The first full week of college football begins on Thursday. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to recognize that the usual suspects – Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Oklahoma, LSU, and Ohio State – will all be very good. Sportsbooks know those teams will be good, too, and there is no real advantage to wagering on “public” teams.
However, like every year, there are under-the-radar squads worth betting on. Keep a close eye on these teams and their lines throughout the year.
2016 NCAAF Sleepers
The Cardinals have everything I love in a bet-on team. They have 18 returning starters, tied for the most in the NCAA, an elite coach in Bobby Petrino, and are not really talked about because they play in the same division as Clemson and Florida State (ACC Atlantic). The Cards aren’t likely to be in the playoff picture, but could easily go 9-3 or 10-2 straight up and 8-4 or better against the spread.
Like Louisville, the Vols are overshadowed in the SEC by title contenders. Alabama and LSU get all the press, but Tennessee was very good last year and are trending up. They lost four games but led each in the fourth quarter. They return 17 starters this year, and those starters should be better equipped to handle the clutch spots late in games. Head coach Butch Jones has done solid work in Knoxville after very good stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
The Hurricanes pulled off a coup when Mark Richt was wrongly dismissed at Georgia. After going 145-51 – including an 83-37 mark in the rugged SEC – Miami swooped in to grab Richt days after he exited Athens. The Canes have 16 starters back including almost the entire offense. Miami won eight games last year and could easily have had ten victories.
Athletic Director Whit Babcock did an incredible job following last season. He eased legendary coach Frank Beamer into retirement, hired the highly coveted and well regarded Justin Fuente to replace him, and managed to retain defensive guru Bud Foster. The Hokies have eight starters back on each side of the ball, and don’t play either Clemson or Florida State. Fuente is in position for a strong first year in Blacksburg, but not many people realize it.
Not exactly a traditional powerhouse, Connecticut showed tremendous improvement last year in coach Bob Diaco’s second season. A horrid 2-10 in 2014, the Huskies jumped to 6-7 and a bowl berth last year. Now Diaco, a longtime defensive coordinator, has 16 starters back including virtually the entire offense. UConn is going to play a slow tempo and tough style, the opposite of most AAC teams. They will be a very viable dog early in the year, and if they get by the first month, can contend in a wide open conference. Given their preferred style of play, also keep an eye on the UConn UNDER.
Photo credit: VaMedia (Flickr: D30_5377a2 s) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.