout team as their o-line faltered. And then they went slow and methodical to just lose to the likes of NC State. Syracuse wasted a great secondary and have no real future with Tommy DeVito as their quarterback.
Big 12 Winners
Kansas State! Geez, Chris Klieman. You don’t have to beat Oklahoma, win eight games, and quietly become the best close game head coach in the conference in your first year. You can at least pace yourself. In all seriousness I don’t think many realized how impressive this K-State team was with a new offensive system that was just dressing on what Bill Snyder built and the pass defense had no leaks. That’s always going to play in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State had a freshman quarterback, four freshman defensive linemen, and coach out rattlesnake hunting. They rode a Heisman finalist in Canadian running back Chuba Hubbard. They lost all-america receiver Tylan Wallace and then their quarterback in the last month of the season but still managed to win eight games. Mike Gundy overachieves often but he is building something special for 2020 and beyond.
Baylor is playing for a Big 12 championship and doing it based on defense over offense! Yeah, Matt Rhule deserves Big 12 coach of the year and maybe nationally. This is a ultra competitive conference and he made it look easy at times. Close wins to blowouts, this Baylor team was getting walloped by UTSA at home just three years ago.
Big 12 Losers
I’m going to stay off my soapbox here but very briefly, it’s a bad sign when a head coach is vocally anti-student athlete is terms of kids being paid, transfer portal, and even the ability to listen to music in a locker room. The most active critic of 2019 football was Gary Patterson and while always capable of playing great defense that was furthest from the case in 2019. The 5-win Horned Frogs missed a bowl after a forgettable 6-win regular season in 2018 while allowing the opposition to score 30 points or more five times. It’s clear Patterson has holes in his defense and when you start a freshman quarterback and have no standout wide receivers, it’s tough to win in this league. I don’t know what the future holds but a quieter coach might help get some better recruiting results.
Texas is not back. They shouldn’t have been in 2019 as they were the youngest power 5 defense in the nation but even if we lower the expectations and blame youth on some issues we saw Tom Herman lose his offense, get beat as a dog and favorite alike, and then fire maybe the best defensive coordinator in the nation in Todd Orlando. Orlando is a head coach type and I’m sure it didn’t sit well with Herman. They are returning Sam Ehlinger and their entire defense in 2020 and I feel they could be back then but the firing of Orlando and the drop in recruiting ranks makes me wonder if last year’s 11 wins was a mirage and this is a 7- or 8-win ceiling program who is losing its appeal with every Oklahoma playoff appearance.
Big Ten Winners
In my mind, the Big Ten was the best overall conference in college football in 2019 as we many more winners than losers. Ohio State was as advertised and Josh Fields was maybe better than advertised. Penn State was much better than I could have predicted. And Wisconsin was back to its boring self and yet will be playing for a conference title with no recruiting just a system that features 350-pound linemen that graze right in and win.
The biggest winners though starts with Minnesota. PJ Fleck rowed his boat to 10 wins and proved you can win in this big boy conference with an offense-first approach. The Gophers don’t lose much in 2020 and should have a excellent chance to match this season’s results. Fleck is young and signed to a lengthy contract. Minnesota as a state might skip a few hockey games on Saturdays moving forward.
We all saw Indiana head coach Tom Allen weep on the podium after the Hoosiers’ sixth win. What a sweet moment in sports. He then went on to win two more games and finally beat Purdue in triple OT. He did this with a makeshift back seven riding a high star cornerback, a backup quarterback, and a rotation of freshmen running backs. IU’s eight wins were in no way fluky and Allen, a defense driven coach, let the reigns go and they scored at a pace that was necessary. This could be the beginning if Indiana embraces football. They have the resources and Allen is recruiting. What a story. He was coaching high school less than a decade ago.
Big Ten Losers
I’m going to be unpopular here but I think everyone who puts their money where their mouth is has said themselves that Jim Harbaugh is a mediocre head coach. He never wins the big game, never wins bowl games, loses his teams’ focus, and every offseason tries a new approach. This was their year! Last year too! Another season of getting trucked by Wisconsin and Ohio State. We need to embrace that the Wolverines might be a 9-win ceiling program whose defensive driven system is identical to six other teams in the same conference.
I’ve been hard on Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and have tried to be humorous in my criticism via Twitter but in all seriousness he is the epitome of a bad joke. He’s being paid a insanely large amount of money and he coaches, recruits, teaches, and focuses on one side of the ball and when the other side of the ball doesn’t succeed he blames others and then fires staff and now will hire someone who will fit his broken system. He has lost three teams in four years while recruiting 18 NFL defensive prospects. Sometimes it’s not the coach, sometimes it’s not the culture, sometimes the answers aren’t easy. In this instance, it’s the coach. Six wins is no longer acceptable when you have five of them guaranteed.
You will notice I have never been critical of a first- or second-year head coach in any of these articles. If the coach is great that will make you look awfully foolish. But Nebraska improved by only one win despite a much easier schedule. Adrian Martinez is too small it seems to run this often and has been perpetually hurt and the defense is getting gashed just as often as it was during 2017’s disastrous campaign. Your marquee wins can’t be dead Northwestern and Maryland squads considering the experience charts the Huskers showed this preseason.
Utah flat out dominated their entire schedule with the exception of an early season road loss to USC. Kyle Whittingham was undervalued when the Pac-12 became a finesse, points-driven conference and after many years his style has paid off in bunches. He will start over in 2020 but he teaches special teams and line play like no other.
Unpopular take here but how many teams played with four different quarterbacks, all of which underclassmen, and won eight games while embracing a completely new pass driven offense? That’d be just the USC Trojans. They had a marquee win against Utah along the way and were competitive to the end at Notre Dame. The future has a lot of potential and if you would have told me in August that they’d cycle through even two quarterbacks in Year 1 of the Graham Harrell system I would have bet under 6.5 wins for sure.
California, Arizona State, and Colorado all matched or exceeded expectations as well.
It all went south for Wazzu after a 10-win season in 2018. Tracy Claeys quit as defensive coordinator because of Mike Leach’s lack of interest in slowing down games at times. A last second miracle win at home versus Oregon State allowed them to become bowl eligible. Leach blew up at a reporter after another embarrassing Apple Cup showing. He had an insanely talented quarterback in Anthony Gordon. Rumor after rumor has Leach on the move and if so the new head coach starts with a defeated defense and a new quarterback room.
Was there a worst coach in 2019 than Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin? The constant changing of the offense to be more pass heavy? And for no other reason other than his offensive coordinator, Neal Mazzone, doesn’t know how to utilize a running quarterback like Khalil Tate? It was embarrassing as they benched the all but defeated ex-Heisman candidate for a mediocre passer and just in time for the defense to be absolutely atrocious. I see no upside going forward other than Tate graduates so there won’t be any ultra-talented run offense to concern defenses with. This was a 10-win team two years ago. I don’t know if this is rock bottom but from a bettor’s perspective this is Florida State ugly only with a desert feel.
UCLA not pictured but awful again.
It took a 28-year-old to teach a 60-year-old head coach that if he embraced a Ohio State transfer quarterback and let him air it out with pace they could beat Alabama. LSU did that and are one month away from competing for it all in a very non-LSU type of way. Kudos to Ed Orgeron who I can’t understand a word he says but after stops at places like Lamar and a strength and conditioning coach, not many deserve it more.
Oh gag me. Not a fan of Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt or his typical SEC-type of offense. But with a team of seniors who had waited years to play in a bowl and be competitive and enduring home losses to Georgia State and BYU, the Vols deserve credit. Bowl bound and out recruiting many great programs. The future might be murky with so much experience on defense departing but in 2019 they deserve to be on the winner’s list.
Losing your quarterback only to find a better one? Florida’s Dan Mullen is exceeding everyone’s expectations at a record clip. Recruiting, great special teams, and a top 10 defense. Reminds me of some kind of “Urban myth.” If this was an all-freshmen o-line and a freshman quarterback they’d no doubt beat Georgia in 2026. In all seriousness, Florida is well ahead of schedule in my eyes.
Kentucky is perpetually great all of a sudden.
Forget the losses to LSU and Auburn. Alabama was a damn good team but it wasn’t anything Nick Saban would allow even two years ago. If your losses are where you allow 48 ppg you have some serious problems. Saban fell in love with offense which is great but on the other hand you have a host of first round draft picks on defense. Even with injuries at the quarterback position, it wasn’t a good look.
I made a decent amount of healthy bets and won more than I lost with Texas A&M. Their only losses were to powerhouses and they beat up on who they were supposed to but it became glaring how far ahead the rest of the SEC elite is ahead of Jimbo Fisher. His system is broken and he can recruit every 4- and 5-star receiver and tight end in the nation but your adjusted pace is 80th in the nation with a experienced quarterback. The more talent he gets the more regression has seemingly appeared the last two seasons. I’m a fan of Fisher personally as he tells me his game plan going into games more than any other coach besides Gundy but I have zero clue where his ceiling is with A&M. If he can’t win 10 games in 2020 we will find out what his floor might be at a different school.
Forget the botch job of bringing in Kelly Bryant in a season where you were banned from postseason play. They fired their head coach! Missouri’s offense was a mess but the defense surpassed expectations. But guess who ran the defense? The head coach you just fired for not making a bowl you couldn’t play in regardless of record! Bad season will become a rebuilding year when that should have taken place season. This is Ole Miss all over again. Three years from now some kid from Missouri better fake pee to help me cover a game because this situation lacks comedy above all else.
I would like to take a sentence or two to thank all that made this season and many more possible. Alan Denkeson is a great friend, mentor, and played a very key role in this season when I was physically ill. Lisa Noeun who placed every bet for me for a month and tracked every ugly and sweet result for four months and taught Soozed to jump when dad wins. Stuey, who earned for us in other sports so I could focus on just one sport. Eric Waz for dealing with releases when I was basically schizophrenic with what I want and didn’t want released. Apologies and thanks as always. Andrew Lange for being so sharp every Thursday and making the podcast fun and something to look forward to every week. You and Erin Rynning raise my game every year. Matt Lindeman for the weekly chats and talking me right into more bets on Kentucky that I’ll eventually forgive you for. Thamog for the constant debate over MTSU’s power numbers and being an all-around great football mind. Edward for the occasional advice and being as impressive as you guys are the hidden motivation angle will carry on. WirelessJ for the constantly having me correcting your model’s numbers. That exercise has probably made me more money over the years than I care to admit. Sorry for constantly be annoyed.
Every year is bittersweet for me as football takes up much of my life. This year I made a lot of new friends and contacts and I’m positive I’m leaving out too many to mention. It was a pleasure and honestly I’m looking forward to August 26, 2020 all over again.