When it comes to wagering on college football, it has long been my belief that the best place to win money is on the teams everyone else is ignoring. College win totals allow you to get a jump on your competition: recognize a good team early, or lock in your fade of someone overvalued.
Here my favorite Group of 5 over/unders for the 2017 season, plus one power conference straggler.
BEST BETS: 2017 WIN TOTALS
Florida Atlantic: Over 4
The Owls were 3-9 in three straight years under Charlie Partridge. He’s been shown the door, and Lane Kiffin is in. Kiffin carries baggage from his untimely exits with the Oakland Raiders, USC, and University of Tennessee, but he also has a pedigree. His dad, Monte, spent 25 years in the NFL and invented the Tampa 2 defense. He’ll be working alongside his son as FAU’s defensive coordinator.
The Kiffin’s have nine starters back on each side of the ball, the second highest-total in the country. (Syracuse has 20 starters returning.) Conference USA is not great, and four wins is not a huge number. Just based on returnees and a better staff, this feels like a bowl team.
Fresno State: Over 4
Last year, the Bulldogs went 1-11. Coach Tim DeRuyter was dismissed, and Jeff Tedford was brought in. Tedford is a Fresno State alum who experienced significant success both on the field and developing players (like Aaron Rodgers) during his 11-year tenure at Cal. Tedford went 82-57 in Berkeley and won five bowl games.
The Dogs return 16 starters including 10 on offense, both the top figures in the Mountain West. The schedule is stout, but experience, a winning coach, a new culture, and a mediocre league should lead to no worse than 4-8, and very possibly five or six wins.
Air Force: Under 5
Coach Troy Calhoun is 77-53 overall and coming off a 10-3 season. However, last season’s schedule had built-in wins against Abilene Christian and Georgia State. This year, the Falcons open with VMI, but then travel to Michigan. Their seven returning starters are the fewest in the Mountain West, and second-lowest total in the nation. (The Wolverines have just five starters back, but Jim Harbaugh should be ok, at least against Air Force.)
Winning six games seems very unlikely, and even five is ambitious give the big learning curve that awaits. Three or four wins is more likely, and either would win you some coin.
California: Under 3.5
Justin Wilcox, who coached Cal’s linebackers early in the 2000s, begins his first head coaching gig at the age of 40. Wilcox spent last year as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, after serving in the same role at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, and USC. The Bears were 5-7 last season, losing four times in their final five contests. They return a reasonable 14 starters, but eight of those were an average number, but must contend with the toughest schedule in the country. Eight of their returners were part of the second-worst scoring defense in the nation. This is a rebuild. Wilcox might be the right guy for the job, but year one will be a struggle.