Season win total bets are inherently biased just in their name alone. Vegas wants you to think about how many games a team can win, and then boosts the totals toward that side.
In college football, with non-conference games and teams playing Division I-AA schools, there’s no way to show the bias. But looking at the NFL totals shows the bias. The average win total for every NFL team is 8.17. Last I knew, the average has to be eight. So if you bet every NFL team Over, you’ll probably go 15-17.
With that knowledge, why sweat your favorite team winning every week when you can root against your most hated opponent each week? Besides, a team rarely improves from their pre-season expectations with guys coming out of the blue to have magical years. More often, a team nose-dives because of injuries. Finally, when you’re betting a team to go Over eight or nine wins, there’s not many spots to recover from an upset loss. “Recovering” from an upset win, however, is easier when you’re looking at a bad team to begin with. So let’s find some season-long bargains.
Arizona State U7.5 -115
Projected Wins (6): Weber State, @ New Mexico, @ Colorado, Utah, Notre Dame, Washington State
Projected Losses (6): UCLA, @USC, Stanford, @ Washington, @ Oregon State, @ Arizona
The may start the season 3-0, but the next four games are UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington. Suddenly the Wildcats could be looking at 3-4 and needing to win their last five games to screw you. Notre Dame isn’t an easy win, even at home, and they’d need to win at Oregon State and in-state rival Arizona.
Boston College U4.5 -105
Projected Wins (3): @ UMass, Maine, @ Wake Forest
Projected Losses (9): Pittsburgh, USC, Colorado State, @ NC State, Clemson, @ Va Tech, Louisville, @ Florida State, Syracuse
The Eagles return only nine starters and look to be sluggish to start, which is why I count Pittsburgh and Colorado State as losses. Look at the projected losses and tell me where they pick up wins. Pittsburgh (which I’ll talk about later), Colorado State and Syracuse are the best options. And they need to win two of those. Going to Wake Forest won’t be easy either.
Vanderbilt U5.5 -115
Projected Wins (4): Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern, Old Dominion
Projected Losses (8): Ole Miss, South Carolina, @ Kentucky, @ Georgia, @ Missouri, Florida, @ Miss State, Tennessee
The slipper doesn’t fit any more. James Franklin was a miracle worker at the typical SEC cellar-dweller, but he’s gone. So is QB Austyn Carta-Samuels and his top two receivers. Only 10 starters return. It’s difficult to find wins at home, so they probably need to beat Kentucky on the road and then find a win at Missouri or Mississippi State.
Minnesota U6 +125
Projected Wins (4): Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, San Jose State, Purdue
Projected Losses (8): @ TCU, @ Michigan, Northwestern, @ Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, @ Nebraska, @ Wisconsin
The Gophers must get off to a good start, and they could be 3-1 heading into conference play. But if they don’t have that sixth win before November, it’s not happening. They close the season with Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. They need wins at Illinois and a huge upset (maybe hosting Northwestern?) just to push this bet. You can get U6.5 at -135, but I think Under 6 is safe.
Iowa O8.5 -115
Projected Wins (10): Northern Iowa, Ball State, Iowa State, @ Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, @ Minnesota, @ Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska
Projected Losses (2): @Pittsburgh, @ Maryland
Here’s a team that I think could run the table if things break the right way. The two losses, on the road, could become wins. The rest of the road schedule is manageable. Kirk Ferentz always over-achieves with Iowa, scratching out wins with a solid ground game and a stout defense. Be wary, however, as everyone likes this bet. It started at +115 and dropped to -115. At 8.5, there’s room for an upset loss, but betting nine and having to win 10 could be tight.
Pittsburgh O7.5 +120
Projected Wins (9): Delaware, @ Boston College, @ Fla International, Iowa, Akron, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke, Syracuse
Projected Losses (3): @ Virginia, @ North Carolina, @ Miami, FL
I’m wary of this one. Pitt screwed me a couple times last year, but I swear I saw good things in the team. One is sophomore RB James Conner, who could have a breakout season with four returnees on the offensive line. I’ve already projected three road losses, so if they trip up it has to be at home. The Iowa game could become a loss. But I think Va Tech and Duke are due for down seasons. Plus, you have to like +120 if you win.
College football is perhaps the best place to bet futures, as you only hand over your money for a little over three months, from late August to mid-December. (Another month if you’re betting on the national title, as we will here.) This year, with four teams guaranteed a shot at the FBS National Championship, we have the most wide-open season in years and potentially the best chance to make future money. Find some loose change and take a shot at getting an early Christmas present from your man.
Ohio State +1150, Oklahoma +1200, Georgia +2000, UCLA +2500
For the first time, four teams a committee will pick four teams to continue into a playoff for the national title. With five main conferences and probable mounting pressure to not pick two SEC teams, I think we’ll see the winners of the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big 10 working to get the committee’s attention. The SEC winner is definitely in, as is the Pac-12 champ and Florida State, if they win the ACC. Oklahoma has a great shot at running the table, which should get them in.
Ohio State may need to run the table to get in. It is possible. In a restructured Big 10, they will probably be unbeaten when they play at Michigan State November 8. Win there and they are 12-0 going into the Big 10 title game.
In the SEC, the West is loaded with Alabama, Auburn, LSU and darkhorse Mississippi (mainly because of its cushy schedule). In the East, Georgia can’t have as unfortunate season as they did last year. They play at South Carolina, but off a bye and early (September 13). They also avoid Bama and LSU, and host Auburn. In a league where a lot of teams will count on defense, the Bulldogs have the best offense.
The Pac-12 is loaded with UCLA and USC in the South and Oregon and Stanford in the North. It’s hard to see any Pac-12 team going unbeaten, but UCLA has the best shot. They host Oregon, USC and Stanford, and the toughest road game is at Washington. However, the season could be over on September 13 if they lose in Arlington to Texas. If they do, watch for a freefall.
Oklahoma must go unbeaten to get into the playoff, but can do just that. We’ll know if they have a shot after the Sooners travel to TCU October 4 and follow up a week later with the Red River Shootout. Should Texas beat UCLA, the Shootout could feature two unbeaten teams.
North Carolina/ACC +1600, Iowa/Big 10 +1300, Georgia/SEC +700
I already talked about Georgia and the SEC. North Carolina is the probable opponent for an unbeaten Florida State. The Seminoles are priced too low (+500) to bet as a national title contender. If they get to the four-team playoff, you can probably bet them then at +200 three months from now. The Tar Heels have underachieved for years (psst, don’t tell Mikey). But after rattling off five wins in a row at the end of 2013 before losing to Duke, then rebounding against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, I think this is their year. Marquise Williams was the key. With a year under his belt he should be the second best QB in the ACC. Defense is the Tar Heels key, and the D-line needs to mature quickly. Knowing a spot in the playoff could await them with a win, the ACC title now means more to an underdog than just an Orange Bowl bid.
Iowa could be the real darkhorse this season. They miss Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan from the East, and get all the heavy hitters in November. There is a real possibility of seeing two 7-0 teams when the Hawkeyes host Northwestern November 1. If Iowa wins there, they travel to patsies Minnesota and Illinois, then finish the season hosting Wisconsin and Nebraska. Even if Iowa isn’t unbeaten at the end of the season, they may have more inspiration to win the Big 10 title than if the Buckeyes (or Michigan State) have a loss on their record.
Next week I’ll look at season win totals. Unlike this set of picks where we’re trying to find winners, betting season win totals often means finding teams that will disappoint and betting Unders.
Don’t fall in love with a team. Just rent them for three hours.
The Old Man