Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Magnificent Seven: Week I

Regular readers of this blog are probably expecting the first 'Fab Five' of the 2014 college football season where I give you five favorites and five underdogs I feel are most likely to cover. The Fab Five has been a weekly feature during the season since 2007. But alas, all good things must come to an end. Don't fret though. I will still deliver a weekly picks column. I'm just going to tweak the format a bit. Instead of picking ten games, I will just pick seven. And, instead of picking an equal number of underdogs and favorites, the picks can come on either side of the ledger. I hope you enjoy this new column and give a moment of silent reflection on the Fab Five era. As always, home teams in BOLD.

Penn State +2 Vs UCF (@ Dublin)
This of course, assumes the game is played and Krakatoa does not explode and postpone this game/end all life as we know. If the game is postponed, I'll have eight picks for you next week. If life as we know it ends, the odds of picks going up moves from certain to probable. These two teams met last season in State College, and after jumping out to a 28-10 lead, UCF held on for dear life in a 34-31 upset win. The win helped boost the national profile of the Knights who cemented the best season in school history with a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor. So what do the Knights have for an encore? For starters, they must replace the second most famous quarterback in school history, Blake Bortles, who was drafted (too high) by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Knights were a good team last season, but also had their share of good fortune, finishing 7-1 in one-score games. Some regression is due, particularly without a great talent like Bortles. On the other sideline, Penn State will have its fourth coach in as many seasons (including interim coaches) after having one since football started in 1869. James Franklin performed miracles at Vanderbilt, including three consecutive bowl appearances, wins against Florida and Georgia in the same season, and consecutive finishes in the AP Poll. His teams were also pretty phenomenal ATS, going 23-13 against IA foes. His charges were particularly adept as a small betting line underdog, going 6-1 ATS when getting less than a touchdown from their opponent. These teams are pretty evenly matched, but Penn State is a little better and they are catching points her, so they are the pick. Remember, this game kicks off at 8:30 AM EST on Saturday, so don't catch too many pints yourself on Friday (see what I did there, a joke about using alcohol irresponsibly).

Georgia Southern +20.5 NC State
The Georgia Southern Eagles will play their first game as a IA team in Raleigh against NC State. While Georgia Southern will be looking to get off to a good start in their new era of football, NC State will be looking to erase horrible memories of 2013 when they went winless in the ACC. Georgia Southern has acquitted themselves quite well against IA foes as a member of IAA. Since 2010, they have lost to Navy by six, Alabama by 24, Georgia by 31, and beaten Florida by six. The Eagles do have a new coach in Willie Fritz, and will probably not run as much triple-option, but Fritz is arguably an upgrade over Jeff Monken (a fine coach in his own right). Fritz was successful at Central Missouri (a Division II school), and recently led Sam Houston State to back-to-back runner-up finishes in the IAA playoffs. He also won two national junior college championships at Blinn College. NC State will certainly be better in their second season under Dave Doeren, but against a good coach, and a funky offense, expect this one to be closer than three touchdowns.

UAB -1 Troy
These two Yellowhammer mid-majors have developed quite the rivalry since joining IA football in the relatively recent past. The Blazers and Trojans have squared off nine times since 2002, with 2014 marking the sixth consecutive season these two have butted heads. The games have tended to be tight, competitive affairs, with the average scoring differential coming in a just north of eight points. The last four games have all been one-score affairs, and while Troy has won three of them, the Blazers have actually covered three times. Both these teams had major issues on defense last season, with Troy ranking dead last in the Sun Belt in yards per play allowed and UAB doing the same in Conference USA. The Blazers may have done more to rectify their current situation by hiring Bill Clark to be their new head coach. Clark came from Jacksonville State where he guided the Gamecocks to the IAA playoffs in his first season at the helm. Clark's predecessor, Garrick McGee, did little to improve the fortunes of UAB before abandoning ship and becoming Louisville's offensive coordinator after a posting a 5-19 record over two seasons. I like the Blazers here for several reasons. I think Bill Clark was a great hire, the Blazers are playing at home in Birmingham, and Troy must replace the Sun Belt's career passing leader (Corey Robinson) under center. The Blazers don't even have to worry about winning by a comfortable margin. Take them to beat the Trojans at home.

Virginia +21 UCLA
If you read my post on teams I thought were poised to go under their projected win totals, you already know that I am not extremely high on UCLA. The Bruins are getting a great deal of preseason love, including a top-10 AP ranking (first time in the preseason top-10 since 1998), but posted rather middling per play numbers last year. While UCLA was middling, Virginia posted downright awful numbers, going winless in the ACC and enduring their first season of two or fewer wins since 1982. The heat is on Mike London, and I don't know if he will do enough to earn a sixth season, but playing at home, against a team from the west coast, with a Noon kickoff, I think the Cavaliers will do enough to cover this large number.

Oklahoma State +17.5 Vs Florida State (@ Arlington)
For the ninth consecutive time, Florida State enters a game as a double-digit favorite. When was the last time Florida State was not a double-digit favorite? It was a game against a fellow top-ten team on the road. Oh, and they won that game by 37 points. Last season, Florida State was a double-digit favorite eleven times (not including the bowl game). The Seminoles covered an amazing nine times (and pushed once). Despite that overwhelming performance last season, Florida State does not have a strapping track record as a heavy favorite under Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles were just 10-12 ATS as a double-digit favorite in Fisher's first two seasons, including 2-7 as a double-digit favorite away from Tallahassee. Plus, Oklahoma State is not exactly a cream puff. The Cowboys have finished ranked in the AP Poll in four of the past six seasons, and by a more objective measure, have finished in the SRS top-fifteen five times in that span. Since the beginning of the 2010 season. Oklahoma State has lost just once by more than seventeen points (in a turnover-filled debacle at Arizona in 2012). After winning games so comfortably last season, I think it might be hard to motivate Florida State for every game in 2014, particularly one where they are a huge favorite. I can't see Oklahoma State actually winning this one, but they should make the final margin respectable.

Arkansas +20 Auburn
On the surface, this may seem like an easy Auburn win. After all, the Tigers nearly won the national championship last season, while Arkansas faded into obscurity, finishing 0-8 in the SEC. Let me give you a few reasons why this game might be more competitive than you imagined. For starters, while Auburn did win the SEC last year, and came very close to becoming the eighth consecutive SEC team to win the national title, they still finished just eleventh in the SEC in yards per play allowed. Until they stiffened against Florida State, their final three regular season opponents (Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri) all averaged at least seven yards per play against the Tigers. Arkansas has the potential to gash the Tigers, particularly on the ground, where they averaged 5.69 yards per rush against SEC foes last season. And let's not forget that Arkansas played much better over their final few games despite having no carrot to chase. They took Mississippi State to overtime before falling in their penultimate game, and nearly upset LSU to close the regular season. Plus, the Hogs were actually 3-2 ATS as a double-digit underdog last season. Auburn is light years behind elite SEC defenses like Alabama, so Arkansas will be able to score in this game. If the spread was closer to ten points or even two touchdowns, I might be inclined to take the Tigers. However, with the number at nearly three touchdowns, Arkansas is the play here.

Utah State +6.5 Tennessee
These are prosperous times in Logan, Utah. After winning just 32 games in the first decade of this century, the Aggies have won 20 in the past two seasons and are looking to continue a three-year bowl streak (best in program history). Since Gary Andersen (now at Wisconsin) took over in 2009, the Aggies have been beasts ATS against BCS (now Power 5) conference opponents. The Aggies are 6-1 ATS in such contests, including 5-1 ATS on the road. While the Aggies have only managed one outright win in that span (2012 at home against Utah), they have been very tough outs, losing by one score to Texas A&M (2009), Oklahoma (2010), Auburn (2011), Wisconsin (2012), Utah (2013), and Southern Cal (2013). They may not break through in Knoxville, but with stud quarterback Chuckie Keeton healthy, they should give the Vols a great game. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Season Preview: Conference Affiliation in 1995

For our final edition of ‘Where Were They Then?’ we go back to 1995. Alternative rock was all the rage on the radio, the Playstation was about to take the video game world by storm, and the Big 12 did not exist (neither did Conference USA, the Mountain West, or the Sun Belt for that matter). It’s hard to believe 1995 was nearly two decades ago and a lot has changed since then. Where were the current crop of college football teams playing in 1995? Once again, we start with the Power 5 (P5) conferences.

Atlantic Coast Conference
Back in 1995, the ACC had nine members (Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, and Wake Forest). Eight of the nine remain with the league today (Maryland is the lone dissenter). Their other six members were in the Big East (Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech) and on the Independent circuit (Louisville) in 1995.

Big 10 Conference
The Big 10 had eleven teams in 1995 (Penn State was the last team added in 1993). The three Big 10 newbies were playing in the ACC (Maryland), Big East (Rutgers) and Big 8 (Nebraska) in 1995.

Big 12 Conference
The Big 12 would not hold its first football game until 1996. Half of the current Big 12 membership was playing the final season of the Big 8 in 1995 (Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State). Forty percent of the conference was closing out the Southwest Conference (Baylor, Texas, TCU, and Texas Tech). TCU would be a bit of a college football nomad, bouncing around a few mid-major leagues before finally rejoining their old in-state mates in 2012. Finally, West Virginia, under Don Nehlen, was a member of the Big East in 1995.

Pac-12 Conference
The Pac-12 was still known as the Pac-10 in 1995. Its membership included Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern Cal, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, and Washington State. Those ten teams remain in the league today and have been joined by Colorado (Big 8) and Utah (WAC).

Southeastern Conference
The SEC played its fourth season as a twelve-team league in 1995. The league would hold steady at twelve teams, despite expansion rumors, until 2012 when they added Missouri (Big 8) and Texas A&M (Southwest Conference).

Now we can turn our attention to the Group of 5 (G5) conferences. Where were their members in 1995?

American Athletic Conference
Nearly half of the teams in the American were Independents in 1995 (Cincinnati, East Carolina, Memphis, Tulane, and Tulsa). In fact, the number of teams playing as Independents in 1995 (12) is three times the number in 2014 (4). Three American members were not even playing IA football in 1995 (Connecticut, South Florida, and UCF), two were part of the final season of the Southwest Conference (Houston and SMU), and one was trying to compete in the Big East (Temple).

Conference USA
Like the Big 12, Conference USA did not play football in 1995. In its current form, the league features an amazing eight members that did not play IA football in 1995 (Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio, UAB, and Western Kentucky)! That number will increase when Charlotte joins next season. Two members were Independent in 1995 (North Texas and Southern Miss), and three conferences shared the distinction of producing one future Conference USA member apiece (Big West – Louisiana Tech, Southwest Conference – Rice, and the WAC – UTEP).

Mid-American Conference
The MAC featured ten members in 1995 (Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami, Ohio, Toledo, and Western Michigan). Those ten teams are still members. Two current MAC members were not playing IA football in 1995 (Buffalo and Massachusetts). Amazingly, one member was in the Big West (Northern Illinois). Obviously, that was a very liberal interpretation of the word ‘west’.

Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West did not exist in 1995. Seven of its current members were part of the WAC (Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, New Mexico, San Diego State, and Wyoming). Four members would eventually join the WAC (remember the WAC was the first mega-conference in 1996), but were Big West members in 1995 (Nevada, San Jose State, UNLV, and Utah State). As hard as it may be to believe, Boise State was not playing IA football in 1995.

Sun Belt Conference
Like several other conferences on this list, the Sun Belt was merely an idea in 1995. Seven current Sun Belt members were not playing IA football back in the mid-90’s (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Idaho, South Alabama, Texas State, and Troy). Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and New Mexico State were members of the Big West, and Louisiana-Monroe was an Independent.

And finally, the let’s look at the Independents.

Army, Navy, and Notre Dame were Independents in 1995 and remain Independents today (although Notre Dame has an open relationship with the ACC). BYU was a WAC member in 1995.

One thing I noticed when making these charts is the number of teams that have either moved up to IA football or started football teams from scratch in the last twenty years. By my calculations, there have been 21 teams that have joined the ranks since 1995. In 1995, there were 108 IA teams. Now there are 128 (Pacific dropped football after 1995 if you were wondering why 108 + 21 = 128). That means there are more than 18% more teams playing IA football now than there were in 1995. Some have been successful (Boise State and UCF), others not so much (Massachusetts), and the jury is still out on many (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to name two). Will more teams continue to make the jump over the next two decades or has the bubble effectively burst with the autonomy the P5 conferences have gained (remember no new IA program is in a P5 conference since Connecticut and South Florida were demoted from the Big East)? I won’t pretend to read the tea leaves in regards to this area, but I know that whatever the future holds for conference realignment, expect the unexpected.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Season Preview: Conference Affiliation in 2000

Last time out, we looked at the current composition of each conference and where its members were in 2009 (the season before the realignment tremors began). Now I want to look back a little further, to the turn of the century. Why the year 2000? That represented the swan song for the Big West as a football conference and was the final season before the Sun Belt began playing football. As we did last time, we’ll start with the Power 5 (P5) conferences.

Atlantic Coast Conference
Back in 2000, the ACC was a nine-member league. Remember those days? Eight of those nine teams remain in the conference (Maryland joined the Big 10). The ACC’s other six members were in the Big East (Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia Tech) and Conference USA (Louisville) back in 2000.

Big 10 Conference
In 2000, the Big 10 still had eleven members (don’t bother asking them to change the name). Just like in 2009, the three members they have added were in the ACC (Maryland), Big East (Rutgers), and Big 12 (Nebraska) back in 2000.

Big 12 Conference
The Big 12 had twelve members in the year 2000, including the eventual national champion. Eight of the original twelve remain, and the two teams they have added were playing in the Big East (West Virginia) and WAC (TCU) in 2000.

Pac-12 Conference
The Pac-12 was still known as the Pac-10 in 2000. The ten teams from that season remain on board. Their newest members played in the Big 12 (Colorado) and Mountain West (Utah) in 2000.

Southeastern Conference
The SEC had twelve teams in 2000. Both of its new members (Missouri and Texas A&M) played in the Big 12 that season.

Now we can turn our attention to the Group of 5 (G5) conferences to see where their members were playing at the turn of the century.

American Athletic Conference
Nearly half of the teams in the American were in Conference USA in 2000 (Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, and Tulane). Three teams were not part of any conference and were relatively new to IA football (Connecticut, South Florida, and UCF), two were in the WAC (SMU and Tulsa), and one was in the Big East (Temple). Temple was of course booted from the Big East, wandered through life as an independent, was scooped up by the MAC, and finally rejoined the Big East before it was completely torn asunder and for all intents and purposes, rechristened the American.

Conference USA
The current version of Conference USA is a true melting pot. Its current membership was in vastly different places in 2000. Southern Miss and UAB are the only two current conference members who were also members in 2000. Five members were not even playing IA football in 2000 (Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio, and Western Kentucky)! Two current members were independents (Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee State), although they would join the WAC and Sun Belt respectively before joining Conference USA. Two teams were in the WAC (Rice and UTEP), one was in the MAC (Marshall), and one was even in the Big West (North Texas).

Mid-American Conference
Of the MAC’s current thirteen members, the only one that was not a part of the league in 2000 was Massachusetts, which had yet to move up to IA football.

Mountain West Conference
Of the twelve current Mountain West Conference members, half were part of the league in 2000. In fact, these six teams (Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Wyoming) were original members when the league formed by breaking away from the WAC. Speaking of the WAC, four current members (Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, and San Jose State) were playing in the WAC in 2000. The other two current members were both involved in the final season of the Big West (Boise State and Utah State). In fact, Boise won the final Big West football championship, giving them their second conference title as a IA program.

Sun Belt Conference
The Sun Belt did not exist in 2000, so it makes sense that all its members came from somewhere else. More than half of its current membership was not playing IA football in 2000 (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, South Alabama, Texas State, and Troy). Three current members watched as the Big West faded away (Arkansas State, Idaho, and New Mexico State). Who knew Arkansas was in the west? I guess a school from the state was once in the Southwest Conference. And last, but not least, the two Louisiana schools (Lafayette and Monroe) were independents in 2000.

And finally, the let’s look at the Independents.

Even hard-core college football fans may have forgotten about this one. Yes, for a brief time period, Army was a conference member. The Black Knights played football in Conference USA from 1998-2004. They never won more than two conference games in any season before returning to Independent status. Navy and Notre Dame were independents in 2000 and BYU was a member of the Mountain West Conference.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Season Preview: Conference Affiliation in 2009

The college football landscape has changed dramatically since the summer of 2009. Back in those halcyon days of old, the Big 12 still had twelve teams, the SEC was located in the southeast, and the Big East and WAC were still conferences. In order to give you a primer on all the changes, over the next three posts, I’ll look at where the current ten conferences (and the Independents) have drawn their membership. We’ll take a brief sojourn down memory lane and see where the current members of each conference were playing in three separate years: 2009, 2000, and 1995. We’ll begin with 2009 and work our backward. Let’s start with what are now known as the Power 5 (or P5) conferences.

Atlantic Coast Conference
The ACC currently has 14 teams, but in 2009, it had twelve, eleven of which are still in the league. The lone dissenter is of course, Maryland. The Terrapins packed up their shells and headed to the midwest to join the Big 10. The other three teams all played in the Big East in 2009 (Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse).

Big 10 Conference
Back in 2009, the Big 10 was still a bit of misnomer as the conference had eleven teams. Since 2009, three teams have joined, with each coming from a different conference. In 2009, Maryland was a member of the ACC, Nebraska was a Big 12 member, and Rutgers was pulling itself out of the primordial ooze in the Big East.

Big 12 Conference
Sometimes downsizing can be a good thing. While the league has lost four members (Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas A&M) since 2009, it remains a powerful force. Eight of the original twelve members remain (Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech), and the league has added TCU (a Mountain West member in 2009) and West Virginia (Big East), making the conference span half of the country.

Pac-12 Conference
The Pac-12 was known as the Pac-10 in 2009, and featured, you guessed it, ten teams. Those ten teams remain, and the league has added a Big 12 member (Colorado) and called up a mid-major from the Mountain West (Utah).

Southeastern Conference
The SEC was a twelve team league in 2009. The preeminent college football conference has since poached two solid Big 12 teams (Missouri and Texas A&M) to add to its coffers.

So that does it for the P5 conferences. What it boils down to is there has been a little game of musical chairs, but only two ‘call-ups’ (TCU and Utah). Remember, the Big East was considered a power conference in 2009 and five of its members (Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, and West Virginia) are now in P5 conferences. As such, there have been three demotions (Cincinnati, Connecticut, and South Florida) from the Big East to the Group of 5 (G5) conferences which we will tackle now.

American Athletic Conference
The current incarnation of the American (in its second year of existence) features the three Big East teams that were demoted by not being called up (Cincinnati, Connecticut, and South Florida). However, a majority of its members were in Conference USA just five seasons ago (East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and UCF). Finally, Temple was a member of the Mid-American Conference in 2009, when they were being revitalized under Al Golden.

Conference USA
So if a majority of Conference USA remained patriotic, but moved to the American, where were Conference USA members five years ago? Five of the twelve teams (Marshall, Rice, Southern Miss, UAB, and UTEP) from 2009 remain in the league. Reinforcements have come from the Sun Belt (Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, and Western Kentucky), the defunct Western Athletic Conference (Louisiana Tech), and from the non-IA ranks (Old Dominion and Texas-San Antonio).

Mid-American Conference
The MAC looks pretty much the same as it did in 2009. It was a thirteen team league then and is a thirteen team league now. The lone defection was Temple, who was replaced by Massachusetts when they moved up to IA.

Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West featured nine teams in 2009. It lost BYU, TCU, and Utah to independence, the Big 12, and the Pac-12 respectively. Buttressing the remaining six teams (Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Wyoming) are six teams that were residents of the WAC in 2009 (Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Jose State, and Utah State).

Sun Belt Conference
The Sun Belt featured nine teams in 2009. Four remain (Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, and Troy), and they are joined by a pair of former WAC teams (Idaho and New Mexico State). However, nearly half of the current Sun Belt conference teams were not playing IA football a half-decade ago. Some have made the jump from IAA (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, and Texas State), while others have started football programs from scratch (Georgia State and South Alabama).

And let’s not forget about the independents.

Army, Navy, and Notre Dame were all independents in 2009. The only new addition is BYU which left the Mountain West Conference to move out on its own. Check back in tomorrow when we'll look at conference affiliation from the year 2000.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season: Who Derives the Most ATS Benefit from Playing at Home

In the last post we looked at how teams performed Against the Spread (ATS) versus their conference brethren both at home and away. We isolated the top ten performers in best and worst home record and best and worst road record. In this post, I want to do something a little different, but also something we have examined before (in a different manner). We will try to determine who derives the most benefit in regards to covering the spread at home. We’ll be looking at the actual difference (road ATS winning percentage subtracted from home ATS winning percentage), ratio (home ATS winning percentage divided by road ATS winning percentage), and a composite method (actual difference multiplied by the ratio). For a primer on why I think using these three different methods is a good idea, please take a moment to read the other post. Done? Good. Without further delay, we'll begin with the teams that had the largest difference in their home ATS winning percentage versus their road ATS winning percentage.
Connecticut tops the list for biggest difference between their home and road ATS winning percentage. Considering they have covered more than 70% of the time in their home games, this is not terribly surprising. Of the teams with the biggest difference between their home and road ATS winning percentage, only Toledo covered less than 60% of the time at home. UCF is the only team on this list that did not have a losing ATS record on the road. Most of the teams on this list, outside of UNLV, have experienced a modicum of consistent success since 2005. Connecticut, UCF, Wake Forest, and Wisconsin all played in BCS bowl games. In addition, six teams (the aforementioned four plus East Carolina and Rice) won at least one conference title in that span. Now what if look at the ratio instead of the difference?
Most of the same teams appear on this list. The only new additions are Colorado, Colorado State, and Indiana (with East Carolina and UCF falling off the list). The three newbies, have relatively pedestrian home ATS marks (Colorado even has a losing record), but make up for it be being even worse on the road. With the new additions, we see a relative drop off in team quality. Colorado has not advanced to the postseason since 2007, ditto for Indiana, and Colorado State has just three bowl appearances since 2005. At the top of the list, UNLV has amazingly covered twice as often in Sin City as they have when leaving Las Vegas. And what about when we look at Composite Homefield Advantage (CHA)?
No new teams join the list when we use CHA. Connecticut, UNLV, and to a lesser extent Rice stand out as deriving the largest benefit when playing at home versus playing on the road. How does this ATS list compare to the standard won/loss difference from the post back in July? Eight teams appeared in at least one top-ten metric (difference, ratio, or composite) when looking at standard won/loss record and ATS record. Those teams are Connecticut, Colorado, Indiana, Rice, UCLA, UNLV, Wake Forest, and Wisconsin. These eight teams have been significantly better at home than on the road when evaluated by either their overall won/loss record or their ATS record.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season: The Best and Worst Home and Road ATS Records

A few weeks ago in a series of posts, I looked at the home and road performance of every IA team in conference play since 2005. Now I am going to take another look at home and road performance, but this time based only on the spread. If a team loses, but covers, that is counted as a win in this analysis. Let’s get started with the best home teams since 2005. These ten teams have posted the best home conference winning percentage Against the Spread (ATS). For bookkeeping purposes, ties are not counted as half-wins and half-losses, but are instead excluded.
The top two teams in home ATS performance may come as a surprise to a few readers. But then again, maybe not. As you may remember, Rice and Connecticut were two teams that saw some of the biggest difference between their home and road performance in actual wins and losses. I am a little surprised Oregon makes this list as I thought they would be a shade over-valued when playing at home considering they have all the criteria of a team the betting public favors. They have been an elite team for the past few years, have a sexy offense, and feature avant-garde uniforms. Other minor surprises on this list include former Conference USA standouts UCF and East Carolina. And which teams have been deplorable at home?
If you have been betting on Syracuse at home over the last decade, you would have been better off buying some scratch offs. The least surprising team on this list is LSU. I chronicled the magic and mystery that is Les Miles against the spread here. It probably doesn’t mean anything since such a small number of college football teams play in a dome, but Idaho and Syracuse play their home games indoors and have struggled mightily against the number there. The other two teams in this study who extensively played in domes were Tulane and Minnesota. Tulane’s home ATS mark is 13-19 (.406) and Minnesota was 8-8 before moving into their new outdoor stadium (where they have also covered exactly half the time). Tulane is set to open their own outdoor stadium this season leaving Syracuse and Idaho, along with IA neophytes Georgia State and Texas-San Antonio, to represent the last bastion of dome teams. Some more tidbits on teams that have struggled ATS at home: Before hiring Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State was even worse. Under Pat Hill from 2005 to his firing in 2011, the Bulldogs went just 6-20-1 (.231) ATS at home. Michigan State’s appearance on this list may be surprising to some. A significant portion of their poor record can be laid at the feet of noted psychopath John L Smith (1-7 home ATS mark), but the Spartans have not been as strong as one would think ATS at home under Mark Dantonio (11-16-1). Now, which teams have been road warriors?
Western Kentucky, a team that lost its first 18 games overall and first ten conference games as a IA member holds down the top spot. Joining the Hilltoppers as the other two teams to post ATS road marks greater than 70% are fellow mid-majors Ball State and Louisiana-Monroe. All told, three teams that spent their entire existence for the 2005-2013 time period in the Sun Belt appear on this list (the two Louisiana schools and Western Kentucky). It is also worth noting that two teams that appear on this list also posted very low home winning percentages ATS (Bowling Green and West Virginia). In fact, of the ten best road teams, all except Ohio State and Virginia Tech posted losing ATS marks at home. Speaking of Ohio State, they are the only team to appear on the best home and best road ATS lists. And finally, I present the teams with the worst ATS road records.
The Runnin’ Rebels from UNLV own the distinction of posting the worst ATS road winning percentage. If you lived in Vegas, would you ever want to leave? Two teams from Colorado struggled when they left the thin mountain air. Of course, Colorado and Colorado State didn’t exactly light things up at home, posting a combined 36-36-1 ATS mark on their home fields. Idaho is the only team to appear on the worst home and worst road ATS lists indicating they are a bad bet no matter where they play.

Before we conclude, here are a few more ATS tidbits. It appears the homefield advantage has been priced out of the Smurf Turf. Boise State has posted the best overall home record since 2005 (34-2 versus conference foes), but their ATS mark in that span is only 17-19. The Broncos have been particularly atrocious the past few seasons. After going 9-3 ATS in home conference games from 2005-2007, the Broncos are just 8-16 ATS in those contests since 2010 (including 2-10 since joining the Mountain West in 2011). The public is now giving Boise too much credit when they play at home. South Florida has also been particularly atrocious at home recently. The Bulls have gone just 2-14 ATS at home since 2010, first under Skip Holtz (1-11) and then under Willie Taggart (1-3) after posting good numbers under Jim Leavitt (10-5-1). As for teams heading in the opposite direction, Baylor is 16-7 ATS at home in the Big 12 since Art Briles took over in 2008 after posting a 3-9 ATS mark in their final three seasons in Waco under Guy Morriss. Baylor is also a sizzling 11-1 ATS at home since 2011. Finally, I want to shed some light on one of the best moneymakers of the last decade, who also happens to be my favorite coach, and is perhaps the best coach in NCAA history. Under Bill Snyder, the Kansas State Wildcats have gone 18-7 ATS at home (would rank second in home ATS win percentage) and 16-7-1 ATS on the road (would rank fourth in road ATS win percentage). Those are phenomenal numbers, especially over such a relatively large number of seasons. That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next post where we’ll look at the teams with the biggest different between their home and road ATS performance.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season: Win Total Under Plays

In the last post, I gave you my top five 'over' win total plays for the 2014 college football season. In this post, we'll take a look at the five teams that I think are due to go 'under' their respective preseason win totals.

Duke under 8.5 @ -150
Last season was a historic one for Duke. The Blue Devils won ten games for the first time in school history, finished the season ranked for the first time since 1961, and nearly sent Johnny Manziel out a loser in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. But alas, Duke enjoyed some extreme good fortune in their run to the ACC Championship Game, going 4-1 in close games during the regular season, while posting a middling yard per play differential (-.01) in conference games. The Blue Devils will probably win all four of their non-conference games in 2014 (Elon, @ Troy, Kansas, and Tulane), but they would still need to win five conference games to beat this number. Drawing Syracuse (more on them later) and Wake Forest from the Atlantic Division is a nice start, but the Blue Devils could be underdogs in all six of their Coastal Division games. Assuming they win the other six contests, asking them to split their Coastal Division matchups is asking a little too much.

Syracuse under 5.5 @ +120
Syracuse went bowling and finished with a winning record last season (their third bowl in four years), despite losing three games by a combined 147 points. The Orange didn't do anything particularly well, and actually finished more than two wins clear of their Adjusted Pythagorean Record. Combine those lackluster peripherals with an imposing schedule, and the Orange are a good bet to finish with a losing record. In non-conference action, they play Villanova, at Central Michigan, Maryland, and versus Notre Dame in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Orange can be expected to beat Villanova, but Central Michigan on the road will be a test. Assuming they beat both the Wildcats and the Chippewas, the Orange will likely be underdogs against the Terrapins and Irish. If the Orange manage a 2-2 non-conference mark, they would need four conference wins to cash in for the 'over'. The Orange have the misfortune of hosting both Louisville and Florida State in conference play. Even assuming they pull an upset of one of those teams, the Orange would still need to split their remaining six games (NC State, Duke, @ Wake Forest, @ Clemson, @ Pitt, and @ Boston College). I can't imagine them doing that. Plus, you more than double your money if the Orange come up short. What's not to like?

Tennessee under 5.5 @ +120
The Volunteers have now endured four consecutive losing seasons! Maybe firing The Great Pumpkin wasn't such a bright idea? Tennessee has a brutal schedule in 2014, so the streak could reach a half-decade. Outside the SEC, the Volunteers face solid mid-major squads in Utah State and Arkansas State at home, before travelling to Oklahoma and hosting Chattanooga. The Oklahoma game is likely a lost cause, and Chattanooga is a sure win. I don't expect the Vols to actually lose to Arkansas State, but Utah State could give Tennessee all they want over the season's first weekend. If the Vols lose to the Aggies, you can go ahead and cash this ticket because they would need four conference wins to go 'over' the total. Drawing Alabama (at home) and Ole Miss (on the road) out of the SEC West is not the prescription for getting back to the postseason. Tennessee has a decent shot at getting to six wins in 2014, but I would say its a 50/50 proposition at best, and based on the payout for this bet, Vegas has it pegged closer to 55% the Vols hit the 'over'.

UCLA under 9.5 @ even
Do you know the last time UCLA won ten games in the regular season? Cade McNown was quarterbacking the team (and using ill-gotten handicap stickers). Don't buy into the Bruin hype. Yes, the Bruins could win their third Pac-12 South title in four years, but their yard per play differential was not befitting an elite team last season (+.17 in Pac-12 play). Keep in mind, Oregon and Stanford are still on the schedule. Those two teams held the UCLA offense, led by 'Heisman darkhorse Brett Hundley', to 24 total points last year. Granted, the Bruins get to host both teams this season, but even if they manage another 6-3 conference record, they will not make it over this win total. That is not even considering their non-conference dates at Virginia and versus Texas in Arlington. The Bruins are a huge favorite against the Cavs, but traveling cross-country for a Noon kickoff could produce a strange result. In addition, while the Bruins will probably be favored over Texas, the Longhorns are still a dangerous team. Getting this win total at even money is like stealing.

Washington State under 5.5 @ +105
Washington State managed to play in their first bowl game in a decade last season, but the Cougars were far from a good team. Just because you have a high volume of passes does not mean you have a great passing offense. The Cougars finished ninth in the Pac-12 in yards per play despite being conducted by Air Raid impresario Mike Leach. Assuming they beat Rutgers on opening night, the Cougars should sweep their three non-conference games. However, once the harrowing Pac-12 season begins, the Cougars could potentially be favored in just one game (home versus Cal). The Cougars lost big last season (all five of their league losses came by at least ten points with an average margin of defeat of nearly 27 points) and unless they engineer some stark improvement, getting to six wins will prove too difficult.

Outside of these five teams, there are a two others I saw that I could almost advise you to take.

South Carolina under 9.5 @ -125
I think Gamecock fans and the nation in general will realize just how much Connor Shaw meant to the team. For my money, he's the best quarterback in South Carolina history (Todd Ellis be damned). Would it really be that big of a shock if the Gamecocks lost two SEC games and then lost at Clemson?

Oklahoma under 10.5 @ -115
The Sooners are getting a lot of hype heading into the 2014 season thanks to one phenomenal performance. Granted, it did happen against Alabama, but over the course of nine Big 12 games, Oklahoma scored exactly as many offensive touchdowns as they allowed! Those are not numbers befitting a national title contender. Still, with all their big games coming at home, they may not lose twice in 2014.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season: Win Total Over Plays

In this edition of the Degenerates Guide, I will give you five teams that I think are poised to hit the 'over' on their projected win totals. I will include the team, the win total they must go 'over', and the price you must pay to take them. Without further adieu, here are my five top picks.

Arizona over 6.5 wins @ -175
While the price on this wager is a little high (you would need to bet 175 dollars in order to win 100), projecting Arizona to get to seven regular season wins does not require a large leap of faith. Rich Rod's first two Wildcats teams have finished with identical 7-5 regular season records. in both campaigns, they are 6-0 in non-conference play, and they should easily match that in 2014. Arizona's three non-conference opponents are all mid-majors. The Wildcats host both UNLV and Nevada, and hit the road to face Texas-San Antonio. In conference play, the Wildcats enjoy five home games, with Cal, Southern Cal, Colorado, Washington, and Arizona State all travelling to Tucson. Cal and Colorado should be easy victories, and even a pessimist could expect one win against the trio of Southern Cal, Washington, and Arizona State. If that comes to fruition, the Wildcats would need to win just one of their league road games to hit the over. In their quartet of road games, the Wildcats travel to Oregon, Washington State, UCLA, and Utah. Oregon and UCLA are probably out of the question, but I think the Wildcats can split in their trips to Pullman and Salt Lake City respectively. The Wildcats were not especially lucky or unlucky last season, but were pretty deserving of their 4-5 Pac-12 record. The only concern I have is they will be breaking in a new starting quarterback for the second consecutive season. However, whomever Rich Rod chooses to be his guy will have three non-conference tuneups to get acclimated to the rugged Pac-12.

Florida over 7.5 @ -130
Ah Florida. What can be said about your 2013 season that hasn't already been said? Fewest wins since 1979, first bowlless campaign since 1990, a loss to Georgia Southern when they were still a IAA team (two of your guys even blocked each other), and the worst loss to your in-state rival since 1988. Lost in all the hoopla though is this fact: Florida still fielded the best defense in the SEC last season, permitting conference foes just over five yards per play. Hell, even using the playbook of Amos Alonzo Stagg, they almost won at South Carolina. Remember, they almost won the SEC two seasons ago with the defense and running game formula. The Gators will lose one non-conference game (at Florida State) and one conference game (at Alabama), but in between, their only other true road games are Vanderbilt and Tennessee. I might even take a flyer on the Gators to win the SEC East.

Indiana over 5.5 @ +110
Can Kevin Wilson finally get his Hoosiers over the hump? The Hoosiers have improved in the win column each season under Wilson, going from one, to four, to five wins. Their conference win total has also improved, going from zero, to two, to three wins. If Indiana can get to three Big 10 wins this season, they will probably go bowling for the first time since 2007. Wilson had the Hoosiers humming on offense last season, as the team ranked third in the conference in yards per play (behind Ohio State and Wisconsin). However, the defense was another issue, as the team ranked dead last in permitting over seven yards per play. The offense returns eight starters, including the dynamic quarterback duo of Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. The defense returns nine starters, and cannot possibly be any worse than they were last season. The Hoosiers face a pair of tough road games in non-conference play, travelling to Bowling Green and Missouri. The Hoosiers waxed a solid Bowling Green team in Bloomington last season, but a road game at a MAC power will not be an easy win. The Missouri game is a likely loss, and the other non-conference clashes at home against Indiana State and North Texas are likely wins. In conference play, the Hoosiers host Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State, and Purdue. If the Hoosiers can split those games, bowl eligibility should hinge on them winning one of their league road games against Iowa, Michigan, Rutgers, or Ohio State. Michigan and Ohio State are probably lost causes, and Iowa will be a challenge, but conference neophyte Rutgers presents a great shot at a road scalp. Perhaps the best news for Indiana fans is that Wisconsin is not on the schedule. The Badgers have beaten the Hoosiers by 63, 52, 48, and 48 points the past four seasons.

Nebraska over 8 @ even
Bo Pelini has probably hit the proverbial ceiling at Nebraska, but you know how many times he has lost more than four games in Lincoln? Never. And let's not forget, despite their disappointing play last season, the Huskers actually won nine games, including five in the Big 10, despite an in-conference turnover margin of -16. That's right, on average, in every Big 10 game, the Huskers spotted their opponent two turnovers and still won more than they lost. Suffice it to say, they won't be -16 in Big 10 play this season. The schedule is not too imposing either. There is a tricky non-conference road game at Fresno State and a home clash with Miami (first game since the 2001 Rose Bowl), but 3-1 should be the floor outside the league. In conference play, the Huskers travel to both Michigan State and Wisconsin, but avoid both Ohio State and Michigan. At worst, Nebraska should push, and if the Huskers beat Miami at home, there should be nothing stopping you from doubling your money.

Utah over 4.5 @ -175
Like Arizona, you have to pay a steep price to get the Utes, but I think they are worth it. Despite their 2-7 mark in the Pac-12 last season, the Utes should have won about two more conference games based on their Adjusted Pythagorean Record. Like Nebraska, the Utes also had a poor turnover margin in Pac-12 play (-12) and can expect that mark to get a little better this season. The Utes will probably only manage two non-conference wins, as they have to travel to Michigan in their third game, meaning they will need to win one third of their Pac-12 contests to cash in. It certainly will not be easy, but with Washington State and Colorado on the schedule, the Utes need only find another conference win in their remaining seven games.

Well, these are my five picks to cash in on the 'over'. In the next post, we'll examine the five teams I think are solid 'under' plays.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season: Making a Mockery of the Spread

Hello and welcome to our third installment of the Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season. This is of course, my never-ending effort to give you an ever-so-slight advantage against the house. In this edition we’ll examine teams that drastically over or under-perform against the spread in a given week and see what happens to them in their next game. 

Before we get started, let’s define what we mean by over or under-perform against the spread. Consider a hypothetical game. Team A is favored over Team B by 4 points. With the game tied in the waning minutes, Team A scores a late touchdown, kicks the extra point and wins by seven. With this result, Team A over-performed against the spread by three points, while Team B under-performed by three points. This result is not a dramatic departure from the expected result. The point spread pretty much nailed this game and whether or not you rejoiced in or cursed at the outcome had a great deal to do with randomness or luck. Now, consider a similar game where Team A is favored over Team B by 4 points. In this game, Team A takes an early lead and never looks back, winning by 30 points. In this scenario, Team A over-performed against the spread by 26 points, while Team B under-performed by 26 points. While randomness and luck played a small role in the outcome, its effect was muted thanks to the ease with which Team A dispatched Team B. This is the type of game we will be examining. Do teams that radically over-perform against the spread come crashing back to earth the next week? Do they continue their run of great play? Do teams that drastically under-perform against the spread bounce back the following week? Do they continue their listless play? Or is there performance the following week in either case unpredictable?

In attempting to answer these questions, I looked at each occurrence where a team either under or over-performed against the spread by at least 20 points in the past two regular seasons (2012 and 2013). I only considered games involving two IA opponents. It would seem that for every over-performance there would be a corresponding under-performance so the number of both instances would be the same. Here is why this is not the case. After the game with the over or under-performance, some teams played IAA opponents in their next game. These were not included. In addition, in some cases, after the game with the over or under-performance, some teams did not have a scheduled game (their regular season was over) and others did. Alright, with that housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to analyzing.

In the two year sample, 235 teams over-performed against the spread by at least 20 points and played a follow-up game that met the criteria for inclusion explained above. Those 235 teams combined for an overall record of 121-107-7 Against the Spread (ATS). This is a winning percentage of 53.1% which is slightly above the 52.4% needed to turn a profit. This result is surprising to me. I figured teams that over-performed based on the spread would provide value when betting against them in their next game. If we separate those 235 teams in their next games as favorites or underdogs, we can further isolate an advantage. 157 of the 235 teams were favorites the next week. Those teams posted an ATS mark of 84-67-6 which equates to a winning percentage of 55.6%. Conversely 76 of the 235 teams were underdogs in their next game. Those teams went just 37-38-1 ATS for a winning percentage of 49.3%. Two teams were neither favored or underdogs in their next game (pick ‘em). Neither covered. Hence, my advice is that when teams significantly over-perform against the spread, take a flyer on them in their next game if they are favored. Otherwise, stay away.

Now let’s look at the teams that under-performed against the spread by at least 20 points. 224 teams under-performed against the spread by at least 20 points and played a follow-up game that met the criteria for inclusion explained above. Those 224 teams combined for an overall record of 97-123-4 ATS. This is a winning percentage of just 44.1%. Once again, the results are surprising to me. I figured drastically under-performing against the spread would make these teams under-valued and a solid play the next week. Ah, but facts occasionally make fools of us all. Can we find more advantages if we break these down by favorites and underdogs? Glad you asked. The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. When these teams that under-perform against the spread are favored in their next game (as was the case 88 times in the past two seasons), they managed just a 32-56 ATS mark. This winning percentage of 36.4% means going against these teams when they are favorites has typically been a great idea. However, when they are underdogs, the advantages disappear. 136 of the 224 teams were underdogs in their next game. These teams posted an ATS mark of 65-67-4 which equates to a winning percentage of 49.2%. These teams provide no value in betting either for or against them.

So, to sum things up: When teams drastically over-perform against the spread, they are a good play in their next game if they are favored. When teams radically under-perform against the spread, betting against them in their next game is a great idea if they are a favorite. If a team does not fit either of these criteria, take a pass on them, unless you enjoy coin flips.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season: Extreme ATS Teams

In the second installment of the Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season, I will continue to help you look for ways to gain a slight edge on the point spread for the coming season. In this post we’ll take a look at how teams that are extremely successful or extremely ineffective Against the Spread (ATS) perform ATS the following year. How do we define extremely successful or extremely ineffective? It’s a little arbitrary, but for the purposes of this piece, an extremely successful ATS team will be one with two or fewer regular season ATS defeats. Similarly, an extremely ineffective ATS team will be one with two or fewer regular season ATS wins. Only games against other IA opponents were included. Games against IAA schools were not considered, even if there was a betting line at the time of the game. I examined every IA college football team since 2005 to determine which ones met these criteria.

So which teams were among the most successful ATS? 30 teams finished with two or fewer ATS defeats since 2005. These include a few national champions (2005 Texas and 2008 Florida), but also a diverse group of mid-majors (2006 Central Michigan, 2010 Hawaii, and 2011 Louisiana Tech to name a few). How did these teams perform the following season ATS? Overall, the 30 teams posted a losing ATS mark the following season, covering just over 48% of the time. This is not surprising, since teams tend to regress to the mean, and extreme performances are unlikely to be repeated. However, this does not mean betting against these teams with reckless abandon is a prudent decision. Remember, if you want to turn a profit, you need to win more than 52.4% of your wagers and the win percentage going against these teams is only 51.8%. So these teams don’t post amazing ATS results the following year, but there is not enough of an advantage to make them worth playing. What if we dig a little deeper? If we examine how these teams perform in different roles, can we isolate a potential advantage? Yes we can. When these successful ATS performers come into a game as a favorite the next year, they cover only about 46% of the time (46.3%). In addition, when they enter a game as a double-digit favorite, they cover just 44% of the time. Going against these teams when they are favored or heavily favored can provide some small advantages.

So which teams from 2013 were extremely successful ATS and could provide some advantages when wagering against this year? Three teams from 2013 fit the criteria, and two of them played in the BCS National Championship Game. Florida State went 10-1-1 ATS in the regular season and Auburn went 10-2, making a mint for their backers last season. Houston also performed quite well in 2013, going 9-2 ATS. Scanning the opening week lines for 2014, all three are favored by double-digits meaning Arkansas, Oklahoma State, and Texas-San Antonio look to be solid plays over Labor Day Weekend.

What about the ineffective teams? 27 teams finished with two or fewer ATS victories since 2005. No great teams appear on this list, but a few mediocre squads (2006 Iowa, 2007 Alabama, and 2008 Fresno State) can be found among the dregs (2008 Washington and 2012 New Mexico State to name a few). How did these teams perform the following season ATS? Overall, the 27 teams improved, but still posted a losing ATS mark, covering just 49.5% of the time. Like their successful brethren, this winning percentage provides no value either on either side. Again, we need to dig a little deeper to find some advantageous scenarios. When these ineffective ATS teams were favored, they covered 53.2% of the time and when they were double-digit favorites, they covered 55% of the time. Those were the only instances when these teams provided marginal value either betting for or against them.

So which teams from 2013 were extremely ineffective ATS and could provide some advantages when wagering on this year? Four teams from 2013 fit the criteria, and all ranged from bad to horrendous. Colorado was the only team from a BCS conference that was extremely ineffective, posting a 2-9 ATS record. A pair of MAC teams, Eastern Michigan, and Miami of Ohio went 2-9 and 2-9-1 ATS respectively while UTEP managed just a 2-10 ATS mark. Perusing the opening lines for 2014, the only team from the quartet that is favored is Colorado. The Buffaloes are a small favorite against their in-state rivals Colorado State. The Buffs don’t inspire a great deal of confidence, but they are probably worth a small play here. 

Based on recent history, it appears Auburn, Florida State, and Houston are solid plays against when they are favored, and particularly when they are large favorites in 2014. Similarly, Colorado, Eastern Michigan, Miami of Ohio, and UTEP appear to be solid plays for in the rare instances when they are favored in 2014. As always, if you make any cash using these angles, feel free to send some my way. Until next time.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season: Losing to and Scraping by Lower Division Teams

The season is slowly skulking its way to the present. In the interest of preparing you dear reader for the coming season, I will be offering a Degenerates Guide to the 2014 Season. The posts over the next few weeks will emphasize the less savory angle of college football. We’ll openly discuss the point spread and hope the feds do not shut us down. My goal will be to prepare you to make prudent thought out bets either legitimately in Las Vegas, illegitimately with a bookmaker of your choice, or when filling out your weekly parlay card. This first post will deal with the ramifications games against lower division teams.

One of the consequences of expanding the college football schedule to twelve games is that quite often teams play foes from lower divisions (typically IAA or even occasionally Division II or Division III) to add a win to the ledger and bring in some gate receipts. Of the 128 teams playing IA football in 2014, 103 will play at least one game against a IAA or other lower division opponent. Sometimes, despite the challenges before them (less money, inferior players, playing on the road), these lower division teams will rise up and win a game. Perhaps the three most famous recent examples are Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007, James Madison over Virginia Tech in 2010, and Georgia Southern over Florida in 2013. Incidentally, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are making the move to IA this season. While those are three memorable examples, lower division opponents have actually beaten IA teams 64 times since 2005! How have those teams that were beaten fared the next week Against the Spread (ATS)? One might hypothesize that a large upset, as is typically the case when a IA team loses to a lower division team, might lead the losing team to be undervalued the following week. Is this the case? Glad you asked. I looked at the 64 times a team lost to a lower division opponent and then examined their ATS performance the following week. In a single instance (Georgia State last season), the losing team played another lower division opponent the following week and lost. That leaves us with 63 observations. In those 63 instances, the team that lost to a lower division opponent went 30-33 ATS in their next game. Our hypothesis then appears to be incorrect. These teams, on average, do not tend to be undervalued by the public in the game following their loss as they have a losing mark ATS. So then, does it make sense to always go against these teams? Not at all. Betting against these teams would have yielded a winning percentage of .524, but this is exactly the mark one would need to break even when the ‘juice’ is added to the gambling equation.

What if we break it down further? How did these teams perform as favorites or underdogs in their next game? Teams that lost to lower division opponents were underdogs 48 times in their next game. Their ATS mark was 24-24 in said games. No value on either side. Perhaps not surprisingly, teams that lost to lower division opponents were favorites just 14 times in their next game. They went 5-9 ATS in those games. Shrewd readers will note than 48 plus 14 equals 62, which is of course, not 63. That is because in one instance, a team that lost to a lower division opponent was a pick ‘em in their next game (they won and covered by the way). There may be some value in going against teams that lost to lower division opponents in the rare instance when they are favored in their next game, but the sample size is relatively small, so I would only wager with your friends money.

When teams actually lose to lower division opponents, their ATS results in the next game are mostly random and provide no value, but what happens when they have a close call, but don’t actually lose? We’ll define a close call as any game that is decided by eight points or fewer (one possession). Since 2005, IA teams have played tight games with lower division teams 92 times. 91 times they had a scheduled game after their close call (we’re disregarding Wisconsin’s escape against Cal Poly in 2008 as it was the final regular season game for the Badgers). In those 90 games, the team that suffered a close call finished 58-33 ATS for a winning percentage of .637. For those of you who don’t know any better, that is a phenomenal winning percentage for a 91-game sample size.

Let’s dig a little deeper and see if we exhume any other relevant information. How do those teams involved in close calls with lower division opponents do when they are underdogs in their next game? In 57 instances, the teams that endured close calls were 35-22 in their next game (winning percentage of .614). What about as favorites? In 34 instances, they were 23-11 (.676 winning percentage). Enduring a close call, but not actually losing appears to precede a situation where an astute gambler can take advantage of public perception. Consider that in terms of actually winning their next game, teams that were underdogs won just 14 of 57 contests (.246 winning percentage). However, they covered the spread 35 times. This seems to indicate that the lines in those follow up games were artificially inflated because of the teams’ poor performance against the lower division foe. Similarly, the teams that were favored after their close call covered nearly as often (23 times) as they won overall (27 times) in their 34 follow up games. In these instances, the line was artificially deflated by their poor prior performance.

Why does this phenomenon exist? I’ll pose a few explanations, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

1. There is not a lot of ‘interconnectedness’ between divisions of college football. Wisconsin and Ohio State face a similar slate of opponents because they are in the same conference. Wisconsin and Cal Poly probably face zero common opponents. The computer ratings used by casinos to develop initial point spreads may have trouble determining just how good some of these lower division teams are, and by extension how tough an opponent they represent. For example, North Dakota State has won the past three IAA championships. Certainly they are better than some IA teams. But where would they rank in terms of IA quality? Are they the 90th best IA team? 80th? 50th? 30th? It’s hard to say with such a small sample size against IA opponents and very little interconnectedness. I realize this doesn’t explain why when teams lose to IAA teams there is no predictive value about their performance in the next game.

2. The general public underestimates how good lower division teams can be. While the initial point spread stems from a computer rating system, the spread is adjusted based on public perception. Before they are released, spreads are calibrated to draw action on both sides of the wager, and after release they can move up or down based on significant wagering on one side. When a team has a close call with a lower division opponent, these are probably the thought processes going through the minds of most bettors: ‘Team A barely beat William and Mary. I can’t believe they are such a small underdog against Team B. Team B will mop the floor with them.’ Or: ‘Team A barely beat Eastern Illinois. I can’t believe they are favored against Team B this week. Team B will probably win this game outright.’

3. The stigma of almost losing to a lower division opponent is the same as actually losing. When teams actually lose to lower division opponents, their results in the next game are basically random. When teams almost lose to lower division opponents, the general public treats it as a loss. Thus, the spreads are artificially inflated or deflated.

Well, that’s all for this edition. Remember, if a team loses to a lower division opponent, stay away from them the next week. However, if they almost lose, they are probably a good play in their next game. Keep in mind, if you win any cash using this strategy, feel free to float some my way.